Tag Archives: thriller

Are Psychopaths Born or Made?

by Kassandra Lamb

We’re getting 2015 off to a great start with a joyful post on… psychopaths! Hey, we’re mystery writers; what can we say?

This is the final installment in a three-part series on Psychopaths and Serial Killers that I began back in November. We’ve got psychopaths on the brain right now because I recently released a thriller with a serial killer antagonist. And another of our authors, Vinnie Hansen, also has a psychopath in her new release, Black Beans and Venom (see her book below).

Psychopaths are totally self-centered, thrill seekers who lack empathy, remorse and rarely feel fear. They are heavily represented among criminals (although not all criminals are psychopaths) and con artists, but also among politicians and business tycoons.

Ponzi mugshot

Mugshot of con artist Charles Ponzi–after whom Ponzi schemes were named.

For more about their nature see the first post, What Is A Psychopath?

They make up roughly 3% of the U.S. male population and 1% of the females. A much smaller (thank God!) subgroup of psychopaths are serial killers. To read more about what makes them tick, go to my guest post on the subject HERE.

The question I’m most frequently asked regarding psychopaths is whether they are born or made. The answer is “Yes.” They are both born and made.

Lots of research tells us there’s a genetic predisposition to antisocial behavior, i.e., behavior that goes against society, that defies the rules, breaks the law. This predisposition doesn’t usually come to fruition, however, unless the person grows up in a very unhealthy environment. Full-blown psychopaths almost always come from abusive backgrounds, with harsh and often inconsistent parenting.

But before I get into the details of how this works, let me point out that these are explanations for why certain children develop into psychopaths. They are not excuses for their psychopathic behavior once they are adults!

Here are the major characteristics of psychopaths, and what we know so far (or strongly suspect) about how genetics and environment interact in these areas:

1.   Lack of remorse: There seems to be something inherently wrong with the wiring of psychopaths’ brains with regard to the development of a conscience. Most children, by age five, are starting to feel guilty when they break the rules they’ve internalized from their environment. But not budding psychopaths. They don’t feel remorse or guilt as readily as most children do.

Combine this faulty wiring with inconsistent, too harsh or even downright abusive parenting that confuses the child as to what the rules are and why one should obey them, and you quickly have an out-of-control child.

2.   Lack of empathy: Another area where the wiring may be lacking to begin with is empathy, our natural ability to feel what others are feeling. On the mild to moderate end of the genetic predisposition continuum, the child is capable of feeling some empathy.

child covering eyes

photo by appropos CC 2.0 Flickr nonderivative

With the guidance of a patient, loving parent, this empathy can be nurtured. I’ve seen a couple real-life examples of this! But in a highly dysfunctional abusive environment, that glimmer of empathy gets snuffed out early on.

3.   Learning deficits: The vast majority of people with antisocial personality disorder (the official diagnosis for psychopaths) have learning disabilities, especially attention deficit problems. Seventy-five percent have full-blown ADHD (which is genetically transmitted). The ADHD child does not make the connection between behavior and consequences nearly as readily as children normally do (Please take my word for this so I can spare you the long, boring brain-malfunction explanation).

Children with ADHD often don’t get it that what they just did is the cause of the punishment the parent or teacher is inflicting on them. From their perspective, the adult is just being mean, for some inexplicable reason. Put a child with these learning deficits in an environment where discipline is very inconsistent and often way too harsh, and you end up with a very confused and pissed-off kid.

4.   Hard to arouse nervous system: Another genetic piece, and this is the biggie for those of us who write and read mysteries and thrillers, is that people with antisocial personality disorder (i.e., psychopaths) inherit a nervous system that is not easily stimulated. It takes a huge amount of stimulation for them to feel excitement, or much feeling at all for that matter.

a bungee jumper

Bungee jumper–not that I’m saying all bungee jumpers are psychopaths (photo by Ellywa from nl CC-BY-SA 3.0 Wikimedia)

So psychopaths are constantly looking for a thrill that will make them feel something. They may find it in a variety of activities–dangerous sports, reckless driving, drinking and drugging, gaining power over others in their family or in the workplace, stealing, pulling off a con or getting away with other criminal behavior, physical violence, sexual aggression… You get the picture.

5.  Impulsivity: Another factor that is strongly influenced by genetics is a high tendency to be impulsive. This personality trait is roughly 60% inherited and 40% influenced by environment. A child who inherits a high tendency for impulsivity is going to be a challenge for the best of parents. If that child grows up in a very dysfunctional, abusive environment where little effort is made to teach self-control, he or she is going to be extremely impulsive.

