The Measure of Madness

Inside the criminal mind

Is Van der Sloot a Psychopath?

What is a psychopath?

I was interviewed on NBC and Fox News about the recent arrest of Joran van der Sloot for the murder of a young woman in Lima, Peru. It is alleged that he killed Stephany Flores on May 30, 2010 in his room at the Hotel Tac in the upscale neighborhood of Miraflores.

Most people recognize the name of van der Sloot, the prime suspect in the disappearance of 18-year-old Natalee Holloway in Aruba on May 30, 2005. Her body was never found, but it is widely suspected that she was killed. Ms. Flores was murdered five years to the day after Natalee Holloway disappeared.

Van der Sloot is legally innocent until proven guilty, but there is overwhelming evidence against him. The hotel video showed him and Ms. Flores entering his hotel room together and him leaving alone. Her body was found a few days later and he was arrested on June 3 in Chile. He was brought back to Lima and interrogated for two days before he gave a full confession.

It was shocking to read excerpts of Van der Sloot's confession. He actually seemed to blame Ms. Flores for his violent attack. "I did not want to do it," La Republica quoted him as saying. "The girl intruded into my private life...she didn't have any right. I went to her and I hit her. She was scared, we argued and she tried to escape. I grabbed her by the neck and hit her" (msnbc.com 6/8/10).

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Van der Sloot's remarks reflect a lack of guilt, the central trait of a psychopath. These individuals can be charming and engaging, but underneath they are callous, deceitful and dangerous. They often break the law and rarely take responsibility for their crimes.

People typically imagine psychopaths to be violent, like serial killer Ted Bundy or Hannibal Lector from Silence of the Lambs. Yet most psychopaths commit nonviolent crimes. A good example is Bernie Madoff: How many people did he injure with his financial Ponzi scheme? Did he ever express genuine remorse?

Before Ms. Flores was killed, Van der Sloot exhibited many signs of psychopathy. The most chilling example was when his attempt to extort money from Ms. Holloway's family. It has been widely reported that he contacted her mother in May and offered information about the location of her daughter's body in exchange for $250,000. She contacted the FBI and a sting operation was conducted.

Many people have criticized the prosecutors in the United States and Aruba for not arresting Van der Sloot for extortion before he had the opportunity to leave Aruba and travel to Peru. He was charged in the U.S. District Court of Northern Alabama on June 3, 2010 with extortion and wire fraud. If he had been arrested earlier, Ms. Flores would still be alive.

Will Van der Sloot finally confess to the killing of Natalee Holloway? General Cesar Guardia, the Lima police chief, informed the press that Van der Sloot told him he knew where Natalee Holloway's body was buried. Van der Sloot has told different stories during the past five years, none of which have led to the discovery of Natalee's body. We can only hope that he will finally come clean and there will be some peace for her family.

Here is a video of the NBC interview: 

 

Cheryl Paradis, Psy.D., is an associate professor of psychology at Marymount Manhattan College.

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