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Saturday, January 13, 2018

Sometimes, you just know

A few days ago there was an article about missing University of Pennsylvania student, 19-year-old Blaze Bernstein:


This morning, it was announced that a high school classmate of his, Samuel Lincoln Woodward, 20, had been arrested in connection with his murder:


My immediate reaction upon seeing Woodward's face was: yep, he's guilty.

The article went on to describe exactly what made the police suspicious about Woodward, and it became pretty clear that they had a lot of evidence on him. But I hadn't read any of that when I jumped to my conclusion.

It's completely unfair, obviously, to "convict" someone on the basis of his face. And I believe in due process, innocent until proven guilty, etc.

But, sometimes, you just know.

Coincidentally, this morning there was another article on the murder of Devlin "Gazoo" Stringfellow, 48, the founder of white prison gang Public Enemy No. 1, in California State Prison in Sacramento:


The two suspects in his murder are fellow gang members Jacob Kober, 29, and Stephen Dunckhurst, 49. I couldn't find a picture of Dunckhurst, but here are a couple pictures of Kober:



I had the same reaction upon seeing Kober's face that I did when seeing Woodward's face. They both have so much aggressive animosity written into them that it leaves little doubt as to their character.

I know, sometimes scary-looking people turn to to be perfectly nice, and some angelic-looking people are sociopaths.

But, sometimes, you just know. I notice this correlation between appearance and murderousness maybe around a third of the time, at least with white murderers.

With blacks, I don't. Three days ago Alabama football star Jesse Altman, 17, who evidently had scholarship offers from fifteen different colleges, was charged with murder, along with four other youths:


When I see pictures of blacks charged with murder, I'm often struck by how placid and expressionless their faces are. They may look unkempt, as if they hadn't washed their faces that morning. But they almost never have hatred and hostility etched into their faces the way some whites do.

Not sure what to make of that.

21 comments:

The Ambivalent Misanthrope said...

I'm not convinced that anger and hostility etched on the face is a sociopathic tell. It's the sociopaths who often have placid, expressionless faces -- especially around the eyes (something you've observed here before). It's because they don't feel much of anything most of the time. Also, visible hostility and anger can work against a sociopath's schemes -- who's going to trust him with anything if he's obviously smoldering?

The placid, expressionless face among killers really freaks me out the most. Dahmer had a face like that. So did Tommy Lee Sells, quite possible one of the most heinous of serial killers. Check out his interview here: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=4uDnTRpmO0w

Not only does he maintain a stony expression throughout the interview during which he is asked about the most heinous crimes he's committed; it is worth watching the video for the report one of his surviving victims gives. She corroborates that his expressionless demeanor continued as he he was slashing her throat and told her to 'be still' so he could get the job done faster.

John Craig said...

Ambivalent Misanthrope --
I agree; we all look angry and hostile at times. And you're right, sociopaths often remain expressionless -- which is often proof of how totally relaxed they are.

But there are different styles of sociopathy, and for every outwardly peaceful con man, there's a bully who's constantly -- and obviously -- brimming over with hostility as well. Plus, there are plenty of people who murder who aren't sociopaths. I suspect that borderline personalities, who have seemingly no control over their own emotions and especially their own rages, are probably as overrepresented in the murderous cohort as sociopaths, who generally have more control. Even "normal" people who've been pushed to their limit will sometimes murder. I've never murdered anyone; but I have to admit, I've fantasized about it, and I don't think I'm alone there.

I watched the Tommy Sells interview; you're right, he doesn't project any emotions, and in a way that's even scarier. I'd seen either that one or another one with him before, and while he doesn't seethe, he does have number of sociopathic tells. He's glib, always quick with his responses, and he has that weird sociopathic thing where the interviewer will ask something like, "What did you do next?" and he'll respond, "She got her throat cut," keeping himself out of the sentence, as sociopaths often do. Sorta like saying, "Shit happens" when it's you yourself who makes that shit happen. (And Sells has those near-nonexistent lips which I keep seeing among white heterosexual serial killers, though that's certainly not a "tell.")

I remember watching an interview with Richard Speck one time, and the interviewer asked him, "Why did you do kill those eight nurses?", meaning, what was it within you that caused you to commit such a monstrous act? Speck just shrugged and replied, "Just wasn't their night, I guess."

