narcissists, psychology, true crime, videos, YouTube

Should we have all seen it coming?

Although she’s been all over the news all week, I’ve been cautiously waiting to write more about Gabrielle Petito. Even though I kind of knew deep down that the dead body found in Wyoming would probably end up belonging to her, I hesitated to state outright that she was deceased. I didn’t want to get on the bandwagon of assumptions that people often get on in cases like hers.

This is so sad. She was such a lovely young woman with her whole life ahead of her.

I also initially couldn’t bring myself to comment much on this case. So many people were offering opinions that they were very certain about. I still didn’t feel like I had enough information, although the signs were certainly there that Gabrielle Petito was a victim of abuse perpetrated by her boyfriend. Even now, in spite of the many creepy and disturbing signs that Gabby’s boyfriend, Brian Laundrie, is an abuser and potentially a murderer, I don’t want to make that statement outright. Because, in spite of all of the damning signs, I still don’t know for sure. I can only strongly assume, and I feel like there’s enough assuming going on right now. The truth is, a lot of this story is still pretty mysterious, especially since Mr. Laundrie is still missing. At this point, he’s still just a “person of interest”.

What I do know is that abusers come in all shapes, sizes, sexes, and flavors. So, I also hesitate to be among my friends who have been posting things like this…

While I totally agree about trying to teach children not to be abusive, I also know from personal experience that this is a lesson that EVERYONE needs to learn. And sometimes even when you try to teach it, the lesson still gets lost.

Also, sadly, I don’t think this is a lesson that can always be taught. Sometimes a parent can do their very best to teach their children right from wrong, and the kid still grows up to be an abuser. I think some people are just naturally prone to have bad intentions. I can think of a lot of families I’ve known… good, hardworking, decent folks… who have one or two people in their ranks that aren’t quite as upstanding as the rest of the family. So I don’t automatically put the actions of an abuser on the parents. It’s not always their fault.

I don’t know a thing about Brian Laundrie or his parents, so at this point, I really can’t judge the parents for what their son might have done to his girlfriend. But, the other day, I did watch the entire body cam video of the traffic stop involving Laundrie and Gabrielle Petito in Moab, Utah. The video was over an hour in length, so I can’t say I was watching it very intently. I do remember hearing how friendly and at ease Brian seemed to be with the police, even as Gabrielle was crying and clearly upset.

I wonder how the officers involved in this case feel now…

I do want to commend the cops for treating Petito and Laundrie professionally. They were especially kind to Gabby, letting her sit in air conditioning and giving her water. On the other hand, I heard the main cop, who was primarily in charge, repeatedly talking about Gabby to Brian as if they were buddies. He related his story about his own wife, who has “anxiety issues” and needs medication. I don’t think the cop’s wife’s mental health issues are necessarily relevant to this situation. It sounded to me like the officer was making some assumptions without knowing all of the facts. I can’t blame him too much for that. We all do it to some extent. I also think he truly was trying to help, which is commendable, although I think maybe he got a little too friendly with Laundrie. I wonder if the cop would have been as friendly if Laundrie and Petito weren’t young, attractive, white people.

In the wake of the video and the news about Petito’s remains being found, more people have come out to say that they saw Brian mistreating Gabby in public. But even if those people had come forward sooner, I’m not sure what could have been done. I do remember reading one account of a park ranger who told Gabby that her relationship with Brian appeared to be “toxic”. Melissa Hulls, a visitor and resource protection supervisor at Arches National Park in Utah, was among the officers who dealt with the couple when they were stopped in Utah. We don’t see much of what was said to Gabby during the stop, although I do remember hearing the officers discuss whether or not they were going to arrest her for domestic violence against Brian Laundrie. According to the link:

“I was imploring with her to reevaluate the relationship, asking her if she was happy in the relationship with him, and basically saying this was an opportunity for her to find another path, to make a change in her life,” Hulls said of Petito, who was living with Laundrie and his parents in Florida prior to the trip.

