I walked into a bookstore of a small Canadian town in 2005 and asked for a true crime story where a doctor was involved. I thought that perhaps it would help me to understand better pathological personalities and how insidious they are in our society, including the medical community. A few seconds later the guy brought me, Doc: The Rape of the Town of Lovell by Jack Olsen, which won the 1990 Edgar Award for Best Fact Crime.
It took me other 4 years before I read the book, but I’m SO glad I finally did. It turned out to be most instructive regarding the insidiousness, subtleness and evilness of psychopathy. Jack Olsen knew about psychopathy which makes this true crime novel even more interesting. In fact he quotes The Mask of Sanity by Hervey Cleckley, M.D., an authority reference book of psychopathy in the fields of psychiatry and psychology. Olsen is able to give an incredible insight about how Dr. John Story, the psychopath doctor, raped numerous women in the town of Lovell in Wyoming for over 25 years without anybody doing anything about it. And even when some people knew about Dr. Story’s behavior (including hundreds or even thousands of victims), they only helped to conceal his behavior with their religious and societal programming.
Lovell is a small town in Wyoming whose population is about 50% Mormon. The victims were very religious and most of them consider themselves property of men, or the Church. Dr. John Story established his medical practice in Lovell in 1958 and he raped his victims while doing pelvic exams. The doctor, who was a pillar of the Baptist Church, enjoyed enormous prestige and support.
The women who started to take action against the doctor belong to the McArthur family, a family where sex was such a taboo that when the daughters had the courage to tell their parents that they were being abused by an uncle, nothing was done. Well, the parents, who were Mormons, would not leave their children alone with such uncle, but they did continue to be friendly with him. They also tightened enforcements of the Mormon strictures about modesty, as if the kids were at fault for attracting pedophiles! It was a sacred obligation of every committed Mormon to protect against Satan by wearing “the garment”, so that is what they did, they wore the garment. This is one of the reasons why Dr. Story was able to get away with his pathological behavior. The religious beliefs of the town kept the victims in the dark. True and open communication about what was going on was considered a vile gossip, a sin. The bishop, whom the little girls and women trusted regarding their rape by Dr. Story, was quoted as saying:
“Girls, I thought you were going to tell me something I didn’t know. I’ve been hearing these reports for years.”
Justly so, one of the McArthur girls gets horrified and hurt with the bishop’s attitude. She had a little sister that could be lying on Story’s table any day now, losing her virginity and not even knowing it. She wonders how many others had he deflowered the same way and why wasn’t it taken care of years ago?! But here is the bishop’s best answer:
“There’s nothing we can do,” “we can’t prove anything. I just tell the women to change doctors.”
So there you go, the testimony of hundreds of women don’t prove anything… John Story is a natural predator, but the people – who should had called him out on his behavior and actions – were not! Well, at least most of them.
The McArthur girls then turn to President John Abraham – spiritual leader of two thousand Mormons in the Lovell stake – who responds with a “drop it” and when asked about the church’s role in protecting the other women, he replies:
“there’s no proof. It’s your word against his. This isn’t a religious matter anyway.”
Marilyn Story, the doctor’s wife, is an excellent example of massive denial, a trait shared by all Dr. Story supporters, which were massive in number as well! Marilyn Story and lots of respectable women and men (who were not raped by him of course), supported devotedly the doctor unconditionally in spite of all the evidence of his behavior. They were under a devotion spell (helped by their religious beliefs) that blurred the reality around them. Supporters described the doctor as a “man of deep commitment to his family, his profession and his faith” after all that is what they saw, the mask of sanity of a psychopath. Olsen points out that justice was not the issue for most Story’s supporters which included the governor, lots of respected doctors, co-workers, patients, and religious people especially devoted to defend him (even on TV!). The issue was denial -denial that a respected member of their community could commit such offenses, denial that the city fathers would allow his outrages to go on for twenty years, denial that so few victims had had the courage to come forward. But that was what happened.
“A guilty defendant who trumpeted his innocence could sway jurors by the eloquence of his denial -it happened all the time. A guilty defendant who lacked conscience or a sense of shame could pass lie-detector tests. One of the prosecutors was even fascinated to learn that Story was so impressed by Dr. Hervey Cleckley’s Mask of Sanity, the classical study of psychopathy, that he’d insisted that his wife Marilyn and his two daughters read it!!”
