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Everyone wants to believe that they are special.
October 28, 2013 2:15 PM   Subscribe

I Met A Convicted Serial Killer, And He Made Me Feel More Loved Than Anyone Else In My Life -- "Simply put, that afternoon, we—the serial killer and the young Marine sniper—were perfect for each other."

"The most unsettling aspect is that Kraft is the only man who has ever made me feel that way, to have identified and then acquired that thing in my heart...Ultimately, Kraft’s final intentions for me are unknowable. The only proof that he wanted to kill somebody is when he did it. And he didn’t kill me as he did so many Marines who were very much like me.

"...You don’t know how much I need to believe something like that, that somehow I was different, that even a Randy Kraft would give me a pass, that if asked, he’d remember that room and that afternoon and say it was such an uncommonly lovely day, and we were having such a grand time as newfound friends, he decided not to ruin it for me, and gave me my life back."
posted by Ouisch (126 comments total) 185 users marked this as a favorite

 
That's a hell of piece of writing.
posted by figurant at 2:27 PM on October 28, 2013 [23 favorites]


I thought it remarkable how the narrative voice subtly changed when he recalled the meeting nearly forty years ago, changing into the voice of a young marine.
posted by KokuRyu at 2:28 PM on October 28, 2013 [5 favorites]


Yeah, that was very powerfully written, reflective and extremely candid. As sharp a piece of self analysis as I've read in a while. Thanks for posting that.
posted by mosk at 2:39 PM on October 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


Yep, a great piece of reflective writing.



... ah, so this is what a trigger does. Now I understand. I am being flooded with uncomfortable feelings from an experience I had hitch-hiking at 13 when I had to run and hide up a tree for an hour while the weird driver drove up and down that rural road trying to get me back. Yikes.
posted by Kerasia at 3:02 PM on October 28, 2013 [28 favorites]


That was brutally honest in his reflection of himself. A hell of a piece of writing indeed. The closing line "Everyone wants to believe they are special" has a rather chilling presence to it.
posted by Hactar at 3:03 PM on October 28, 2013 [6 favorites]


This is a great piece of writing indeed, very honest and revealing. The horrible nitpicker in me feels the need to point out that "I Met A Convicted Serial Killer, And He Made Me Feel More Loved Than Anyone Else In My Life" is false, though. Kraft didn't become a convicted serial killer until years later.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 3:09 PM on October 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


Really wonderfully written.

Also, the article was fact-checked, which surprised me: A Fact-Checker’s Journey to a 1980 Afternoon

posted by suedehead at 3:10 PM on October 28, 2013 [18 favorites]


I'm the author of this article. Thanks for reading this and all the feedback.

I actually joined metafilter to reply to the comment about the title. I'm not a writer, this was more or less my first item for broad consumption. During process of publishing this, first at Orange Coast Magazine, then republished on thoughtcatalog, I discovered that editors consider the title of article pretty much their business and frame things by how they want to grab eyeballs.

My title is/was, "The Crack of a Twig" and maybe some day I'll be able to publish it under that. But Orange Coast wanted to call it "The Center of the Universe", I was lukewarm, but ok with that. As for thoughtcatalog's title, well, they know their business and their demographic.

I'm pretty sure thoughtcatalog included "convicted" to distinguish this from some of their articles where the author suspects that a creepy stranger was a serial killer.

FWIW, this isn't a complaint, just an explanation, both publishers were great to work with.
posted by robatsu at 3:19 PM on October 28, 2013 [283 favorites]


Welcome!
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 3:21 PM on October 28, 2013 [5 favorites]


Welcome to Mefi, robatsu, and thank you for a great and deeply eerie read. I bet it was difficult to put such a personal and unsettling experience out there.
posted by WidgetAlley at 3:22 PM on October 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


Dear Jay,

I hate to break this to you but you are not special. You did not connect with Randy Kraft's hujman side because under their mask and act monsters like Randy Kraft have no human side. I can tell you this with some authority because, while none of them ascended to the height of legendary serial killers, when I was that age I managed to spend several years in the close company of three different sociopaths before figuring out that as much fun as they were to be around they were bad news.

What Kraft did to your emotions is what sociopaths do. They can manipulate you with great clarity because they are not distracted by actual feelings of their own as they put on the act. Most of us cannot make a rageful or hateful or infatuated face without feeling some measure of rage, hate, or infatuation as a result; sociopaths don't have this problem. They can be very intelligent and well-read and genuinely curious. That curiosity is what usually gets you when they decide, either literally or figuratively, that it would be more fun to cut you open to see what color your blood is than to keep schmoozing you.

They are so good at this that they can make you feel you are the truly special person in their life, the one they really trust and confide in, even when you know about some of the rotten shit they are doing to everyone else you know. Don't feel bad for falling for it. I fell for it twice before getting the memo. Fortunately my sociopaths were more into personal drama and petty theft than murder, but you never really know. They hide things very well.

As to why you are still breathing I would guess that Kraft set himself the challenge of properly seducing you, and your squeamishness about the sex act saved your life. He probably saw you as unworthy or as a personal failure because he didn't get you into his bed. I've seen both of those reactions from my own sociopaths when some personal plan faltered.

The winsome disappointment you saw in Kraft's eyes as you left wasn't love, Jay. It was disappointment, an emotion sociopaths can feel. He let you go for the same reason you might not take an iffy shot at one of your own targets. He had set himself a goal, and sociopaths can be very anal retentive about such things. You showed him a hole in his skill set, which I'm sure he moved to rectify.
posted by localroger at 3:24 PM on October 28, 2013 [32 favorites]


Yes, welcome, and thank you for this story robatsu. I'm tempted to say I loved it, but that doesn't seem the right note to strike when talking about something so harrowing, so I will just say that it is great.

...and on preview, localroger, I took Jay's piece to be a reflection on the fact that many humans are vulnerable in this particular spot (wanting to feel special) and that is precisely what a predator picks up on. And that, even after you are older and wise enough to know that intellectually, that vulnerability is still so much a part of your makeup that you can't quite let it go.
posted by Ouisch at 3:27 PM on October 28, 2013 [38 favorites]


I had no ability at that point in my life to come up with credible answers. So began the natural human process of mild denial, hedging, and minimization of things we don’t understand to relieve our conscience and confusion. A tweak here, a tuck there, and along with the passage of time, things became at least livable if not understandable.

Brilliant.
posted by MoxieProxy at 3:33 PM on October 28, 2013 [11 favorites]


What Kraft did to your emotions is what sociopaths do. This. But I am also so very very glad that robatsu shared his story, and wrote it so well.
posted by dabitch at 3:34 PM on October 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


Also glad to read that - it was compelling just as much because it was well told as because it was a rare incident.
posted by postcommunism at 3:39 PM on October 28, 2013


Well when I hit post I didn't expect to find the author was here. I don't mean it to be quite as smarmy as it might sound. I'm sure it is a source of rather extreme cognitive dissonance to find that one of the most special moments in your life was special because a monster in human form was making final preparations to take your life and you had no idea.

I would agree that the account is well written. It's just that, really, Kraft's final intentions for Jay were quite clear in light of his other activities. Kraft was a world-class player but the world is full of lesser monsters -- 1% to 2% of the population, according to most estimates and depending on definitions -- who regularly manage to talk the wives they've beaten savagely multiple times into coming back, steal with alacrity from everyone they know for years without repercussion even though everyone knows about it, and so on. The ability to make us feel special is one of of their more powerful weapons, but not the only one. Their real power is that they can feign any emotion with more depth than most of us can believably express what we are really feeling.

If what you want is to feel special, a sociopath will home in on that. But if what you want is to be considered tough, or daring, or sexy, or smart, those things will work too.
posted by localroger at 3:41 PM on October 28, 2013 [8 favorites]


I hate to break this to you but you are not special.

What the hell?

The winsome disappointment you saw in Kraft's eyes as you left wasn't love, Jay. It was disappointment, an emotion sociopaths can feel.

"As I turned away, he looked at me with an expression I can only characterize as winsome disappointment."

Did you even READ it? I don't know where both your read and your tone are coming from. That power seems to be exactly what he's describing here and you're getting angry because he feels "special" somehow? Based on... the fact he had the audacity to write about the experience?

I'm very confused.
posted by absalom at 3:43 PM on October 28, 2013 [39 favorites]


localroger, thanks for the lengthy replies. I've had similar responses as a reaction and it may very well (or most likely, or positively, pick a degree of certainty) be the objective truth of the situation.

I really don't know, for one, so I'd hesitate to put that out as fact about my encounter without sounding melodramatic or, perhaps, self-important. I'm not sure exactly what the descriptor would be.

But beyond that, I wrote this up during the days/weeks after discovering Kraft's identity, a real time journal of uncovering something like that from one's past. Sharing it with some friends, they urged me to get it published.

So it is just presented as that.

"If what you want is to feel special, a sociopath will home in on that. But if what you want is to be considered tough, or daring, or sexy, or smart, those things will work too."

Undoubtedly, and I hope that point comes across loud and clear to a reader.
posted by robatsu at 3:43 PM on October 28, 2013 [70 favorites]


I got what you were getting at.
posted by KokuRyu at 3:47 PM on October 28, 2013 [10 favorites]


Thanks for understanding my meaning, robatsu. As you may tell I have my own history with these monsters -- and that is a word I do not use flippantly. My experience even with sociopaths which were not murderers is that they are incredibly dangerous precisely because you never know what they are really feeling, and when the worm turns the change can be sudden and astounding.

If either of my first two sociopathic friends had been as murderous as Randy Kraft, I would be dead. I just figured out much more quickly what had been going on.
posted by localroger at 3:48 PM on October 28, 2013 [5 favorites]


Thanks for posting this, I thought it was interesting, and welcome robatsu*.

I think a really fascinating thing about this story -- and experiences my friends and I have had -- is the gradual wearing down of boundaries, how you really can/do end up doing things you'd never have expected if they are broken down to you in the right way and the right temptations are offered. Some people (I guess "sociopaths" is the word for which I'm looking here) are just so unbelievably skilled at figuring out exactly what buttons to push to make things happen. Realizing that, through a series of small but escalating steps, people you've NEVER MET BEFORE can absolutely just guide you into doing what they want so skillfully that you don't even realize it's happening is terrifying and fascinating.

*You being here also puts me in the kind of weird position of not knowing whether to write in the second or third person so apologies if the tenses and stuff in this are kind of odd.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 3:49 PM on October 28, 2013 [19 favorites]


Undoubtedly, and I hope that point comes across loud and clear to a reader.

It certainly did to me. It was a harrowing read - and more so for having known a few sociopaths in my time. They're truly scary when at their most winning.
posted by stoneweaver at 3:54 PM on October 28, 2013 [4 favorites]


Did you even READ it? I don't know where both your read and your tone are coming from.

If I had realized robatsu would show up in the thread I would have been a bit more tactful, but the reason I put it that way is that in a fundamental way I think he still hasn't quite wrapped his head around what Randy Kraft is. And that is extremely dangerous. In the case of people like Kraft who will get to the killing part before we get any other warning we are pretty helpless, but most of us will meet and interact with one or two lesser sociopaths along the course of our lives, and it's important to understand that once you have figured them out you cannot trust them, at all, not even a little, no matter how good they make you feel, because they are capable of saying anything that they think might work on you and making it incredibly believable.
posted by localroger at 3:56 PM on October 28, 2013 [4 favorites]


Thanks for posting this. robatsu - excellent piece of writing, and welcome.
posted by jquinby at 4:02 PM on October 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


Seems like a good summary of the article, if you ask me. I have also had dealings with two sociopathic personalities.

Unlike the sociopath that robatsu has intimate knowledge of, neither of these two people, although very, very destructive individuals, were serial killers.

So I am grateful for his insights.
posted by KokuRyu at 4:03 PM on October 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


Holy crap that was a good read. It's making me think about 'The Gift of Fear' and how much we're programmed to ignore those red flags because we're programmed to keep relationships going at all costs (and to avoid embarrassment).

Wow. I'll be thinking about this for a while. Thank you for writing the piece, and I'm glad you had it published robatsu!
posted by ohyouknow at 4:04 PM on October 28, 2013 [17 favorites]


I'm not a writer, this was more or less my first item for broad consumption.

Hopefully the first of many. I'd like to read more of your work.
Welcome, robatsu.
posted by Kerasia at 4:13 PM on October 28, 2013 [12 favorites]


Very striking essay, and welcome, robatsu.
posted by LobsterMitten at 4:13 PM on October 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


Welcome, sir. What a fantastic piece! You have a great voice. Thank you for sharing it.
posted by the_royal_we at 4:26 PM on October 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'm not a writer

Yes you are. Thanks for the essay, and welcome to Metafilter.
posted by ogooglebar at 4:26 PM on October 28, 2013 [56 favorites]


In case anyone needs any reminder as to what an absolute monster he was dealing with, here is the wikipedia page on Kraft. This guy was on another level in savagery and evil from 'everyday' sociopathic behavior.

For someone like Kraft (or similar types like Ted Bundy) I wonder if it's a matter of 'not feeling emotions' and more that any ordinary emotions they might feel become so totally subordinated to their inner drive to torture and kill that they become effectively nonexistent, everything becomes a mean to satisfying that drive. Obviously the level of cruelty that he was addicted to made it impossible for him to view others as human beings -- his behavior seems incompatible with that.
posted by zipadee at 4:27 PM on October 28, 2013 [4 favorites]


Thank you, robatsu. The story was haunting. Of course I realize that its effect on the reader is nothing to your own experience and that that experience must have carved a channel in your memory that was difficult to describe and is impossible to erase. Your story, and the insight it contained, is ultimately a tribute to those who were not so fortunate in their encounter with that particular evil.
posted by Morrigan at 4:28 PM on October 28, 2013 [6 favorites]


You ARE a writer. Please keep writing.
posted by scratch at 4:30 PM on October 28, 2013 [15 favorites]


The OP is indeed well written for someone with no other writing experience. To give an idea how well written, half-way through I was strongly put in mind of something else I'd read, and I finally managed to pin it down. This is what it reminded me of:
"So here's this crazy shitbag that ought to have his own testicles carved off and served to him for dinner, here he is, skulking behind the bandstand. At about 8:50 AM Peter Harrington and Melissa Loggins came along. School has been in session about twenty minutes at that time. When they're gone, he goes back to his bench. At 9:15 he fades back behind the bandstand again. This time it's two little girls, Susan Flarhaty and Katrina Bannerman."

Johnny set his mug down with a bang. Bannerman had taken off his spectacles and was polishing them savagely.

"Your daughter crossed this morning? Jesus!"

Bannerman put his glasses on again. His face was dark and dull with fury. And he's afraid, Johnny saw. Not afraid that the voters would turn him out, or that the Union-Leader would publish another editorial about nitwit cops in western Maine, but afraid because, if his daughter had happened to go to the library alone this morning --

"My daughter," Bannerman agreed softly. "I think she passed within forty feet of that ... that animal. You know what that makes me feel like?"

"I can guess," Johnny said.

"No, I don't think you can. It makes me feel like I almost stepped into an empty elevator shaft. Like I passed up the mushrooms at dinner and someone else died of toadstool poisoning. And it makes me feel dirty, it makes me feel filthy. I guess maybe it also explains why I finally called you. I'd do anything right now to nail this guy. Anything at all."

--Stephen King, The Dead Zone
Of course in the story Bannerman has a similar bit of cognitive dissonance to deal with when it develops that the killer is not a sociopath, but the childlike cop-worshiping apprentice he was guiding into his own profession.
posted by localroger at 4:32 PM on October 28, 2013 [5 favorites]


I found the story totally gripping and haunting. I shared it with several people.
posted by The Whelk at 4:32 PM on October 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


"Your story, and the insight it contained, is ultimately a tribute to those who were not so fortunate in their encounter with that particular evil."

@Morrigan, thanks for that. Anything unpleasant that resulted for me from this encounter is/was cosmically inconsequential compared to his real victims. I wanted to be extremely mindful of that.
posted by robatsu at 4:41 PM on October 28, 2013 [12 favorites]


This was very creepy and well written. I'm glad you listened to that inner voice and left.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 4:43 PM on October 28, 2013


Reminds me uncomfortably of these creepy guys I met in a bar while very drunk, many years ago. Oh yes, it seems, they had some friends having this great party, lots of girls, weed. I probably would have left with them if I hadn't had a friend with me.
posted by thelonius at 4:53 PM on October 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


The well-crafted POV lifted this far above most writing about such brutal killers. After I sat with my thoughts for awhile I went over to Kraft's scorecard to see if there is a notation about the encounter. There are several unmatched entries. The dates are somewhat chronological.
posted by maggieb at 4:55 PM on October 28, 2013


I'm certainly not an expert, but I do believe that sociopaths have feelings of various sorts. What they lack, primarily, is empathy. They have no remorse or guilt about using others for their own gain, because they have no empathy towards other people/animals/etc.

This was a very well written piece, and the insight and honesty within definitely raise it above the level of what I expected given the subject when I started reading.
posted by BigHeartedGuy at 4:58 PM on October 28, 2013


What Kraft did to your emotions is what sociopaths do.

"You're not wrong Walter," but one might reasonably expect that discovering that 60+ other people had been murdered while they were in the exact same situation that you had been in would take some emotional processing. That's maybe a little bit different than your run-of-the-mill run-in with an average sociopath or psychopath.
posted by eviemath at 4:58 PM on October 28, 2013 [19 favorites]


That is an incredibly gripping story, and amazingly well-written. I got chills while reading it. robatsu, please keep writing, you have a wonderful narrative voice and really impressive sense of pacing, it does not at all read like something written by a "non writer". And I agree that it is reminiscent in the best way of Stephen King.
posted by biscotti at 5:06 PM on October 28, 2013


robatsu: "I'm the author of this article. Thanks for reading this and all the feedback.

I actually joined metafilter to reply to the comment about the title. I'm not a writer, this was more or less my first item for broad consumption. During process of publishing this, first at Orange Coast Magazine, then republished on thoughtcatalog, I discovered that editors consider the title of article pretty much their business and frame things by how they want to grab eyeballs.

My title is/was, "The Crack of a Twig" and maybe some day I'll be able to publish it under that. But Orange Coast wanted to call it "The Center of the Universe", I was lukewarm, but ok with that. As for thoughtcatalog's title, well, they know their business and their demographic.

I'm pretty sure thoughtcatalog included "convicted" to distinguish this from some of their articles where the author suspects that a creepy stranger was a serial killer.

FWIW, this isn't a complaint, just an explanation, both publishers were great to work with.
"

Well, welcome to MeFi! And that was a wonderful article. In a very good way, artlessly emotional. I felt some of what you felt. Most wonderful that you wrote this and got it published with, what to me seemed, a minimum of sensationalism.

Cheers!
posted by Samizdata at 5:12 PM on October 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


Thanks for sharing your experience by way of this story, and I look forward to reading more of your writing.

And now that you're a MeFite, you can soon ask about the German short story that you read many years ago with the closing line: “Sometimes, when you open a grave, it only contains dust.” Redditors didn't know what it was, but maybe we'll shine some light on that memory.
posted by filthy light thief at 5:14 PM on October 28, 2013 [6 favorites]


The well-crafted POV lifted this far above most writing about such brutal killers.

Amen. Fantastic article, robatsu, and the way you handled the sexual identity stuff was unusually thoughtful. Thanks.

FWIW, I think the headline is awful and does a disservice to the work you put into it (though it does help me understand why Thought Catalog often gets disparaged around here). I passed on it at first because the headline seemed so ridiculously clickbait-y, and only read it after seeing the glowing comments in this thread. I wonder how many other folks who'd be wowed by it will pass it by due to the tabloid romance headline.
posted by mediareport at 5:15 PM on October 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


Jaw dropping essay. Definitely keep writing. It's rare for that sort of thing to happen to anyone, let alone someone with that much capability for self reflection.
posted by empath at 5:18 PM on October 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


This is one of the most insightful, self aware things I've read in a very long time. It's scary, and it's moving, and I'm very grateful that you shared it. Welcome to Metafilter, please stay here.
posted by emperor.seamus at 5:26 PM on October 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


"I wonder how many other folks who'd be wowed by it will pass it by due to the tabloid romance headline."

Yeah, seems the trick is getting people started on it, in my experience. You mention "serial killer" and I think a large percentage of people pass, thinking of bloody slasher horror.

I liked my original title, "The Crack of a Twig". Seemed to fit, but apparently isn't considered compelling (and I understand why) by editors of fast moving websites, magazines, who only have a glance to grab someone.
posted by robatsu at 5:28 PM on October 28, 2013 [6 favorites]


I would have gone with "One Weird Trick Serial Killers Use To Lure You In (Discovered By A Mom)".
Seriously, though, excellent piece. Also, what localroger said echoed some of my thoughts on reading it (not that I've had had that kind of experience with sociopaths, fortunately).
posted by uosuaq at 5:32 PM on October 28, 2013 [21 favorites]


monsters like Randy Kraft have no human side.

This is always wrong, and dangerous thinking. They are just like us, not matter what poetic thoughts you may put on empathy or humanity. Thinking of them as other than human makes people not think those right next to them, if they know them, think they know them, or are from their own family, that they could be, because those that aren't human are easy to spot. Heck, look at the portrayals of serial killers, then look at how they really were and what people thought of them, and they were just ordinary people to those around them.

we—the serial killer and the young Marine sniper—were perfect for each other.

This is probably going to open a huge can of worms, but what is the real difference there? I know people will say the sniper only killed for duty, honor, country, whatever, but how many did each end up killing? Can the sniper name each person they killed? I'm betting the serial killer remembers the faces at least of the people he killed. Did either have any empathy for those they killed?
posted by usagizero at 5:33 PM on October 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


"This is probably going to open a huge can of worms, but what is the real difference there?"

My original, rambly, draft of this was rather longer than the published piece. In my workup, I more explicitly explored some of this irony, that I was from an environment that was a purposefully dedicated culture of violence.

I think enough of it got through implicitly, though, just by presenting that i was a member of a scout/sniper platoon. That's kind of hard to miss in the context. My impression is that this probably wouldn't be as well received an article had my profession been a web designer, car mechanic or some other rather innocuous vocation.

FWIW, I was in the Corps during what amounted to peacetime, I never killed anyone. But I suppose I would have, combat refusals are pretty rare in those sorts of units.
posted by robatsu at 5:43 PM on October 28, 2013 [17 favorites]


monsters like Randy Kraft have no human side.

This is always wrong, and dangerous thinking. They are just like us


No, they are not. They are not capable of feeling a very consistent range of emotions most of us take for granted. There is almost certainly a biological basis but it is so far unknown. The emotions they do feel, including dominance and submission and adrenaline thrill, actually make them more dangerous because they lack normal inhibitions (like fear of pain, which to them is a minor annoyance) and they also lack normal means of self-actualization, like love and the feeling of group belonging, so they compensate by doing dangerous risky things for the thrill. Even a "moderate" sociopath can be extremely dangerous in very surprising ways if you do not understand this.
posted by localroger at 5:56 PM on October 28, 2013 [4 favorites]


This is probably going to open a huge can of worms, but what is the real difference there? I know people will say the sniper only killed for duty, honor, country, whatever, but how many did each end up killing? Can the sniper name each person they killed? I'm betting the serial killer remembers the faces at least of the people he killed. Did either have any empathy for those they killed?

Do you really think most soldiers don't feel remorse for the people they killed? I'm thinking that remorse is why many are so traumatized by their experiences in combat, while serial killers generally are not.
posted by Ouisch at 6:13 PM on October 28, 2013 [6 favorites]


I mean, I think it's a fair point to make in terms of criticizing the horrible things our society forces/coerces people into doing (killing for their country), but not in terms of comparing the people with the least power in that situation to sociopathic serial murderers who literally do it for sport.

I'm sure there is some overlap between the two groups, but that does not make them one and the same thing.
posted by Ouisch at 6:15 PM on October 28, 2013 [6 favorites]


Tremendously good article. And welcome to MeFi, robatsu.
posted by rmd1023 at 6:20 PM on October 28, 2013


After reading your bio, I REALLY want to read about the time you got struck by lightning on your motorcycle and ended up paralyzed for a while, robatsu.
posted by Taystee at 6:22 PM on October 28, 2013 [9 favorites]


That was a great piece of writing-- honest and insightful and earnest and fascinating.