BTW, I have to take exception to your characterization of Tommy Sells as "one of the most heinous serial killers." There's basically no difference between any of them in terms of morality. I once heard someone say, "I find John Wayne Gacy more despicable than Ted Bundy." The guy who made that statement basically said it because Bundy was thin and good-looking and charming, whereas Gacy was an ugly fat homosexual with zero charm and a lot of self-righteousness. But really, that doesn't make Gacy any worse: they were both remorseless killers with absolutely no compunctions about taking human lives, and like most serial killers, both felt that their victim's life was worth less than one of their own orgasms. One may have been more appealing on the surface than the other, but down deep, there was no difference. I suspect you're saying that about Sells because he killed little girls as well as others. But really, all serial killers register at ten on the scale of human depravity. No 9.9's in Serial Killer Land.

Steven said...

The first murder victim looks like he might be gay too. That's what I thought the post's title referred to at first. Then I read the article and the murderer picked him up and they ended up in a park. They knew each other from high school but don't really look like they'd have been friends. You think I might be on to something?

John Craig said...

Steven --
You're right, the victim looks as if he could be gay; somehow, his murderer doesn't, but who knows, looks can be deceiving. That hadn't occurred to me, though.

Anonymous said...

Childhood can change appearances, literally. And maybe a bit later in life too. Just look at before and after of meth use or people who lose unhealthy weight.

http://i.dailymail.co.uk/i/pix/2016/05/23/18/3489D6E600000578-3605293-image-a-14_1464024963690.jpg

Look at the unabomber, nerdy 1959, before 3 three years of experiments by the CIA, then 1962, his heart's been hardened stern face, and then the last one after being in a forest.

Epigenetics.

-Ga

Anonymous said...

A friend of mine has a passport picture that makes him look like the first guy. I don't believe that we can tell just by looking at someone - and nor do you, if you look back on all your prison penpals blog posts. How is an innocent person supposed to look? If there was a certain look an innocent person had, surely sociopaths would be the first to always replicate it?

- Gethin

John Craig said...

Ga --
I just looked that up. The project he volunteered to be a guinea pig for were run by Harvard psychologist Henry Murray; was there a CIA connection there? (Wiki doesn't mention it.) Also, some of the change may be partly a function of just the one photograph. I also saw a picture of him in his late 20's, and he just looks like an older version of himself from 1959, not hardened the same way he looked in that 1962 photograph.

John Craig said...

Gethin --
No question what you say is true, and in a way I was sort of making fun of myself in this post for having "convicted" these guys based on their appearance. And, as I said, I of course believe due process, etc. And I also pointed out in the post that there are scry-looking people who are quite decent, and angelic-looking sociopaths. But occasionally, you'll get someone whose brutality seems to be etched in his face, the the two white murderers pictured above appear to fit that bill.

Steven said...

The excellent unabomber mini series on Netflix (Manhunt:Unabomber) covers this but here is a run down.

https://boingboing.net/2014/05/09/how-the-cia-created-the-unabom.html

Steven said...

...and what the above doesn't mention is that the psychologist took a year to gain Kasczinsky's trust and then the critique sessions were weekly for another year or two. They tried to break him. There were CIA observers. Unlike the other test subjects, he was only 16 because he was a prodigy.

John Craig said...

Steven --
Aha, so Dr Henry Murray was working for the CIA, now it makes sense.

Sounds like the CIA really did mold him, in a way.

John Craig said...

Steven --
It does sounds as if he was more vulnerable because of his young age. And I'm wondering now if maybe he had Aspergers, as well.

Steven said...

I never thought about that. yeah that seems plausible. He always had a big problem with human connection. It was one of the main themes of his life. He was obsessively devoted to his ideology but then he also seems to have been driven by personal animosity as an outsider who deep down wished he had had a normal family life.

Does that mean he may not have been a sociopath? He lacked empathy for his victims but he seemed more aspie than glib sociopath to me.

You really should give the series a try!

John Craig said...

Steven --
It's on my list.