“She had a lot of anxiety about being away from him, I honestly thought if anything was going to change it would be after they got home to Florida,” Hulls added.

I remember all too well crying like Gabby in the calm, assured faces of abusers. They made it seem like I was the “crazy” one. For a long time, I felt like I was crazy. And then, when no one else was watching– or the only other witness was a “flying monkey”– the abusers would go off on a rage. I can also see a red flag in Melissa Hulls’ statement about how Gabby was afraid to be away from Brian. Abusive people like to isolate their victims. They get to the point at which they don’t think they can function on their own. That’s how the abuser wants it to be, because then the victim will always be there to take more abuse.

In the end, the cops decided not to file charges against Petito. Even if they had arrested her, I’m not sure if the outcome would have been any different in the long run. But the fact that Gabby might have been arrested is another wrinkle in this situation. Oftentimes, people who are being abused don’t want to ask for help because if they do fight back, there is a chance that they will be the ones who end up in cuffs. My husband was abused by his ex wife in just about every possible way. He never reported her behavior to the police because he knew that it was just as likely that he’d wind up in trouble. She also had him convinced that everything was his fault. In the above police body cam video, you can hear Gabby talking about how she’d made Brian angry.

Hulls adds that when the stop was made, the police officers really did think it was a mental health situation caused by the two of them being together for too long, living in austere conditions. They had no reason to believe at the time that either party was truly in any danger. More than once, I heard the police refer to Gabrielle’s diminutive size compared to Brian’s, although Brian was the one with visible injuries. And Brian was very calm and friendly, while Gabby was crying and distraught. I think it’s important for people to remember that police officers aren’t necessarily mental health experts. Their job is to assess whether or not crimes are committed and enforce the laws. But clearly, Melissa Hulls got a bad feeling about Brian Laundrie.

Another couple from Louisiana, who happened to be vacationing in Jackson, Wyoming when Gabby and Brian were passing through, remember witnessing a “commotion” at a restaurant. Nina Angelo, and her boyfriend, Matt England, saw Gabby and Brian leaving The Merry Piglets Tex-Mex restaurant on August 27th. Brian was reportedly clearly agitated and angry, going in and out of the restaurant and being abusive toward the wait staff and hostess. The waitress who took care of Gabby and Brian also experienced abuse from Brian and was very shaken. Later that same day, Gabby’s mother, Nichole Schmidt, received a strange text that supposedly came from Gabby. It was the last communication she got from her daughter.

Later, on August 29th, a couple in Wyoming gave Brian a ride. They said he offered to pay $200 for the ride, even before he got in their car. The couple said Brian told them Gabby was at the van, working on her blog. But when it turned out the couple was going to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, rather than Jackson, Brian allegedly became “very agitated” and asked them to stop the car. He got out of the vehicle near Jackson Dam, less than 30 minutes after they’d picked him up.

These signs that are surfacing now tell us that maybe people should have done more. I think it’s hard to take action in a case that doesn’t seem cut and dry. We’re taught to mind our own business and give people the benefit of the doubt… and there’s also the very real risk that the abuser will turn on those who intervene. There were a few people who did try to do something.

On August 12, someone called the police to report a domestic dispute between Petito and Laundrie. In the 911 call, the caller says “We drove by and the gentleman was slapping the girl… Then we stopped. They ran up and down the sidewalk. He proceeded to hit her, hopped in the car, and they drove off.” Another bystander named Chris reported to the police that he saw Gabby and Brian fighting in Utah. He heard Gabby say something along the lines of “Why do you have to be so mean?” He also saw Gabby punching Brian in the arm and the face, trying to take a cell phone from him. He described their interaction as “aggressive.” Below is a video by the Body Language Guy, who analyzes Laundrie’s body language.

Jesus Enrique Rosas is convinced that Gabby was a victim of abuse.

