Review

Inside the Mind of Scott Peterson

by Keith Ablow, M.D.



Dr. Keith Ablow is a forensic psychiatrist whose specialty is
profiling, analyzing and exploring the black holes that seem to
comprise the minds of criminals who have committed the most heinous
crimes. His mission is to find out what happened in the formation
and life of these felons in order to determine why they act the way
they do.

Ablow is also a prolific author who writes both nonfiction books
and a series of novels that star a fictional forensic psychiatrist
(his alter ego, perhaps?). His new book is titled INSIDE THE MIND
OF SCOTT PETERSON. And if truth is stranger than fiction, the
theories expounded here posit a very frightening account of the
murders of Scott Peterson's wife and unborn son. Ablow was pulled
into the case on a professional level and a human concern. He feels
there are some questions that still haunt the people both inside
and outside of the Laci and Conner Peterson murders: Why did this
awful and senseless killing happen? Why would a seemingly happily
married father-to-be destroy his wife and unborn son? Why didn't
this clean-cut, soft-spoken young husband completely dissociate
himself from the searches for Laci and adopt the persona of a man
on the run?

In order to understand the premise upon which his ideas are built,
readers need to have a sense of how Dr. Ablow works and what he
believes is the basis for the creation of a sociopath (psychopath).
He explains: "My work has included evaluating dozens of murderers,
rapists, pedophiles, and other violent criminals and testifying
about them in district, state, and federal courts. Without
exception, my task has been to find the story that explains not
what happened to victims but why it happened --- why some people
destroy others. In order to do so, I have had to journey deep into
the psyches of men and women without empathy, capable of brutal
acts. And I have become a relentless burrower for the truth about
such people. My mind does not rest until I find it. Because once I
do, I have my reward: I realize again that nothing and no one is
beyond human understanding --- not even those we call
monsters."

For this book Ablow conducted an extensive investigation,
interviewing members of the Peterson family and extended family,
friends and acquaintances, which helped put much of their history
into a clinical form for analysis. Ablow even created a website
dedicated to learning about early traumas in Scott's life and
reading and watching everything he could find about him. He says:
"I am convinced that Laci and Conner lost their lives to a
psychological 'perfect storm' that began gathering over the
Peterson family over five decades ago and reached hurricane
strength in the psyche of Scott Peterson. The road to the 2002
murders of a young woman full of life and the innocent child she
carried" was pre-ordained when, just before Christmas in December
1945, his maternal grandfather was murdered. To bolster his
theories, Ablow goes into detail about that killing and how it and
its ramifications affected Scott's mother, Jackie. He writes of
those events and believes the force of that moment in time became
the genesis for every event that twisted Scott into a
sociopath. 

Dr. Ablow's observations can be loosely summed up as such:

1) Jackie Peterson's father was killed just before Christmas. Thus,
for her, the holidays became a conflicted and an emotional
time.

2) Jackie and her siblings were pushed by their mother into an
orphanage, and Jackie was separated from her brothers for ten
years.

3) While it is not known whether or not Jackie suffered emotional,
sexual or physical abuse, documentation now proves that the place
where she lived all those lonely years was a "cesspool of
pedophilia."

4) We do know that soon after arriving at this place Jackie
developed debilitating asthma and was at the mercy of her keepers
--- not only for her day-to-day existence, but also for her very
breath since they had control of her medications.

5) Jackie left the orphanage to care for her ailing mother who soon
died, and again she was left alone. Did she have expectations of a
"family reunion" that turned into another loss?

6) In the next few years Jackie gave birth to two children with two
different men and gave up both for adoption.

7) Jackie kept her third child conceived with a third partner
because her doctor shamed her into it.

8) A few years later Jackie married Lee Peterson, a man who left
his wife and three children because he was not comfortable in the
company of his offspring. In this context, one may wonder why they
have Scott Lee Peterson, the only child to come out of their
union.

