Psychopathic deceit in the suicide note of Robert Hawkins

What do you make of a 19 year old multiple killer who reminded his landlady of “a lost puppy that nobody wants“?

I interrupt my series of posts on pschopaths and lying to consider a perfect example in the news right now – the Omaha, Nebraska mall-killer Robert Hawkins.

The blogger ‘Against Medical Advice’ writes a post ‘random acts of violence‘, a humane and agonised attempt to come to grips with this event.

A few quotes:

i’m trying to understand what happens in our lives, that a 19-year-old can go from feeling a complete failure to killing himself and others in a crowded mall. i’m trying to remember what i was doing on wednesday at the time robert hawkins walked into the westroads mall in omaha, nebraska and started shooting into a crowd of strangers.

robert hawkins feeling so overwhelmed by emotional pain that he needs to take eight people down with him. what separates robert hawkins from me? is it just luck? could i, one day long ago, have been a robert hawkins? was i ever that desperate, that angry, that uninhibited from the life-saving constrictions of humanity and morality? clearly, no. but, also, i grew up in a place where guns were simply not a part of ordinary people’s lives.

i think of the eight dead, the various injured, of the banality — again — of walking into a mall three weeks before christmas to be shot by a kid with more pain in his life than he can handle. i wonder at lives ending like this, in a mall of all places. we don’t go to the mall to die.

It is genuinely heartwarming to see this ordinary (I mean this is a good way) empathy, sympathy, and soul-searching.

I responded as follows (with added inserts):

You ask whether there’s a difference between you and Robert Hawkins. There is.

Dr. Liane Leedom, a psychiatrist who writes for LoveFraud suggested straight-away that he was a sociopath. My first reaction was to think, “Maybe, but maybe he was just very unhappy or disturbed in another way, psychotic, say.”

Then I read the suicide note [see below] and I see that, yes, he was indeed a sociopath (psychopath in my terms).

Ridiculous lies:

“I don’t want anyone to miss me.” Practically every word here means precisely its converse: I demand that everyone never forgets me.

One doesn’t say, “I’ve snapped”, sit down to write a note, make one’s way over to the mall, and then walk around picking people off with a gun. That’s not snapping.

This was cool and deliberate. He entered and left the mall at 1:36, returning with the concealed weapon at 1:42. He took the elevator to the 5th floor. He shot and killed 8 people [see below] and wounded 5 others (2 critically). Firing in excess of thirty rounds he shot in disciplined fashion, 3 to 4 round bursts; that’s 8 to 10 bursts or more. Then he shot himself.

But he knew that snapping is a ‘reason’ people have to try and explain these things so he uses it to maniplulate our thinking.

On cue, here’s Nico Hines from the London Times: “Robert Hawkins was a depressed teenager who believed he had endured a terrible fortnight when he snapped, took a rifle, and killed eight Christmas shoppers before shooting himself.”

Manipulation: He says in the note that he doesn’t blame his family for disowning him, they and his friends will be better off without him. Actually, he’s doing all this for their own good (and I guess they should be grateful?).

Please. He hated them and wanted them to suffer terrible (and misplaced) guilt that they caused these people to die.

The absence of true depression: Psychopaths don’t become depressed.

Though she doesn’t go as far as I do, Dr. Leedom is wary of attempts to find ‘the cause’ in depression and its treatment: “News commentators have been discussing what happened and several are discussing the question of whether he was depressed and taking antidepressants. I think people feel better blaming antidepressant medication for these incidents because it is too frightening to accept that there are so many sociopaths (with the potential for violence) living among us.” [She does use the word ‘snap’ but in a question rather than a statement.]

Depressives may commit suicide (they may very rarely indeed even commit murder-suicide, which is actually suicide) – but they don’t go on methodical shooting rampages.

‘Shooting rampage’ is wrong, it implies out-of-control. ‘Shooting spree’ is a bit better but sounds too jolly. ‘Hunting trip’ would be better still.

A psychopath may (also very rarely) commit murder-suicide, but this is actually murder.

Here’s my take on it – Hawkins murdered those people because he was unable to really get down on himself like the true depressive does.