Psychopaths are masters of manipulation, and Dr. Story manipulated his supporters the same way he manipulated the victims. So it is not surprising that Dr. Story’s lawyer, in a sarcastic way ends up telling the truth about his psychopathic defendant:
“…That’s why I say he is an accomplished, successful deviate, because he fooled not only a wife of thirty-two years who works side by side with him in his office… but he also fooled his employees…the entire nursing staff at the North Big Horn County Hospital, director of personnel, hospital administrator, patients, and all the people that we put on that stand. And he fooled the public! I mean, this man is a genius if he can get by with that.”
He is indeed describing him!
When the victims realize what has happened to them, they shut themselves into shock and denial. Some thanked the doctor and left. Others politely asked how much they owed and wrote checks. Some scheduled new appointments. It seems that in face of unexpected horror, the mind holds itself together by reverting to the familiar, and this is what the women did.
It doesn’t come as a surprise either that even though Dr. Story was a psychopath, the MMPI (Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory) and other tests had shown “no evidence of psychopathology.” This is rather typical among psychopaths, they know at some level what is expected of them from society and respond accordingly. Their mask of sanity is rather perfect. A doctor’s evaluation of John concludes that he is a “private person who has spent an adult lifetime serving people as a physician” and that he is a deep believer in religion and ethics. His sexual fantasies, according to the psychological tests, were “normal and unimaginative,” and he lived a normal, “provincial” sex life with neither sadistic nor aggressive fantasies. Above all, he was emotionally stable and mentally healthy, and the charges against him were “inconsistent with the results of this diagnostic examination”. Psychopaths, quite often, use ideologies and society’s moral and spiritual communities as a front to sustain their mask of sanity, also subtly infecting such ideologies and communities with their pathological behavior which gives them control over the normal population. So we can find them in medicine, law, churches, the government, schools, psychology, ETC. In this case, Dr. Story used religion as a cover, insisting even in a devoted religious lawyer who would talk the same language he did.
At some point a pre-sentence investigator with a vast knowledge of criminals comes into the scene. He scans the psychiatrist’s report, Breck Lebegue, M.D. who found Dr. Story “alert, oriented and cooperative… shows a mild tendency for his thinking to jump from one subject to another, over-inclusiveness in an attempt to be accurate, and a great deal of projected blaming of others…”. The convicted man had insisted that he was the victim of a “vendetta against him by one woman whose request for a disability statement was denied.” As the PSI read, he immediately recognizes the pattern. “Certain offenders flatly refused to take responsibility for their actions, always had glib explanations, and, when one story didn’t impress, blithely switched to another.” His talking here about psychopaths and he knew them for what they are, conscienceless robots, incapable of feeling guilt or taking blame. His I.Q. was 135, there was no indication of major psychopathology or cerebral dysfunction, he wasn’t mentally ill, and he “wouldn’t respond to treatment”. Again, typical of psychopathy. The PSI adds that psychopaths stubbornly refused to admit they needed treatment and were impervious to it when it was forced into them. No therapist had ever learned how to create a conscience that had failed to form in earliest childhood. When the PSI meets Dr. Story he notices that he seemed to send out pressure waves of annoyed superiority. As the doctor talks about his family background, the PSI notices that the word “love” popped out several times, but with a curious lack of feeling. Story seemed to be saying one thing and showing another. He even mumbled once, “I should adjust my speech to what I think you are.” As he continues talking and talking the message seems obvious for the PSI, the doctor hints that “everything about me is normal. How could I possibly be a criminal?”. He has all along a strong need to manipulate. The doctor’s subtext seems to be “an ordinary guy like you couldn’t possibly understand an accomplished person like me.” The PSI realizes that Story’s criminal behavior went back almost 28 years and he knew that offenders who followed a pattern often returned to it on release, especially if they refused to admit their guilt or undertake a program of rehabilitation. Despite his medical degree and mild appearance, Dr. Story was shaping up as a textbook example of hardened criminal. The sad thing is that psychopaths learn quickly that they have to take rehabilitation programs and how to act on them so they can get pardoned and out of trouble. So it should not come as a surprise that Dr. Story was released under parole in 2001, or so I heard.
The PSI’s conclusions are so instructive that I’m going to include them here:
“Mr. John Story appears to have established a very definite pattern of criminal behavior which includes humiliation, victimization, and sexual assaults on select female patients. It appears that this behavior has progressed from its initial stages of simply humiliating women in the examining room as early as 1958 in Crawford, Nebraska, to actual sexual assaults on female patients in Lovell as recently as 1983. He appears to have been quite selective concerning his victims in that, for the most part, he selected only those women who were particularly vulnerable at the time. It appears that Mr. Story used a wide variety of methods to select his victims and to increase their vulnerability.
