At the beginning of my professional career I came across a fascinating book called, The Stranger Beside Me (1989), by Ann Rule. It was a biographical work about Ted Bundy and his killing spree across the United States during the 1970’s. Ms. Rule personally knew Bundy. She briefly worked alongside him at a Hotline Crisis Center. He was a brilliant, attractive man who majored in psychology and went on to obtain a law degree. He would often feign physical injury, such as a injured arm, to lure women to a private location where he could physically overpower them. Before Bundy’s execution in 1989, he confessed to thirty homicides. Published estimates of the actual number of murders committed by Bundy, however, ran as high as 100 women.
Ted Bundy is just one infamous serial killer. There have been many others who have grabbed the public’s attention as far back as Jack the Ripper. More recent examples include Kenneth Bianchi, John Wayne Gacy, and Jeffrey Dalmer. How are such monsters created?
Most serial killers can be diagnosed with APD, but most individuals with APD do not become serial killers. Bundy and his ilk are an extreme example of APD. The DSM-IV-TR lists the main criterion as “a pervasive pattern of disregard and violation of the rights of others occurring since age 15.” Behaviors that qualify include: repeatedly committing unlawful acts; a failure to conform to societal norms; a practice of deception, either by regular lying, use of aliases, or conning others for personal gain; displaying aggression and chronic irritability; a reckless disregard of the safety of others; being consistently irresponsible; and a lack of remorse for one’s behaviors.
How does this disorder come about?
Theories vary about the origins of APD. What is known is that suffering individuals often come from troubled homes. Parents are more often alcoholics or criminals. Divorce rates are higher with parental absences or separation. People with APD often have experienced repeated early emotional losses, causing problems with their ability to attach to others.
Neurological abnormalities are also present in those with APD. Certain brain measurements indicate a chronic low arousal level, possibly causing a need for greater sensory input. Thrill-seeking behaviors and risky situations could be understood as efforts to address this condition.
There are also strong genetic indications. Identical twins are 50% more likely to share this disorder than fraternal twins. It has also been found that those with APD are more likely to have fathers with criminal history, suggesting a familial pattern.
Ted Bundy was born at a home for unwed mothers and raised by his grandparents. He was told that his grandparents were his parent and his mother was his older sister. Although Bundy spoke warmly about his grandparents, other family members described his grandfather as a tyrannical bully and a bigot, who flew into violent rages. Bundy was an odd child. He struggled to fit in with his peers. His criminal behavior started in his adolescence when his stole skiing equipment and forged lift tickets to purse his passion of snow skiing. Some speculate he may have killed his first victim at the early age of 14.
What is particularly disturbing about APD is that most of us have hard time recognizing it in others. How did thirty women fail to see Ted Bundy was extremely dangerous? Unfortunately the characteristics that make APD perilous also create an exciting or sexy allure about these individuals. They are often charismatic and seem larger than life. They live on the edge. We find them charming, and their shocking behaviors titillate us. Like a deadly Venus Flytrap, we are drawn to them to our own peril.
In the next article we are examine how to recognize APD in our midst and briefly describe how to protect ourselves from those with this condition.
For more information about Ann Rule's work, please visit:
The Stranger Beside Me: