Guess the sociopath killer!

Psychologist and psychotherapist, Caryn Stark, provides an inside look into the mind of the one the world’s most notorious and detested killers.

Here’s a quick quiz for all you crime sleuths: Guess the murderer! (Don’t scroll down too far before guessing)

1. He was well liked, handsome and appeared to be an ideal husband

2. His beautiful, young wife was 8 months pregnant when she went missing on Christmas Eve

3. At first no one, including his in laws, thought he was involved in the disappearance

4. His behavior was surprisingly remote and unaffected given the grim circumstances

5. Eventually his mistress came forward, revealing that he never said he was married and that he continued to be in touch with her, lying about his circumstances, despite his wife’s disappearance

6. He never showed remorse or sorrow. He sat through his trial unresponsive and impassive despite viewing pictures of his dead child’s body when it washed up in San Francisco Bay or his wife’s headless torso when it washed up a day later

7. He was found guilty and sentenced to death by legal injection And finally…

8. He remained stone faced and nonchalant despite hearing his death sentence or the judge who described the murders as “cruel, uncaring, heartless and callous”


Yes, the answer is Scott Peterson, one of our countries most vilified and notorious killers. Nancy Grace was one of the first to cover the disappearance of Scott’s wife, Laci, and she stayed with the story until he was sentenced. Since I had a regular Wednesday slot on the show, I spent many hours reviewing and explaining his personality traits.

[Photo: AP/Justin Sullivan, Pool]

People were incredulous, wondering how this man could remain so uncaring, aloof and arrogant, given the circumstances, the innocence and vulnerability of his adoring wife and unborn child. For me, the answer was perfectly clear: he fit his profile.

Scott was a classic example of a sociopath, truly as textbook a case as anyone I’ve ever encountered. Sociopaths are unable to have authentic emotional responses. They have no empathy and no conscience. Therefore, Laci and Conner were only objects to Scott, no different than a table and chair. When Lacy no longer served her purpose and Scott became interested in someone new, he killed her.

He killed her despite her love for him, her pregnancy, or the fact that it was Christmas eve. He had no remorse because he couldn’t feel remorse. Let me explain. Nancy once asked me why people who murder their spouses don’t just get a divorce. The answer is that divorces are complicated, messy affairs and for sociopaths, murder is quick and, most significantly, satisfying. The lack of affect we saw on television only confirmed the fact that this man was a chameleon, capable of assuming any personality which would work to his benefit.


Lacey’s mother said Scott had no soul, and she was correct. What we call “soul” does not exist in cold- blooded killers. They have no ability to empathize with another person, and they believe they are beyond the law. They are pathological liars, sometimes lying when it would be easier to tell the truth. We know Scott never believed he’d be caught; he showed us his confidence when went on speaking to his mistress, Amber Frey, after Laci’s disappearance.

To me, there has never been anything surprising about Scott Peterson’s personality, except the fact that he made absolutely no attempt to pretend, for the sake of his own life or for the court of public opinion, that he was anything more than what we all saw — an unfeeling, arrogant and soulless monster. I’m going to assume you aced my quiz and remembered Scott. Now here’s the real test: How do you think the monster is doing now, after being imprisoned for more than 10 years?

[Photo: California Department of Corrections]

Do you believe Scott has finally seen the light and is struggling under the weight of his crimes? How about his showing some remorse over the deaths of Laci and his unborn son Conner? Most of all, do you wonder if he’s suffering, as everyone hoped he would, due to the horrific solitude, deprivation and isolation of prison life? Hint, he’s a sociopath.

As trite as it may sound, the answer is simple: once a sociopath always a sociopath. We are not talking about a human being as we define ourselves. Scott Peterson is a monstrous automaton, no different that the deranged computer Hal in 2001: A Space Odyssey. Scott is programmed to survive and so he does, quite well in fact. With a computer’s capacity to erase any glitches, his persona remains that of an untroubled and carefree individual.

He is completely unrepentant and according to his father, Scott is looking forward to having children! This tells us he still believes he’s beyond the law and will ultimately be free. Given the sociopath’s ability to adjust to and manipulate all situations, he’s managed to get himself placed in a unique situation. Unlike the rest of the prison population, which deals with long days locked in over crowded cells, Scott has a private cell in a part of the prison which houses only 70 prisoners. He has access to a rooftop area where he can exercise and play basketball.

A writer who was allowed access to the prison reported that he was actually shooting basketball hoops while she was there and that he appeared to be in great shape, looking younger than his 43 years. We learn that his demeanor remains the same — eerily remote and haughty, unfazed by his imprisonment. In fact, his father confirms that Scott has adjusted well to his life at San Quentin. I’m not surprised to hear that since robots are meant to adapt.

[Dec. 29, 2015: Scott Peterson, center; Photo: AP/Ben Margot]

I’m equally not surprised to learn that his prison life is aided by the generous amount of money he has in his account, allowing him access to special purchases in the commissary. So, my dear crime sleuths, the Scott Peterson we first met in 2002, when we learned of his wife’s disappearance, is the exact same Scott Peterson we meet today. Remember, he has a personality disorder. He is an Anti Social personality, better known as a sociopath. Since he has no conscience (no soul as we know it) he can’t be made to feel anything, let alone repentance or remorse.

At this point you may be wondering if any attempt to rehabilitate him would make a difference. After all, many of us, including his ex-mistress hoped he would serve an endless prison sentence and be forced to live with and confront the horror of his crimes.

Unfortunately, that’s a very unlikely outcome. Can robots become human? Of course they can, in science fiction, but in the real world of 2017, no matter how lifelike they become, robots. remain machines. Scott Peterson, the machine, continues to function with remarkable efficiency.