It makes me think of sociopaths as a sort of human Mirror of Erised, showing you what you want at a high price.
posted by NoraReed at 6:22 PM on October 28, 2013 [5 favorites]


amazing article robatsu, keep writing!
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 6:23 PM on October 28, 2013


"After reading your bio, I REALLY want to read about the time you got struck by lightning on your motorcycle and ended up paralyzed for a while, robatsu."

Yeah, the interesting part of that was it didn't deter me from riding at all. Rode the infernal machines for another 20 years, finally just stopped because the traffic in DC is so heavy, it really isn't fun, you just spend your whole time trying to figure out how to not get squashed.

The getting hit by lightning actually happened to me just two days after being discharged, riding back to Ga. from California. It was an extremely near brush with death, a direct strike. Plus I was on I-70, going full highway speed. Thrown, literally blasted, from motorcycle, so lightning was immediately followed by a severe motorcycle accident.

There was always, I dunno, irony maybe, in the story already. About 10 months before I got out, my best friend in the Corps, Steve Turner, was killed. Google "camp fuji fire typhoon tip" for a horrific story. He was my best friend in the Corps, we had been together since day one in boot camp at Parris Island, then in a battalion at Camp Lejeune, bunkies, this sort of thing.

He went to Okinawa about a month or two before me. When I arrived, I pointedly wanted to get assigned to same unit as Turner. The USMC was quite accommodating about this stuff, felt it built unit cohesion. But on the day of orders being cut, I couldn't find my detailer. Eventually, it became lunch and I went to PX for a sandwich/haircut. When I came back, orders had been cut and at that point, no way were they going to change it.

I still got to hang out with Turner in Okinawa, though. So when I read the news of his death - the Camp Fuji fire was huge news for the forces in Okinawa - I was just stunned. Relieved, on one hand, that I didn't get assigned to same unit, as I would undoubtedly have been in the same building with Turner. And mournful for losing my best friend, he was like another brother. And finally, I thought, "What a raw deal for Turner". We were into our last year in the Corps, both 4-year guys, and life in the infantry in the USMC infantry back then, while not without its rewards, was very grueling, very unpleasant, almost had a French Foreign Legion/Papillon aura to it.

So my reaction was "What a raw deal for Turner, to go through all this and to die now", that it would have been just as good to die on the front end of this deal. Whatever that may say about me, so be it, but it is what I thought.

And I started getting a little paranoid that I would die also right at the end of my tour or on the way home. I wasn't paralyzed or incapacited, but semi-convinced and a little fatalistic about it.

Sure enough, then I get hit by lightning on the way home. Now, 33 years later, I find out about this encounter, which was about 4 months before I got out.

Very strange year.
posted by robatsu at 6:45 PM on October 28, 2013 [71 favorites]


And is there a difference between a sociopath who murders for thrills and, say, a king or politician who disposes of human lives in bulk for glory, the greater good, the end that justifies the means (which sounds also narcissistic) or similar? And where does one draw the line? (Stalin? Tony Blair? Winston Churchill?)
posted by acb at 6:49 PM on October 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


You know when they say that aspiring writers should write about what they know?
You've obviously had one hell of an interesting life thus far, the astounding Kraft story being just one episode and you're already a good writer, so yeah, keep writing man.
And welcome to MeFi.
posted by islander at 7:03 PM on October 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


Is anyone else getting a 'redirect loop' message from that page?
posted by showbiz_liz at 7:10 PM on October 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


showbiz_liz, I was - it was solved by visiting thoughtcatalog.com, searching for Jay Roberts, and clicking the link in the search results. Must be some weird cookie thing.
posted by en forme de poire at 7:33 PM on October 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


a damn fine essay robatsu.
posted by shockingbluamp at 7:43 PM on October 28, 2013


Thank you for this chilling and gripping account. Quite literally; my hands feel cold. I think I'm going to hug my cat.

I've met more than a handful of sociopaths in my life, all destructive in their own ways, but no convicted killers that I know of. The described personality is familiar enough that my teeth clenched when I felt the subtle hints of wrongness in the subtext. It's hard to know what to say. I'm happy you're alive and well and with us.

Please keep writing, and posting.
posted by quiet earth at 7:57 PM on October 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


you can also read this story at the original publisher, Orange Coast Magazine, if thoughtcatalog is proving troublesome. I'm sure they will appreciate the traffic.


http://www.orangecoast.com/features/2013/09/23/center-of-the-universe

posted by robatsu at 8:13 PM on October 28, 2013 [13 favorites]


Really great writing robatsu. Thanks for sharing it.
posted by SarahElizaP at 9:39 PM on October 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


With someone like Kraft, I wonder if "sociopath" even covers it. I mean, it's one thing to lack empathy, or to enjoy dominance, or to get off o risky behavior. But torturing scores of people with cigarette lighters, chopping off their genitals, mutilating their faces... That's not just a lack of empathy, that's a lack of empathy combined with an incredibly intense and messed-up kink.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 10:11 PM on October 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


Thank you, robatsu. Your story resonates with me.

In response to whether sociopaths feel empathy, their ability to manipulate is based on an incredible capacity to understand another person's perspective. They lack the other part of empathy - the affective, or intuitive, empathy, wherein a 'mirror response' is activated triggering an appropriate emotional reaction. The sociopath I've encountered (and Kraft, it seems) was extremely skilled at faking this part if it suited their purpose.
posted by FiveSecondRule at 1:07 AM on October 29, 2013


robatsu, thank you so much for writing this. I hope you'll stick around here. Ouisch, thanks for linking to it. Normally I avoid Thought Catalog like the plague, so I would never have seen it otherwise. This whole thread is exactly what MeFi is about.
posted by daisyk at 3:09 AM on October 29, 2013


"Normally I avoid Thought Catalog like the plague"

I had never even heard of them, they approached me. I had already turned down Dazed and Confused, another 20 something site, albeit somewhat edgier, and somewhat regretted that decision. I checked thoughtcatalog out, it is what it is, and thought, ok, this ought to be an interesting experiment.

The producer says it has been extremely popular there and the essentially 100% positive comments is more or less unheard of on their articles. I'm not sure exactly what the gender breakdown of their demographic is, but it seems to be especially popular with their women readers, seemingly because of the love story twist.

I've picked up a bunch of 20-something women as twitter followers, not yet sure what I'm going to do about that.

So I'm amused, I guess, at the utter implausibility of all this, that not only would an aging troglodyte like me write something popular with young ladies, but the principals in it would be a serial killer and a Marine. That's pretty out there on all sorts of levels.

Its been fascinating to watch, really & giving me some personal experience into how that generation collects, processes, and disseminates information, even though I work in high-tech, web startups.
posted by robatsu at 3:37 AM on October 29, 2013 [12 favorites]


it seems to be especially popular with their women readers, seemingly because of the love story twist.

I can't speak for others, but as a woman, I feel that it resonated with me because of the way it conveys the chilling feeling of being, or having been, someone's prey.
posted by Too-Ticky at 3:47 AM on October 29, 2013 [56 favorites]


"I can't speak for others, but as a woman, I feel that it resonated with me because of the way it conveys the chilling feeling of being, or having been, someone's prey."

In my original notes/draft for this I had some thoughts on how this was the only/most feminine moment of my life.

You know, somebody is making a play for you, you are uncomfortable with it at the moment, but really like the person otherwise & despite the hesitation at the moment, you are also at least a little flattered at the attention. You want to stay but know you should go. You know that no matter what you do, everyone is going to get hurt and you already care for this person enough that you really would rather not hurt them. But you don't want to get hurt either. And you feel that much of the blame belongs with you for letting things get as far as they have, into what is already a no-win situation.

Maybe I'm stereotyping, but my observation is this a the situation women oftentimes find themselves grappling with.

Probably enough of this was implied or shown vs. told, so I didn't have to be real explicit in the text about this subject for it to be recognizable.
posted by robatsu at 3:58 AM on October 29, 2013 [45 favorites]


Very cool. Welcome to Metafilter, robatsu!