He took it out on others instead. About to face the music for 2 misdemeanours coming up in court as well as being fired for theft that day (and with a long history of being ‘troubled’ and making death threats) he was not depressed, he was vengeful.

Internally he refused to believe that he was “a piece of shit” he claims to be.

More psychopathic lies, faux-self-criticism, and pandering for sympathy.

Rather he projected his wretchedness onto others and so “I just don’t want to be a burden….I just want to take a few peices of shit with me”. (Just?)

Domination: Besides the fame, he has ingeniously devised a way to torture the people who knew him for the rest of their lives – and into their children’s lives. That’s power!

To ensure they’ll never escape he names them in a note he fully intended for public consumption – remember, he rightly expected to become famous.

Oh, he was truly happy, that day, make no mistake.

Reader, what’s your view?


The deceased:

1. Gary Scharf, age 48, customer.
2. John McDonald, age 65, customer.
3. Angie Shuster, age 36, employee.
4. Maggie Webb, age 24, employee.
5. Janet Jorgensen, age 66, employee.
6. Diane Trent, age 53, employee.
7. Gary Joy, age 56, employee.
8. Beverly Flynn, age 47, employee.

The note:

I’m so sorry for what I’ve put you through I never meant to hurt all of you so much and I don’t blame any one of you for disowning me I just can’t be a burden to you and my friends any longer You are all better off without me. I’m so sorry for this.
I’ve just snapped I can’t take this meaningless existence anymore I’ve been a constant disappointment and that trend would have only continued. just remember the good times we had together
I love you mommy
I love you dad
I love you Kira
I love you Valancia
I love you Cynthia
I love you Zach
I love you Cayla
I love you Mark (P.S. I’m really sorry)

To all of my friends [word scribbled over] I’m so sorry for what I’ve done to you and put you through. I’ve been a peice of shit my entire life it seems this is my only option. I know everyone will remember me as some sort of monster but please understand that I just don’t want to be a burden on the ones that I care for my entire life. I just want to take a few peices of shit with me. I love all of you so much and I don’t want anyone to miss me just think about how much better you are off without me to support. I want my friends to remember all the good times we had together. Just think tho I’m gonna be fuckin famous. You guys have always been there for me I’m just sad that I’m gonna have to go this alone. You guys are the best friends anyone could ever ask for. That’s all I have to say is that I fuckin you guys.
P.S. I didn’t eat that fuckin sandwich or the toielet thing either!

my will
I’m giving my car back to my mom and my friends can have whatever else I leave behind
Signed (Hawkins’ signature)
Social (his Social Security number)

25 thoughts on “Psychopathic deceit in the suicide note of Robert Hawkins

  1. I believe it is significant that these monsters usually choose “gun free” zones such as this shopping mall where they can be sure they will be the only one with a gun so they can absolutely dominate everyone else in the area.

    In cases where they have miscalculated and there happens to be someone else with the capability of stopping them with countervailing force they often melt into submission.

    Robert Hawkins was a twit who had been heavily leaned on by others for his aberrant behavior. Rather than take stock of himself and try to earn the respect of others by conforming his actions to social norms he decided to take advantage of the vulnerability of Christmas shoppers at a mall and for once to be the top dog in the room.

    Besides being liars, mostly in the lies they tell themselves, sociopaths [psychopaths] always blame others for every problem in their lives. Hawkins’ reference to “taking some other pieces of shit with me” shows how he regarded others generally. In his narcissistic way of thinking these others were solely responsible for everything that had happened to him before that day.

    These pukes are such liars because they never take responsibility for their actions. Convicts in prison always refer to their crimes as “the thing that happened.” Never as “the thing I did.”

  2. Wish there were as edit key, the word “reverence” in the above should be “reference.” Maybe it was a Freudian slip. I meant to refer to Hawkins’ suicide note, but the one thing Hawkins did “revere” was his ideation of others as “pieces of shit.”

  3. flash – I heard a gang leader being interviewed on the radio recently who is being touted as being instrumental in leading the gang to becoming law-abiding businessmen or something. Pressed in the interview about two rapes in his past he eventually conceded to this: “The one I didn’t do; the other I was convicted of.”

