Did you know that one in every twenty-five people is a sociopath? That’s surprising, if not a little worrying. If it is true, then we have to accept that sociopaths must exist in all walks of life.
From the student at college that everyone knows not to upset, to your new neighbour that never makes eye contact. It also stands to reason that there will be several famous sociopaths.
Sociopaths vs Psychopaths
But before I continue, I just want to be clear that I am talking about sociopaths and not psychopaths. Although they are both antisocial personality disorders that share some commonalities, there are differences.
- Have traumatic childhoods
- Caused by environment
- Behave impulsively
- Are opportunistic
- Can feel anxious and stress
- Engage in risky behavior
- Are capable of empathy
- Do not consider the consequences
- Feel slight guilt but quickly forgets
- Are born psychopathic
- Caused by genes, brain structure
- Are controlled and meticulous
- Preplan and premeditate their crimes
- Punishment not effective
- Take calculated risks
- Mimics emotions
- Carefully considers the outcome
- Have no guilt or remorse
An easy way to remember is that sociopaths are created and psychopaths are born.
Now that the difference between psychopaths and sociopaths is clear, let’s move on to famous sociopaths. I have chosen sociopaths from all walks of life; from fiction to history to television and the criminal world.
Here Are 10 of the Most Interesting and Famous Sociopaths:
Famous Serial Killer Sociopaths
Of course, we have to start with serial killers, after all, when we mention famous sociopaths, that’s the first thing that comes to mind.
1. Ted Bundy – 20 confirmed victims
“I don’t feel guilty for anything. I feel sorry for people who feel guilt.” Ted Bundy
Many people regard Ted Bundy as the ultimate psychopath, but I believe he falls into the sociopath category and I’ll tell you why. I don’t believe Bundy was born a psychopath. If you look at his childhood, it hints at a troubled upbringing.
Bundy’s mother wasn’t married when he was born and such was the stigma in those days she gave him away and he lived with his strict, religious grandparents. Moreover, his grandfather was a violent man, and Bundy was a shy child who was bullied at school.
Bundy was handsome and charming and lured women by pretending to be injured, before attacking them. But although there was some planning involved in his criminal activities, a lot of his crimes were opportunistic.
For example, in 1978, Bundy broke into the Chi Omega sorority house at Florida State University, where he attacked four female students. This was both impulsive and opportunistic.
Bundy was eventually caught and executed in Florida’s ‘Old Sparky’ electric chair in 1989.
2. Jeffrey Dahmer – 17 victims
“After the fear and terror of what I’d done had left, which took about a month or two, I started it all over again. From then on it was a craving, a hunger, I don’t know how to describe it, a compulsion, and I just kept doing it, doing it and doing it, whenever the opportunity presented itself.”
By all accounts, Jeffrey Dahmer also experienced a troubled childhood. He was left on his own with his attention-seeking, hypochondriac mother and absent father. Dahmer felt insecure. He then underwent a hernia operation, which made things even worse.
He become increasingly withdrawn, had few friends, and began drinking at school. By the time Dahmer was a teenager, the family had split up and Dahmer was living on his own, drinking heavily. He had the house to himself, where he committed his first murder.
Dahmer aimed to create a ‘zombie-type’ person that would never leave him. He would invite young men over to his apartment in Milwaukee, drug them then kill them. Some he experimented on by drilling holes in their skulls and injecting them with bleach.
Dahmer was arrested in July 1991. Police saw Tracy Edwards escaping from Dahmer’s apartment and went to investigate. One officer opened a drawer and found Polaroid photos depicting Dahmer’s victims in grisly poses.
Dahmer was so out of control he had bodies stacking up in barrels and refrigerators, and neighbors were complaining of a dreadful smell.
Famous TV Characters Who Are Sociopaths
3. King Joffrey – Game of Thrones
King Joffrey had a spoiled upbringing lavished upon him from his parents. He embodies an utterly sadistic nature with the petulance of a toddler. The problem is, this toddler is the king, so when Joffrey has a tantrum, heads literally roll.
Imagine a small child who loves to tear the legs off butterflies. That’s King Joffrey but with the power of a king. He delights in torturing but doesn’t take responsibility. He blames others for his actions.
There is no logic in the decisions he makes. Most of them are impulsive and based on his mood at the time. This makes him the most dangerous type of sociopath because you can’t prepare for what he’ll do next.
There’s no doubt that King Joffrey should be on my famous sociopaths’ list, however, I find him a little one-dimensional. The same cannot be said for my next pick.
4. The Governor – The Walking Dead
I was tempted to choose Alpha, Leader of the Whispers for the most famous sociopath of all the TV characters, but then I realised, she is definitely a psychopath. Her level of planning and premeditation is second to none. Instead, I chose the Governor, because he let his heart rule his decisions for a while, instead of his head.
At first, The Governor appears charming and kind, offering sanctuary to those without shelter, so long as they pitched in. However, over time, all was not as it seemed.
His impulsive nature and violent outbursts became more frequent and his unpredictable nature was frightening. If you went along with his plans you were safe, but go against him and you suffered terrible consequences.
Historical Leaders Who Might Have Been Sociopaths
5. Joseph Stalin
From fiction to fact now, and I come to one of the most famous sociopaths in history.