First, it appears that he used his position of authority as a doctor to intimidate patients. It appears that he then based further actions on individuals’ responses to his position of authority as a doctor and if they seemed particularly easily led or influenced, he continued with his victimization. Throughout the police department investigation and this investigation are references to Mr. Story’s view of himself as a doctor. He did not like to be questioned about his medical decisions or, for that matter, any decisions, and he made that quite clear with people he worked with. Additionally, he did not volunteer information to his patients or other individuals concerning medical decisions.
Second, Mr. Story has a good command of the English language. He has a substantial vocabulary and a good understanding of semantics. It appears that he has developed a pattern of using the language to help intimidate, confuse and humiliate other people. Again, during the investigation it was learned that it was widely known that Mr. Story could talk all around a subject or talk over people’s heads and did so regularly. It appears that when he combined his command of the language with his knowledge of medicine and medical terminology, he easily confused and intimidated a good number of people.
Finally, it appears that Mr. Story believes that he is superior to most other individuals in society. This seems evidenced first by his criminal behavior in the present offense and additionally by his attitude toward various social programs, rules and controls suggested by the state of Wyoming. It appears that he has the attitude that the laws and rules apply to all other individuals, but not to himself.
With such an attitude, it seems quite understandable how he could continue to humiliate, intimidate and victimize his patients with probably a relatively clear conscience. Throughout the trial on the present offense and his incarceration pending sentencing, he has steadfastly maintained his innocence and proclaimed he was convicted as the result of some grand conspiracy against him. It would appear to this Writer that the idea of a conspiracy would be the only way he could allow himself to view his situation, as he is far superior to other individuals and only a conspiracy could have resulted in his conviction.
In this writer’s opinion, Dr. John Story does not appear greatly different from other rapists this writer has dealt with, except that he has a better education and has committed a larger number of offenses. His attitude toward the present offenses appears to be that he is above the law, the laws are for other people and that his only mistake was in getting caught. He appears to have somehow made the determination that it is okay to sexually assault his patients in the examining room, but it is probably not okay to have an affair with his neighbor’s wife or to murder someone. It is not clear, however, how he has made that distinction and what would stop him from going even further in his victimization of people.”
The description of Story’s family through his wife accounts is also interesting. After all, there seems to be a genetic aspect to psychopathy. Lets consider this relevant quote about Story’s family:
Sometimes, after a visit, Marilyn drove on to Maxwell to see his mother, and John always reminded her to stop by Annette’s grave (their child that was killed in an accident at age 2) in the family plot in Plainview Cemetery. Left to her own instincts, Marilyn would have avoided such painful side trips, but she obeyed her husband as always. John also urged her to visit the Fort McPherson Cemetery, scene of so many of his childhood joys and ceremonies. He was pleased when she brought back rubbings from the graves…
Visiting Maxwell, she still found herself uneasy about the Story family’s attitude about death. They grieved, but in their own way. They talked animatedly about Annette and other lost children. At fourteen, John’s youngest brother Tom had been killed by a swerving truck while hitchhiking to North Platte, and when the family discussed him, it was always in vivid, cheery tones – what a neat boy he’d been, his sense of humor, his imitations and jokes that had made the family laugh. You’d have though old Tom was coming for dinner with the wife and kids.
Marilyn returned from one Nebraska trip and told a friend, “Inez’s sister Lola died and they talked and talked and talked about it. The day I got there, John’s mom says “We’re gonna eat, then we’re gonna go up to the mortuary.” Se we all pile into our cars and followy little banty hen Inez into this cold room. She says, “oh doesn’t Lola look so nice! She looks better than she did when she was teaching Latin! And she pats Lola’s hand and stands there looking at her and talking about her hair and her glasses. John’s sister Gretchen and his brother Jerod came, too, and nobody cried. I’m standing back and kinda gulping and I just -ooooh, I thought I was gonna faint.”
Perhaps they didn’t have the empathy so as to mourn at all…
Here is Hervey Cleckley’s original list of symptoms of a psychopath:
1. Considerable superficial charm and average or above average intelligence.
2. Absence of delusions and other signs of irrational thinking
3. Absence of anxiety or other “neurotic” symptoms considerable poise, calmness, and verbal facility.
4. Unreliability, disregard for obligations no sense of responsibility, in matters of little and great import.
5.Untruthfulness and insincerity
7. Antisocial behavior which is inadequately motivated and poorly planned, seeming to stem from an inexplicable impulsiveness.
7.Inadequately motivated antisocial behavior
8.Poor judgment and failure to learn from experience
9. Pathological egocentricity. Total self-centeredness incapacity for real love and attachment.
10. General poverty ot deep and lasting emotions.
11. Lack of any true insight, inability to see oneself as others do.
12. Ingratitude for any special considerations, kindness, and trust.
13. Fantastic and objectionable behavior, after drinking and sometimes even when not drinking–vulgarity, rudeness, quick mood shifts, pranks.