I haven't dug into Kraft's story, but is it possible he only killed the Marines who responded to his seductions with violence, and what saved you was your acceptance?

Maybe that's too cinematic of a reading.
posted by anotherpanacea at 4:12 AM on October 29, 2013


Uh no, sorry, I was talking about being prey, not romantic interest.
posted by Too-Ticky at 5:03 AM on October 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


it possible he only killed the Marines who responded to his seductions with violence, and what saved you was your acceptance?

My reading of robatsu's story is exactly the opposite: Kraft set himself the task of seducing his victims. Sociopaths play games like this with themselves because they lack other means of self-actualization, and mere violence (spectacular as it was in Kraft's case) doesn't really cut it for them. I believe Kraft wanted a set piece, with the successful seduction serving as a justification for what would follow. It was a successful execution of the entire arc Kraft was seeking, demonstrating his status as an apex predator.

I would bet a very large sum of money that every one of Kraft's victims would have a story similar to robatsu's had they survived to tell it. There are probably also other people like him, perhaps as many as ten or fifteen, who never knew how close they were to becoming entries on Kraft's scorecard. I doubt there would be more than that though because I suspect Kraft's stalking and seduction success rate was very high, especially by the late 1970's.

Although Kraft was exceptional the only real difference between him and other sociopaths is a history of getting away with progressively more daring stunts. Most sociopaths see life as a game with rules they must at least pretend to follow most of the time so they can maximize their score, but having neither conscience nor much sense of proportion they will also break those rules to an extent and for reasons most of us would find totally inexplicable. It seems likely to me that Kraft's early victims were the result of something, perhaps a violent reaction, that forced him outside the borders. Once he realized he could live outside the borders in relative safety, there was nothing to limit the development of whatever inclinations seemed interesting.

It is very important to understand that Hannibal Lecter and, especially, Dexter are fictional characters and while they share some aspects of sociopathy in real life sociopaths do not have strong drives. This is one of the things which makes them dangerous, because lacking strong drives they are inclined to extremes in order to feel like they are truly alive. Sociopaths who reach Randy Kraft's level aren't doing it because of blood lust. They are doing it, most fundamentally, because they are bored.
posted by localroger at 5:31 AM on October 29, 2013 [9 favorites]


Nth-ing the praise for the story, it really hit me. Something about the phrasing of "hours-long command performance from a world-class sociopath".
posted by Skorgu at 5:45 AM on October 29, 2013


That was an incredible read.
posted by lakersfan1222 at 6:56 AM on October 29, 2013


I saw a lot of echoes of my own experience as a woman and of the stories I've heard from other women as well when I read this. Women are far more socialized to be accommodating than men, so I didn't feel as much empathy with the actual emotions-- particularly flattery-- but the methods of separating the victim from the herd, of slowly breaking social rules so that the final violation seems... I don't know, less bad because you already "let them" break all those other rules first? That's all familiar from the stories of sexual assault, of rapist behavior.

Also I feel like there's this close call element that most women have experienced, where you learn later that the man targeting you was likely to assault you or worse only after the fact. So yeah, I strongly doubt it was anything about love stories that made this so popular with women-- it's the novelty of seeing our experiences or those of our friends and sisters echoed in the story of a man and how that story is different and similar from the others we know.
posted by NoraReed at 6:59 AM on October 29, 2013 [56 favorites]


Powerful, sensitive essay. You have captured a feeling that I have never been able to describe in words, that shining memory of the beautiful, companionable afternoon that in retrospect takes on a sinister, unsettling significance. Thanks for writing this, robatsu, and thanks for posting it, Ouisch.
posted by GrammarMoses at 7:14 AM on October 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


"Also I feel like there's this close call element that most women have experienced, where you learn later that the man targeting you was likely to assault you or worse only after the fact. So yeah, I strongly doubt it was anything about love stories that made this so popular with women-- it's the novelty of seeing our experiences or those of our friends and sisters echoed in the story of a man and how that story is different and similar from the others we know."

That's a really good point. Thanks for reading, commenting, and helping me understand that perspective.
posted by robatsu at 7:27 AM on October 29, 2013 [16 favorites]


I'm interested by the response to this, partly because I have had a similar sort of discordant romantic reflection on a few horrendous situations, but mostly because I've been writing about those events of late, and when I relate the stories to a mixed audience, the responses are so widely varied, from hilarity to rage, that I question if I can ever publish what I believe to be some of the best writing I've ever done, or if I should just file it in my Emily Dickinson posthumous publications box.

The thing is, I had some awful, difficult experiences in my day that nonetheless left me feeling special and desirable, and I don't know that the latter excuses the former as much as it's just a part of the overall insanity of being human. Sometimes, intended results and de facto results are pretty distinct, and sometimes, you tell the tales, relate the feelings as well as you can, and leave interpretation up to the listener.
posted by sonascope at 7:41 AM on October 29, 2013 [5 favorites]


Ouisch - thank you for posting this.

Robatsu - your writing really is incredibly compelling aside from the story. Looking forward to having you participate in MeFi.
posted by Sophie1 at 7:41 AM on October 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


Fantastic and terrifying.
posted by tehjoel at 7:54 AM on October 29, 2013


You know, it has been a while since anything new was posted to Best Of. If this post and the thoughtful followup/background comments in the thread don't qualify, I'm not sure what does.
posted by TedW at 9:26 AM on October 29, 2013 [4 favorites]


Good point, I should toss this up there.
posted by jessamyn at 9:29 AM on October 29, 2013 [5 favorites]


robatsu: My title is/was, "The Crack of a Twig" and maybe some day I'll be able to publish it under that.

Now it is, in a vague way, thanks to the MetaFilter "Best Of" blog, which just links back to this thread.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:18 AM on October 29, 2013


To follow up on Too-Ticky and NoraReed's comments, I am so used to hearing similar stories where the lead character, if you will, is female, and I was fascinated by how the character being male broadened the scope of my fears in some ways and narrowed them in others. It's hard to overstate how much of your energy, when you're female, is put into calibrating risk and sorting advances into threats and not threats.

There's a great line in the article itself that speaks to how blurry the line often is:

"I also saw an analogy to my role as a sniper, and from our forays down to Ensenada to hit on Mexican babes, the idea of separating one from the herd."
posted by january at 10:59 AM on October 29, 2013 [7 favorites]


Extremely well written, especially because of the self-insight the author expresses.

ohyouknow wote: "It's making me think about 'The Gift of Fear' and how much we're programmed to ignore those red flags because we're programmed to keep relationships going at all costs (and to avoid embarrassment)."

I think that was one of the aspects of this that was most interesting to me. While we as readers may be able to see some of Kraft's actions as red flags with the distance from the story we have, I think one of the author's points was how distinctly UN-alarming Kraft's actions felt at the time. It wasn't so much a case of ignoring internal alarm bells as that none of Kraft's actions even triggered those alarm bells in the first place.

Absolutely fascinating piece.
posted by MsMolly at 11:12 AM on October 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


What a great read. Please keep writing.
posted by Andrew Galarneau at 11:16 AM on October 29, 2013


Jay,

It's a good trick, to be able to look back on who we were from the vantage point of who we are now. Mostly we are who we've always been, with a few layers of cynicism added. Onions, I guess.

Your narrative displayed good hindsight...being well-written was the upside. I've used the journal (I kept back in the day) to help me put hindsight in perspective, create some distance between me (now) and him (then). I spent some time on Oki, in 1964-65, with the 173'd Airborne. On our off duty time, we sometimes liked to run up to Kin village to play tag the jarheads. We were outnumbered about 30,000 to 3500, you see. Something of a rite of passage. When I went down south I was in the LRRP platoon. Similar world view to the snipers, the sneaking, snooping and pooping.

Time throws its fog over our memory. But some things (long dormant) only need a bit of quiet reflection to pop up: all the sensations, even odors. As you noticed, though, remembering isn't the hard part. Forgetting is. It seems like there is always some nagging detail that keeps things from going away. Kicking over the rocks, you may be surprised at what crawls out to bite you on the leg. What I found, though, was that I was not such a bad kid, just a bit green. I got this epiphany when I finally opened my journal and read it.

