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10 Famous Sociopaths & Their Mental Health Struggles

by | Last updated May 7, 2021 at 2:10PM | Published on Jan 7, 2021 | Mental Health

famous sociopaths in history

Though only one percent of the population is sociopaths, their crimes are so bone-chilling they usually stand out from the crowds and news. Unfortunately, sociopaths are somewhat after that attention and embrace. But, even the most famous sociopaths have mental health struggles that they don’t truly understand.

What’s a Sociopath?

There’s no official definition for sociopaths as the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders doesn’t use this term. Instead, doctors use the phrase: antisocial personality disorder.

A sociopath is someone who can’t understand other people’s feelings. They often make impulsive decisions that might harm others without feeling guilt or remorse. The most famous sociopaths are manipulative and controlling but also charismatic and charming.

For an antisocial personality disorder diagnosis, someone must be over the age of 18 and show behavioral patterns for at least three months that include three of the following traits:

  •  Disrespect for social norms or laws
  • Compulsive lies for personal gain
  • Inability to make long-term plans
  • Aggressive or aggravated behavior
  • Inability to feel guilt or remorse for their actions

 Psychopaths vs. Sociopaths

Though both terms fall under an antisocial personality disorder, there are some critical differences between the two. A sociopath usually doesn’t cause serious harm or distress, whereas a psychopath is usually more physically violent or prone to put others in danger. However, this isn’t to say that sociopaths can’t do harm or engage in aggressive behavior.

Some of the most famous sociopaths in history were young men and young women with charming personalities. To this day, many of their crimes remain a subject of study to behavioral health experts.

1. Ted Bundy

Perhaps one of the most prolific and famous sociopaths and psychopath figures in modern history. Ted Bundy was a charming young man who was famously enchanting with women. Yet, he killed at least 30 people across the United States. After studying his case, many psychologists agreed Bundy had an antisocial personality disorder, psychopathy, narcissistic personality disorder, bipolar personality disorder, borderline personality disorder, schizoid personality disorder, and addictive disorder.

2. Jack Henry Abbott

A notable novelist and author, Jack Abbott, had some struggles with law enforcement as a young man, but never something outstanding. A bank robbery sent him to prison, where he contacted famous author Norman Mailer and convinced Mailer to write a book. Through this penpal relationship, Mailer even helped Abbott get out of parole, who later stabbed to death a waiter who wouldn’t let him use the employee’s bathroom. Abbott went back to prison, where he died by suicide in 2002.

3. John Gacy

On the surface, nothing about John Gacy made him appear like a sociopath. He even received a Man of the Year award from Des Plaines, Illinois. There are even photos of him with the First Lady at the time, Rosalynn Carter.

He was charming and an outstanding figure to many who knew him. He even entertained kids as a clown at birthday parties. Yet, years later, investigations lead to the discovery that he was also a serial killer, who later became known as the Clown Killer.

4. Joey Buttafuoco

Joey Buttafuoco was an auto repairman in Long Island who engaged in a relationship with a minor, Amy Fisher, who later shot Buttafuoco’s wife in the face. Both Fisher and his ex-wife described Buttafuoco as a charming man who had the power to charm snakes out of a tree.

5. Diane Downs

Though female sociopaths are rare, few characters stand out throughout history. Diane Downs was after men who didn’t want children. However, she couldn’t find it. She found a man to have a family with and later murder her children. Psychiatrists diagnosed her with narcissistic, histrionic, and antisocial personality disorders.

6. Deidre Hunt

Deidre Hunt had a rough childhood, with her mother confessing to early abuse. Unlike other famous sociopaths, Hunt’s love partner was the mastermind of the shooting murder of two young men. Her mom says there’s no doubt Deidre had multiple personality disorders. This switch of personalities and sociopathic tendencies is probably what led her to commit these crimes.

7. Billy McFarland

It’s important to know that not all sociopaths are killers. Remember, one of the distinctive traits of a sociopath is that they feel no remorse for their actions, even after harming others. Billy McFarland was the creator and organizer of the infamous Fyre Festival. The festival promised luxury accommodations and access to VIP parties and celebrities.

However, it was all a scam that barely delivered on the promises made to its members. Even after being charged with wire fraud and conducting schemes, he never showed remorse for the fraud, even when admitting there weren’t prepared to set up such a festival. He still refuses to admit he lied to investors, festival-goers, and other people involved.

8. Elizabeth Holmes

On the surface, Elizabeth Holmes was a pioneer in her industry and working towards changing the world at the young age of 19. Theranos was a $10 billion company at one point; the company was on the verge of revolutionizing the healthcare industry, finding a technology that could test for a long list of diseases using a single drop of blood.

At its peak, she even has former Secretaries of State sitting on her company’s board of directors. She and her partner were charged with multiple counts of wire fraud. Even after being indicted by a federal jury, she continued to talk to investors about starting a new business and denied any allegations against her.

9. The Zodiac Killer

Many sociopaths are after the attention and fear of the masses. The Zodiac killer was the epitome of that definition. For decades, he sent encrypted messages to various media outlets teasing them about his horrific actions. He was active in the 60s and 70s but remained silent after 1974.

Although psychologists never had the chance to examine him, since no one ever knew who he was, his crimes showed a lack of empathy, a hint of psychopathy, and his reach to the media was considered a sociopathic tendency. Unlike killers like Jeffrey Dahmer or Ted Bundy, Zodiac didn’t appear to be obsessed with killing. He was obsessed with fame.

10. Aileen Wuornos

You’ve probably seen documentaries about Wuornos’ life, also known as one of America’s most famous female murderers. She had an exotic figure, an outgoing personality, and a charismatic way of being that made her irresistible to many. Yet, many believe she wasn’t a sociopath since sometimes she would admit her guilt but later deny it. After her sentencing for murder, psychiatrists diagnosed her with borderline personality disorder and antisocial personality disorder.

Geraldine Orentas

Geraldine Orentas

Geraldine is Lighthouse Recovery Institute’s Digital Marketing Manager. She has a Bachelor’s in Journalism and experience in the digital media industry. Geraldine’s writing allows her to share valuable information about mental health, wellness, and drug addiction facts, hoping to shed light on the importance of therapy and ending the stigma.
Medical Disclaimer:

Lighthouse Recovery Institute aims to improve the quality of life for anyone struggling with substance use or mental health disorder. We provide fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options, and their outcomes. The material we publish is researched, cited, edited, and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide in our posts is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. It should never be used in place of the advice of your physician or another qualified healthcare provider.

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