Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Scott Peterson and Why They Kill Their Wives

Scott Peterson is back in the news, again. Though he was found guilty of murder in 2004 and sentenced to die, he'll go through many years of automatic appeals before that sentence is carried out. Soon he'll face trial in a civil suit for wrongful death brought by Laci's family. But even this second proceeding is unlikely to tackle the single largest question hovering over the case: the question of "why?"

The motive, the "why' question puzzled nearly all of those who followed the case in the media -- a question talked about endlessly "off-camera" among those of us who covered the criminal trial -- was why someone like Scott would choose to murder his wife and unborn child rather than, simplify, get a divorce.

The real answer to this question helped lead me to a very different understanding of this type of killer because the typical motivations for murder -- financial gain, to be with another woman, jealousy, "snapping" -- just don't fit.

Scott himself made the comment in one of the many phone conversations secretly recorded by Amber Frey, in which he explained with his characteristic mix of evasiveness and revelation that his plan had been to "simplify" his life. What Scott says on these tapes may make little sense to the unschooled listener. But these strange conversations take on great meaning when one understands the inherently twisted logic of the psychopath, for whom emotionally-laden words are often mismatched and incorrectly processed because their emotions are only skin-deep. Nothing connects to any genuine feeling inside.

By analyzing all available records on hundreds cases, I have come to see that Scott Peterson and other eraser killers do not kill for the reasons normally ascribed to spousal murderers. They eliminate the women, and sometimes children, in their lives because they no longer serve any useful purpose to them. They view those they once claimed to love as inconveniences, impediments to the kind of life they covet and fantasize for themselves. They see them, quite literally, as dead weight. In the mind of this type of murderer, it is quicker, easier, and more satisfying for him to simplify one's life by murder than to get a divorce.