Psychopathy is a term that refers to a clinical construct describing a more aggressive and highly narcissistic form of antisocial personality. Robert Hare has attempted to approach the clinical construct by developing a research tool called the Psychopathy Checklist. The checklist measures psychopathy via research established criteria. Criteria include personality characteristics, such as glibness, superficial charm, manipulative behavior and other antisocial behaviors. To make a diagnosis of psychopathy, one must obtain the defendant's "score" on the checklist. Doing this is a time-consuming effort that requires sufficient training, record review and hours of evaluation. The subject of psychopathy has received intense and productive study. However, our understanding of psychopathy remains somewhat rudimentary, and there continues to be some disagreement among experts in the field over the concept and its implications. The lack of clarity on this issue has not been helped by the fact that there is still considerable debate surrounding the nature and etiology of psychopathy. While some researchers view psychopathy as a discrete category or taxon, others make a convincing argument that psychopathy is best understood as existing on a continuum.
Also, while most research on psychopathy has focused on forensic and correctional populations, very little is understood about psychopaths who are functional in society or those who have superior intelligence. Some research has begun to focus on putative differences between the "unsuccessful" (caught) and "successful" (not caught) psychopath.
KIM: What makes the mind of a killer believable to himself?
KNOLL: It's important to remember that there is no one type of "killer" -- in other words, all people who have committed murder are not alike. Different killers may have different motives and beliefs about what they are doing, as well as different situational factors at the time of the murder.
Once the individual enters the criminal justice system and begins a trial, all manner of variables may come into play causing a murderer to appear confident and insistent upon his innocence. But certainly, self-preservation and self-serving concerns are often a driving force.
NICK, Murfreesboro, Tenn.: What is your take on the fact that this woman buried both her husbands next to each other like trophies. Just seeing that was enough to convince me she did it. She even has matching tattoos highlighting their deaths, again another trophy-like action.
KNOLL: My main reaction was simply to think how terribly tragic the entire situation is, and that their extended family will now be left to somehow support each other and recover from a horrendous ordeal that should never have happened.
That said, note that the term "trophy" is most often used with male serial killers, whose primary motive is sadistic sexual gratification. They use their collected trophies to relive and remember their crimes, often for the purpose of obtaining sexual gratification via masturbation. In the case of female serial killers, what we know is more limited; however, their motive appears to be quite different.