Is Child Kidnapper Philip Garrido More Evil Than Jeffrey Dahmer? Expert Offers Handy 22-Point Ranking Guide
Leonard Lake didn't seem evil to my husband when the pair worked side by side. Annoying, a pain in the ass, but not evil.
It was the summer of 1980, and my husband was operating a chess booth at the Marin County, Calif., Renaissance Faire. Lake, whom he'd never met before and never knew by name but recognized from pictures in the paper five years later, operated the adjacent booth, in which fairgoers paid to pat a goat whose horns were fused together in roughly the center of its head, and which Lake -- striding back and forth in costume -- called "the living unicorn."
Lake flung endless come-ons at passing females: "You, my lady, can touch me!" My husband helped Lake build a fence between the booths. Lake paid him with a pan of brownies that my husband realized later -- as his chess skills slipped -- were packed with hash. Lake once offered him a ride home, but my husband said no, because he didn't want to spend two hours in a van with the unicorn.
Two years later, Lake and his partner-in-crime, Charles Ng, began abducting, robbing, raping, torturing and killing people in their remote rural home: at least 12 over the next three years, but maybe twice that many. Much of the rape-torture they filmed.
Philip Garrido's neighbors and printing-business customers didn't think he was evil.
One customer "said she thought Garrido was eccentric but harmless -- just 'the local printer,' " we read in USA Today.
Another told reporters that "nothing seemed out of the ordinary" in his own dealings with Garrido. This customer met Garrido's longtime captive Jaycee Dugard, but never suspected that she was a kidnap victim living in the printer's backyard or that she had borne her first child by Garrido at age 14, three years after being abducted.
OK, a few neighbors suspected something fishy. Noticing tents in his yard and little unaccounted-for blonde girls, they called him "Creepy Phil" and voiced their concerns to their partners and even to local cops -- who dropped the ball, but that, while horrible, is not the point.
It's all about the hindsight now that Garrido is under arrest and being reviled around the world as the monster du jour.
So now, slavering over headlines such as "No Mercy for Jaycee's Kidnapper" and "Inside Jaycee's Terror Tent," the world has yet again reached that strange place in which it finds itself every few years: struggling to process the latest example of humanity gone to extremes.
I almost typed "humanity gone wrong" and then "humanity gone bad" but didn't, because that would be too easy, too reflexive in an era when such words are loaded, when we are warned that those who judge are precipitously playing God.
About some cases -- Lake, Garrido -- nearly everyone agrees. But others spark sharp debate as mitigating factors, acting like mood rings or LSD, wield disparate effects on each of us.
Learning, for instance, that child-killer Mary Bell was raped as a toddler by her sex-worker mother's customers or that suspected doctor-shooter Scott Roeder has a history of anti-abortion militance, we personalize and politicize. We maximize and minimize.
Of the Libyan released from a Scottish prison last month, New Statesman columnist Peter Wilby writes: "As it happens, I think Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi was innocent of the Lockerbie bombing."
Of the same Libyan, one reader responding to an article in New Jersey's Asbury Park Press writes: "The Scotts are whimps. someone should have taken this animal out. I hope the Scotts get a taste of pan Am, 9/11, spanish train etc these a-holes hate us and want to kill us."
And in an era when words are loaded, one old standby weighs a ton. Popular in the Old and New Testaments, long ubiquitous in horror-film trailers and in newsreels about wars and crimes, it is the E-word -- which, in a who-are-we-to-judge age, millions are now afraid to say.
In his book The Anatomy of Evil (Prometheus, 2009), Columbia clinical-psychiatry professor Michael H. Stone strives to clarify who gets branded with this word and when, by whom, and why.
Sifting through the findings of a long career spent studying the mind and personally interviewing convicted killers, Stone has devised his own 22-point Gradations of Evil Scale.
Each point on the scale signifies a certain type of crime or criminal: "The higher the number," he assures us, "the more likely people will use the word evil in describing the murders and other acts belonging to that category."
