Motiveless Murder: The Scourge of the Unbonded


The societal agonizing over the horrific murders in Las Vegas has been exacerbated by the seeming lack of motive, on the part of the killer. The inconceivable fact is that there was no motive, certainly not as defined in traditional terms.

The killer was an unbonded psychopath. We have, over the years of our respective practices, had clinical experiences with individuals who did unspeakable things to other human beings, and felt nothing.

What, then, is an unbonded person, and how do they get that way? Bonding is the process, initially, by which infants and their parents/caregivers, establish a feeling connection that allows the child to organize a flood of feelings, and, above all, to have an assurance that they are safe. At the beginning this is accomplished by touch and holding.

It is impossible to overestimate the importance of touch. Children can literally die from its absence. (The studies of children who live the earliest times of their lives in traditional orphanages, are clear in identifying the severe emotional and psychological damage resulting from touch deprivation in the most vulnerable time of life.) Couple this with emotional or physical abandonment, and you have the ingredients for a completely detached killer.

In the face of this overwhelming deprivation, children must make a terrible choice: To die, or to shut down. Somehow, they have to deal with the terror of being alone and helpless, and the evolving rage that has, as of yet, no target. They must do something to protect themselves, and to keep living.

They decide, unconsciously and instinctively, to go deep inside and stop feeling. Their rage gets stored – tucked away in the recesses of unfelt feelings, until it blasts through with an inhuman ferocity. But the most devastating impact on them, of this all encompassing deprivation, is the decision to not see themselves as a person. They construct barrier after barrier to prevent anyone or anything from touching them and generating a feeling.

When they talk about their personal history, they make it clear that no amount of beatings, or rejection ever got a reaction from them. And worst of all, they do not see the people they kill or brutalize, as people. Like themselves, they see their victims as objects.

A number of years ago, a CEO we were working with asked us to see a young executive who was a rising star in his company. The CEO had concerns about this individual, but couldn’t quite identify why. There were no problems with his job performance. He worked well with his colleagues and for all intents and purposes, his success trajectory was going straight up.

Everyone around him found him easy to work with, but no one felt particularly close to him, nor did anyone know anything about his background. After seeing him for about a year, we got a call from the CEO telling us that this young man had gotten into a fist fight at a local bar, and had beaten the other person to death. It took four people to pull him off of his victim.

Everyone was stunned. There were no indications, in his behavior, that would lead anyone around him to predict a level of violence that would result in the death of another person. In our work with him, as his therapist, we knew one very telling thing about his personal history. When he was five years old, he began kindergarten and seemed to like it. One day, when the school bus dropped him off at his typical stop, no one was there to meet him. He decided to walk the few blocks to his house, to discover that no one was there. The house was literally empty. His family had moved. He never saw them again.

Over the years, we have been involved, directly and indirectly, with individuals who have killed, maimed, and disabled people. Every single one of them has had a personal history replete with severe loss and abandonment. In fact, it has been our experience that all criminal behavior can be tied to early loss and abandonment. We have known, for some time, that the worst thing that we can do to children, is nothing.

There is something that we can do, to address and eliminate this problem. First, we need to create a new arm of law enforcement that will investigate dysfunctional families and preemptively separate destructive adults from their children – biological and stepchildren. We can call this arm Relationship Police. To support them in their work, we need to pass laws that allow this force to act on tips from the lay public, when they feel that other people are doing unhealthy things with their families or their friends.

In addition, we need to re-open many of the mental institutions closed decades ago and re-introduce the former criteria for the involuntary commitment of people who act strange, withdrawn, or disruptive. It has become clear that we have much too many people walking the streets of America, who have “mental health” problems that need to be treated. In essence, we need to do something, as soon as possible, to stop the carnage created by unbalanced people who have easy access to weapons of destruction.

Sound a bit extreme? Well, it’s more than extreme – it’s absurd and truly dangerous. And no less absurd than all the knee-jerk and frenetic calls for outlawing weapons that can kill and maim people. If we really believe in prohibiting things that can seriously hurt people than we need to outlaw cars. A free and open society is fraught with risk and danger. And its quintessential challenge is to decide what problems we need to be working on.

We learned a long time ago, that the solution to any problem, simply creates the next set of problems. There is no solution to any of our current problems that does not create another set of actions that may do more damage to our culture, than we could ever imagine. (When we decided, a number of years ago, that there were too many problems with the foster care system, a number of jurisdictions started returning abused children to the families that had abused them, convinced that we could rehabilitate the abusers.

All this did was to guarantee greater degrees of abuse and neglect.) Solving problems is what makes our lives interesting and gratifying. Thinking through the consequences brings balance and enrichment to our country.

Morrie and Arleah Shechtman

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