I think I've said it elsewhere on the blog before, he's the one serial killer I can think of who doesn't strike me as a sociopath. Aspire does seem to fit the bill more closely, given his obsessions and lack of normal socialization. He's also been called schizoid and possibly paranoid schizophrenic, and frankly, I think he should have been declared not guilty by reason of insanity (and locked away in a mental institution for a lengthy period), but there must have been a lot of political pressure to declare him fit to stand trial and give him a harsh sentence given that the Unabomber was such a monstrous figure in the public imagination for such a long time.

Steven said...

Judging by the show, the unabomber himself was desperate not to be declared not guilty by reason of insanity. I wont tell you any more.

Apparently he has written books from prison and I think you can buy them on amazon.

John Craig said...

Steven --
That's interesting. But the mere fact that he wasn't angling for a lighter sentence via an insanity plea almost indicates that he was in fact, not completely sane.

I can't quite see myself buying his books, though I did love the part of his manifesto that I read.

The Ambivalent Misanthrope said...

Kaczynski is a Cluster A personality, with features of all three personality types in the category. He is definitely personality-disrdered, but I agree with him that he not 'insane' in the psychotic sense. I dislike the popular (and usually liberal) push to label personality disorders as a form of insanity. It's a slippery slope to make everyone with a PD into a 'victim' of his or her psychology. The poor dears. That's how all those notorious serial killers end up getting a marriage proposal from strangers. They are seen as victims not only of their psychological makeup but also of the criminal justice system which refuses to recognize that all they need is love and support to make them better.

In a way, Kaczynski showed integrity when he balked at being labeled insane.

As far as serial killers' habit of taking themselves out of the picture when describing their crimes, I, too, have wondered about that. I don't know if it's a cunning habit of never admitting direct culpability due to the fact that they are almost always in the process of appealing their death sentence, or if it demonstrates their total refusal to admit responsibility for the crimes in a more fundamental sense -- not to the public, and not to themselves. I tend to think it's the former. Dahmer, who was not facing a death sentence, didn't employ that technique, The inmate who killed him said he was disgusted by the way Dahmer would always make references to his crimes, going so far as to arrange fries and ketchup to make it look like mutilated and bloodied bodies.

John Craig said...

Ambivalent Misanthrope --
Ah, thank you for that. I have to admit, I wasn't even familiar with "Cluster A" as a term, had to look it up, but your explanation makes perfect sense.

I hadn't even realized there was a movement to make the Cluster B's forms of insanity. I actually wrote a post mocking that possibility:

https://justnotsaid.blogspot.com/2013/09/sociopath-liberation.html

Yes, Kaczynski did show integrity, though I think it was also a form of craziness to not angle for a lighter sentence. But good for him of not playing the usual game. (There have certainly been plenty of sane sociopathic criminals who've gone in the other direction, most notably Kenneth Bianchi, one of the two Hillside Stranglers, and David Berkowitz, the Son of Sam.

I wrote about Dahmer's taunting of other inmates here:

https://justnotsaid.blogspot.com/2015/04/jeffrey-dahmer-in-character.html

John Craig said...

Steven --
You were right:

https://www.aol.com/article/news/2018/01/16/upenn-student-was-reportedly-stabbed-20-times-before-he-was-buried-in-california-park/23334500/

Anonymous said...

I think I already told you about the unabomber and the CIA connection/3years of experiments, in another post.

Do you have trouble remembering everything written on this blog?

I've never made a blog, so I don't know how much a person usually remembers especially if there is a lot. Hundreds of comments flooding in, one by one, screening, I don't know if I wouldn't get tired of it.

Do you have to spend a lot of time maintaining this blog? It's big, and you said you make drafts before posting.

-Ga

John Craig said...

Ga --
Apologies for not remembering you telling me about the Unabomber and the CIA, but there's no possible way I could remember everything that everybody said on this blog. i've written over 2600 posts, and some of the more recent ones will have 10 or more comments on them, sometimes up to 40 or so (roughly half of which are my responses).

Yes, the posts are not first drafts, though my responses to the comments are. Responding to comments does take up some time, it's occurred to me to just announce that while I appreciate all the comments and I want them to keep coming, it takes up too much time to respond to all of them, so I'm not going to. But I haven't gotten to that point yet.

It's also occurred to me to slow down the pace of the blog, but I haven't gotten to that point yet either.