  4. Violence is usually perpetrated by those who feel powerless.

    We live in a world that believes killing innocent people is justified (overseas by the military) but not at home (by civilians). Ethics can be an interesting business.

    I think the internal world can often be split into contradictory but complementary parts. It is possible to believe I am god and the devil, a piece of s**t and more important than everyone else at the same time.

    Could we all become like this person. I think we are mostly the same as others so for most of us the answer is probably yes (I include myself), given the right circumstances.

  5. evan – This is a very deep matter. I intend writing a few posts on it to clarify things a little for myself. My thinking at this stage is that, yes, any of us is capable of anything, and yes, sometimes regular folks use the same tactics/processes as the psychopath. And yet, there is something fundamentally different between them too. A neurotic, I’m suggesting, is incapable of becoming a psychopath (no matter how antisocial his behaviours may be) and vice versa (no matter how socialised he may be).
    I hope you and I can thrash this out between us!

  6. Evan-you may be right. One summer day in 1941, half of the Polish town of Jedwabne murdered the other half, 1,600 men, women, and children, all but seven of the town’s Jews.

    Then there is Hannah Arendt’s 1963 book “Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil,” which was based on the trial of Adolph Eichmann in Jerusalem. Arendt’s thesis was that people who carry out unspeakable crimes, like Eichmann, a top administrator in the machinery of the Nazi death camps, may not be crazy fanatics at all, but rather ordinary individuals who simply accept the premises of their state and participate in any ongoing enterprise with the energy of good bureaucrats.

    The Hutus lived peacefully with the Tutsis for years then suddenly took up machetes and murdered a half million in a few months.

    The major difference between Eichmann, the Jedwabne murderers, and the Hutus, on the one hand, and killers like Robert Hawkins and today’s church killers in Colorado on the other hand, is that the former were acting with the approval of their government while the latter were acting against every norm and dictate of their society.

    It may be that many or even most ordinary people are capable of vile evil when it is sanctioned by the state, but only a few are capable of such evil on their own. I don’t know. But we do know that the number of innocents slaughtered in the 20th century by the Hawkins and Klebolds of the world is tiny by comparison to the millions murdered by those acting with approval of their country.

    I don’t think there is any precedent in history for a small band of men committing an act of mass murder such as flying airplanes into buildings and killing 3,000 people except where they perceived that their actions would be approved by a large segment of their society and by their state.

  7. Evan – Do you really believe that the military is in Iraq intentionally killing “innocents?” I live with a soldier and amongst soldiers and killings innocents is something they absolutely want to avoid. They do want to rid the world of people who want to kill us – the people they want to kill are threats to us and therefore their killing is justified. It is sad and unfortunate that innocents do lose their lives. Remember also that the terrorists our soldiers are responsible for far more innocent deaths than the US military. There is a vast difference between the mall shooter and soldiers. The shopper and employees who died in the mall were no threat to that pathetic psychopath.

  8. Meant to say that the terrorists our soldier kill are responsible for far more innocents deaths than the US military. (I don’t comment on blogs often. You can tell – maybe I’ll stop now!)

  9. mary c. – You raise a super-relevant issue. (Evan’s repsonse will be interesting as always.)
    My two-cents-worth is that the issue I’m writing about – the psychopathic mind – only makes sense when considering one individual at a time. Psychopaths only make up 1-3% of the population (and they’re not good collaborating long-term with others) so I can’t see how any entire group could be psychopathic.
    Thanks for commenting. Don’t stop now!

  10. flash – I would change one word in your comment – I’d exchange the first ‘the’ with ‘a’:
    “The major difference between Eichmann, the Jedwabne murderers, and the Hutus, on the one hand, and killers like Robert Hawkins and today’s church killers in Colorado on the other hand, is that the former were acting with the approval of their government while the latter were acting against every norm and dictate of their society.”
    For my purposes THE major difference is internal, not social: the presence of a psychopathic mind.
    Which does complicate things a little – perhaps Eichman was a psychopath, I don’t know enough to hazzard a guess. Chances are that at least some of the Hutus were too – but not the majority by any means, you’re right.

  11. One of the things that strikes me here (and has become a pet peeve, I suppose) is the killer’s correct assumption that he would become famous.

