In 1948, Dr. Hervey Cleckley published The Mask of Sanity after working as a therapist in a mental institution. The book described clinical interviews with incarcerated psychopaths and is still considered on of the most influential clinical descriptions of psychopath. Cleckley’s basic elements of psychopathy outlined in the book are very much relevant today, including the term “mask of sanity,” for the psychopath wears the most versatile and complex of masks.
The psychopath feels no sort of emotional attachment (unlike the sociopath, who some experts believe differs from the psychopath while others consider the term interchangeable). No conscience, guilt, or remorse. No concern for the well-being of anyone. The idea of responsibility is foreign to a psychopath, something they cannot comprehend.
But the scariest aspect of a psychopath is their ability to mask their true identity. Most are highly intelligent, and almost all realize the need to appear as “normal” to society. Completely free of restraint and conscience, they lead double lives, hiding their true selves from everyone around them.
According to recent studies, psychopaths exists in about four percent of the population. Consider this: anorexic is considered to be a near epidemic, and it’s prevalence rate is estimated to be 3.43 percent. Schizophrenia, a well-known and feared disorder, occurs in only about one percent of the population. The CDC states the rate of colon cancer is “alarmingly high.” It only occurs in about 40 out of every 100,000. That’s still less that the estimated number of psychopaths walking around today. Source
Not every psychopath is a serial killer, but many of the most violent serial killers are psychopaths. While not all of them are as famous as Ted Bundy, Charles Manson, and Aileen Warnous, psychopaths have been killing for centuries.
Cordelia Botkin (1854-1910)
Cordelia Botkin met John Dunning in 1895, when she was forty-one. His bicycle had broken down in the park. Botkin was bold, and the younger Dunning (married to a former congressman’s daughter, no less) began an affair with Botkin. She led him into a raucous life of gambling, alcoholism, and sex. When he decided to end the affair, Botkin sent a Dunning’s wife a box of poisoned candy in the guise of a gift from a friend. Dunning’s wife and five friends and family members enjoyed the chocolate. Both the wife and her sister died. Botkin was eventually convicted, and while in jail, she exchanged sexual favors in order to leave whenever she had the notion. She died in 1910.
Dr. Thomas Cream (1850 – 1892)
Dr. Thomas Cream performed abortions in secret throughout Canada and later Chicago, Illinois. Several of his patients died (both genders), and in a bizarre twist, Cream demanded an examination of the bodies, presumably to drawn attention to himself. He was eventually convicted of poisoning the patients. Released in July of 1891, he moved to London and started killing prostitutes. Arrested and hanged in 1892, his last words were reported to have been “I am Jack.” He was imprisoned during the murders, but some authors purport he may have bribed officials and left before his release.
Leonarda Cianciulle (1893-1970)
Sweet little Leonarda Cianciulle murdered three women in Correggio, Italy between 1939 and 1940. Known as the “Soap-Maker of Corregio,” she turned their bodies into soap. Conceived from a rape, she endured a miserable childhood with a resentful mother and twice tried to killer herself. At the time of the murders, Leonarda owned a small soap shop and was thought of as kind, a doting mother and helpful neighbor. When she learned her eldest and favorite child, Giuseppe, was to join the Italian army, she became unhinged and decided human sacrifices were the best way to protect him. Her victims were three middle-aged neighbors. She described getting rid of the body of her first victim:
“I threw the pieces into a pot, added seven kilos of caustic soda, which I had bought to make soap, and stirred the whole mixture until the pieces dissolved in a thick, dark mush that I poured into several buckets and emptied in a nearby septic tank. As for the blood in the basin, I waited until it had coagulated, dried it in the oven, ground it and mixed it with flour, sugar, chocolate, milk and eggs, as well as a bit of margarine, kneading all the ingredients together. I made lots of crunchy tea cakes and served them to the ladies who came to visit, though Giuseppe and I also ate them.”
She also described the other murders and destroying the bodies in vivid detail. Her final victim was the opera singer Virgina Cacioppo.
“She ended up in the pot, like the other two…her flesh was fat and white, when it had melted I added a bottle of cologne, and after a long time on the boil I was able to make some most acceptable creamy soap. I gave bars to neighbors and acquaintances. The cakes, too, were better: that woman was really sweet.”
Eventually arrested and convicted, Cianciulli was sentenced to thirty years in jail and died of a brain hemorrhage.
So what can we learn from these heinous individuals? Don’t trust anyone comes to mind. Psychopaths can blend into any situation and manipulate even the most wary of individuals. That’s why they make such prolific serial killers, and in some cases, like Gary Ridgeway, the Green River Killer, take decades to catch.
Have you ever encountered a psychopath? Remember, many of them aren’t killers. They just leave a wake of destruction. Who’s the best literary psychopath, Hannibal Lecter or Patrick Bateman?