Daily Archives: July 17, 2006

What do abusers and murderers look like?


William Lash III, a former Bush aide, killed his autistic son and then himself after police came for him because he’d apparently either hurt or threatened to hurt his wife. I haven’t quite known how to post about this, hence the delay in posting. It hurts every time I read one of these things. And the odd thing to me about it is that everyone is saying he showed no sign of either abusive or murderous intent.

I’ve seen things like that before, in fact it’s almost a cliché, and I’m not talking about just when it’s an autistic person abused or killed. It seems that when things like this happen, people expect only a certain “type” of person to do this, often a person who matches their prejudices (“poor”, or “mentally ill”, or “bad temper”, or “ugly”, or any of a number of other ideas of who does these things). Maybe this is out of a human need for predictability, but from what I have seen, there is little of that.

I’ve known a number of people who have either killed people or tried to kill people. I’ve also known a number of people who have abused people physically or sexually. Very few of them fit any particular stereotype. Moreover, many of the people who fit the requisite stereotypes of “creepiness” haven’t actually done anything.

It is probably comforting to believe that you can predict these things, but in my experience they’re just not all that predictable, at least not to casual friends or neighbors. That “creepy” guy down the hall might just be harmless and autistic or something else that makes him seem unusual. That “sweet” elderly man who seems totally harmless may just be a murderer. Then there are the people who seem creepy and are creepy, and the people who seem harmless and are harmless. There just isn’t much of a pattern there. And people who kill or abuse love (in the emotional sense) their victims as often as not, love is no predictor either.

When Christopher DeGroot was killed, a lot of people online talked about how creepy his parents, who allegedly set his apartment on fire with him inside it, looked. I was uncomfortable with this. I have known a lot of people who look just like his parents and have done absolutely nothing wrong. And when William Lash killed his son, people were talking about how they couldn’t see it coming. That makes me just as uncomfortable. It’s as if, by both of these things, people are saying that people who look a certain way, maybe come from a certain kind of background, are more predictably killers or abusers, and people who do not, are not. This is one more way that people make themselves believe in safety that isn’t there, to the expense of all the people they are mistaken about. People like to believe they can “sense” these things, but very few really can.