At the risk of possibly offending the readers with another egregious example of severe character disturbance, I simply had to comment on the heinous actions of a pair of heartless “lovers” who made headlines several days ago in Pennsylvania. Despite the sickening nature of the crime they committed, the actions of Miranda and Elytte Barbour illustrate so many things about the nature of psychopathy (referred to by some as sociopathy) so clearly that I think it worth discussing a few important aspects of the case.
For some time, 18 year-old Miranda Barbour had been arranging to meet men for “companionship” and “delightful conversation” by placing ads in Craigslist. Her 22 year-old husband of only three weeks said he was perfectly okay with his new bride soliciting meetings with men because they were purely for the purpose of providing companionship to someone needing another person to listen to and understand them and not for purposes of prostitution or for other nefarious reasons. One of the men Miranda met on Veterans Day (November 11), came to the attention of police after they found him dead.
Miranda’s initial story to police was that the man tried to attack her and she stabbed him in self-defense. But the evidence simply didn’t add up, and the stories of Miranda and her new husband began to unravel quite quickly. In the end, the couple’s purported compassion-inspired caper turned out to be one of the most cold-hearted and senseless acts of murder.
Miranda eventually told police she’d dreamed about her and her husband committing a murder together for a while. They talked about it being one of the most exciting things they could possibly do together. They then used the occasion of Veterans Day to celebrate both the holiday and their 3-week “anniversary,” as well as to fulfill their dream.
Elytte eventually acknowledged that he hid on the floor of Miranda’s car when she picked up 42 year-old Troy Ferrara, and upon a signal from Miranda, wrapped a cord firmly around the victim’s neck and held on tightly while Miranda repeatedly stabbed him to death. Then the couple went out to dinner to celebrate the holiday and their special “honeymoon” gift to one another.
I’ve pointed out before (see, for example: (Understanding Predatory Aggressors as well as the section on predatory aggression in my book Character Disturbance) that predatory aggression (some refer to this type of aggression as “instrumental” aggression), which is a cardinal feature of psychopathy, is rarely motivated by anger but rather most often by pure desire. Sometimes that desire can be for nothing more than pure excitement. And it’s the apparent senselessness of this kind of violent behavior that led early pioneers in the field of psychopathy to conclude that the condition is a form of “moral insanity.” But Miranda and Elytte Barbour are not insane by any measure. They’re just devoid of what most of us would consider a human “heart” (i.e. empathy), which is why they lack something else most of us have: a moral conscience. That’s what enables them to do the most horrific things to others, and sometimes, just for the thrill of it.
Miranda and Elytte not only displayed the heartlessness, senselessness, and and lack of remorse common to psychopaths in their brutal crime but they also displayed the other cardinal feature of this most serious of character disturbances during their interviews with police: seemingly senseless, incessant, (or as some have often termed: “pathological”) lying. With psychopaths, lies flow so freely and with almost no forethought given that occasionally their stories unravel with surprising ease, especially when there’s reliable evidence available to counter their attempted “con.” This was the case during Miranda and Elytte’s police interrogation. They just couldn’t make things up fast enough to stay ahead of the evidence. Of course, psychopaths’ lies are indeed calculated, part of the “game” of manipulation and impression-management, designed to lure and subsequently victimize unsuspecting targets. But at other times, their lies appear senseless (for more on lying and character disturbance see: Lying – Another Look at This Character Defect and Lying – Manipulation Tactic 1 – Pt 2 as well as the section on lying as a manipulation tactic in my book In Sheep’s Clothing). But in all cases, psychopaths lie primarily to keep others guessing and in a one-down position. So while their lying might appear senseless, it actually always serves a purpose. It’s their chillingly predatory nature that these pathological liars don’t want you to readily recognize. Correctly identifying their nature early on could keep someone from being victimized. Unfortunately, when it comes to psychopaths, because of their capacity for superficial charm, most folks don’t recognize their true nature until it’s too late to avoid victimization.
Now that they know they have two heartless predators devoid of conscience on their hands, police will be looking carefully for other victims (another Craigslist serial killing spree is definitely a possibility). And they’ll probably also be taking a much closer look at Miranda’s prior relationship, inasmuch as she has a 16 month-old child from her former lover who just happens to have died under odd circumstances. Perhaps they could even learn a lot from examining Elytte and Miranda’s relationship more closely. In addition to their other unusual characteristics, psychopaths can sometimes have genuine feelings for another person while also being chillingly able to completely mentally wall-off or “compartmentalize” those feelings when the urge to prey strikes (this also appears the case with serial killer Aileen Wuornos and her lover Tyria Moore). And it’s this uncanny ability that we need to know much more about if we’re to fully understand these heartless predators among us.
Next Friday’s post will focus the issues of mental illness, character disturbance, and personal responsibility. It will examine the various ramifications of the so-called “affluenza” defense in the case of Ethan Couch, the 16 year-old young man who killed 4 people and left others paralyzed while driving drunk (and was sentenced to a posh rehab center in lieu of punishment), as well the messages parents, society at large, and especially the justice system need to send our young people if they’re ever to acquire a sense of personal and social responsibility. Also look for a new page on the site sometime mid-week that will post information on upcoming seminars, webinars, etc. Stay tuned.