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INSIDE THE WOLF’S HEAD
THE PSYCHOLOGY OF PREDATORS
UNDERSTAND HOW THEY THINK
Predators can be unpredictable in some ways, but they are very predictable in others. And the more you understand their habits, the safer you will be.
When Tampa, Florida, native Alexis Martinez answered his door at 2 a.m., he immediately recognized Samona Louise Ramey, a woman he had briefly dated. She asked him for a ride. As Martinez approached his car to give her a lift, two men jumped him, beat him and forced him back inside his home. After robbing him, one of the men shot and killed Martinez along with his pregnant girlfriend. Martinez’s tragic story reveals a lot about the psychology of predators and illustrates one of their most classic tactics.
Predators seek compliant victims. They do not want a fight, and sometimes compliance might save your life. But as Martinez’s case demonstrates, that isn’t the case when you know the criminals’ identities. If a predator thinks he or she will encounter resistance from an individual or be easily identified, that predator will often pick someone else as his or her target. That’s why obvious external security devices, such as security cameras and doorbell camera systems, often force predators to look elsewhere. But simply because a predator doesn’t want a fight doesn’t mean you’re safe if the woman sizing you up is 5 feet, 2 inches tall and weighs 90 pounds and you’re 6 foot, 5 inches tall and weigh 220 pounds. Weapons are great equalizers, but predators use classic psychological tactics against their victims. And understanding these tactics can give you the upper hand.
I DIDN’T TAKE THE BAIT. THE ‘PIZZA’ WAS ACCOMPANIED BY THREE OTHER ACCOMPLICES, OUT OF VIEW, WHO HAD UNFRIENDLY PLANS.
THE TROJAN HORSE
In Virgil’s ancient poem
after a 10-year standoff, the Greeks present the Trojans in the besieged city of Troy with a giant wooden horse as an offering and appear to withdraw. The gift was accepted, and once inside the city’s walls, the world’s first special forces team exited from their hiding places inside the wooden horse, dispatched the few Trojans guarding the gate and opened it to let their comrades in, leading to the city ’s fall. This famous scene in Virgil’s poem gave us the idiom “beware of Greeks bearing gifts,” but it should be amended to “beware of anyone offering gifts.”
One of the most common predator tactics, designed to obtain what psychologists call “reciprocity,” is to offer a proposed victim a gift to lure him or her into a sense of comfort. It could be merely the promise of a gift designed to lead the victim to a secondary crime scene, or it might be an actual gift — such as a Rolex watch — designed to distract him or her from what’s coming.
And you guessed it: What’s coming is not going to be good.
When someone you do not know, or have known only briefly as an acquaintance, offers you a gift that you have no reason to expect, you should immediately move to Condition Yellow, and warning klaxons should sound off in your head.
Several years ago, a man dressed as a pizza-delivery person attempted to get me to open my door by telling me that I had ordered a pizza that had already been paid for. I didn’t take the bait. The “pizza” was accompanied by three other accomplices, out of view, who had unfriendly plans. I applied the belief that anything that sounds too good to be true probably is (see “It Will Never Happen to Me,” Page 62 in the January 2021 issue of
Similar to the tactic of gift offering, asking someone for a favor (in Ramey’s case, a ride) is also a clever disarming tactic. Requesting a favor makes the person asking to appear vulnerable and not in control. Appearances can be deceiving, and were Alexis Martinez still alive, he would tell you as much. Ramey knew that Martinez had video cameras, and her accomplices positioned themselves outside his view prior to the attack. Atop the reality that your potential attackers may have already thoroughly cased your residence or wherever they intend to confront you, this also reinforces that predators may not fear consequences and often believe they will escape justice for their crimes.
Females are also often used to lure victims to locations where they can be targeted. Recently, three high school students allegedly used a 17-year-old girl to lure a teenager to Show Low Lake, Arizona. Once there, two teenagers beat the 19-year-old male so badly that he required a medical airlift to save his life.
Young men — particularly socially awkward young men — are more vulnerable to this sort of tactic.
