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Anger over custody allegedly leads to salon shootings

Scott Dekraai is accused of gunning down eight people in a California beauty salon last week. He was allegedly enraged about a continuing custody battle with his former wife, who was a stylist at the salon. She was among the dead.

Read coverage of the tragedy in the Los Angeles Times:

Gunman kills 8 at Seal Beach Salon

Prosecutors seek death penalty in salon shooting case

Seal Beach shooting suspect was a haunted man

Dr. Liane Leedom sent the following letter to the Los Angeles Times. She gave permission for it to be reproduced on Lovefraud.

Family courts and Scott Dekraai

“There is a class of individuals who have been around forever and who are found in every race, culture, society and walk of life. Everybody has met these people, been deceived and manipulated by them, and forced to live with or repair the damage they have wrought. These often charming-but always deadly-individuals have a clinical name: psychopaths.”- Robert Hare, Ph.D. (This Charming Psychopath, Psychology Today, 2007)

As we work to sort out fact from fiction and to understand the motives and person of Scott Dekraai it is important to acknowledge that psychopathy is a psychiatric disorder that is present in its full form in about one percent of adults; thus psychopathic individuals may be among our friends, neighbors, coworkers and family members. These individuals are likeable, charming, and skilled in impression management and deception. Although incapable of real love and without conscience, they often present as caring and moral people. Because psychopaths do not love others and lack an internal moral compass, they are unfit to be parents. Despite the existence of psychopathy and the fact that this disorder is relatively common in adults who are parents, the family courts are ill equipped to deal with psychopathic parents.

Over the last 6 years, I have worked to document and understand the impact of parental psychopathy on children and partners involved in family court custody disputes. In reading the coverage of the Dekraai divorce and custody dispute I see many familiar themes that often arise in these cases. Because of space constraints here are just four:

  1. There is a multitude of neighbors and friends that attest to the putative psychopath being a “nice person,” “caring neighbor,” “great guy”…etc. These people cannot reconcile the disparity between the person they think they know and the deeds that person is alleged to have committed.
  2. Although there is often a history of violent, abusive or fraudulent behavior on the part of the psychopath, there is a general failure to connect this behavior to the presence of the personality disorder. Even respected skilled professionals fail to identify the disorder and appreciate its impact on the former partner and the child.
  3. Psychopathic individuals often lie under oath in court and submit affidavits that contain false information. Although I have seen many cases of this, perjury in a family court context, even if proven, is not prosecuted. Instead, allegations imputing the moral character of the other parent remain part of the record and although false, take on a life of their own. I therefore urge caution regarding statements made by Dekraai with respect to his ex-wife. She is thusly discussed in an article, “Fournier said her ex-husband was deliberately trying to paint her as an ‘uncaring selfish drunk.’ I don’t know who that person is that he is describing, but it certainly isn’t me.’”
  4. Although psychopaths expend a great deal of energy and resources fighting for custody and visitation they always continue to engage in actions that prove they are not concerned with the well-being of the child. Regarding the Dekraai boy, one neighbor is quoted as saying, “Then I’m thinking as a father, what’s the son going to do?”

Most custody cases involving psychopathic parents do not end with the literal murder of the other parent. However, the other parent is always victimized emotionally and financially, and their character is always assassinated. The children are always also victimized and left scarred for life, sometimes developing psychopathy themselves. It is my hope that this is a “teachable moment” for our family court system. The protocols that work well in the usual divorce/custody situation are woefully inadequate when one of the parties is a psychopath.