And yet, even though all of this was going on, no one was willing or able to intervene in time to stop Gabrielle Petito’s murder. The autopsy does confirm that she was killed in a homicide. It certainly looks very much like Brian Laundrie had something to do with it. In fact, it looks like he had everything to do with it. I will be very surprised if it turns out he’s innocent. But until I know that for sure, I hesitate to say he’s asbolutely guilty of murder, because we haven’t heard the whole story yet. What I do think is clear is that he regularly abused his girlfriend and, whether or not she “gave as good as she got”, she’s the one who is definitely dead.

Of course, at this point, it looks like Brian might possibly also be deceased. He has somehow disappeared in Florida, and officials there have brought in deep divers and special equipment to see if he’s somewhere at the bottom of an alligator and snake infested swamp or something. The mystery continues.

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psychology, true crime

True crime bonanza… Gabrielle Petito, Brian Laundrie, and Alex Murdaugh…

The featured photo is an idyllic spot in Germany… I posted it because both of these cases involve idyllic places where crimes were committed.

This morning, I woke up to the news that it looks like the authorities might have found the body of 22 year old Gabrielle “Gabby” Petito in a “remote, but popular” camping spot in Wyoming. I will admit, I haven’t been following this case very closely, but I would have to be living under a rock not to have seen her young, hopeful, smiling face on the Internet, as worried friends, family, and authorities have been searching for her.

At this point, it looks like her fiance, Brian Laundrie, could have done something terrible to the pretty young woman. She was known for driving around in a tricked out van and vlogging about her experiences, seeing the country. Gabby and Brian were traveling across the United States, documenting their experiences on social media. At one point, they were stopped by the police near Moab, Utah. Gabby was almost cited for domestic violence because Brian had visible injuries, but police ultimately decided to just separate the couple for the night.

Petito’s mother, Nichole Schmidt, says that she and her daughter last communicated by FaceTime on August 23rd or 24th, and there were a few texts after that. Petito and Laundrie were visiting the Grand Teton National Park when Petito disappeared. And now, a body matching her description has been found. Laundrie has evidently lawyered up and isn’t speaking to the police. He’s now back home in Florida. His family members have offered “thoughts and prayers”.

Bill and I were talking a little bit about this case yesterday. While it’s very suspicious that Mr. Laundrie has lawyered up and doesn’t want to talk to the police, we both came to the conclusion that getting a lawyer is probably the smartest thing Laundrie can do, even if he’s innocent. But it sure doesn’t look good for him. He’s now a “person of interest” in a potential murder. It does look pretty certain that the body found in Wyoming might very well be that of Petito’s.

Gabrielle Petito’s case is a compelling story, and one that I would probably avidly follow, if not for the other stuff in the media. Also tracking in the news right now is the very weird story about prominent South Carolina attorney Alex Murdaugh. Mr. Murdaugh, who is 53 years old, comes from a long line of lawyers in the Low Country of South Carolina. A few months ago, he came home to find his wife and son, Paul, murdered. Or, at least that’s the story he was telling.

Recently Murdaugh was sitting in jail, having turned himself in after he admitted to hiring a hit on himself. He allegedly paid a client to kill him, so his older son, Buster, might get a $10 million insurance payout. Murdaugh recently resigned from the law firm that bears his surname because he allegedly embezzled money to pay for his supposed addiction to opiates. Younger son Paul, who was found dead with his mother, had been facing criminal charges at the time of his death. In 2019, Paul Murdaugh caused a drunk boating accident that left a young woman dead.

It’s possible that the drunk boating accident and subsequent murders are related to the senior Murdaugh’s legal troubles. One day after Alex Murdaugh resigned from the law firm, he was shot in the head. He claimed that he was changing a tired when someone opened fire on him. Later, it turned out that Murdaugh had hired a former client named Curtis Edward Smith to kill him for insurance money. Murdaugh mistakenly believed that his son, Buster, would not be able to get the insurance money if Murdaugh took his own life.

The “hit” didn’t go off as planned; the bullet merely grazed the attorney. Smith has admitted to shooting the lawyer for money, and he’s now in trouble. He faces a number of criminal charges, including conspiracy to commit insurance fraud, assault and battery, assisted suicide and possession of drugs.