    When will we stop providing this incentive? When will our media finally wake up and decide not to play along?

  12. sarah rolph – I have been asked by ‘shrinkwrapped’ to address the issue of the role of the victim in the behaviour of the psychopath. I’ll do so later.
    What I’ll say for now is 1. that it’s not a question of blaming the victim. 2. You have raised an excerllent example: ‘society’ (media and their readers/watchers) thrive on hearing about psychopaths – indeed, I’ve played my own part this week!). Ironically – or should I say characteristically – the psychopath uses this for their own ends. It’s a feedback loop.

  13. Good point Dr. Steve, “a” fits better than “the” in that sentence. One of the hazards (among the many benefits) of computers over pen and paper is that the fingers on a keyboard often move faster than the brain.

  14. flash – Too right. I’m embarrased about my typos that keep slipping through in my posts and comments. Somehow blogging suggests speed to me and so when something looks pretty much ready – off it goes.

  15. I think that Hannah Arendt did consider whether Eichmann was a psychopath and concluded that he wasn’t. The theme of her book is, I believe, that ordinary people can behave like psychopaths when given the OK from the society they live in. Thus, her subtitle “The Banality of Evil.”

    The villagers in Jedwabne, Poland in the summer of 1941 showed as much. They had known the people they murdered for decades, had lived with and interacted with them most of their lives. But when the Nazis made it clear that murdering the Jews in the village would be okay and even beneficial to the cause of the final solution, they did it. If there were any defectors who tried to stop it, they were probably killed also because we haven’t heard anything about them [to my knowledge].

  16. I’ll try to respond to some of this.

    Most importantly I want to hear to what DrSteve says in the future posts.

    To Flash: they weren’t acting against “every” norm of their society at all. Violence is sanctioned in many ways – from the corporal punishment of school children to the silences regarding incest and domestic violence to the death penality in at least country I can think of. You see terrorists as getting approval from some parts of their society for their acts (this is true of course) but this seems to contradict the idea that they are going against social norms.

    My understanding of people is that we are ‘social-individuals’. People may be ‘separated’ out from their culture in analysis but this is usually misleading. Especially when dealing with violence and psychopathy I think it makes sense to see that are both shaped by and shape our environment.

    Just war theory (in its classic form) has been outmoded at least since world war one. This was when weapons were invented which didn’t discriminate eg dropping bombs from zeppelins. Ever since then targeting of civilians has been part of war. On our side for instance the fire bombing of Dresden during world war two was a particular example. I can’t see why this shouldn’t be called ‘state terrorism’. I’m not sure it makes much difference to the person being tortured whether the torturer is employed by their government or is an agent of a group opposing their government. These are of course complicated matters. (To think them through I suspect would lead to our societies being completely re-organised, I suspect in a more humane way than the current set-up).

    I suspect setting up another individual as ‘evil’. I’m not saying it’s wrong but I feel uneasy.

    This is a long comment I know but there is one more thing I want to say. Lying about domestic violence is usually regarded as bad. Our recently ejected Prime Minister (I’m an Australian) won a past election by saying that refugees on a boat that entered Australian waters had thrown their children into the water from the boat. This was called in the media ‘the children overboard affair’. All the evidence is that this was a deliberate lie designed to appeal to xenophobia and win the election. He has demonstrated no remorse. Nor admitted his lie. It probably did contribute to his re-election. Do we take into account his success in the moral evaluation of this behaviour? I think largely not. but this too leads to deep questions.

    I’m really looking forward to DrSteve’s further posts on this.

  17. Thanks Evan.

    As I’ve been reading I’ve found myself wanting to speak about the hidden violations which flourish in ‘family’ life – the place you’re meant to be safe.

    So many of these “betrayals of what’s right” (to use Jonathan Shay’s phrase) remain ‘invisible.’ It’s so much easier to talk about ‘the big stuff’, the ‘not us’ stuff, the stuff that soldiers and “terrorists” do. (And modern warfare is so much further removed from the up-close-and-too-nearly-personal of a bayonet. No wonder suicide-bombers disturb us.)