I guess I saw that in your story. Being that young means being vulnerable. I'm thinking that seeing Kraft's picture was a good thing.
posted by mule98J at 12:19 PM on October 29, 2013


Also I feel like there's this close call element that most women have experienced, where you learn later that the man targeting you was likely to assault you or worse only after the fact.

I definitely share this experience, and that was partially why I thought the story was so fascinating and worth posting. I am a (youngish) woman and have been in plenty of these situations.

However, the other reason I originally read the article really was because of the "and he made me feel more loved than anyone else in my life."

Apart from the scenario of being prey to someone you aren't even remotely attracted to, I've also had this kind of "love" experience. It stays with you.
posted by Ouisch at 12:20 PM on October 29, 2013 [6 favorites]


Just chiming in to heap praise on this. I enjoyed your writing "voice" as well, hoping to read more from you in the future. And welcome!
posted by maxwelton at 12:21 PM on October 29, 2013


but the principals in it would be a serial killer and a Marine

Fifty Shades of Khaki.
posted by Sparx at 12:27 PM on October 29, 2013


"I spent some time on Oki, in 1964-65, with the 173'd Airborne. On our off duty time, we sometimes liked to run up to Kin village to play tag the jarheads."

I really enjoyed Okinawa. When I arrived there, I was sent to 1/9 at Camp Hansen, abutting Kinville. It was still a rip roaring place in the post-Vietnam era, apparently all shut down now.

But rather with staying with my infantry unit there, they FAPPed me up to the rifle range at Camp Schwab because of my rifle scores. Nice break from the infantry. And although we would go down to Kinville sometimes for wild liberty, Henoko, the little village outside Schwab, was a lot homier but still with enough bars and whatnot for evenings out.

Did you ever shoot at the Schwab range? When I was there, the Army had no rifle ranges of their own, so we would get the occasional contingent. I have stories about that, maybe it was karmic payback for tag the jarhead ;)

I infinitely preferred the scout/sniper platoon I was with I returned to 1/9 and rotated back to California. Good rifle scores in the USMC always give good outcomes ;) Going out in small teams, you really had a lot of independence and were free from a lot of the BS in a standard line company. Overall, a much pleasanter, fun gig.
posted by robatsu at 12:39 PM on October 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


Welcome, robatsu! I read your essay last night and I haven't been able to shake it -- a truly chilling story, beautifully written, that just gets under your skin. Thanks so much for sharing it, and for joining us here. I look forward to reading more from you!
posted by scody at 1:03 PM on October 29, 2013


Wow.

Really, that was a kick to the gut. Amazing work.
posted by RedOrGreen at 3:20 PM on October 29, 2013


Here is a short article on the Camp Fuji fire mentioned earlier by Robatsu. (-And welcome to mefi!)

I have to agree with NoraReed about women. I would even go so far as to say I would be shocked to find a woman that has not had either a close call or worse, not to be too dramatic about it. Most people shrug off such an experience, as Jay did for so long.

I feel a little creeped out that this happened where my nephew went to boot camp, even though that was way more recent.

Funny story - When we went to his boot camp graduation, I promised him a trip to In N Out, which is fun, and someplace he had never been. Apparently he mentioned it to some friends, and half his platoon ended up there too. There was one really close to base, packed with noob marines and their entire families. Fun times, makes me smile thinking about it.
posted by annsunny at 3:24 PM on October 29, 2013


Wow.

Welcome to Metafilter. I hope you stay.
posted by So You're Saying These Are Pants? at 3:51 PM on October 29, 2013


I have a male friend who picked up a woman hitchhiking on Interstate 95 near Daytona Beach one night because he feared for her safety. Her behavior was off from the start, belligerent and badgering. For example, she pulled out a fifth and took a swig; nervous about violating the open container laws, my friend asked her to put it away and so she chucked it out the window at 70 mph. Anyway, as they approached her exit, she insisted that she had requested the previous exit and ramped up the fightyness, alleging that he had done it intentionally for nefarious purposes, telling him how he was just like other guys who had taken advantage of her, threatening to have him arrested (via his license plates), and finally asking him to pull over onto the shoulder and let her out. My friend chose not to dispute her version of reality but to try to both calm her down and drop her off somewhere safe. He apologized profusely for getting it wrong (no way he was actually mistaken) and took her back to the previous exit. Shortly thereafter, following her arrest nearby, he realized his passenger had been Aileen Wuormos.

I bring this up because my friend was affected by this brush with a serial killer in much the same way as robatsu--replaying the episode in his head, wondering whether he was actually at risk or not, considering if she was making the case to kill him to herself by trying to label him as a controlling jerk who wouldn't let her out of the car, etc.--even though he experienced no intellectual or physical connection with her and had just wanted the whole episode to be over almost as soon as it began. My friend told his story to the investigating officers and only felt more strange when he learned she carried a gun in the bag holding the alcohol and had met some of her victims hitchhiking so she could steal their cars.

All of the above is to say that I really appreciate how nuanced and honest this essay was, especially how it handled dealing with changes in perception over time. Thanks for writing it, robatsu, and for participating in this thread. I too hope you stick around Metafilter.
posted by carmicha at 4:46 PM on October 29, 2013 [18 favorites]


Great story and thanks for your additional insights here, robatsu.

"However, the other reason I originally read the article really was because of the 'and he made me feel more loved than anyone else in my life.' Apart from the scenario of being prey to someone you aren't even remotely attracted to, I've also had this kind of 'love' experience. It stays with you."

Isn't there often some overlap between these two scenarios? I mean, this is certainly the case with pedophile predators. With rape, despite my experience with rape crisis work, I don't really have an intuitive sense of the proportions. But I'd expect that a good portion of rapists are those who are very manipulatively predatory in this way, at first being very attractive and making their target feel special. Later, when their charm is finding ways to push on boundaries is when the alarm bells start to ring and you do or don't realize you're "prey" and this isn't at all what you thought it was.

What I do know from rape crisis is that rapists are varied, there's a lot of different kinds of rapists and they do what they do in a lot of different ways.

In contrast, what I know about pedophile predators, of whom I know most about incestuous predators, is that they are very much of a type with regard to how they do what they do. Almost all accounts of incest I've ever heard have included both that feeling very special and loved part and then, amazingly, death threats. But the point is that pedophiles seduce children by understanding how to appeal to and relate with them in ways that usually other adults do not. It's very, very creepy how much rapport they can create.

And that's what robatsu's story really reminded me of. He was relatively young and this was an older man. Kraft almost certainly utilized a number of familiar techniques, such as simply taking robatsu's ideas and feelings very seriously. Just actually listening, actively listening, to people is a large part of seduction. But young people generally don't feel like they're listened to, especially by older people. And to have those ideas and feelings validated, as if they really matter and are interesting and worth considering and talking about?

Personally, I have never, ever been comfortable with the notion or practice of seduction, even the normally socially acceptable varieties. I don't want to manipulate someone to like me or be manipulated into liking someone — and there is something that troubles me about the kind of personality who is willing to be that mindful and purposeful in that particular category of interaction. And so in my view, I see all seduction as qualitatively similar, there's essentially something dishonest about it because it's manipulative rather than genuine and in some very true sense the emotional connections being built are artificial and not organic. Or, put another way, they violate Kant's Categorical Imperative. A seduction is treating another person as a means to an end and not an end in themselves.

And that is the dichotomy of this, a figure/ground sort of thing where something that seems like the most amazing connection and acceptance and love from someone else where you feel exceptionally comfortable in your own skin with this person, that you feel interesting and attractive and that you matter — can suddenly become, from a shift of perspective, an extremely frightening and disturbing thing, that, no, you're not loved for who you are in yourself, but you're desired as prey, for a purpose, that those laughs at your jokes and those warm smiles were like a hunter's duck call, a cruel trick that leveraged your need to feel comfortable being vulnerable in order to make you actually vulnerable. To seduce you into a campaign against yourself. It is a betrayal in every possible sense.

It's what we fear love is, when we find it. And in the ordinary course of things, when relationships fail and we're hurt, we imagine that somehow, yes, we were betrayed in the way we feared. But we weren't. Not most of us, most of the time. Those betrayals were the stumbling, erratic course of confused human relationships, not the design.