Murdaugh did go into rehab for his drug problem, prior to turning himself in to the authorities. I would be very surprised if Alex Murdaugh doesn’t go to prison very soon. At this writing, after posting $20,000 bond, Murdaugh has been allowed out of jail temporarily, as he continues drug rehab and awaits his legal fate.

If I were the type of person to write true crime– and maybe in another life I would have been– either of these stories would make for compelling subjects. I think I’d probably be more interested in Murdaugh’s story. It sounds like there’s a fascinating family dynasty history behind the perfect storm that led to where he is right now. I would guess he has had a privileged life up until this point, but for some reason, that wasn’t enough. Next thing you know, he’s hooked on powerful opiates which have ruined his life. How does a high-powered attorney from a long line of high-powered attorneys wind up facing prison? I’m sure greed, a thirst for power, and succumbing to basic instincts have a lot to do with it.

I would also be interested in knowing if his son, Paul’s, troubles were related. They probably were, in some way. Obviously, boating while drunk is irresponsible… but driving a boat when you’re as young as he was indicates a privileged lifestyle… and perhaps an attitude that one is above the law. Of course, I’m speculating. It could be that that the truth is a lot weirder. I’m sure some ambitious writer will eagerly take on researching this case. I’d also be interested in the Murdaugh case because I used to live in South Carolina. I can pretty much picture the type of people the Murdaughs are, having worked in a country club near Columbia.

Adding to the intrigue, of course, is the death of Murdaugh’s long-time housekeeper, Gloria Satterfield, back in 2018. Satterfield was 57 years old when her life ended. Murdaugh had said at the time that the housekeeper died after tripping over Murdaugh’s dogs and falling down some stairs. An autopsy did not conclude that Satterfield died due to injuries sustained in a slip and fall accident. And Satterfield’s sons have complained that Mr. Murdaugh never paid them damages after their mother’s death.

Ever since the Murdaugh story broke, I’ve been watching with interest. From the beginning, I thought it sounded like a story that would make for a good true crime book. But now, it seems that everyone’s talking about Gabrielle Petito’s tragic story. I think that story will also end up being covered by a true crime author.

True crime is an interesting genre. It’s based on tragedies that come about from the worst impulses and instincts of humans. It seems immoral to be “entertained” by stories about crimes perpetrated against other humans. And yet, true crime is interesting, because in incorporates so many fields within it. The stories are also true, which means they weren’t necessarily dreamed up by someone with a vivid imagination. I usually find myself drawn to them because I’m interested in psychology, and true crime stories almost always have an element of psychology within them. I’m always intrigued as to how people, often folks who were previously law abiding, end up in so much trouble. And I always wonder what makes them think they will get away with their crimes.

But as I have found out, having blogged about other stories I’ve read about in the news, there’s always a family or friends behind every story. And those people read about their loved ones and are hurt anew. I’ve written innocuous posts about news articles I’ve read on people I don’t know. More than once, someone has contacted me. Sometimes, they’re angry because they think I’m “insensitive”, even if all I’ve done is report what was in the news and offered speculation on what *might* have happened. Other times, people have contacted me, asking me to write more about their loved one’s story. I don’t mind doing that, for the most part. I’m sure it’s frustrating to read what’s in the press with no way to add to it.

In any case, it’ll be interesting to see what comes of these stories. I’m sure there are writers lining up to research these stories and write best selling books about them. I may even read and review them, although I’m finding it harder to read things as quickly as I used to, so I’m more selective about my reading material than I was in the past. I do think Mr. Murdaugh’s story will be one I’ll want to read. Hell, if it were 30 years ago, I would expect Murdaugh’s story to become a televised miniseries. Isn’t it interesting how we in America turn tragedies into televised entertainment for the masses? As my Italian friend Vittorio would put it– weird-o-rama.

Either way… it’s nice not to be writing about the usual 2021 topics today… and now I have to stop writing, because the dogs are bugging me for a walk.

