HEART OF DARKNESS
Tall, Charming and Psychopathic
The belief in a supernatural source of evil is not necessary; men alone are quite capable of every wickedness.—Joseph Conrad
An excerpt from Richard Lettieri’s Decoding Madness: A Forensic Psychologist Explores the Criminal Mind
In some ways, Randall was an ordinary thirtysomething. He joined the marines in his late teens, determined to serve his country. Secretly he wore contacts to conceal his poor vision during the entrance physical examination. When his liability was revealed during training exercises, he was sent packing, having enlisted under false pretense.
He wanted so much to be a marine. Randall imagined himself in that impressive dress uniform, in combat, fighting for his country. Now, all he had to show for his efforts was the marine crest tattooed on his left shoulder. I was told by a family member how he loved the thought of being a combat soldier. And how he loved showing off his tattoo, even though he served for less than a month.
Just the same, Randall could claim to be one with a desire to serve and be a part of something. It was a thirst that seemed to develop early. Raised a Catholic, he was an altar boy who talked about entering the seminary and becoming a priest.
He eventually settled into a more traditional lifestyle, one that was ostensibly fulfilling, at least on the surface. At the age of thirty-three, Randall was married and living in a condo with his pregnant wife and
two-year-old daughter. Hardworking, he was recognized in his employer’s monthly newsletter for his sales prowess. So impressed were his superiors, he was selected to run a seminar for new employees on how to “close the deal.”
Randall is the tall, dark, and handsome type. Coupled with an easy smile and amiable way, it wasn’t hard to understand why he was liked by so many, especially women. His physical good looks, his ease of expression, and charismatic ways all adjoined into a sales talent that seemed preternatural. He was destined for great professional things. And with his beautiful wife, young daughter, and another child on the way, he seemed to have it all.
So it came as quite a shocking jolt to all when Randall was arrested and charged with murdering his pregnant wife and daughter. Before the call from his attorney, I had heard a headline on the radio about a suspect being arrested for killing his family. I’ve worked on many similar-sounding cases: a husband or boyfriend goes berserk at the thought of his partner leaving and, in the heat of blazing passion, kills. Though provided with only the most basic details by the attorney during that first phone call, I was stunned by its grim heartlessness. If true, Randall was alleged to have killed his family and to have disposed of the bodies. Before the arrest, he had filed a missing persons report with the police. He and his wife Emma had been separated for about six months at the time. He claimed she was vindictive and aimed to prevent him from having contact with Kara, his daughter, and the upcoming newborn to punish him.
His wife’s body was later found in a shallow grave in a national park within driving distance of Randall’s apartment. Kara was missing. Forensic evidence from his wife’s condo revealed blood traces of two victims. The blood samples matched those of Emma and Kara.
Randall was arrested about three weeks after he reported his family missing. Remarkably, during the interim, he had thrown a party at his apartment for coworkers and neighbors. On the day of his arrest, he and a current girlfriend were on their way to the airport for a vacation in New
York City. He was detained at Los Angeles International Airport.
As is usual in cases like this, my immediate reaction is like everyone else’s: more visceral than clinical. Something like, “That can’t be. How can anybody do something like that?” My gut responded with jolting horror. What happened? Randall’s pregnant wife was dead, and the blood evidence seemed to confirm that his young daughter was as well. Three pulsating hearts, violently extinguished forever, two just commencing their journey. The spiritual is not within my province, though I understand why others may see such malevolence as beyond human depravity and stemming from some kind of supernatural evil. For me, it derives from an all-too-earthly derailment and distortion of psychological being. It’s at the dark tip of Jung’s shadow, at the wicked end of the daimonic spectrum.
The forensic evidence accumulated was unimpeachable: Randall murdered his pregnant wife and daughter. And blithely carried on with his life.
Randall had exposed a face of radical human evil.
About Decoding Madness:
See what it’s like to conduct an interview with someone who had committed a heinous crime, like killing a parent or child.
The criminal justice system serves as a petri dish to investigate the full spectrum of our basic makeup. Decoding Madness offers an in-depth psychological understanding of defendants and their personal complexities, beyond the usual clinical accounts offered by forensic psychologists. The book introduces the novel idea of the daimonic as a basic force of human nature that is the source of our constructive and destructive capacities.
Dr. Lettieri brings these points home by presenting a nuts-and-bolts look into what it takes to complete psychological examinations of defendants accused of committing heinous crimes, and the insight that it provides into human nature.
With cases like Michael, who stabbed his mother in the back believing she was the evil force causing the sun to descend upon the earth and gobble him up, and Tina, who seriously injured her boyfriend and stabbed his son to death, Decoding Madness is filled with gripping stories and forensic analysis. Through psychological examination, it is the author’s job to conclude whether these individuals are truly guilty and understand their actions are wrong, or if these individuals are not guilty by reason of insanity and instead require treatment.
Featuring new findings and personal insights, Dr. Lettieri presents an engrossing view of the psychology of defendants accused of committing heinous crimes and the insight that they provide towards the human mind.