Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Mike DeBardeleben: Serial Sexual Sadist

The Sexual Sadist

Dr. J. Reid Meloy is a forensic psychologist in California. He's written extensively about psychopathy and aberrant sexuality. In Violent Attachments, he discusses the fact that sadistic psychopaths are more likely to relate to people in terms of power than affection. They commit crimes with more violence than other types of offenders, and in general are more aggressive. Psychopaths are callous, without remorse or empathy, and often predatory. They move about with planning and purpose, and what most gratifies them is the omnipotent control of others. Among the characteristics Meloy finds in this type of offender are:

  • Impersonation of law enforcement
  • Abduction of victim to a preselected location
  • Binding of the victim
  • Emotional detachment during attack
  • Rape often leads to murder, usually by strangulation
  • Murdered victim is generally concealed
  • Offender records his activities
  • Victims are most likely strangers
  • Attack is methodical and repeated from one victim to another

"In virtually all cases of sexual sadism, including sexual homicide" Meloy says, "rehearsal fantasy is a prerequisite."


Roy Hazelwood from the FBI's Behavioral Science Unit studied DeBardeleben closely. His specialty was sexual crimes, and he transformed the investigation of aberrant sexual offenses into an integral part of the FBI training. Hazelwood has co-written numerous articles and books, notably, "The Lust Murderer" with John Douglas, Practical Aspects of Rape Investigation, and The Evil That Men Do.

Hazelwood talks about serial rapists in terms of categories, which he says were first discussed by Dr. A. Nicholas Groth in a book called Men Who Rape. He outlines four major categories and two minor ones:

Power-reassurance, "which law enforcement calls the 'gentleman rapist.' He has a complex fantasy of a consensual relationship with a woman."

Power-assertive: "That's the individual who believes that he is entitled to do whatever he wants to women. His fantasies are minimal."

Anger-retaliatory: "This person assaults because he's motivated by anger and he's getting even with women for real or imagined wrongs. He has almost no fantasy. He simply strikes."

Anger-excitation: "He's a sexual sadist. He's punishing women because he believes them to be evil and powerful, so he's trying to take away that power. He has deep and complex fantasies."

Opportunistic: "He's there to commit another crime, like robbery or burglary. The victim is there and he simply seizes the opportunity."

Gang rape: "This involves three or more offenders and you always have a leader and a reluctant participant."

According to Hazelwood, the anger-excitation rapist is the most dangerous, and DeBardeleben was a good example because the suffering of his victims sexually stimulated him. His goals, expressed in writing, were to dominate and control. He defined sadism for himself as "the central impulse to have complete mastery over another person, to make him/her a helpless object of our will, to become her god." Moreover, he wanted to be in a position to do whatever he pleased with her, to enslave her, and to make her suffer in a way that she couldn't possibly defend herself against.

This type of rapist generally has a plan that he knows how to execute, and will do it over and over for as long as he can get away with it. He rehearses every detail and has all the equipment necessary to play out his fantasies.

"A sexual sadist," says Hazelwood, "is an individual who is aroused by the suffering of another person. It is not the infliction of pain that's arousing, it's the victim's suffering. He may use pain - physical or psychological - as a tool to elicit the suffering, but it's the suffering that's most important to him. One thing that's confused with sexual sadism is cruelty committed during a crime. A lot of crimes are extremely cruel, but very few crimes are called sexual sadism. We've overused the term, sadism, in our society. In my opinion, sexual sadism counts for no more than 7-10% of sexual crimes committed. But the sexual sadist is the great white shark of sexual crimes. He's the premier predator."

Such men, Hazelwood discovered in a study of thirty sexual sadists, viciously despise women. They're all bitches, whores, and sluts, and it's just a matter of pushing the right buttons to bring this out, or forcing them into the position in a way that proves the point to his satisfaction.

With forensic psychiatrist Park Dietz, Hazelwood wrote a 40-page report to help the Secret Service agents understand DeBardeleben's behavior. They diagnosed him from the materials recovered as a full-fledged, highly aberrant sexual sadist.

"He had red lights, sirens, and police badges," Hazelwood recalls, "and thousands of pages of writing in which he described feeling degraded and needing to restore his self-respect by ripping off society. He had audiotapes of himself torturing his wives and other victims, and he had thousands of photographs, many of which depicted his victims. He would rehearse with his wives and he'd then act out that fantasy with his other victims, and he would even put himself on an audiotape with a falsetto voice, playing the role of the victim. He also had a number of cards containing statistics and sexual evaluations of random females."

In support of this, among the many pages of written notes to himself, DeBardeleben had scribed the following recipe for controlling his female partner and making her into a sexual accomplice:

  • Get his satisfaction early
  • Isolate her and keep her dependent
  • Make all decisions
  • Prevent her from acquiring any skills
  • Don't let her get educated or have any power
  • Be ready to cut her loose if necessary
  • Never show weakness

Hazelwood and Dietz also saw evidence of narcissism, which meant that DeBardeleben had a to build an illusion of omnipotence around himself that protected him from insult or humiliation. He had to reign supreme, and anyone close to him, such as a wife, had to fully support his self-perception. The least dent in this psychological armor would provoke rage and potential annihilation for the person who crossed him. In fact, it seemed to be the case that one of DeBardeleben's five wives had undermined him in a way that fueled his rage and motivated him to keep hurting other women.

We're Following
Slender Man stabbing, Waukesha, Wisconsin
Gilberto Valle 'Cannibal Cop'