When it really is the design, when betrayal was what it was, from the very first moment to the last; then, seeing that, seeing it in our own life or in someone else's or merely in fiction, is like seeing deep into the well of darkness itself, into something that threatens to suck us down into oblivion, simply that it is.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 5:07 PM on October 29, 2013 [65 favorites]


To seduce you into a campaign against yourself.

I just really liked that, so I'm repeating it.
posted by gaspode at 5:22 PM on October 29, 2013 [5 favorites]


Isn't there often some overlap between these two scenarios?

Definitely, and that's exactly what I meant - realizing that you were being preyed upon by someone who professed to love you and who you felt emotionally bonded to. It is a really disconcerting and damaging experience, just as you describe, and that is really what I picked up on in Jay's story.

That singular ability to seduce and manipulate people, to hone in, in a matter of hours or minutes, on exactly what a stranger might be missing emotionally, and then do an utterly convincing simulation of filling that need, gives a sociopathic predator nearly unfettered access to a broad swath of humanity, which to me is just as chilling as their lack of empathy and remorse.
posted by Ouisch at 6:01 PM on October 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


Thank you.
posted by Toekneesan at 6:02 PM on October 29, 2013


he realized his passenger had been Aileen Wuormos

Jesus H. Christ it's like Meet the Serial Killer month on Metafilter.

Well it's probably worth mentioning that despite the similarity of their infamous careers, Wuornos and Kraft are about as different as two people can be. As one might ascertain from carmicha's friend's acount, Wuornos is almost exactly the opposite of a sociopath. Her problem isn't a lack of feeling, it's feeling too much and giving in to impulse. Unlike robatsu, Carmicha's friend probably was saved by being conciliatory. Whatever are we to do? There are not only monsters in the world, there are more than one kind and what stays one spurs another.

There are clues. Every account I've read suggests that Wuornos came across as a dangerous kind of tweaker personality from the get-go, and most of her victims were probably would-be johns to whom she represented herself as a hooker and who didn't care about the personality behind what they thought they were buying.

Kraft and Wuornos both ended up patrolling the world looking for an excuse to stick a knife in someone, but in the end their triggers for following through were opposite. Wuornos was just looking for a person who disrespected her and tried to take control to let her rage fly. Kraft was looking to establish control himself first and create a situation in which he would say he had earned his expression of self-actualization.

Monsters like Wuornos are actually pretty easy to identify and avoid, as carmicha's friend did. Monsters like Kraft are much more dangerous even to those who are alert.
posted by localroger at 6:19 PM on October 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


Ivan, that is a terrific, insightful post.
posted by robatsu at 7:03 PM on October 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


Thanks! And thanks for your well-written, thought-provoking piece!
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 7:05 PM on October 29, 2013


Yeah, holy shit, Ivan. The connection between active listening as extremely helpful therapeutic practice and active listening as extremely psychopathic violent seduction is both eye-opening and deeply chilling. Great comment.
posted by mediareport at 8:11 PM on October 29, 2013 [9 favorites]


What a fascinating, well-written story. It reminded me of My Favorite Teacher, an autobiographical essay with a similar theme.
posted by granted at 9:13 PM on October 29, 2013 [12 favorites]


This story combined with the tale of the lightning strike sounds like some kickass southern gothic fiction.

Enough to give me a serious case of the grues. Well done, and keep writing.
posted by BlueHorse at 10:13 PM on October 29, 2013


First, thank you to the author and to the poster for a stunner of an article.

Second:
monsters like Randy Kraft have no human side.

This is always wrong, and dangerous thinking. They are just like us

No, they are not. They are not capable of feeling a very consistent range of emotions most of us take for granted.... Even a "moderate" sociopath can be extremely dangerous in very surprising ways if you do not understand this.


Yes-but. Yes, but the point of saying that this is dangerous thinking, that they are just like us, is to emphasize that you don't know a sociopath is a sociopath. They are just like us. If you only describe them as monsters, then people can and do on some level think, "Well, I'm never going to a motel with a monster." Of course you're not. You're going with someone who is just like us.

Cf. Schroedinger's rapist.
posted by clauclauclaudia at 9:11 AM on October 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


Well, I'm never going to a motel with a monster.

Well the whole point of both the OP and the discussion has been how seductive and persuasive sociopaths can be. Nosferatu does not appear as a snaggle-fanged monster to the person he is seducing.
posted by localroger at 9:16 AM on October 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


Nosferatu does not appear as a snaggle-fanged monster to the person he is seducing.

I believe that is exactly claudiaclaudia's point: no one thinks that they would go to a hotel with a monster because everyone believes that they would be able to discern a monster from someone just like us. So describing sociopaths purely as monsters obscures the fact that they are able to engage in monstrous acts precisely because they can appear just like us, for just as long as they need to.
posted by scody at 11:18 AM on October 30, 2013 [4 favorites]


scody, which is the more frightening monster, the one with alien skin and flashing eyes that practically wears a MONSTER sign around its scaled neck, or the one that can pass as human until it is ready to pounce?

Hint: John Carpenter's remake of The Thing is generally considered better than the original.
posted by localroger at 12:56 PM on October 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


y'all are saying the same thing, but in a different way.
posted by gaspode at 1:25 PM on October 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


what gaspode said. ;-)
posted by clauclauclaudia at 2:21 PM on October 30, 2013


localroger, I have no idea why you keep arguing with me and others on this point; as gaspode says, we are all saying the exact same thing.
posted by scody at 2:23 PM on October 30, 2013


Well yes. The original complaint about my use of the word "monster" was different though; I believe that person thought I was being politically incorrect by denying the humanity of a class of people who might be different in some way, but were still human. My point is that they are really different from us, in ways that will surprise the fuck out of you when you are most vulnerable and least expect it, and you mistake them for normal humans whose facial expressions and behavior reliably indicate certain feelings at your peril.

To me the idea that an apex predator who is laying plans to eat me can pass as a seducer who cares more about my feelings and welfare than anyone I've ever met, is monstrous. It is a much bigger danger than being stalked by something you recognize as a predator or even something you consider innocuous. This killer can talk you into willingly entering the abbattoir. That is the stuff of horror.
posted by localroger at 3:05 PM on October 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


Hell is other people.
posted by LogicalDash at 6:43 PM on October 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


Unfortunately for my boss, I have spent a good deal of my recent working hours reflecting on robatsu's article, the greater links of the FPP, and also granted's link. I am kind of blown away by the psychological lines illuminated by these stories and am reminded of several very close calls in my life, and some events that are, on reflection, being currently reframed as closer calls than they actually appeared or were worked out as such at the time. But, like everyone has been pointing out, I didn't feel scared, I felt special. And, every time, either circumstance or some other more-aware person took me out of harm's way. It makes being here even more miraculous. Thank you for the truly invaluable perspective.
posted by lakersfan1222 at 8:36 PM on October 30, 2013


"Well yes. The original complaint about my use of the word 'monster' was different though; I believe that person thought I was being politically incorrect by denying the humanity of a class of people who might be different in some way, but were still human."

If you want to have this argument, I can play that role, a little bit.

I agree that there are a class of people who are genuinely psychologically distinct in the way that we've been describing. Even with them, though, I'm not convinced that this trait is truly integral, either present or absent. I don't think that is contemporary theory in psychology, either. It's pop-psychology, this idea that serial killers are a different species who have no capacity for empathy, no capacity for love or friendship. I think it's more accurate to describe them as stunted or perverse in these respects, that these aspects of their personality are muted and subordinated to other things. And I think that there are varying degrees of this.

We focus on the extremes because those people are the extremes, their exhibited behavior leaves little doubt that they are very different from normal. For those who aren't so extreme, the people around them see some aberrational behavior that they attribute to more familiar variation in human psychology. They just decide that someone is creepily selfish and manipulative, someone toxic who can nevertheless be very charming.

Alternatively, some people will want to view everyone they've met like that as being distinct from the rest of humanity. Perhaps you're one of those people.

Ironically, the tendency to view others and self in integral, essential ways that makes determinations of "bad" and "good" and "human" and "not human" and such is associated with personality disorders such as BPD.

