Wednesday, April 30, 2008

What Makes Eraser Killers Different (Part I)

Most men who kill their wives or partners do so recklessly, in the midst of a rapidly escalating and violent confrontation, and after months, years, or decades of physical and emotional abuse inflicted on their victim. These kinds of killers have been studied and researched and categorized, although they have not received the amount of research or attention that much smaller, though more sensational groups (serial killers, for example) have received.

But a subgroup of domestic homicides are committed by men who are not driven by the "heat of emotion" by instead by an utterly cold, calculated design. These are the cases I call "eraser killings." Based on research from about 100 cases (only about 40 of which are actually included in my book) I have drawn a psychological portrait based on the common features we are able to tease out of the data. These killers represent a previously unrecognized subset of intimate partner murderers, different in distinct ways from other domestic killers:

• The eraser killer is a master of deceit and expert manipulator. His killing is carried out in total secrecy (unlike many domestic homicides which often are committed even though there are witnesses present) and then very highly “staged,” to use the investigators’ term for a crime scene which is arranged like a stage set to create an illusion intended to confuse the police and send them down a wrong trail.
• Most domestic homicides involve jealousy, money, another woman, or explosive and vengeful rage felt by the killer because the woman is planning to leave him. While there subsidiary motives involving monetary gain or other women, the eraser killer is not “driven” by these things. His real motivations stem from the unique psychology of men with a particular set of dangerous traits which psychologists have recently named “the Dark Triad.”
• He is killing because the woman in question has become inconvenient. In his eyes, she no longer meets his needs or stands in the way of something he wants. She is not allowed to leave him or take away anything he holds dear, be it a home, or children, or the lifestyle he has come to enjoy. He will only let her go on his deadly, unilateral terms.
• He plans his killing well in advance, once again distinguishing him from the standard wife-killer. Far fewer than half of all wife-killings are actually planned in advance of the final encounter according to available research.
• Eraser killers exhibit key elements of psychopathy such as lack of empathy and lack of remorse, but they do not necessarily rank in the high levels of psychopathy the way a serial killer or sexual sadist does. The eraser killer’s personality traits may be more usefully described as high levels of narcissism and a high level of Machiavellianism, blended with the psychopathic traits. (As will be explained in the next chapter, these three traits are closely linked, partly overlapping, and often shared in eraser killers.)
• The eraser killer will exhibit neither mourning, nor real signs of emotional loss, and will almost always exhibit strangely inappropriate behavior and speech after the mysterious death of his wife or girlfriend. (Sometimes he even starts speaking about her in the past tense before he has killed her.) At the same time he will be using his full array of skills to direct any inquiries or police investigation toward fictitious threats and other suspects even if he himself is participating in the “search” for the missing woman.
• He may have hidden his contempt for the object of his enmity, especially if doing so gives him tactical advantage when the moment of attack arrives. But once he makes up his mind to erase her, his determination is all consuming. When the act begins—once he puts his hands around her throat or strikes her as she sleeps with a heavy object—there is no turning back, no hesitation, no twinge of conscience or compassion.
• He is generally intelligent, though he also greatly overestimates his talents. He believes he is smarter and better than the rest of us, certainly smarter than the police and more deserving in all ways than his victim. He often has considerable familiarity with the law and how police work. He may have read up on these matters diligently to help him with his plan. Or he may have used his unusual ability for absorbing things around him, observing with the cold eye of a lizard in the desert how other predators kill and get away with it, because getting away with murder is his goal.
• To achieve that goal he may follow one of two distinct strategies. Either he can erase the victim’s body by destroying it entirely or secreting it where it won’t be found, or, he can rearrange the crime or stage a wholly false scenario to erase all connection between himself and any criminal act. Either way, he appears to remain free and clear of any involvement in a his act.

Chicago Area Newspaper Reports on "Erased"

On a recent trip to Chicago, I was interviewed by a reporter for one of the Sun Times newspapers--the paper based in Joliet which serves the neighborhoods from which both Lisa Stebic and Stacy Peterson went missing.

Author: Peterson, Stebic may fit 'eraser' profiles

In her research of murders and mysterious disappearances of women, journalist Marilee Strong discovered a pattern.

Men were killing their partners, not for money or jealousy, but because the women were no longer convenient. Their relationships had no history of violence, but the women either vanished without a trace or were victims of staged suicides or accidents.

The men left behind are expert liars, she said. Manipulators who are hungry for attention.

Strong calls them "eraser" killings...Fresh from covering the trial of Scott Peterson, the California man convicted of killing his pregnant wife, Laci, in 2004, Strong took note of Peterson's demeanor. Confident and narcissistic, Peterson fit the "eraser" profile.

for the whole article.

From Laci Peterson to Lisa Stebic to Stacy Peterson

It started for me with Laci Peterson. From the first bewildering reports that a young pregnant woman had vanished from her home on Christmas Eve 2002 in a town in California’s Central Valley, I sensed that something greater and even more disturbing was at play than an already overwhelming individual family tragedy, although at the time I could not identify exactly what that was.

After more than five years of research and reporting, interviewing dozens of experts and investigating over 100 cases, I found I had uncovered not only the hidden story of what really motivated Scott Peterson, but in the process I had discovered a startling pattern that connected a seemingly endless number of cases that have never been “connected” by investigators before. I use the name “eraser killing” to identify and describe these crimes which, until now, have never been studied as a “type” because they didn’t fit any pre-existing pattern.

In my new book, Erased: Missing Women, Murdered Wives, I put forward a theory that tries to make sense of what have been seen only as a series of individual tragedies and aberrations. I believe that there is a method to the self-serving “madness” of these men who kill their vulnerable partners–sometimes disposing of them because they are pregnant, and always using the most cold-hearted of calculation.

What I have learned is that these master manipulators are not like “ordinary” murderers who kill in a fit of passion or in period of rage or revenge partly fueled by drugs or alcohol. These are men (and the vast majority are male) who use cunning, trickery, and audacious lying to manipulate friends and family of the dead (often missing) victim, to manipulate the media and the police, and ultimately to manipulate the legal system itself by targeting the “soft spots” in the law just as they used the deadly “soft kill” methods to eliminate their own wives.

While some of the cases made major news headlines and became “famous” in their tragedy…most remain unknown or forgotten except to their own communities of friends and loved ones. How many remember Lisa Tu, Janet March, April Barber, Pamela Mead, Fran Gladden Smith, Peggy Dianovsky, Lynda Singshinshuk, Isabel Rodriguez. They are women from every part of the country, every social class, every ethnic background. I believe that the behavior, the words, the psychology of their killers all fit a pattern.

Although there have been no arrests and no formal charges, in my opinion the "disappearances" of Lisa Stebic and Stacy Peterson--both from the same area of suburban Chicago--will fit the same pattern.