“Some of these people are fairly persuasive, they can manipulate, they’re very charming, some of them even charismatic. And a lot of people, they like them, they think they’re kind of fun to be around, but it takes a long time before you can figure out that something is really amiss here.” Dr Robert Hare.

I clearly remember watching the televised broadcast of Karen Matthews pleading for the safe return of her daughter Shannon. Even then, something about her behaviour immediately struck me as profoundly odd. For those who aren’t familiar with the case let me fill you in on a few details. Nine year old Shannon Matthews disappeared on 19th February 2008 after leaving her school in Dewsbury, Yorkshire.

The last reported sighting of Shannon was at 3.10pm outside Westmoor Junior School. Karen Matthews, Shannon’s mother appeared on television and made several emotional pleas for her daughters’ safe return. Throughout the 24 day ordeal Karen Matthews friends and family stood by her and left no stone unturned in their search for little Shannon. The reward for any information leading to her safe return quickly reached £20,000 later rising to £50,000. The UK media was impressed with the solidarity of this small community taking care of a young mother in deep distress. The public had begun to fear the worst when a miracle happened.

Shannon was found alive by the police on the 14 March 2008 concealed in a divan bed not too far from her home. A 39 year old man, Michael Donovan was arrested at the scene. The news spread throughout the community and the country like wildfire. Karen Matthews was stunned and emotional.

On Friday 24th January 2009 Karen Matthews (along with Donovan) was sentenced to eight years in prison for orchestrating what the judge called a “despicable and inconceivable” kidnap plot to claim the reward money offered for information leading to the safe return of her daughter. Apparently Karen was tired of being broke and decided to plot a kidnap and claim the reward money. The police finally put two and two together and realised that throughout the ordeal Karen had shown remarkably little interest in the safety and wellbeing of her daughter, preferring instead to soak up the attention (and eventually she hoped, the reward money) she received from the national press.

When I say ‘psychopath’, what do you think of? Maybe a serial killer or a violent rapist? You’d probably be right, most serial killers are psychopaths, but all too often I’ve seen the words serial killer and psychopath used interchangeably. Dr Robert Hare is a world renowned expert on the psychopath (he identified it) and to date has devoted his entire career to understanding psychopathy.

A psychopath is unable to feel guilt, remorse or emotion. Hare has estimated that approximately 1% of the general population is psychopathic to some degree, even if they’ve committed no crime. Psychopaths are unable to feel emotion and any sense of shame or responsibility is totally lost on them. Sound dangerous? You’d be right about that! In his psychopathy checklist (PCL) and its revised edition (PCL-R) Hare puts forward a reliable diagnostic tool for identifying psychopaths. The list of characteristics includes:

A grandiose sense of self-worth, superficial charm, criminal versatility, impulse control problems, irresponsibility, inability to tolerate boredom, narcissism, pathological lying, shallow affect, deceitful, manipulative, lack of empathy, lack of remorse, a sense of extreme entitlement, lack of or diminished levels of anxiety/nervousness and other emotions, promiscuous sexual behaviour, sexually deviant lifestyle, poor judgment, failure to learn from experience, lack of personal insight, failure to follow any life plan, abuse of drugs including alcohol and an inability to distinguish right from wrong.

I should point out at this stage that the list above is in no way exhaustive and is no substitute for the PCL-R being administered by a qualified and trained professional however I have read extensively on Hare’s research (I am myself a psychologist) and cannot help but come to a few conclusions of my own from time to time. Let’s call it a hunch and (hopefully) without seeming rude or in the least bit arrogant my hunches have turned out to be correct or more than one occasion.

The truth is I’ve always thought there was something amiss with Amanda Knox and I had a similar feeling when I first saw Karen Matthews’s emotional pleas on the TV, the same monotone sound bites, cut and paste facial expressions with crocodile tears in all the right places yet no depth of character, nothing, zip, nada, the lights are on but nobody is home. I think it’s fair to say I’m not alone in thinking that Amanda’s observed behaviour has been ‘odd’ to say the least. Being dubbed ‘the face of an angel with ice cold eyes’ rather sums it up don’t you think?

I’ve noticed that the Friends of Amanda website has stepped up a gear recently and the PR campaign has increased momentum, Candace Dempsey continues to delude herself that we are still dealing with a ‘normal’ young woman here instead of a girl that is obviously a skilled manipulator. Amanda is supposed to look nice, she is wholesome, smart, a superficially charming all-American girl that wouldn’t hurt a fly but don’t be fooled, stereotyping prevents us from seeing the female as a potentially violent individual. A lot of people have gotten away with terrible things because they simply didn’t ‘look like the sort of person that would do that kind of thing’.

Research has shown that female perpetrators can be just as violent as male perpetrators but are much more likely to coerce a male accomplice into helping commit a crime. If caught female perpetrators often protect themselves with the old “she couldn’t possibly be guilty women don’t do that sort of thing” defence which exactly the tactic which is failing for Amanda Knox. Anybody with half a brain can see that the evidence points to her being there on the night of the murder if not the one who made the fatal knife wound that killed Meredith.

I fear the PR campaign will be the ultimate blockade to the truth in this case and any hope the public had of hearing the truth from Amanda’s own mouth has rapidly faded with every day of Dempsey’s crusade. Amanda will never talk. She has too much to lose and a whole lot to gain by keeping everyone in the dark.

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