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book reviews, true crime

Repost: My review of They Always Call Us Ladies by Jean Harris…

This will be the last repost of today, an as/is Epinions book review I wrote of They Always Call Us Ladies, by Jean Harris. It was written in October 2005. The paragraph immediately below is an introduction I wrote when I reposted this review on my original blog, on January 21, 2015.

Here’s yet another interesting review of a book written by a woman who committed murder.  In this case, the perpetrator was Jean Harris, former head of The Madeira School in McClean, Virginia.  She shot her lover, Dr. Herman Turnover, creator of the Scarsdale Diet, dead when she found out he was being unfaithful to her.  Well educated and well employed, Jean Harris was the last person anyone would have ever expected would end up behind bars.  In 1992, Harris was released from prison on compassionate grounds.  She died of natural causes in an assisted living center on December 23, 2012.  She was 89 years old.

A very unlikely voice from behind bars…

Jean Harris, author of the 1988 book They Always Call Us Ladies is probably the last person anyone would have ever guessed would have ever spent time in prison. Harris, who is a graduate of Smith College, had spent her whole life educating people, even working as the headmistress of the exclusive and very expensive Madeira School for girls in toney Great Falls, Virginia. But in March of 1980, the 15 year relationship she had with Dr. Herman Tarnower, creator of the Scarsdale Diet, came to an end. She fell into despair and decided to visit Dr. Tarnower in New York. Unfortunately, she brought a gun with her, allegedly planning to kill herself that night. She ended up killing her lover instead and wound up sentenced to 15 years to life in prison. 

Much has come to light about Jean Harris’s case. In fact, just last week, my husband Bill and I caught a special on Court TV about Jean Harris. She is now out of prison, having been released in 1993 after thirteen years behind bars. Her book, They Always Call Us Ladies, was written four years prior to her release from behind the walls of Bedford Hills Correctional Facility for Women in Bedford Hills, New York. As I read this book, I got the feeling that Jean Harris was trying to make the best of her situation, as hard as it was for her. In many ways, They Always Call Us Ladies is an eye-opening book. In other ways, it leaves some questions unanswered.  

I don’t remember exactly when or where it was that I picked up Jean Harris’s book. I do remember that I got it at a second hand bookstore, probably about ten or eleven years ago. I was lured by the subtitle: Stories From Prison. I didn’t even have an idea who Jean Harris was when I purchased this book. I suppose I was looking for lurid details. At the time, I lacked an appreciation for books that weren’t long on action. I remember trying to read They Always Call Us Ladies and setting it aside after only a few pages or so. I was disappointed because I felt like I didn’t get what I had been looking for.  

I picked up Jean Harris’s book again last week after I saw the special about her on television. This time, when I started reading it, I was able to keep going. And now, I have a great deal of respect and admiration for Jean Harris, the convicted murderer.  They Always Call Us Ladies is a remarkable book that goes far beyond just “prison stories”. Jean Harris also tries to educate her audience about the history of her prison and the importance of prison reform. Clearly intelligent and articulate, Harris offers readers some valuable insight into what it’s like to be in prison and puts a human face on the ladies with whom she did time. She points out that no one is ever called a “girl” in her prison; instead, they are all called ladies. But despite the overtures of gentility, prison life is hard and Jean Harris effectively drives home that point. 

At the time Jean Harris wrote They Always Call Us Ladies, she was more than halfway to her first opportunity for parole. She focused a lot of time and energy toward helping the other inmates, especially those with children who were born in prison. The fact that she actively spent much of her time helping and getting to know her fellow inmates is clearly evident as she relates more stories about the “ladies” around her than herself. It’s not surprising that Harris is empathetic to the other ladies. She explains how and why some of the other prisoners ended up in prison and why a few of them came back again and again. They were simply unequipped for life on the outside of the prison’s walls. At the same time, Harris injects her own opinions about what she sees. Although she is sometimes disapproving toward the lifestyles of the ladies with whom she is serving time, she is always supportive of them as human beings. I got the feeling that she took a fond motherly or grandmotherly interest in the other prisoners and they, in return, took a similar interest in her. 

