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Book Review: Inside the Mind of Scott Peterson

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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.

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About Loretta Dillon

Loretta Dillon began her writing career publishing a neighborhood newspaper and handwritten and illustrated books as a child in a Cleveland suburb. Her strongest literary influences were MAD magazine and Mark Twain. When introduced to the internet, Dillon created a blog to showcase her satire that evolved into a popular forum on relationships, recovery and true crime stories, specifically spousal murder. Selected entries were published as a book in 2005 that was honored as a finalist for a non-fiction "Blooker" award. Dillon's comedy play, "The Smoking Diary" was produced off-Broadway in 2009.
  • I would have maybe bought this book, or in the least, rented it from the libary, until I read this review. It doesn’t sound like the book even has any great insights into Scott Peterson’s sociopathic nature. And the victim bashing of Laci would probably make me literally ill. Thanks for the heads-up on this one!

  • Albow’s book is nothing more than an atrocity. While I believe in free speech fervently, this kind of trash is something else altogether. Laci’s family has suffered enough, and I think it best for the whole world to forget Scott Peterson ever existed. That is, until the day they fry him.

  • “… surely not to the Peterson apologists who believe Scott is innocent and no more a sociopath than the Maytag repair man …”

    I am not an apologist for Scott Peterson nor do I ‘believe’ he is not guilty. I read the prosecution’s case in which they, and not the defence, proved overwhelmingly that he was totally innocent of any involvement in this crime. Ablow’s book is like the man himself, and he, not Scott Peterson, is a perfect example of a narcissist both in appearance and ideas. So far all of the books produced on and about this crime have been motivated purely by the profit motive and this book seems not to be any different.

  • Carolyn Miller

    I might buy this book now that Ms. Dillon has thrashed it for here to kingdom come. Perhaps she doesn’t like the competition to her book. Besides she has never met a man who doesn’t possess some form of narcissism so I guess Dr.Albow fits in that description also.

  • Cheryl Lynne

    Of course the book’s critique would be Loretta who actually gives herself great reviews on her pathetic excuse for an E-book. I have never met a woman that trashed so many people trying to climb to the second wrung of a ladder. Narcissistic, seems to fit the Misfit, that spends more time bashing others and self-promoting that every man and woman is considered competition and is fair game for the Egotistical so-called writer.

  • C Lynn

    Excellent review! Had I mistakenly bought the book before reading this, I would have burned it.

  • Stephanie

    Thanks so much for the great review. I read one of Ablow’s books — “murder suicide”. It was too loaded with Christian references, and it was misogynistic. Never again. I was curious about his non-fiction, but it looks like more of the same tripe. Thanks for saving me the time and money with your very analytical and detailed review.


  • Marco

    I’ve read the critique after I read the book and, sincerely, I think that although the review scores some points about vagueness and superficiality on some of Ablow’s assumptions, it is not fair with some brilliant remarksd in the book about Scott Peterson’s motivations. For me the book is worth reading.

  • M

    I think any book involving Scott Peterson is interesting. I will be buying this book for sure. It was a tragedy what happened and I would like to know as much as I can

  • I like how he connects Scott Peterson’s past to his previous life, I do think that his childhood, even if not remembered has an affect on him after he was told of what had happened.
    The only thing I did not like is how the author have an anti-Laci kinda thing. I don’t think he has the right to judge her, since he does not personally now her.

  • Tarnished Tiara

    Having read the book, I can report that the doctor’s style is heavy-handed and repetitive (“birth equals death” ad nauseum…) as he pads what would be a booklet into a book. And his allusions tend toward the melodramatic — really, sound-bites passing for insight, evidence of television savvy.

    But I don’t question his fundamental premise that Peterson is a psychopath, trained by parents unable to mirror (see) him for who he really was. Their acceptance of him was conditional on his play-acting the “perfect child.” To not be abandoned, the traumatized boy abnegated his genuine personality, feelings and all, to became a human doll.

    Peterson is nothing but a shell, unconvincingly mimicking emotions he is doomed to never experience. Instead, admiration for his image is his pain-killing fix, the only way he can feel his existence, and Amber offered fresh supply after married life with Laci had gone flat. In that, the book offers a valuable warning about “perfect” men who can’t love. If only Laci had recognized the signs.

  • Jessica

    I read the book yesterday. I’m not quite sure why Ms. Dillion would attack this book with such ferocity, as most of what the author said makes perfect sense.

    Like everyone else, I simply couldn’t understand why a guy who apparently had so much going for him: he was good looking, had a beautiful wife, generous parents, good relationship with his in-laws, a decent paying job, would purposely give all that up and murder his wife and unborn son. Dr. Ablow’s theory makes alot of sense.

    Jackie Peterson was abandonned emotionally, physically, mentally and spiritually by her mother, her father was murdered when she was 2 and she lived a life of hell in the orphanage. The only way she could cope was to shut her emotions off and pretend her life was something else. Like so many abandonned women, she becomes promiscuous, gets pregnant 3 times out of wedlock and apparently had few maternal instincts. She manages to marry Lee, and he’s an emotional wreck, just like her.

    What a surprise that they raised a son who turned out to be a sociopath.

    However, I feel that Dr. Ablow’s description of Laci is one-dimentional and probably not accurate (by all accounts, she was a very loving, bubbly person). There is nothing to suggest that her sole ambition in life was “to make everything pretty.” That would have made her as shallow as Scott and she certainly would never have opted to have a child.

    After reading the book, it’s easier to understand now why Scott did what he did. It certainly doesn’t excuse him, but what it does is show us that if we do not nurture and raise our children in a warm, balanced and loving environment, we shouldn’t be too surprised when they grow up and become sociopaths, drug dealers, rapists, bank robbers or pedophiles. There’s too many emotionally unstable people out there having children that they are not emotionally equipped to raise and the result is society as we see it today.