9) The newborn Scott was very ill, and the way Ablow describes this
experience, he was torn from his mother and put into a plastic
bubble as he struggled to breathe (don't forget his mother's ordeal
with asthma.) That early trauma was the beginning of the end for
Scott Peterson because it laid the foundation for Jackie's
subsequent emotional and spiritual "murder" of Scott; the creation
of his desperate need to be a perfect child, which led him to
become a pathological liar when reality failed to live up to his
fantasies; his craving for sexual excitement, and hence his
multiple infidelities while married to Laci --- which Ablow argues
was the sole way he felt he was alive at all; and the enormous
psychological threat that the prospect of having a child posed to
Scott.

10) As a result of the Petersons' objectification of Scott, Ablow
says, he learned early that his humanity didn't matter; he needed
to suffocate himself and drown himself to death spiritually to be
in this family. He was never allowed to become a mature "self" with
his own ideas, realities, needs, goals and loves.

11) And what creeps into this jaundiced view of life is that
"there's a psychological threat to him even being a person. So he
becomes a person imitating a person," Ablow opined in an interview
on CBS. Thus, the mask he has hidden behind for thirty-plus years
is permanently set in place and never ever removed.

12) Remember how easily his mother and father "gave up" the
children they had before he was born? These events skewed Scott's
feelings about fatherhood by leaving him with the distorted view
that children could be such terrible threats to parents that they
simply could be given away, and that fed into Scott's fear at the
prospect of becoming a father. For him "birth equals death."

The world knows that in the early evening on December 24, 2002,
Scott phoned his mother-in-law, Sharon Rocha, and said, "Laci is
missing!" Keep in mind that Laci was nearing her due date and was
complaining of fatigue. Where could she be? Despite the holiday,
everyone who could gathered at Peterson's Covena Avenue house and
began an immediate search for Laci. The only one who seemed removed
from the panic and the desperation was Scott Peterson. Those who
were close to Laci were puzzled at his lack of affect and the
"rigor mortis-smile" plastered on his face. This is only one of the
"symptoms" that served to unnerve and alienate everyone he came
into contact with, because he never showed any grief or emotion in
this sad and compelling case.

In April two badly decomposed bodies washed up on the shoreline of
the San Francisco Bay. DNA tests confirmed that the baby boy was
the child of Scott and Laci. Other tests confirmed that the
headless, armless and legless torso that washed up the next day was
Laci. When he was arrested the DNA results had just come in --- he
asked no questions about the bodies, and his demeanor was detached
and cold. The only thing he said was that he wanted "a
double-double hamburger and a vanilla shake," which he ate as
though he was on an outing with friends. Scott was arrested on
charges of capital murder one, and he was in the back of a squad
car on his way to a cell in Modesto.  

Ablow says that Jackie's early trauma set in motion the domino
effect that Scott couldn't escape and "marred" him from the time he
was born. He describes this theory over and over in his text;
sometimes it sounds logical, but too often it carries with it a
shadow of incompleteness, using one eye and making generalizations
on only certain experiences in a person's life to make his point.
He clearly ascribes to the philosophy that nurture or lack thereof
is what makes someone a killer.

While his colleagues may still be cautious about coming down on one
side or the other in the controversy of nature vs. nurture, when
commenting on what goes into forming an individual's personality
traits Dr. Ablow firmly comes down on the side of nurture --- in
other words, the parents (and collective family history, et. al.)
are always to blame. This, despite all the research and data that
show (through PET scans, MRIs and CAT scans) that the brain of a
sociopath is different from that of a more ordinary person.

Readers will have to make up their own minds as to whom or what
"created" Scott Lee Peterson, a man who was found guilty of the
murders of his wife and son. Scott now sits in San Quentin prison,
which looks over the bay where they were submerged for months. What
can he be thinking as he catches a glimpse of the cold, deep grave
in which he dumped Laci and her unborn child?

Reviewed by Barbara Lipkien Gershenbaum on January 22, 2011

Inside the Mind of Scott Peterson
by Keith Ablow, M.D.

  • Publication Date: August 1, 2005
  • Genres: Nonfiction
  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • ISBN-10: 0312352050
  • ISBN-13: 9780312352059