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Sunday, November 16, 2014

The clustering of sociopathic traits

An article in the NY Post today, The murder that became the oldest solved cold case in America, described how John Tessier was finally convicted of the killing of a 7-year-old girl that he committed as a 24-year-old back in 1957.

That a murderous pedophile is a sociopath goes almost without saying. But what was most striking about the article was how Tessier's life away from that murder exhibited both his sociopathic antecedents and his sociopathic traits.

The relevant excerpt:

The Tessiers, meanwhile [after the murder], presided over a house of horrors. All seven children suffered abuse by both parents. John, the eldest, abused all of his siblings, and along with his father, repeatedly and brutally raped his sister Jeanne. (Tessier has denied these allegations.)

After serving in Vietnam, Tessier settled outside of Olympia, Wash., and began an ignominious civilian life. He worked as a policeman until he was arrested for statutory rape; he pled down and avoided jail time. He was constantly in debt, married four times and completely estranged from his family.

Most sociopaths are either completely ignored by their parents or abused by them. (The most violent offenders tend to be abused.) John, as the eldest, probably took more abuse than the others, and also took those brutal lessons most to heart.

The Post characterizes Tessier's post-murder life as "ignominious" rather than "sociopathic." That is not an incorrect description. But if you look closely, his sociopathic nature is reflected in everything described in that second paragraph. 

That Tessier would want to work as a policeman is not atypical for sociopaths. There have been plenty of serial killers who've wanted a badge because they think it will make them above the law. Often, those serial killers, like Kenneth Bianchi, the Hillside Strangler, or Edmund Kemper, are turned down because police departments make an effort to screen -- not always successfully -- against sociopaths.

That Tessier would lose that job as a policeman because he had sex with an underage girl is also in keeping with his sociopathic nature. He uninhibitedly surrendered to his sexual impulses of the moment, not worried about possible consequences, and undoubtedly thinking he could beat the rap if he were ever brought up on charges. (Sociopaths always think they can fool others, even when they can't.)

Being constantly in debt is a not uncommon outcome for those who uninhibitedly surrender to their impulse purchases.

Multiple marriages, as this blog has pointed out in the past, are often a yellow flag for sociopathy. Think of it this way: neurotics, who are in many ways the opposite of sociopaths, often look at prospective spouses and see things which they know will wear on them in the future, and worry if their love will last. Sociopaths never love in the first place, so that's not a consideration. And they tend not to worry about the future, and like the idea of a legal hold on another person right now. Sociopaths with high sex drives probably also figure that marriage means a guaranteed source of sex, without any constraints on sex outside the marriage, at least for them.

And, of course, being completely estranged from one's family is a common outcome among dysfunctional families, especially when one has raped one's sister. (The next time you hear of a "dysfunctional" family, think of one where there's no real love.)

Sociopaths, when you look closely, always display all of the traits of sociopathy. So if you happen to know someone well enough to have seen just some of those traits, expect the full complement: dishonesty, glibness, impulsivity, recklessness, inability to love, disloyalty, irritability and aggression, irresponsibility, and lack of remorse. 


Anonymous said...

Tessier's mother was also a sociopath. She kept this secret to herself for decades. And she allowed rampant abuse to go on in her home.

When I read about things like this I just want to cry for the bereaved family. So awful. Their lives were ruined.

And as for Tessier, a swift execution. But no, he gets to live on and protest his innocence. Aren't we enabling a sociopath? What does that say about us?


John Craig said...

Coco --
I'm not quite sure whether his mother was; I'm not saying she wasn't, just that I wouldn't convict her on the evidence of not turning in her own son and not standing up to her brutal, sociopathic husband. (Any guy who would have sex with his own daughter is unquestionably a sociopath.) She may have just been so battered by him that she lost all sense of self.

And as far as not turing in her own son…yikes. In all honesty, if one of my kids committed a murder, and hadn't been caught, and I knew about it, I don't think I'd turn them in. I know it's wrong, and I'm not trying to justify it in any way, but they're my babies. I just wouldn't.

Yes, the bereaved family deserves all sorts of sympathy. And as for Tessier, what he deserves is not just a swift execution (at age 24) but a medieval one.

Anonymous said...

I think that this sociopath was destroyed by his parents (the parents should not have had children), creating twisted people (for society to contend with). His parents were horrible. When John's parents (probably the mother) sent a condolence letter to the victim's parents, I thought that took a lot of gall. If I knew that my son killed a child (and did other horrible things to this child), I would not send a condolence letter to the parents. My son would be jailed and I would accept the fact that I created this person, failed at my parenting him.