    Primo Levi, writing about his time as a prisoner of war in Auschwitz, cautioned his readers not to think that the atrocities he described were ‘simply’ born of a few mad/evil men with a great deal of power. He tells us to watch out that we are not doing the same sorts of things in our own kitchens.

    I don’t think he was talking about guns and sharp knives.

    May McLeod

  18. evan – you’ve outdone me! The P.M. Howard example is an absolute classic. “Don’t look at this bad thing I’m doing, look at that much badder thing they’re doing!” By the time people realise that They weren’t doing that badder thing the thought that They’re the kind of people who might do that thing has taken hold (and the chance to take Howard up on his original bad thing has long since passed). Brilliant!

    You say: “My understanding of people is that we are ‘social-individuals’. People may be ‘separated’ out from their culture in analysis but this is usually misleading. Especially when dealing with violence and psychopathy I think it makes sense to see that are both shaped by and shape our environment.”

    The ‘usually’ and ‘especially’ jar together, I find. I’d prefer ‘usually’ and ‘except’. And I’d drop ‘violence’ from any discussion of psychopathy – in my book it’s bit of a red herring.

    The psychoapth’s past and environment doubtless contribute to them being that way PLUS genetics. I’m not sure where that get’s us, though – it’s too late. A psychopath can probably say (and many have in court): “I was made this way”. But ihe or she will always make this paramoralistic insinuation: i.e. it’s not my fault, it’s your/their fault.

    Some children are at risk of becoming psychopaths – this is where a difference can be made. Dr. Liane Leedon is very good on this:

  19. My concern, and the reason for referring to the environment, is for prevention and cure.

    You may be right that violence is a distraction – it looks big and so get’s in the way of us seeing clearly.

    I guess the big question is: are there some situations where psychopathology is useful (or, a bigger stretch, good). I’m a bit of an Agatha Christie devotee. She wrote a novel where the murderer was someone who had been very useful during the war but who didn’t really fit civilian society. Would this be an example? Part of me wants to say, “No! Never!” another part wonders with this part is just being unrealistic and sentimental.

    I think this is a really important discussion.

  20. evan – excellent question. It reminds me of Howard Hughes who believed that in business matters only Mormons could be trusted. Let’s say he was right about that – well, only he’d be fool not to entrust his money to Mormons then.

    Same here, perhaps. Maybe there are jobs best suited to psycopaths. And what job might that be? Terrorist would be one; interrogator another (same thing, some would say).

    But more mainstream too. If one was looking to invest in a business. Which to choose – the one run by a psychopath who is driven to dominate the market (and thus push up the share value), or his opposition who may well be gobbled up by him?

    I know of a great international sportsman who was described by a team-mate as, “The most competitive person I’ve ever met. He simply would not lose. He even cheated in card games on the plane to games”.

  21. He is gone why should we judge him? His life isn’t what most people have to go through, it’s not his fault. I’m not trying to defend him, but I don’t understand why people judge this boy even though he is dead. That’s what I never understand about the media. He can’t take it back so just let him rest, he already had a terrible life.

  22. Gary Eugene Scharf, a true hero, is the distant cousin of adult actress, Juanita Dale Slusher. Slusher is forced to perform in Smart Alec at gunpoint.
    John PARKE
    Andrew PARKE-(Siblings)-John Parke
    Sarah PARKE-(1st Cousin)-Noah Park
    Sally Perina SHINN-(2nd Cousin)- Sarah Park
    James Franklin EARL-(3rd Cousin)- Elizabeth Morgan
    Ida Queen EARL-(4th Cousin)-Owen Francis Carpenter
    Goldine ARMSTRONG-(5th Cousin)- Mary Frances Carpenter
    Doris Yvonne KENDLE-(6th Cousin)- Mary Landon Bryan
    Gary Eugene Scharf-(7th Cousin) Elvin Forest Slusher
    Juanita Dale Slusher (7th Cousin Once Removed of Gary Eugene Scharf, a true hero!)

  23. Gary Eugene Scharf was the distant cousin of a yet another hero, Alan B. Hall! Ironically, Alan B. Hall was the distant cousin of yet another adult actress, Kimberly Halsey, best known as Houston!

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