One thing that did strike me about They Always Call Us Ladies was that, although Harris makes it clear that her life was hard, I got the feeling that the prison she was in was very progressive. The prison had a children’s center, where new moms could keep their babies for a year. If the mother was going to be paroled within eighteen months of giving birth, officials would allow the mothers to keep the child until the mom got out. Harris explains that Bedford Hills was the only American prison that was allowing new mothers to keep their babies at all. She then points out that in Europe, prisons are much more accommodating. I got the feeling that she much preferred the European way of doing things. It’s not that I blame her for liking the European way better, but I did notice that Harris doesn’t really explain the differences between the European and American cultures. Just as some people view imprisonment as strictly punishment, other people see it as a chance for rehabilitation. I got the impression that Harris is more for rehabilitation than punishment and evidently that’s the way the Europeans feel about prisons, too. 

Another thing that stuck out at me as I read They Always Call Us Ladies is that it must have been a HUGE culture shock for Jean Harris to be in prison. She is nothing like the other ladies she writes about and, I suspect, that Jean Harris never had much of a criminal mind. In fact, I think it was a tragic turn of events that led her to prison in the first place. Because she is so much a fish out of water, she gives her readers a rare and different glimpse of life on the inside of a prison. She doesn’t seem like she belongs there.  

Jean Harris does include some examples of dialogs she heard in prison, even writing them in dialect. She explains the racism that she witnessed in prison, mostly directed at her fellow inmates. She comes across as almost detached. I had heard on a few occasions that homosexuality is rampant in prisons and Jean Harris doesn’t dispute this fact; in fact, she offers statistics on homosexuality in prisons. She also doesn’t give any indication as to whether or not she engaged in homosexual conduct. She seems especially detached from this issue as it personally pertains to her, even though she addresses it regarding other prisoners. 

Harris’s memoir does include some foul language, but it’s used in the context of quoting other people. She never uses it herself and doesn’t condone its use in other people. In fact, in one passage, she writes disapprovingly that those who must use the word “sh*t” in place of every noun have a serious deficiency in their vocabularies. As I read They Always Call Us Ladies, I was continually reminded that Jean Harris is first and foremost a teacher, not because she actually wrote those words, but because of her actions and her writing style. I do believe that Harris must have been a great asset to her students, despite the fact that she later wound up in prison. 

My comments on They Always Call Us Ladies so far have been overwhelmingly positive. For the most part, I did really enjoy reading this book, even though it’s been sitting on my shelf unread for years. Despite my positive comments, however, this is not a perfect book. For one thing, Harris writes a lot about legislation circa 1988. For an historical point of view, this is a good thing. I get the feeling, though, that Harris didn’t mean for her book to be read years down the line; she meant for it to be read when it was hot off the presses. Consequently, her references to “now” and 1988 drive home just how dated this book is. For another thing, anyone who is looking for information about what got Harris put in prison will be disappointed.  For that story, you’d have to read one of her other books. 

Because she doesn’t really discuss her crime, I almost got the feeling that she didn’t think she belonged in prison. I got the feeling that even though she was in prison, she wasn’t of it. And while at times her writing drifts very slightly into self pity, she never really gave me the impression that she felt like she deserved to be in prison, even though she did kill a man. Again, I don’t believe that Jean Harris initially set out to kill Tarnower. That doesn’t change the fact that she did kill him. Yet, there are times in this book that she seems to take a detached, almost superior position over the inmates about whom she writes. On the other hand, I have no idea what prison must have been like for Jean Harris. Maybe taking this position offers her a defense mechanism– a way to protect herself from the reality of her situation. The last, but not necessarily negative, comment I want to make is that this book is challenging reading. Even though I enjoyed reading They Always Call Us Ladies, I didn’t find it the kind of book that I could finish in a matter of hours.

They Always Call Us Ladies appears to be out of print. If my review has enticed you to seek it out, be warned that you may have some trouble finding it. Nevertheless, I will recommend it to a wide audience because I think it is an impressive and enlightening book. If you have any interest in prison reform or history and want to read an eloquent, true account from someone who’s seen prison firsthand, I definitely would encourage you to read this book if you get the chance.  