John Craig said...

Birdie --
No question Mr. and Mrs. Tessier should not have had children. Although there wasn't much about them in the article, I can't help but believe that the others had to have turned out pretty bad too.

Anonymous said...

What I have observed about sociopathic families is that they can downplay the havoc that one of their own wreaks in others' lives (or they just simply ignore the devastation). Years ago, I was told not to have much contact with my ex's relatives because he and his siblings came from the same set of parents, so there could be more like him. I've followed the advice, pretty much going no contact with all of them. If I see any of them in public, I'll be polite, but, I'm not maintaining a friendship with any of them.


John Craig said...

Birdie --
Smart move. Although with most of the sociopaths I've known, I haven't known their families, I've seen enough to know that it does run in families.

I'd stay away too.

Anonymous said...

Would you say that being overly emotional is a sociopathic trait? I've noticed that sociopaths are always going on about feeling some emotion or other, and I somehow don't think it's necessarily faked. I'm still observing the sociopath I added on Facebook a while ago and he's forever going on about missing people, being angry, being annoyed, feeling excited, etc. He never seems to post anything purely objective, there's always some kind of emotion behind it. I've also noticed this in other people I suspect of being sociopaths (or at least narcissists).

There seems to be a common belief that sociopaths are emotionless, but I think that's mistaken. They lack empathy, but I don't think they're at all emotionless. In fact, I'd say emotion is what drives them to commit evil because it gives them a short-lived feeling of glee. I've never seen a phlegmatic sociopath. Far from being evil, I'd say phlegmatic people are the least likely of all to commit violence because they wouldn't get a thrill from it. Do you agree, John?

- Gethin

John Craig said...

Gethin --
I half agree. Sociopaths feel all the negative emotions far more than "normal" people do: hatred, envy, jealousy, spite, schadenfreude, rage, etc. It's when they try to appear noble or loving that they're faking it. I've written fairly extensively on this blog about sociopaths's fake emotionality. Take a look at:


I can see a sociopath actually missing someone, if that person fulfilled a need in the sociopath's life, by, say, toadying up to him and flattering him all the time, or by somehow making his life easier. But it wouldn't be mixed with the kind of affection that most people would be talking about when they said they missed someone.

I'm not so sure about phlegmatic people being less prone to violence. Someone who's quite truthful told me recently that he's slow to anger, but when he does get angry he gets extremely angry. (I'd probably put my son in that category too.) There are all sorts of reasons to murder, and doing it for the thrill of it is only one. And by the way, anyone who would kill just for the thrill of it is definitely a sociopath.

Justin said...

I read somewhere, perhaps this blog, that police departments try to filter out sociopaths who apply for jobs there. I'm curious if you know how they go about this filtering.

Justin said...

Lol, it was right in this very post where I read it. Error in my brain.

John Craig said...

Justin --
Honestly, I'm not sure how they go about doing it -- it's just something I read somewhere, and I wouldn't be able to remember where I read it, either. It makes sense that they would do so, though, as a sociopath with a badge i a dangerous thing. I do know that traditionally, the most common way to "discover" sociopaths is to give them the MMPI, the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory, which includes a number of questions like, "Do you ever put off till tomorrow things that you could do today?" to which any honest person would have to answer yes. If they get enough dishonest answers, that's generally means sociopathy.

Justin said...

That's interesting, I'd never heard of that test. I thought the Hare Psychopathy Checklist was the only one.

It would also be interesting to see if the military tries to screen them out, as they could obviously cause mayhem there too. Dahmer was in the army.

John Craig said...

Justin -
Doesn't the Hare Psychopathy checklist require long term observation and a lot of somewhat subjective judgments? The MMPI is more of a quick and dirty test you can administer in a short time frame and be done with.

I've never heard of the military screening them out, though you're right, they could cause mayhem there. The Dallas shooter from two nights ago, Micah Johnson, was also in the Army.

Then again, sociopaths sometimes make the best soldiers, as they are fearless, and also born killers. There are evidently a surprising number of soldier, who, when finally faced with a battle situation, find it hard to actually pull the trigger. Sociopaths don't have that problem.

Justin said...

Ok yes, you're right about the Hare checklist, I didn't know that.