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Tuesday, December 22, 2015

A sociopath's ability to perform

The AP recently ran an article titled, "Actor decapitated neighbor, performed in musical soon after."

The relevant excerpts: 

SANTA ANA, Calif. — A Southern California man who killed two people and dismembered one in a scheme to steal money and cover his tracks was convicted Wednesday of first-degree murder. Daniel Wozniak, 31, was convicted by an Orange County jury that must now decide whether to recommend life in prison or the death penalty.

Wozniak was convicted of killing two Orange Coast College students on May 21, 2010.

Wozniak was deeply in debt, needed money for his upcoming wedding and was facing eviction when he concocted a plan to kill a neighbor, Samuel Herr, and steal $50,000 that the Army veteran had saved from his service in Afghanistan, prosecutors said.

Wozniak shot the 26-year-old Costa Mesa man in the attic of a Los Alamitos theater where Wozniak performed in community theater productions — including playing the lead in a musical the night after the killing. He later dismembered Herr and dumped the remains in a park.

Prosecutors said Wozniak used Herr’s phone to text the victim’s friend, Julie Kibuishi. He pretended to be Herr and got the 23-year-old to come to Herr’s apartment to talk so he could shoot her and make it appear that Herr had raped and killed her before fleeing.

Wozniak was arrested days later at his bachelor party….

A 16-year-old boy testified that Wozniak hired him to use Herr’s ATM card to withdraw money from the victim’s bank account.

Jurors also saw video of a police interview in which Wozniak confessed to the double killing.

Asked about motive, Wozniak replied: “Money and insanity.”

“I don’t know why I did it,” he added. “Mainly it was the money, and it seemed so easy.”

There are several aspects to this crime -- beyond the obvious one of the double murder -- which exude sociopathy.

Most of us would get nervous at the thought of singing in front of an audience. And we'd be absolute wrecks if we had just murdered someone, hacked up his body, and were worried about getting caught. Wozniak just got up on stage and sang his heart out, feigning love for the female lead -- all while plotting his next murder.

Sociopaths are always the best performers going, as they never suffer from self-doubt.

Wozniak was arrested at his bachelor party. Sociopaths have the unique ability to want to party even when their world is tumbling down. (This is why you'll see Ponzi schemers seeming to enjoy their riches, even as the Feds close in.) 

When asked why he did it, Wozniak replied, "Mainly it was the money, and it seemed so easy." Well, of course it was the money. But that aside, why did he do it? Most of us would respond, tremulously and shamefacedly, "I don't know, I don't know what came over me, I'm just really a horrible person, I guess" -- or something to that effect.

But Wozniak's shrugging response? He did it because "it seemed so easy." Sociopaths tend not to look inward.

(Wozniak's words are reminiscent of Richard Speck's response when asked why he killed those eight student nurses in Chicago on that fateful night in July of 1966: "Just wasn't their night, I guess.")

That Wozniak had thought pulling off a murder would be easy illustrates another aspect of sociopathy: they overestimate their own abilities. In particular, they overestimate their ability to fool others. 

Here's a picture of Wozniak, sitting in court last week: 

Look at that serene, untroubled, almost cherubic face. He's on trial for murder, yet he looks as if he's still looking forward to the rest of his bachelor party. You know, the good part, where he gets to have sex with the hired stripper in front of all his buddies.

A certain smugness also seems to be etched into that face: "Hey, I really am pretty cool."

All of this shows why it's so misleading when young sociopaths are labeled as "troubled youths." They are, in fact, the least troubled people in the world -- things that would tear the rest of us apart simply don't faze them in the least.

On the other hand, sociopaths are always a lot of trouble -- for other people. 


Anonymous said...

I read about this guy via another website. By now, I'm getting pretty good at identifying sociopaths, a skill that I never dreamed I'd have in my lifetime, having acquired this ability from having known some sociopaths.

John Craig said...

Birdie --
Knowing one personally, over an extended period of time, is inevitably an educational experience.

Dave Moriarty said...

just wondering do you think woz will be able to put on plays where he is headed?
he could have a unique interpretation of the ghost of Christmas past

John Craig said...

Dave --
Ha! He's probably thinking he's going to do a revival of "Prison Break," that former Fox TV show. More likely he'll find himself in "Oz," the old HBO series, in the role of the guy who's forced to wear lipstick.

Runner Katy said...

Great find! I hadn't heard about this one, thanks for sharing this. We learn from each story, don't we. What a creep!

John Craig said...

Runner Katy --
Thank you. Yes, or at least we see certain patterns conformed in each story.

MarieC said...

I was just reading that psychopaths are more elaborate planners than sociopaths, but maybe it's splitting hairs really.

The Cat in the Hat is a classic impulsive sociopath with zero boundaries.

John Craig said...

MarieC --
I tend to think that sociopaths and psychopaths are one and the same.

Ha, interesting analysis. I'd never thought of the Cat in the Hat in those terms but I suppose you're right.

MarieC said...

The fish was almost killed through CiH carelessness.


"Each time we investigate a sociopath, we find that they always have a little cult group following of spellbound worshippers who consider that particular sociopath to be a “guru” or “prophet.”

Of course not run of the mill guru is sociopathic, but imho, this does make sense (as does #8)

It is strange because some characterizations describe sociopaths as being under-educated drifters, and others describe them as otherwise.

John Craig said...

MarieC --
Cults of personality are always suspicious, especially when they happen in the context of a corporation. But most charismatic leaders of cults are sociopathic as well, especially if they convince their followers to act in any self-destructive way.