In other words, he believes that his scale reliably reflects how mainstream Western society views various malfeasances that humans perpetrate against each other.
Category 1, the mildest, is "justifiable homicide." But Category 12, for example, is "power-hungry psychopaths who murder when cornered." Category 17 is "sexually perverse serial killers" for whom the sex is the objective and who kill only "to hide evidence," after inflicting "no torture." Category 22, the most evil, is "psychopathic torture-murderers with torture as their primary motive." So as Stone sees it, inflicting pain on purpose is the point of no return.
In this book, he examines only civilian criminals acting in peacetime. Not up for discussion here are acts committed under military orders and/or in wartime situations -- not because they're exempt from blame, Stone explains rather apologetically, but because "in times of war, there will be two sides, each thinking the other is 'evil.' It is sometimes very difficult to get around this subjectivity."
In "wars, including the 'asymmetric' wars of a terrorist group versus a strong country," each faction "may have as many supporters as detractors." Stone concedes that he believes the Turkish genocide of the Armenians was evil, as was the Rape of Nanking "and Mao's destruction of tens of millions of his own people in the laogai (labor reform) camps.
"But here is where it would be helpful to have a God that everyone looked up to and who periodically sent us memos to the effect of: 'I have looked over the situation between the A-people and the B-people, and I am letting you all know that I consider the A-people to be the evil aggressors.' "
Assessing civilian criminals apparently requires less divine assistance. According to Stone's scale, various hard, cold factors raise evil's amplitude. Degree of pain. Age of victims. Number of victims. Nature of victims, although Stone admits that this can polarize; he cites the case of a killer who fumed that "blacks are taking over the country" and "stabbed to death a homeless black man who had been sleeping in the street."
This killing ranked only a tiny news brief in the local paper, Stone remembers, comparing this coverage to that of actress Sharon Tate's 1969 slaying by Manson Family members in her lavish home: "Both murders were, viewed from one perspective, equally senseless and despicable. This would be the supremely fair perspective of God and the Constitution. But from the more subjective reaction of the public, the murder of a beautiful, pregnant" -- and Caucasian --"celebrity weighed heavier in the balance of evil."
After disgruntled grad student Gang Lu slew three professors, a dean and an award-winning scholar at the University of Iowa in 1991, "the general sentiment surrounding this case, namely that an evil had been committed, reflected both the enormity of the crime -- five lives lost -- and the fact that the victims were all highly placed and highly valued members of the academic community."
Inevitably, Stone's scale bears certain biases, if you can call them that. Murdering children, it posits, is more evil than murdering adults. Murdering a cheating spouse is a tad less evil than murdering a faithful spouse who "gets in the way" of some nefarious goal. Rapists and killers who feel subsequent remorse are less evil than those who don't -- and are the best candidates for rehabilitation, by which some wash away the scarlet E.
Raping or killing while mentally ill, under the influence and/or under a certain level of intelligence is generally less evil than doing so while sane, sober and/or smart.
Those criminals at the high end of the scale, "torture-murderers -- basically serial killers who are sexually stirred up by inflicting torture -- are almost never mentally ill," Stone tells us, "meaning they are not delusional, do not hear voices, nor do they show any other signs of a radical departure from reality." Killers who have orgasms as they kill are more evil than those who don't. Chaining live victims to tables and jabbing them with cattle prods for days on end before slowly decapitating them is more evil than, say, shooting randomly into a fast-food restaurant.
You know how it is.
Stone translates the scale's numbers into prose as he describes hundreds of crimes and criminals in harrowing detail -- from fetus thief Darci Pierce to serial killer Edmund Kemper, who used one victim's severed head as a dartboard after slaying her, to Theresa Knorr, who force-fed her teenage daughters "with macaroni and cheese so that they would be fat and unattractive," then slew them both.
