The story is shocking. On Friday, Leo Moran, 75, of Chester Township, New Jersey, was charged with the murder of Charlotte Moran, who was 74. They had been high school sweethearts and were married for 54 years. A man who grew up with Leo Moran described them as the perfect couple.
So what sparked the violence? Moran’s wife and son repeatedly insisted that he get counseling. He finally agreed to go, and then, according to his family, was not honest with the counselor.
Please stop now and read Chester man accused of killing wife of 54 years believed she was unfaithful, working against him, on NJ.com.
Sometimes we see cases of an elderly person killing his or her spouse of many years because the spouse is gravely ill and unlikely to get better. It’s almost an act of compassion rather than murder.
In this case, a few crumbs of information indicate that Leo Moran was not suffering from despair or anguish. Rather, if the reported facts are accurate, they may indicate that the man was a sociopath:
- Some neighbors thought the Morans were the perfect couple. Others thought Leo Moran was “a surly man quick to bicker.”
- Moran offered his wife a kiss, which she refused, so he beat her with a baseball bat.
- Moran said his wife was unfaithful and his family was conspiring against him.
- Moran said his wife initiated the attack and hit him in the back with the bat, but he had no bruises.
- Moran said his wife suggested they commit suicide together.
So the mask slipped, Moran became outraged by his family’s affront to his control, he allegedly beat his wife to death, and then blamed everything that happened on her. This is sociopathic behavior.
But for me, what is important is how this case disproves two generally held perceptions about sociopaths and mental health.
First, many therapists believe that sociopathy diminishes with age. I believe sociopaths never become less manipulative, although I was willing to concede that perhaps they became less violent, simply because they run out of steam. But maybe that’s not true either. Maybe they never lose their capacity for violence.
Secondly, many people, and perhaps therapists as well, have far too much faith in intervention. This is one of the most important things that we, as a society, need to thoroughly understand about sociopaths: Once they are adults, they are extremely unlikely to change.
Anger management classes won’t work. Restraining orders won’t work. Sometimes, the only sane and safe thing for people around sociopaths to do is escape.
But it’s too late for Charlotte Moran.
Joyce Alexander notes that Moran’s actions may have been caused by dementia rather than sociopathy. See comments below. It turns out that she may be right—that is exactly what Moran’s attorney is saying. Read:
With this correction, this case brings out another important point—behavior that appears to be sociopathic may, in fact, have another cause.