As an Amazon Associate, I get a small commission from Amazon on sales made through my site.

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book reviews, true crime

Repost: A review of Give A Boy A Gun by Jack Olsen…

And one more as/is reposted book review… this one was published on my original blog in November 2015.

I recently finished the late Jack Olsen’s book, Give A Boy A Gun: The True Story of Law and Disorder in the American West.  This book was originally published in 1985 and has since be reprinted.  I’m pretty sure I bought this book during one of my drunken Amazon book shopping sprees.  I bought another of Olsen’s books on that spree and, having read at least one or two of his books before, knew he was a good true crime writer.  For some reason, I read Give A Boy A Gun before the other book.  It took awhile to finish it and now that I have, it’s time to write a review.

Give A Boy A Gun is the story of Claude Lafayette Dallas, Jr., a drifter of a man who was known for being a hardworking guy who would take on temporary gigs at ranches in western states.  He worked as a cowpuncher and a handyman and was well regarded for his work.  He was also known for illegally trapping and poaching animals.  Dallas was well-known to game wardens, who would bust him for his illegal traps.

Born in Virginia and raised in Michigan and upper Ohio, Dallas had a father who was a big believer in teaching his son how to use a gun.  His motto was “Give a boy a gun and you’re makin’ a man.”  Dallas was always armed and had visions of being a mountain man.  He would often kill animals for fun, even though he didn’t need the meat. 

One snowy day in January 1981, two Idaho game wardens happened to cross Dallas’s path.  He shot and killed them both in front of a witness.  Then, for fifteen months, Dallas was on the run.  He was eventually captured in northern Nevada during a shootout and convicted of voluntary manslaughter.  Dallas was a likable character and managed to get out of a murder rap.  Olsen skillfully and colorfully writes the story in Give A Boy A Gun.

I’m of two minds about this book.  First off, I appreciated Olsen’s writing style.  It’s very vivid and novel-like.  In this particular book, I felt like I was reading the words of a great storyteller and not just a book about people being murdered by a cold blooded killer.  On the other hand, though I appreciated Olsen’s writing ability, I wasn’t that interested in Dallas’s story.  I don’t think it’s so much Olsen’s fault as it is that I just didn’t find Dallas that intriguing.  However, the people of Soda Springs, Idaho, where Dallas committed his crimes, no doubt find this book fascinating. Interestingly enough, I’ve read other books by Jack Olsen that I didn’t think were as vividly written.

As someone who loves reading and enjoys writing, I noticed Olsen’s skill and talent in writing Give A Boy A Gun.  As a true crime fan, I have to admit that I’ve read better books that were more interesting to me, personally.  I would probably rate this book at about three and a half stars. 

Incidentally, Dallas served 22 years of a 30 year sentence.  He was released from prison in February 2005.  This is despite the fact that he escaped in March 1986 and was on the run for almost a year.  As this book was originally published before the escape, I don’t think I read about it… 

As an Amazon Associate, I get a small commission from Amazon on sales made through my site.

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book reviews, LDS, psychology, true crime

Repost: A review of Confessions of a Sociopath: A Life Spent Hiding in Plain Sight

Here’s an as/is book review that was originally posted on February 10, 2016.

So, I just finished M.E. Thomas’s Confessions of a Sociopath: A Life Spent Hiding in Plain Sight (2013).  I think I’m left with mixed impressions of this book.  On the positive side, I thought it was reasonably well written, if not occasionally a bit dry.  Thomas offers some interesting theories as to how having sociopathic tendencies could be a positive for some people.  On the negative side, I found Thomas to be rather unlikable, occasionally disturbing, and really more narcissistic than sociopathic.  Also, though she frequently describes herself as “smarter” than regular people and above being emotional, I notice that she does some really dumb things.

