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.