14. No history of genuine suicide attempts.
15. An impersonal, trivial, and poorly integrated seX life.
16. Failure to have a life plan and to live in any ordered way, unless it be one promoting self-defeat.
And Robert Hare’s (another authority in the subject of psychopathy) checklist:
1. Glib and superficial charm — the tendency to be smooth, engaging, charming, slick, and verbally facile. Psychopathic charm is not in the least shy, self-conscious, or afraid to say anything. A psychopath never gets tongue-tied. They have freed themselves from the social conventions about taking turns in talking, for example.
2. Grandiose self-worth — a grossly inflated view of one’s abilities and self-worth, self-assured, opinionated, cocky, a braggart. Psychopaths are arrogant people who believe they are superior human beings.
3. Need for stimulation or proneness to boredom — an excessive need for novel, thrilling, and exciting stimulation; taking chances and doing things that are risky. Psychopaths often have a low self-discipline in carrying tasks through to completion because they get bored easily. They fail to work at the same job for any length of time, for example, or to finish tasks that they consider dull or routine.
4. Pathological lying — can be moderate or high; in moderate form, they will be shrewd, crafty, cunning, sly, and clever; in extreme form, they will be deceptive, deceitful, underhanded, unscrupulous, manipulative, and dishonest.
5. Conning and manipulativeness- the use of deceit and deception to cheat, con, or defraud others for personal gain; distinguished from Item #4 in the degree to which exploitation and callous ruthlessness is present, as reflected in a lack of concern for the feelings and suffering of one’s victims.
6. Lack of remorse or guilt — a lack of feelings or concern for the losses, pain, and suffering of victims; a tendency to be unconcerned, dispassionate, coldhearted, and unempathic. This item is usually demonstrated by a disdain for one’s victims.
7. Shallow effect — emotional poverty or a limited range or depth of feelings; interpersonal coldness in spite of signs of open gregariousness.
8. Callousness and lack of empathy — a lack of feelings toward people in general; cold, contemptuous, inconsiderate, and tactless.
9. Parasitic lifestyle — an intentional, manipulative, selfish, and exploitative financial dependence on others as reflected in a lack of motivation, low self-discipline, and inability to begin or complete responsibilities.
10. Poor behavioral controls — expressions of irritability, annoyance, impatience, threats, aggression, and verbal abuse; inadequate control of anger and temper; acting hastily.
11. Promiscuous sexual behavior — a variety of brief, superficial relations, numerous affairs, and an indiscriminate selection of sexual partners; the maintenance of several relationships at the same time; a history of attempts to sexually coerce others into sexual activity or taking great pride at discussing sexual exploits or conquests.
12. Early behavior problems — a variety of behaviors prior to age 13, including lying, theft, cheating, vandalism, bullying, sexual activity, fire-setting, glue-sniffing, alcohol use, and running away from home.
13. Lack of realistic, long-term goals — an inability or persistent failure to develop and execute long-term plans and goals; a nomadic existence, aimless, lacking direction in life.
14. Impulsivity — the occurrence of behaviors that are unpremeditated and lack reflection or planning; inability to resist temptation, frustrations, and urges; a lack of deliberation without considering the consequences; foolhardy, rash, unpredictable, erratic, and reckless.
15. Irresponsibility — repeated failure to fulfill or honor obligations and commitments; such as not paying bills, defaulting on loans, performing sloppy work, being absent or late to work, failing to honor contractual agreements.
16. Failure to accept responsibility for own actions — a failure to accept responsibility for one’s actions reflected in low conscientiousness, an absence of dutifulness, antagonistic manipulation, denial of responsibility, and an effort to manipulate others through this denial.
17. Many short-term marital relationships — a lack of commitment to a long-term relationship reflected in inconsistent, undependable, and unreliable commitments in life, including marital.
18. Juvenile delinquency — behavior problems between the ages of 13-18; mostly behaviors that are crimes or clearly involve aspects of antagonism, exploitation, aggression, manipulation, or a callous, ruthless tough-mindedness.
19. Revocation of condition release — a revocation of probation or other conditional release due to technical violations, such as carelessness, low deliberation, or failing to appear.
20. Criminal versatility — a diversity of types of criminal offenses, regardless if the person has been arrested or convicted for them; taking great pride at getting away with crimes.
Journalistic case studies like Doc: The Rape of the Town of Lovell by Jack Olsen are turning out to be most instructive about pathological personalities and how they camouflage themselves in our world today. I certainly recommend its reading.