Finally, I think that many different kinds of people do terrible things, including murder, for many different reasons; only a portion of them have severe personality disorders such as the sociopathy we're discussing. I certainly wouldn't wouldn't characterize my insistence on this point as "political correctness", as that implies that I'm primarily motivated by concern for their rights and empathizing with them. On the contrary, the reason I insist on this point is that I believe that most people are in denial about their own potential to do terrible things and this matters because when people do terrible things, they often delude themselves about what they've done and they deluded themselves about what they were doing when they were doing it. This comes much more easily if you think of yourself as essentially incapable of doing something terrible. If you're not capable of doing a terrible thing, then what you're doing mustn't be terrible, right? You have a good reason.

Sociopaths are remarkable in their absence of such excuses. They are dishonest, of course, but ultimately they tend to be aware that they're doing what they do because they want to do it and it benefits them in some respect and basically they don't really care that they're hurting others or doing things that society says are wrong. This tends to deeply frighten people because a large number of people believe intuitively that social pressure or authority is the only thing that keeps people from doing awful things. Notice how so many theists are convinced that atheism means moral anarchy.

I find sociopaths fascinating, but I don't find them terrifying. Even given their protective coloring and ability to manipulate, I still find them comfortably comprehensible — they are monsters in the night, but you know they're there and why they do what they do.

What I find terrifying are the terrible acts, up to and including atrocities, committed by people who are not sociopaths, but are just mostly ordinary people in (usually) extraordinary circumstances. I can't know when I will find myself in such an extraordinary circumstance, I can't know with certainty whether I will be such a person, and I can't know if the people around me won't be such people. And on a smaller and much more familiar scale, people who are otherwise apparently good people occasionally do terribly hurtful things to other people for reasons that are complex and unpredictable. That reality frightens me.

I think it frightens most people and that's part of why we concentrate so much on the essential monsters of fact and imagination. It's true that it's frightening that we can't know in advance if that charming stranger is going to prove to be a sociopath; but in reflection, either from other's anecdotes or our own experience, or from fiction, they are a known quantity and one that we pretty much can't avoid essentializing as other. In this sense the monster out in the dark, while frightening, is a displacement of our fear of what the people here, in the light, might do to us.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 7:00 AM on October 31, 2013 [11 favorites]


Ivan, while people do evil for many reasons (authoritarian followers are a much bigger problem in the big picture) what is now called ASPD has been described with great consistency ever since Pinel and Pritchard recorded their observations. The term we use for this very consistent personality pattern keeps changing because whatever term is in use eventually gets loaded by association with famous criminals. Expect that to happen to ASPD within a few decades.

It is difficult to reliably tell a sociopath from a normal person in a single encounter, but if you have the misfortune to count one as a friend or lover you will eventually notice an occasional but very remarkable capacity to act with great calculation in contradiction to what seem to be powerful expressed feelings. The rest of the package is also always consistent; they will tend toward thrill seeking, have a high threshold of pain and little fear of either pain or punishment, be very manipulative and deceitful even when it's not necessary, and so on.

There are warning signs, though. See how many from this article might have applied to the OP:
  1. Charisma and charm
  2. Intense eye contact
  3. Convincing you that you are sudden soulmates
  4. Sexual magnetism
  5. Inappropriate and excessive attention (Lovebombing)
  6. Blames other for everything
  7. Lies and gaps in their story
  8. Moves fast to hook up
  9. Pity play-painting a pitiful picture of one’s life
  10. Jekyll and Hyde personality – this pertains to the mask of kindness coming off
Also, there is some evidence starting to point toward oxytocin metabolism as a possible physiological cause.
posted by localroger at 7:54 AM on October 31, 2013 [3 favorites]


A strange characteristic of your replies to others in this thread is that they tend to be non sequiturs, as if you just aren't reading what people are actually saying and instead reacting to what you've mistakenly assumed they were saying.

Many others in this thread beside you have experience with sociopaths and people with other personality disorders. I recognize that you have had some profound experiences with people like this and have correspondingly strong feelings about them. But you're far from alone in this and neither are you alone in having accumulated some scholarly knowledge of them, either.

You seem to want to believe that the personality disorders are some essential characteristic that either is or isn't present. But that isn't the case. Yes, the people who unambiguously have one of the personality disorders are similarly recognizable because they're unambiguous. But many other people exhibit these personality disorders at less severe levels or exhibit some characteristics but not others.

I'm not asserting that there's necessarily some smooth distribution from healthy to the pathology of an unambiguous personality disorder — I'm totally willing to believe that there is some clustering. But that's not the same thing as the assumption that, say, a sociopath has or lacks a particular gene that makes them essentially different from others at birth.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 9:42 AM on October 31, 2013 [4 favorites]


Well Ivan we will have to just agree to disagree. I do think, based on my personal experiences and research, that sociopathy is a consistent phenomenon which doesn't have "degrees," any more than there are "degrees" of "having your leg amputated at the knee." There is something very consistently wrong with these people and the only substantive difference between any two of them is how well they've managed to adapt, which goes to other individual differences like intelligence, education, and experience. But the basic emotional malfunction is amazingly consistent.

I would say that some of the older writings are better than newer ones because the DSM 3 and 4 seem to be in a kind of PC / whitewash mode, possibly because nobody has ever figured out how to physically identify or beneficially treat these people. But the oxytocin thing is very interesting and that might change.
posted by localroger at 6:41 PM on October 31, 2013


Oh, and this: I don't think the problem is genetic. There is no evidence at all that sociopathy is heritable. But it's probably a very specific phenotypical developmental defect.
posted by localroger at 6:43 PM on October 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


Thanks Ivan Fyodorovich - for that bit about seduction,
I think that dynamic of seduction, where you think someone you like, likes you as a person, but it turns out far less than they liked you as prey, is a familiar one to a lot of women, and less familiar to most men.

When people discuss friendzone, and what the difference is between the upset of someone friend-dumping you when you reject their advances, this post from you sums it up what was so hateful as a loner, computer geek teenager, when I had not one, but a whole succession of guys as friends, and one by one, they tried/revealed that they wanted to go out with me, and one by one, when I told them I wasn't into them, dropping me as a friend.
I mean, I would have understood if they needed some space for a bit, but they just stopped talking to me. Was I just a sucky person? Was it all a lie? Even if they *did* like me as a person, it was so clearly subservient to their desire for me as prey.
Process of elimination, I ended up having a lot of gay male friends, and being the geeky one who would fix their computers.


*****

sociopathy - Yeah, I do think it's a matter of degree.
The term is so demonised that people don't think about how common sociopathic traits are.

But, I've kind of watched some people with some sociopathic traits grow up. To take a particular example, a lot of their empathic skills, if not 'sales' skills were delayed, rather than gone, or more learned than innate, and will maybe never get all the way there.
But I'd watch them hit some of developmental milestones just a bit later, so they still thought it was funny that a someone was crying at school because a family member had died, but now, rather than thinking it was funny when someone fell down and hurt themselves badly (you only have to watch america's home videos to realise most people still find that funny, which is somehow intervened when you are worried they are actually hurt), to actually sympathizing when someone hurt their leg, because they had hurt their leg, and knew it was a bad thing. Much of our empathy comes from conceptual understanding, ie I've never hurt myself in that way, but I can see how it would be bad (or mirror neurons actually cause/reflect the emotional pain - if you grew up in an abusive environment, this often causes too much pain, so you shut it down instead), but they kind of had to get a more experiential. They'd empathise once something similar had happened to them, and then it spread wider, and wider, able to generalise out to general events. They obviously still have trouble understanding/empathising with things too far outside their environment (as in they literally have trouble, but they spend the effort trying to figure out what it is that is bothering other people), but they'd still strike you as fairly normal. They actually volunteer and try and help other people from bad backgrounds (they have experienced it).
Sometimes they wig me out when they seem to be sympathising with the 'wrong' side at points "Oh, yeah, I can see why you'd help your friend hide someone they'd murdered, I mean, what else would you do? They're a friend, and also if they were crazy enough to kill them, they might kill you if you don't. What would you do if it was your best friend?"
(My best friend laughed hysterically and said it was ok that I said I'd run and call the damn cops).


So yeah, they definitely have sociopathic *traits* (enough that I was scared how they'd end up when they grew up), but it's a matter of degree, and they still ended up a pretty normal, decent person.
posted by Elysum at 8:42 PM on November 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


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