Acknowledging the fact that child abuse, early brain injury, fetal alcohol syndrome, drug addiction and other physical and psychological damage can increase the likelihood of violent behavior, Stone resolves to "reserve the word evil now for describing certain acts done by people who clearly intended to hurt or to kill others in an excruciatingly painful way. That pain might be physical, or it might be emotional or mental, involving extreme humiliation as well. Either way, the perpetrator must have a knowledge of death and an awareness that his or her action might bring about the death of the victim. Another requirement for using the term evil is that the perpetrator be aware that the victim would suffer intensely, experience agony."
In which case, "evil applies only to human beings," because "ours is the only species that has this kind of conscious awareness and imagination about death and suffering." We ponder our emotions, feed them and fuel them and let them consume us, while "chimpanzees," Stone muses, "would think operas about jealousy were crazy."
Sharks and bears hunt not for fun but because they're hungry, and even a house cat appearing to torture a bird or mouse it has caught -- by pouncing, withdrawing in mock-disinterest before pouncing again -- is "probably just engaging in a kind of practice-play, honing its skills the better to catch another mouse on another day. Without malice."
Most of the horrors detailed in this book make us ashamed to not be eels or voles, or at least penstemons. What does our species do?
Stone tells us about Phillip Skipper, who with his sister and a friend shot, stabbed and bludgeoned to death a kindly neighbor -- "to the point of rendering her face unrecognizable. The men also raped Genore's corpse, careful to use condoms, so as to leave no DNA. Though illiterate, Phil had the fiendish cleverness to pay a black man to ejaculate into a cup, so Phil could then toss the semen over Genore's body, by way of making the police assume the killer had been black."
Among those hundreds of others we learn, too, about self-styled Mormon prophet Jeffrey Lundgren: After slaying five of his followers -- the Avery family -- for "disloyalty" in 1989, the polygamous Lundgren became furious at his first wife for disliking his second. As punishment, "he forced [his first wife] Alice to rub his feces around his genitals and then to perform oral sex, swallowing some of the feces in the process."
Stone finds it "ironic" that Lundgren was later executed "for murdering the Averys, not for the crime of subjecting a fully conscious person, his own wife, to that degradation, [which is] to many people's way of thinking a worse crime" than quickly, "painlessly" shooting the five Averys in the backs of their heads.
Just so you'll know, that's not the only case of compulsory fecal ingestion recounted in this book. And just so you'll know, Stone claims to be shielding us from the worst of what he knows.
For example, he refused to transcribe for this book the audiotape that David Parker Ray played for the dozen-plus women he imprisoned in his "Toy Box," the New Mexico torture trailer where each was bound, suspended, fitted with a motorized "breast stretcher," and penetrated with live electrical devices for months before being slain.
Where does Philip Garrido rank on Stone's scale? His victim was a child. He planned her capture and captivity. He took pleasure in his power. (Charged with rape in 1976, Garrido told a cop that he could only reach sexual satisfaction by overpowering women; that now-retired Reno detective, Dan DeMaranville, told New York Daily News reporters last week that Garrido "should have been castrated while he was in prison.")
Is he sane? Garrido's blog, in which he proclaims that "the Creator has given me the ability to speak in the tongue of angels" and that "I, Phillip Garrido, have clearly demonstrated the ability to control sound with my mind and have developed a device for others to witness this phenomena by using a sound generator … to pronounce words through my own mental powers," suggests otherwise.
Where does he stand, compared to fetus thieves and school shooters and purveyors of genocide?
As I type this, police are searching for whoever slew eight people last weekend in a Georgia trailer park. Untold numbers of children are sustaining injuries at the hands of their caretakers. And somewhere in the world, another vanload of unwitting women has just been sold into slavery. Another A-people are out to disappear another B-people.
We might flinch at saying the E-word right out loud, but are so thronged, so swamped, so deluged with examples of it that it is a wonder we can even speak at all.