I think one of the dumbest things Thomas (a pseudonym) did was go on the Dr. Phil show after she published this book.  I own a newer edition of Confessions of a Sociopath.  At the end of the book, there are some extra materials that include an epilogue about the aftermath of Thomas’s decision to publish Confessions of a Sociopath. 

Thomas writes that she was very careful not to share too much about herself on her blog or in her book.  And yet, Internet sleuths being what they are, her real identity was discovered and she was promptly fired from her job as a law professor.  She was also barred from being within 1000 feet of the university where she worked.  Thomas writes that she doesn’t think the restriction is legally enforceable and notes that it is a significant inconvenience to her, since the area around the school includes her bank, several public transportation stops, and other places she’d need to visit.  Thomas writes that personality disorders are legally protected under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), but she doesn’t think a jury would be sympathetic to her if she decided to sue. 

From what I can tell, Thomas is still LDS, which I think is pretty much the height of stupidity.  Based on what I’ve read, Thomas was employed by Brigham Young University, which is a Mormon owned school.  She complains that they are discriminating against her; just as they do to many people, to include homosexuals and apostates.  And yet, she’s still in the church.  

Even if I didn’t have serious issues with the way some Mormons treat others who aren’t like them, and even though I realize that there are many attractive, talented, and otherwise intelligent people in the church, I just think Joseph Smith was a liar and a con man, among other things.  People who choose to believe the lies the church was based on and accept its policies are, in my opinion, showing some serious logic deficits.  But then, Thomas writes that she frequently does things that other people might think of as crazy or stupid.  She habitually lives in the sketchiest parts of town, where rents are cheap but burglaries are frequent.  She even walked in on a burglary once, yet didn’t decide to move. 

A lot of the examples Thomas uses to describe her so-called “sociopathic” behavior don’t seem all that sociopathic to me.  She writes of one incident where she gets angry at a guy working at the metro in Washington, DC.  The guy yells at her for trespassing.  She says she wants to kill him and follows him for a couple of blocks before she loses him.  In another passage, she writes of trying to kill a baby opossum in a swimming pool.  It fell in there and was on its way to drowning before she found it.  She isn’t able to do it.  Later, she fishes the corpse out of the pool and tosses it over a fence.  Big deal.  She fights with her father.  Who hasn’t? 

Thomas repeatedly explains that she doesn’t really enjoy being a lawyer.  She says she’s a lazy person who thrives on any activity that allows her to game “the system”.  Maybe law was a good field for her for that reason, but one thing good lawyers should be able to do is show good judgment and protect one’s reputation.  I don’t think publishing this book was an example of good judgment, even though Thomas claims that she’s okay with the consequences.  Given that she admits to being sexually attracted to and acting on her attraction to both males and females, I’m surprised she’s still LDS.  She does write that being Mormon forces her to be accountable and a “good person”, so maybe that’s a good thing.   At the same time, she writes about how bloodless and calculating lawyers are.  Hmmm…

I did find Thomas’s anecdotal examples of what makes someone sociopathic versus narcissistic somewhat interesting, though I’m not sure I totally agreed with them.  And, again, I have certainly read books that were not as well written.  I don’t think Thomas is very likable, though she insists that she is… and that people don’t seem to notice her sociopathic tendencies.  I find that somewhat hard to believe, though maybe I’m biased.  Thomas does write that she runs into a lot of people who think sociopaths are inherently evil people.  I’m not sure if that’s true, since I’m not really certain that Thomas is a sociopath.  To me, she seems a lot more like a malignant narcissist than a sociopath.  I’m no expert on sociopaths, though…. On the other hand, I’m not so sure Thomas is, either.

Anyway, I didn’t hate this book.  I didn’t love it.  It has three stars on Amazon.com and I think that’s what I’d give it, too.  Thomas is clearly intelligent and some of what she writes is interesting.  Since she lost her job, maybe it’s not a bad thing that I bought her book.  Of course, given her self-proclaimed ability to charm people, she’s probably landed on her feet somewhere.  Who knows?  Read it if it interests you, though I certainly wouldn’t call Confessions of a Sociopath a must read.

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