I read that article, it's pretty good, though I disagree with the characterization of most sociopaths as being intelligent. The come in a full range of IQ's: the smart ones rise to the top of corporations or do well as politicians etc, the dumb ones carjack and rape. Sociopathy simply means the absence of a conscience, not the presence of a great mind. Saying they're all smart is as silly as saying that all brown-haired people are rich.

MarieC said...

There are definitely some semantics but I agree for the most part with what you are saying.

I'm trying a new strategy with sociopaths, narcissists and others. It's called the "Sociopaths are People Too!" trick (see M.E. Smith's "Sociopath World" blog - she talks a lot about how misunderstood sociopaths are... as people!)

For this trick, all you have to do is come up with some reasonably convincing reason that whatever the sociopath (narcissist, others) did is not their fault:

It's not her/his fault because she/he had a bad childhood.
It's not her/his fault because she/he has neurological damage.
It's not her/his fault because she/he never learned how to share (anything, including attention) as a child (a sometimes painful albeit important lesson?)
It's not her/his fault because he/she was brainwashed by a cult leader.
It's not her/his fault because he/she had too much red dye #40 in her/his foods.

Even if the premises are absolutely not true, if I can convince myself (and again, I'm playing this trick on myself, not on anyone else I'm trying to convince) then I can move past whatever the person did.

And again, you have to be ready to do this. It seriously doubt it would work if you were still feeling the burn of whatever the person did.

Performing this trick successfully does not:
1) absolve the person of responsibility OR
2) mean that you are automatically "besties" (or anything remotely like that) from hence forward

But it helps you move on with your life.

PS - That Kimmy Schmidt episode #8 really shows how sociopaths (in that case Reverend Richard Wayne Gary Wayne) captivates and manipulates people (and in a comedic way - there was some criticism about this use of comedy actually because sociopathy is not really very funny). Worth watching that one episode and the one after to see an example of how a charismatic (if somewhat obvious and cartoonish) sociopath.

John Craig said...

Marie --
That's a great trick. by reducing the sociopaths to an object of pity rather than a great big bogeyman to be feared and resented, you reduce their power. And you reduce the amount of hatred you feel, which helps you. I suppose I should try that too. I suppose I'd have less motive to write about them then, but I probably would anyway.

I actually suggested something along those lines by writing this post, "Why you should never envy a sociopath":

By reducing their ability to spark jealousy, you're actually reducing their power even more. And everything I said in that post is true, too: they basically never have peace of mind.

And here's another post which talks -- jokingly -- about how they can't help but be what they are:

(This post is as much about mocking various "liberation" movements as it is about analyzing sociopaths, but it is true that they have no more choice about their psychological makeup than we have about ours.

MarieC said...

Psychological makeup..hmmmm...

I didn't study psychology the way you did, so I dunno about that.

I think it's more about reducing the actions the person(s) took. Not necessarily reducing the person(s). In fact, I'm not thinking about them so much at all. Except to acknowledge, that yes, they are people too. Human people, that is, who presumably like the rest of us, also make mistakes -- even if they never apologize, or even own up to their mistakes (They don't have to, because they can't, and it's not their fault because____________.)

Because I'm not really thinking about them so much, it's not that important if the reasons that I list for explaining their actions are in fact true. Spending a lot of time analyzing and verifying if the reasons behind the actions are or are not accurate? No thanks!!! Because (especially if I've been able to remove myself from their reach) I'd rather spend my time thinking about other things!!! :-)

You can try it if you want. It's highly doubtful that it would change anything (which you may in fact not even want anyway?) or balance any scales of justice, but if you really have been wronged, but it may make you feel a lot better.

And it's kind of fun coming up with the excuses, actually.

MarieC said...

I just read this from "Extreme Killing:

"Genuine sociopaths almost never confess after being apprehended. Instead they continue to maintain their innocence, always hoping beyond hope to get off on a technicality, to be granted a new trial, or to appeal their case to a higher level. When authentic sociopaths do confess, it's not out of a need to expiate feelings of guilt, but instead for a self serving reason."

Bill Cosby AND Bill Clinton?

Also experts at compartmentalization.

John Craig said...

MarieC --
Interesting. yes, that statement rings true, for the most part. I'd say that some sociopaths do confess, when they know they have been caught red-handed, so to speak, and have no chance of getting off. I'm thinking of some serial killers in particular, who've wanted to boast about how prolific they were, and how smart they were to have gotten away with their killings for so long. But I suppose that goes under the heading of 'self serving reasons."

Cosby is looking more and more like a sociopath. He always struck me as just a very self-indulgent, uninhibited, somewhat piggish guy in the past. He hasn't really shown some of the other signs of sociopathy, like constant dishonesty on other issues, in fact has ben more honest about some of the social ills that plague blacks than others have been. But it would be near impossible to have drugged and raped all those women without being a sociopath.

Yes, they are good at compartmentalization.

Anonymous said...

What makes him a Sociopath and not a Psychopath? Psychopaths are genetically disposed; whereas sociopaths are learned? My understanding is that sociopaths are "made" and psychopaths are "born"...

John Craig said...

Anon --
Yes, some distinguish between psychopaths (whose conditions are thought to be more organic) and sociopaths (whose psychology is a result of their upbringing). But the two factors are often intermingled (which is why there are thought to be more male than female psychopaths/sociopaths, as part of the input into the equation is hormonal). But as far as the resulting diagnosis, there's no difference in terms of the behavior manifested, so I don't bother to distinguish, and just use "sociopath" for consistency's sake.