Impulsive reactions is a definite characteristic of the psychopathic antagonist in Vinnie’s new release, Black Beans and Venom. I have read this story and it is a real page-turner. The book came out in ebook just before Christmas, and is now available in paperback as well.

Please check it out below, and then talk to me in the comments. Does this make sense to you how nature and nurture (or the lack thereof in this case) come together to create these monsters? Have you known any people who qualified as psychopaths? Did they have this kind of history?

For more on this topic see our topic pages under True Crime and Criminals.

book cover Black Beans and Venom, A Carol Sabala Mystery

No one wants P.I. Carol Sabala to take the case. Her boss is apprehensive about an illegal investigation in Cuba. Carol’s boyfriend worries about her physical safety. But the client is rolling in dough, the office has unpaid bills, and Carol chafes under the mundane tasks assigned to her.

In Old Havana, Carol sets off to track down Megan, the client’s missing daughter, who is battling metastasizing cancer and running from a sociopathic boyfriend. Struggling in the exotic world of the island, Carol races to find Megan, before the disease or her ex-boyfriend kills her.

Available on AMAZON and SMASHWORDS

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She writes the Kate Huntington mystery series.

We blog here at misterio press once (sometimes twice) a week, usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

Please follow us so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun! (We do not lend, sell nor otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses. 🙂 )

Cruisin’ the Blogosphere (and a Contest)

by Kassandra Lamb

book cover

I’m gallivanting around cyberspace over the next couple weeks on a blog tour for my new thriller, Fatal Forty-Eight. And I’ve got a contest going through the 8th of December! (see below)

Here’s the remainder of the schedule:

Tuesday, Dec. 2Marcy Kennedy’s placeSometimes Truth is Weirder than Fantasy

Thursday, Dec. 4Jennifer Jensen’s blogThe Story Behind the Story

Saturday, Dec. 6 –Sue Pilski’s Between the Pages & Beyond — an Author Q & A

(I’m postponing the post on Are Psychopaths Born or Made? until after the holidays)

The stops in the blog tour that have already happened (please stop by and check them out):

Joanne Guidoccio’s Second Act SeriesConflicting Passions

CC Andrew’s Writers Who Read seriesKassandra Lamb

Jami Gold’s blogThe Psychology of Emotions

K.B. Owen’s blogCriminal Minds and the History of the FBI

And now to the contest:

silver charmTo celebrate the release of Book 7 in the Kate Huntington Mystery series, I’m holding a contest. Sign up here to win prizes! You can enter multiple times.

Win a $20 Amazon gift card, a silver charm or key chain (winner’s choice) and a signed paperback copy of any of the Kate Huntington full-length novels (again, winner’s choice).

key chainThe contest runs through December 5th! The winner will be announced the following week. (If the winner is outside the U.S./Canada, a gift card of comparable value may be substituted.)

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Damn Yankee Gone South (and a new release)

I’m really looking forward to reading Stacy Green’s new installment in her Delta Crossroads mysteries, Skeleton’s Key. Not only is Stacy a great author who can write a thrilling mystery, but this book has another, more personal appeal for me.

You see I’m a Northerner who’s moved to the South, and I discovered when I did so that I needed to let go of quite a few stereotypes of Southerners. And I’m sure my exuberant personality and grinning face challenged some of their ‘cold, unfriendly Northerners’ stereotypes as well.

The two main characters in Skeleton’s Key, one a Southerner and one a Yankee, are apparently also challenged by said stereotypes as they butt heads on a regular basis. This theme in the story, along with Stacy’s brilliant ability to keep one on the edge of one’s seat, should make for a great read.

And this has got me thinking that I should do some research and write a more extensive blog post about today’s Northerners and Southerners, how they’re different and how they’re the same. Hmm. *scratches chin* …stay tuned for that, folks!

In the meantime, here’s Stacy to tell you a bit more about this book and share a snippet of a very exciting scene!

photo of Stacy Green, auithor

Welcome to the release of SKELETON’S KEY, the second book in the Delta Crossroads Series. Set in fictional Roselea, Mississippi, the book follows Cage Foster, a popular character from TIN GOD (Delta Crossroads #1) and Yankee newcomer Dani Evans as they investigate a grisly double homicide.

But this isn’t your standard double murder. Cage is the caretaker of Ironwood Plantation, a historic antebellum in desperate need of tender love and care. Dani is the restoration expert from Indiana who purchased the house and plans to restore it along with her own life. Cage and Dani are the north and south, immediately at odds and yet intensely drawn to one another, and their relationship is the backbone of the book.

Back to the murder. See, the bodies are found buried in Ironwood’s cellar. The crime scene is somewhere inside the house–you’ll have to read to find out the location–and Cage is the prime suspect.

