A Criminal Mastermind Might Be Closer Than You Think

How do you spot a mastermind of death or destruction? From my years as both a prosecutor and a defense attorney, I have put together a mnemonic.


Manipulative/ Murderous

Infliction/ Inhumane/ Influence/Injurious

Google serial killers and phrases like: 'Was quiet'-- 'Caused no trouble'-- 'Kept to himself'-- 'Was a family man.' The results will show a whole host of murderers whose deranged minds did not stand out, because their commonplace everyday actions seemed to blend into the surroundings. These predators are human chameleons of camouflage -- living right next to us, walking around us, planning their next bout of mayhem. Sometimes the mayhem may be murder. Sometimes a misplaced belief in a 'loving' relationship may result in death or increasing risk of bodily injury -- like domestic abusers. Other times it can destroy the financial safety net of good hardworking people who trust their life savings to a thief.

One of the best examples of a person who appeared like one of us but was a prolific serial killer was Theodore "Ted" Bundy. He traveled the United States and murdered many innocent victims, mostly women, with a total between 30 and 100 slayings. Some included rape or necrophilia. He ultimately paid for these homicides with his own death sentence. Bundy was good-looking, charming, intelligent and educated. The type of wholesome person that any parent looking at Bundy's outer shell would remark that he was the epitome of a person my son or daughter should marry.

Bundy volunteered for a crisis and suicide hotline in Seattle, Washington with a dear friend of mine, the famed true crime writer Ann Rule. Bundy and Rule sat next to each other answering phones. She was a breath away from pure evil without recognizing it.

"In order for us to work at the crisis center, we had to pass a psychiatric evaluation, and both of us did," she said. In her book about Bundy, The Stranger Beside Me, she called him "kind, solicitous and empathetic." It surprises some that Bundy appeared entirely normal on a psychological test, but it shouldn't. At an autopsy, the brain of a mass murderer, a sadistic killer or a thief looks the same as yours or mine. I have listened to Ann discuss Ted Bundy at presentations at the American Academy of Forensic Sciences Annual Meeting. He used to walk her to her car at night so nothing bad would happen to her. She could not believe it when he was arrested for multiple murders. Ted, by many accounts, was handsome, charming and smart but also more deadly than a cobra. He knew how to wheel in his prey so they would become victims of his most abnormal murderous being. He blended into life and then caused death.

The banality of evil is a frightening concept. Ordinary individuals can become extraordinarily evil given the right circumstances. Remember all the Nazi guards in World War II who were responsible for gruesome, cruel and heartless mass murder in the concentration camps. Before becoming Hitler's accomplices in genocide, they engaged in routine work such as an errand runner, maid or nurse and the like.

Those most deadly to us are those we cannot easily identity as masterminds. Normal people can become evil, and evil people can look normal. The most dangerous risk factor to your well-being and safety could be unquestioning trust, loyalty and love to those around you.

This blog post is part of the Masterminds series produced by The Huffington Post in partnership with NBC's The Blacklist. To see all the other posts in the series, click here.