Joseph Stalin gained control of the Soviet Union in 1924, and it is believed that he was responsible for the deaths of at least 20 million people. Disagree with his rules, oppose him or badmouth him, if you were lucky, you were sentenced to hard labour at Siberia’s many gulags. The unlucky ones were tortured for information or killed.
Stalin is said to have had an impulsive and sadistic nature. For example, he had never liked his son Yakov until he joined the Red Army, in time for the Second World War.
“Go and fight!” Stalin told his son, but unfortunately, Yakov was captured by the Nazis. The Germans were beside themselves with glee and dropped propaganda leaflets mocking Stalin. This infuriated the Russian leader who declared his son a traitor for allowing the capture.
He also detained Yakov’s wife for treason. Stalin then issued Command 270. This stated that captured Red Army officers would be executed upon their return. This directive applied to their families. Of course, the irony is that under these rules, Stalin should have been executed.
6. Ivan the Terrible
Ivan IV certainly had a terrible childhood, but that in no way makes up for his utterly despicable actions as an adult. Ivan was born in the mid-15th century to the Grand Prince of Moscow. But his life didn’t resemble that of a royal prince.
His parents died when he was young and so began a long battle between the two sides of his parents’ royal families to claim him and his brother. While this struggle for ownership over the boys continued, Ivan and his sibling grew up, ragged, dirty, and starving on the streets.
Because of this power struggle, Ivan is believed to have developed an intense hatred and mistrust for nobility. In 1547, at the age of sixteen, Ivan was crowned as ruler of Russia. For a while, all was peaceful in Russia, then Ivan’s wife died. Suspecting that she had been poisoned by his enemies he descended into rage and paranoia.
During this time, his best friend defected, which led to a humiliating defeat, so Ivan recruited a personal guard known as Oprichniki.
The Oprichniki were brutal under Ivan. Anyone suspected of treason suffered horrendous deaths. Executions included boiling victims alive, roasting victims over an open fire, impaling them, or being torn apart limb from limb by horses.
Even his own family didn’t escape his brutality. It is said that Ivan came across his son’s heavily pregnant wife in a state of undress and beat her so severely that she lost the baby.
According to historical sources, her husband, Ivan’s son, was so distressed that he confronted Ivan who struck him on the head. The son died of his injuries a few days later.
Famous Female Sociopaths
7. Dorothea Puente
Dorothea Puente ran a care house for the disabled and elderly in the 1980s. The place was clean, the food was good and the rooms were cheap. Family members with elderly relatives couldn’t recommend the place highly enough, and luckily, spaces always seemed to be available.
However, when one of her residents went missing, the police got involved. During the investigation, it transpired that Puente was still cashing the gentleman’s social security cheques. Investigators then discovered that other cheques were being cashed for residents that no longer lived there.
A full investigation was launched, and in 1988, police searched Puente’s address and found body parts buried in the backyard. Puente would poison her residents and carry on cashing their cheques. She fled the jurisdiction but was captured and sentenced to life with no parole.
8. Myra Hindley
If you were born in the UK and lived in the 1960s, you’ll never forget the horrific case of Myra Hindley, dubbed ‘the most hated woman in England’.
Along with her boyfriend, Ian Brady, she helped lure and kill five children and then buried them in a desolate moor in England.
At the time, women who committed murder were rare, but the fact is that without Hindley, these children would probably never have walked off with a man they barely knew. As such, Hindley was instrumental in the deaths of these children.
Most chilling of all is that some of the children were tortured before dying. We know this because Hindley recorded their plaintive cries and took photographs while Brady molested them.
9. Sherlock Holmes
“I’m not a psychopath, I’m a high-functioning sociopath. Do your research”
Is there such a thing as a good sociopath? If so, then perhaps the most famous sociopath of all is Sherlock Holmes. However, there is debate whether Holmes is a psychopath or a sociopath, but he tells us in his own words.
Holmes falls into the sociopath category because of his enduring friendship with John Watson. His job is also hugely significant in that he is a detective, exploring hideous crimes in Victorian London.
Holmes may not have the social skills or the charm of a psychopath and he does seem remarkably controlled. However, because he is capable of empathy, I suggest he is one of my good sociopaths.
10. Dexter ‘Darkly Dreaming Dexter’ by Jeff Lindsay
You could argue that Dexter is a psychopath, after all, he meticulously plans every one of his kills. However, look at his childhood. Dexter witnessed the unspeakable murder of his mother by a chainsaw at the age of three inside a shipping container.
As Dexter gets older, he starts to kill and dismember animals. His adoptive father Harry tries to stop this destructive behavior, but nothing works. Eventually, Harry compromises with Dexter and ‘allows’ him to only kill people who deserve it.
Finally, I believe Dexter is a sociopath and not a psychopath is because he has genuine feelings for his sister Deborah and his son – Harrison.
Psychopaths have no feelings and although they can fake relationships, they don’t feel emotions. Sociopaths do feel emotions because they weren’t always sociopathic. There are also examples where Dexter acts impulsively, risking capture.
Do you agree or disagree with my selection of famous sociopaths? Which ones do you think should have a place in my top ten? As always, let me know in the comments box below.
- Featured image: Benedict Cumberbatch filming Sherlock by Fat Les (bellaphon) from London, UK, CC BY 2.0
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