A Motive to Consider in the Case of Stephen Paddock

                                                                                                                                                                         

11074700 sTen days after the horrific event, the answers to so many questions about Stephen Paddock’s motive for creating death and destruction in Las Vegas remain unknown.  USA Today: October 11, 2017, when referring to Sheriff Joe Lombardo, reported: “Lombardo told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that investigators have interviewed Paddock’s entire family, including his two ex-wives. He said the investigation is progressing, but that a motive for the shooting has not been determined.  We may never know,” Lombardo said, “All those things that you would expect to find, we have not found.”  
 

As we watch the news unfold, there have been many predictions, not the least of which is that Paddock must be a batterer.  Some have seized the opportunity to declare that almost all of those who are terrorists battered their partner. The challenge with this thinking is that we haven’t refined our approach—it is as if every domestic batterer is prone to mow down others without provocation.  We know that domestic violence is common while murder is rare.  It is a mistake to think all murderers have the same motive, just as it is a mistake to think all batterers have the same motive.  

Since its inception, the Family Peace Initiative has embraced an understanding of domestic violence that includes Dorthy Stucky Halley’s Batterer Motive Typology. Different motives create different behaviors, and different dangers for victims under different circumstances. We have found that we can be much more effective in our assistance of those in the program as they struggle toward change and, just as importantly, more capable of assisting their victims. 

It is a mistake to think all murderers have the same motive, just as it is a mistake to think all batterers have the same motive.

It wasn’t long after hearing some of the national news about Paddock, that Dorthy and I discussed how he had a lot in common with our understanding of the Sadistic Batterer.  We have heard rumblings about his poor treatment of his partner in Starbucks, but at this point, we really don’t know if he used his sadistic tendencies on his partners. Nevertheless, in one simple power point slide that we have used for about twenty years, it seems a lot can be learned about Paddock.  The slide is titled “Sadistic-Based”, and has the following bullets:  

  • Motivated by the pleasure received through causing another’s pain 

  • Most intelligent 

  • Usually have considerable power on the job 

  • May begin abuse long after marriage vows  

  • Masterful at hiding abuse: part of the “game” 

  • Victimization first noted when victims enter psych units 

  • “Compliant Victim” of Sexual Sadist-Hazelwood 

 In essence, these bullets are used to describe the batterer who is a sadist. For many years, Dorthy listened to victims recount their experiences of those who batter.  Some victims described horrific, torturous events that were quite different than the experiences of other victims.  She first began serving these victims when she was asked by a psychiatrist to assist victims who were admitted to the local psychiatric ward.  Soon, a pattern emerged. Some were married to powerful community leaders who spent a lot of time and attention to “looking good” in the community. They were doctors, lawyers, CEO’s, the President of a college, the head of a detective unit, professors, and the like—all having considerable power on the job. They all seemed to be very intelligent. And, they really seemed to enjoy not only the torturing of their victim, but being able to fool their community.   

...they really seemed to enjoy not only the torturing of their victim, but being able to fool their community.

Often seen as leaders in community programs such as United Way, Boy Scouts, and even serving on boards of domestic violence shelters, these men methodically and secretly planned the demise of their partners.  They would plot and plan for years, often making certain to be extremely close to their victim’s parents prior to starting the “crazy-making” behavior.  Sadistic batterers subtly convince their victim's parents and those closest to her that there is something a bit worrisome about their partner’s mental health.  Then, if the victim reaches out to any supporter describing his ruthless behavior, her account of what happened seems so bazaar, that it confirms to their supporter that the victim is mentally ill—rather than the truth about his sadistic behavior.  Advocates that work with these victims have tales to tell: all kinds of mind games leave the victim without support.  Over time and without support, many will sink into serious despair and mental illness.   

Probably the first time such an account received national attention was in 1988, when Hedda Nusbaum, a previous school teacher and publisher of children’s books, became a victim of Joel Steinburg, an up-and-coming attorney in New York City.  His torture of her was not recognized until the tragic death of their oldest daughter, Lisa, from his torturous abuse. Another examination of a group of sadists—this time, sexual sadists—was done by Roy Hazelwood, who spent years working on understanding different motives of different sex offenders while working in the FBI Behavioral Sciences Unit.  After retirement, he spent some time attempting to understand and then writing a book about those who he claimed to be the “compliant victims” of sexual sadists—in other words, their partners—so yes, these guys were sadistic batterers, as well. It seems that a sadist has some very common behaviors, whether they batter their partners or not.

We don’t have to know if Stephen Paddock was exceptionally cruel and sadistic to his partners to know that he fits the basic characteristics of a sadist.

We don’t have to know if Stephen Paddock was exceptionally cruel and sadistic to his partners to know that he fits the basic characteristics of a sadist.  People are trying to figure out what made him so angry at this particular time that he would do this despicable act.  That’s the wrong assumption.  Stephen Paddock may or may not have had a triggering event, but the time was right.  He had been fantasizing about this for quite some time and was bound to be getting a lot of satisfaction from successfully hiding his intent; his plotting and planning had led to reserving hotel rooms adjacent to several different festivals.  We might learn a lot more about this man’s background, and who and in what circumstances he was cruel in the past.  But we need not look any further to know one thing about Stephen Paddock: he was sadistic. 

It may be difficult to imagine that pleasure was the motive for this horrific event, but if you listen to victims of sadists, it is all too real.

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