My patients want no more and no less from me than the customers who buy my books or the defense attorneys who retain me to humanize their clients. They want me to probe deeply enough and listen carefully enough to formulate stories they and others can resonate with, ones that feel authentic.
~ Dr. Keith Ablow
In his new release, Inside the Mind of Scott Peterson, celebrity forensic psychiatrist and horror novelist, Keith Ablow, formulates one of his signature “stories” that serves to probe the thought processes of convicted double murderer, Scott Peterson. Unfortunately, Ablow’s analysis is based on a false premise, along with specious assumptions, hearsay, unsubstantiated rumors presumed to be fact, and Ablow’s creative fantasies.
In order to “humanize” Scott Peterson, to portray his motives and desires in a way to make them “resonate” with his readers, Ablow has to dehumanize Laci Peterson. Throughout his brief and repetitive analysis, Ablow depicts Laci as shallow, superficial, out of touch with her feelings, in denial of her alleged painful childhood, devoid of nurturing skills, with no psychic connection to a man with whom she lived for eight years, and as a perfectionist whose chief ambition in life was to “make things pretty.”
As a glaring contrast, Ablow unveils Amber Frey as a goddess of healing and restorative love. Even her name denotes mythical energy. He resurrects the wholly debunked “love spin” by asserting that Amber was “the one [Peterson] had to have, had to keep. The one he convinced himself he was willing to kill for.” (p. 169.)
If this theory, obviously purloined from the pages of a Harlequin Romance, were not enough to cast doubt on Ablow’s conclusions, the foundation of his theory on Scott Peterson’s subconscious belief that “birth equals death” should give you pause.
Scott Peterson must have learned early on that being anything but the perfect child would not be tolerated by his parents. I believe he was in a perpetual state of unconscious panic that his mother (who had given away two other children and who had considered giving away her third) would abandon him and that his father would do nothing to save him. (p. 45.)
As a kind of sub-plot to this hypothesis, Ablow imposes psychological damage and attachment disorder to Peterson because he was separated from his mother for a few days after birth and kept in an incubator.
Ablow’s primary premise that Peterson was “psychologically murdered,” “spiritually suffocated,” and “castrated” by his parents ignores a few important facts. First, Scott did not know about his mother’s first two babies, or that she contemplated giving up John (if that’s even true) until he was an adult, just a few months before he married Laci. How could Peterson’s pathology be rooted in a fear of abandonment when he never experienced this form of abandonment and was not even aware of his mother’s actions prior to his birth?
By all accounts – including testimony at Peterson’s trial, consistent anecdotal narratives, and objective news stories – Lee and Jackie Peterson were doting, attentive, generous and devoted parents to Scott. Their boundaries are blurred and they are eccentric and emotionally crippled, but they did not abandon Scott. In fact, they followed him like puppies until he moved to Modesto and later underwrote an extravagant (albeit ineffective) defense. Some of us would have felt smothered by this parental adoration, but we cannot assume Peterson did. For all we know, he enjoyed the security that he could tap his parents like a spring. There is no evidence to impute a “perpetual state of unconscious panic” to Peterson.
The fantasies and inanities begin on page 5, with Ablow’s self-plagiarized title for Chapter 1: “A Psychological ‘Perfect Storm.’” Ablow recycled the perfect storm metaphor from his testimony in the murder trail of Commonwealth v. Sharpe. Ablow postulates that Peterson had been “emotionally strangled” and was a “psychological cadaver” because he had to “shut down his real feelings in order to short-circuit unbearable pain.” What “unbearable pain” Ablow does not explain.
Ablow attempts to formulate a psychic connection between Jackie’s loss of her parents and abandonment of her babies to Scott’s murder of his unborn child. Making more assumptions and theorizing with scanty information, Ablow characterizes the victim, Laci Peterson, nearly as one-dimensional as the “missing” posters of her picture taped to telephone poles in Modesto.
Laci had a way of focusing on the prettiest part of any picture, fixing things up until they looked pristine, at least on the surface. She had chosen to spend her professional life decorating with flowers.
Borrowing from the tabloids, Ablow uses Laci’s prior romantic choices to deduce a pattern of dysfunctional attractions:
Laci’s resolve to overcome or ignore darkness and focus on petty things, in fact, may be one reason she had attracted a violent man before ever meeting Scott Peterson.
Taking a page from Freud, Ablow constructs for Peterson a twisted Oedipal conflict:
In Scott’s mind, every woman would forever be Jackie: a person he believed he needed to trick…who might abandon him at any time…who might secretly be plotting to destroy him.
However, another contradictory argument emerges on the following page:
Scott would have a hard time believing that any woman could choose to leave him. He was, after all, the Golden Boy who had grown into the perfect man.
So, is Laci a facsimile of Jackie, or is Laci the perfect mate?
Laci’s willingness not to look at the dark side would have reassured him that he would never be forced to confront his suffering, would never be seen as anything but a golden boy. Laci would never peer behind his mask of sanity or hold up a mirror and make him look at himself.
With only the edges of the puzzle in place, Ablow’s remedy is to make rash generalizations:
When Laci was a child, her father had walked out on her and her mother. She would do anything she could to avoid believing she was losing another man’s heart.
Since Ablow did not find Laci interesting enough to research her background beyond the pages of Catherine Crier’s book, he deduces that she was no more emotionally healthy or self-aware than Peterson.
Could Peterson be healed? It requires some raw material to work with – a person in whom the light of life still burns, however dimly…it requires a certain amount of luck – the right moments between the right human beings.
Perhaps Ablow’s professed career as a therapist for dozens of violent criminals and the author of a series of novels that center on psychopathic behavior is an admission that he has fallen too deeply into the abyss. He has missed the forest for the trees. He arbitrarily assigns Scott Peterson the exact diagnosis he has for most of the defendants he is paid to declare “insane.” Only this time he wasn’t hired by the defense. His readers are paying for this reassuring diagnosis, because they prefer to think of Peterson as someone who is incapable of reason. As long as he can be categorized as a “sociopath,” he cannot be their brother, their neighbor, their husband or their son.
To whom will Ablow’s “story” of Peterson’s mind “resonate?” Definitely not to the Amber detractors who will recoil at the depiction of her as a healing goddess; not to the countless women who related to Laci on many levels and the millions who were dazzled by her smile, her luminescence, and her genuine accessibility; probably not to the people who supported the Rochas; surely not to the Peterson apologists who believe Scott is innocent and no more a sociopath than the Maytag repair man; and not to the seekers of justice and truth who would reject this analysis as patently false.
There really is no constituency for this book.