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What makes a kidnapper?

A glimpse into the mind and motivations of an abductor.

By Rich_Maloof May 8, 2013 6:01PM

A major component of the fear of kidnapping, resonant in the background of this week’s remarkable news in Cleveland, is that healthy minds can’t understand why anyone would or could impose such torment on an innocent child.

By far the most common abductions in the U.S. are kidnappings by kin. Parents or other family elders who have lost custody of a child — or believe, rightly or wrongly, that their child may be endangered by a current guardian — may disappear with a child. Statistics provided by one child safety organization indicate that more than 350,000 family abductions occur in the U.S. each year, or nearly 1,000 every day. 

Photo: Mugshots of suspects in the kidnapping of three Cleveland women (Cleveland PD/Rex Features) According to “The Psychology of Kidnapping and Abduction,” an article in Pursuit Magazine, abductions usually fall into one of three categories: financial gain, extremism or emotional disturbance. Ransom demands and abductions to promote or forward an extremist’s fervor are far more widespread in other countries than in the U.S. Ransom demands are especially common in Latin America; conflict in Mexico between drug cartels and the government have been behind most cases, where nearly all the adult victims of abduction are killed.

The psychopathy of an emotionally disturbed abductor is more difficult to characterize unilaterally, and any number of past cases exemplify how seamlessly a kidnapper can blend into society.

Bing: Get the latest on the Cleveland kidnapping case

“The first thing we think of is someone with a lack of empathy, someone who can’t put themselves … in the place of the person they've kidnapped,” Dr. Dave Davis of Atlanta’s Piedmont Hospital Psychiatric Clinic told ABC News. Davis has interviewed hundreds of criminals, including serial killers and rapists, over a career that has spanned decades. “Generally, people like this had childhoods where they had been abused, where there’s been violence, sometimes neglect and violence, or sometimes sexual abuse.”

Despite the tendencies toward sadism and narcissism that can result from these damaging early experiences and drive an abductor to additional crimes against a victim, all but the most mentally ill of kidnappers know that what they’re doing is wrong. But they’re able to justify their actions through the lens of their own psychosis.

Abductors may also have a history of being plagued by feelings of powerlessness. A history of abuse or neglect can contribute to their drive to create scenarios in which they have control. Their ability to hold and control a victim is an exertion of power and supremacy.

Kidnappers may additionally be thrilled by the idea of fooling the outside world. The accused Castro brothers in Cleveland held their three victims in a neighborhood where the houses are separated by no more than the width of a driveway. The girls were all taken within blocks of the house. The kidnappers openly socialized in the neighborhood while their victims were hidden behind walls just a few feet away.

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Photo: Mugshots of suspects in the kidnapping of three Cleveland women (Cleveland PD/Rex Features)

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