One of my favorite scenes in the book is Dani’s first night, when she discovers the bodies. I love writing suspense, because it’s so challenging. I want the reader to be on the edge of their seat, hooked into the story so that even though they may be afraid to find out what’s on the next page, they are compelled to read on.

I’m excited to share that scene with you today. SKELETON’S KEY is available in print and all digital formats.

Somewhere on the edge of deep sleep, a spatter of noise pulled Dani back to consciousness. She groaned and closed her eyes again. Likely the house settling.

She rolled over and started to drift off again when the noise came again, louder. She sat up and looked around, listening.

The house is locked. You have lights on.

You’re a woman staying alone in a house with no landline. Someone could be creeping.

You have your cell phone. Cage is two hundred feet away.

A hollow thumping drifted from somewhere near the kitchen. Gooseflesh erupted over Dani’s arms, and then she laughed. She’d encountered her fair share of squatting animals in her career, including a particularly vicious raccoon that had left her with a scar and a rabies scare.

“Critters hanging out in the basement of an old house,” she spoke into the quiet. “Biggest cause of haunted houses.”

As if in answer, a low grumbling filled her ears. Then, a sharp hiss and what sounded like an angry growl.

Damn. Whatever was living in the basement made a lot of noise when it scavenged for food.

“The bones.” Her bare feet smacked the wood floor as she jumped up. She slipped into her sandals and then rummaged through the black bag containing her work essentials. Naturally, her big flashlight was on the bottom.

The light cast a bright glow through the parlor just as another angry yowl came from the basement. Fear nipped at Dani. What would she have to fight off down there?

She glanced out the window, half-hoping to see the lights in the carriage house still on, but it was dark. She hated to wake Cage. And she didn’t want him thinking she was just another spoiled city woman who couldn’t handle a simple animal issue.

That settled it.

She padded into the kitchen, flicking on lights as she went. Cage kept cleaning supplies in the bare nook where a table should be, and Dani grabbed the dusty broom. A little heavy and harder to manage with the light, but she’d figure it out.

She tucked the flashlight under her left arm and then reached for the door, the shop broom gripped tightly in her right hand. Sweat beaded across her scalp making it itch. Another menacing growl from the basement, long and drawn out as though the animal knew she was ready to attack. Ignoring the urge to drop everything and run for Cage, she listened hard.

It sounded like the creature was probably along the side of the basement, deeper below the house, and not on the steps waiting to ambush.


Deep breath, broom ready, bladder weak, she yanked open the door.

Skeleton's Key cover

Kass here again: Isn’t that a great scene?

Skeleton’s Key is now available on AMAZONNOOK,  and in paperback.

About the author
Born in Indiana and raised in Iowa, Stacy Green earned degrees in journalism and sociology from Drake University. After a successful advertising career, Stacy became a proud stay-at-home mom to her miracle child. Now a full-time author, Stacy juggles her time between her demanding characters and supportive family. She loves reading, cooking, and the occasional gardening excursion. Stacy lives in Marion, Iowa with her husband Rob, their daughter Grace, and the family’s three obnoxious but lovable canine children.

To check out more about Stacy and her books, visit her at her website, on her
Amazon Author Page, on Facebook or on Twitter @StacyGreen26.

Go check out the book, then come back and share your thoughts on the North and South and stereotypes. I love hearing from you!

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. We blog here at misterio press once (sometimes twice) a week,  usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

Please follow us so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun! (We do not harvest, lend, sell or otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses.)

When Life (i.e., True Crime) Imitates Art

We’re starting a new feature here at misterio press in which we bring you some real-life examples of mysteries. Today, Stacy Green is dusting off a true-crime tale from her Thriller Thursday archives, a real life Bluebeard.

line drawing of Bluebeard

Barbe bleue by Gustave Doré (public domain)

In The Legend of Bluebeard (in Tales of Mother Goose, Charles Perrault, 1697), a hideous man with a strange blue beard and a wealthy estate, has had several wives who disappeared. His new wife is soon left alone on the estate, after he hands her a set of keys and tells her she may open any room she wishes, except the small closet at the end of the basement. Naturally, as soon as he is gone, she rushes to the basement closet, only to find the seven previous wives, their throats slashed from ear to ear. Bluebeard discovers her treachery and vows to put her to death, but her brothers arrive to save her and they kill Bluebeard. The wife inherits his fortune, and she and her family live happily ever after.

A children’s fairy tale, meant to teach heaven knows what, but in the early 1900’s in France, a real-life lonely-hearts predator earned the chilling nickname of Bluebeard.

Short and bald, with bushy eyebrows to match his equally overgrown beard, Henri Landru wasn’t exactly an Adonis. He wasn’t the type of man you’d expect to woo hundreds of women, let alone bilk them out of their life savings. And yet he did. A second-hand furniture dealer and automobile mechanic, something about Landru lured women to him.
headshot of Henri Landru

He killed at least ten of them.

Born in 1869 to an average French family, Landru’s childhood is reported to have been uneventful. He attended Catholic school and was drafted into the French Army at age 18. He married in 1891, quit the military, and began working as a clerk.

Unfortunately, his employer swindled Landru out of a large sum of money. Landru was furious and turned to a life of crime and revenge. He began swindling lonely widows he met through his legitimate furniture business.

Between 1900 and 1908, Landru served several stints in prison for fraud. He was released in 1908 with the understanding he would re-enlist in the French Army. Instead, he honed his skills and continued to prey on vulnerable women.

His first known murder victim is Madame Cuchet, a 39-year-old widow. Cuchet’s brother was suspicious of Landru, but she ignored his warning. She and Landru moved to a villa in Vernouillet with her son. Mother and son were last seen alive in 1915.

Landru later gave Cuchet’s watch to his wife as a present.

Next was an Argentine widow, Madame Laborde-Line. She told friends she was marrying an engineer from Brazil, but the two moved in together. Laborde-Line was last seen in July 1915.

Then came Madame Guillen, a 51-year-old widow, followed by Madame Heon. Both visited Landru’s villa in Vernouillet and disappeared. Andree Babelay, a servant girl, also disappeared. No one knows why Landru chose to kill her–she certainly had no money to offer.

Landru eventually left Vernouillet for a new home in Gambais, where he had a large cast-iron oven installed.

drawing of oven in Landru's kitchen

Landru’s own drawing of the special oven he had installed in his kitchen (public domain, Wikimedia Commons)

His first known Gambais victim was Madam Buisson. It took Landru almost a year to estrange the wealthy widow from her family. She was last seen in 1917.

Madame Louise Leopoldine Jaume disappeared in September 1917.  Annette Pascal vanished in the spring of 1918. Marie Therese Marchadier disappeared in late 1918 after visiting Landru in Gambais.

For years, Landru wasn’t suspected in these women’s disappearances. He worked hard to separate his victims from their families, then worked even harder to make the families believe their loved ones were alive long after he’d killed them. He sent postcards, forged letters, pretended to be an attorney, etc.

Then the sister of Madame Buisson, the first Gambias victim, began searching for her. She wrote to the mayor of Gambais, telling him that her sister’s intention had been to run away with a man named Guilett (Landru’s alias). The mayor suggested she meet with the family of Madame Collumb, who had also vanished under similar circumstances in 1917.

Landru’s aliases were soon discovered, but his known residence at Gambais was empty. Buisson’s sister refused to give up. She remembered what her sister’s lover looked like, and in 1919, spotted Landru strolling out of a shop. She lost him in the crowd, but the owner of the shop told her the man’s name was Guilett, and he lived on the Rue de Rochechouart with his mistress. Landru was soon arrested.

Landru's mug shot

Landru’s mug shot

They didn’t have much to hold him on. Police searched the homes and gardens in Gambais and Vernouillet but only found a memo book where Landru had recorded his finances. Authorities spent two years investigating, eventually discovering that he had met all the women mentioned in his notebook through marriage advertisements, and they had all disappeared. He’d also recorded one-way trips from Paris for each victim, but round-trips for himself.

Still, no bodies. The break came when neighbors at Gambais mentioned noxious fumes coming from the kitchen. Police searched the iron stove and found bones, as well as women’s fasteners. Landru was charged with 11 counts of murder.

In 1919, there was no term like “serial killer.” Only Jack the Ripper was widely known to have killed multiple people, and a murderer like Landru was a shocking affront to the French people. His trial lasted a month. He believed that without a body, he could stonewall the court and kept virtually silent during trial. A jury found him guilty, and he was sentenced to death.

In February, 1922, Landru faced the guillotine. He showed little remorse for his actions, although he did express embarrassment that his wife would discover the affair he was having at the time of his arrest.

Some argue that because Landru killed for financial gain rather than sexual motives, he can’t be classified as a serial killer. Rather, he’s more of a Black Widow killer, killing his mate for gain, with no remorse.

What do you think? Do you think Landru is a true serial killer? Should he have been convicted, with no actual bodies?

Posted by Stacy Green. Stacy has a bunch of impressive writing credentials, including a degree in journalism, but she considers her greatest achievement to be her daughter, Grace. She is the author of the stand-alone thriller, Into the Dark, and Tin God, the first book in the Delta Crossroads mystery series.

We blog here at misterio press once (sometimes twice) a week,  usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

Please follow us so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun! (We do not harvest, lend, sell or otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses.)