Another common tactic is to impersonate authority figures such as police officers, detectives, investigators and even attorneys. While most of us would hesitate to let someone we did not know into our homes, many of us are happy to accommodate law enforcement. In February 2021, a man claiming to be a detective in Lindenhurst, New York, convinced two teenage girls to get into his SUV by telling them that he was investigating gang activity in the area and it wasn’t safe. He dropped the older girl off at a library and took the younger one to a park where he inappropriately touched her. Fortunately, she was able to kick open the door, escape and call 911. The man was apprehended, but the ruse worked because the teens trusted what appeared to be an authority figure.
The more confident and articulate a predator, the more likely he or she is to attempt using stolen authority to gain entry or cooperation. Never expect a predator to play fair; that’s like expecting a bull not to charge you because you’re a vegetarian. Most people are afraid of authority — particularly the police. That is true even when they know they have not done anything wrong.
Predators, who often have a great deal of experience with the police, understand this. They count on it and use it to their advantage whenever possible.
In addition, many of the props necessary to pull off these types of crimes are available online for a reasonable price.
A pair of pants and a polo from 5.11, for example — combined with a few patches, a Safariland holster on a web belt and a bogus badge — could fool someone looking through a peephole or a Blink surveillance camera into thinking that he or she
is staring at a law enforcement officer.
For this reason, before you allow entry to anyone who claims to be a detective, an investigator or a police officer, it’s a good idea to call 911 to verify the identity of the person at your door. (Never use a number the person gives you. Always call 911.) A real police officer will understand and likely congratulate you on your common sense, while a predator will become more demanding and start threatening. Watch for these telltale signs.
Generally speaking, we all want to be liked. We all want to be perceived as good people. Predators know this, and they count on it. They use a number of tactics designed to play to a person’s desire to be liked and accepted.
Aniah Blanchard was a 19-year-old college student in Auburn, Alabama.
She was coming home late in the evening and stopped at a gas station after dropping her brother off at his apartment. It’s still unclear if she willingly let 30-year-old Ibraheem Yazeed accompany her or if he forced Aniah into her car before they drove off together. She reportedly texted her roommate that she was with a man named Eric she had just met. Investigators found her car — with bloodstained seats and a bullet hole in the door — some 55 miles away in Montgomery, Alabama. Yazeed allegedly took her to a secondary crime scene and shot her to death. While Yazeed has not confessed and has not been tried, it appears he was able to manipulate the young woman with charm or some other type of social engineering.
WORKING THE LEVERS
Predators know that people who make commitments tend to keep them, and commitments provide leverage.
That is why a predator will often ask for a small commitment (or sometimes a large one) in order to assert control over a victim and dominate the situation. A person who tells a predator he or she will comply with the predator’s demands sometimes feels bound to do so.
When a disbarred attorney broke into Aaron Quinn’s residence in California, abducted Quinn’s then-girlfriend Denise
Huskins and demanded ransom, the predator placed webcams and taped off the floor to control Quinn. Instead of honoring his commitment not to hurt Huskins, the predator took her to another location and repeatedly raped her.
But the predator’s control over Quinn enabled him to make Quinn call in sick for Huskins, thereby raising suspicion with the police that Quinn, and not a random home invader, had taken and harmed her (see “Make or Break,” Page 70 in the April 2022 issue of
A predator will often use fear to extract commitment and then double-down to keep the victim held to that commitment, often resulting in death or serious injury. Viewed objectively and dispassionately in the calm light of not having been awakened at 3 a.m. to people ransacking your home, the control measures implemented by the invader in the Huskins case seem far-fetched.
It is reasonable to wonder why Quinn didn’t just call 911 to begin with. But his girlfriend was a hostage, and he knew the predator was watching and was using his cellphone to keep a close eye on him.
Jayme Closs also understands how predators control their victims. On Oct. 15, 2018, a man stalked and abducted the 13-year-old girl from her home near Barron, Wisconsin. He later told authorities he decided to kidnap her, supposedly on impulse, after seeing her get on a school bus in front of her home.
After shooting and murdering her parents, he took the teenager to a family cabin 70 miles away in Gordon, Wisconsin. He kept her closely restrained with psychological measures. When he had to leave the cabin, he put her under a bed in his room, boxing her in with weighted bins. This worked for 88 days, until one day he left, telling her he would return in two hours. As soon as he was gone, Closs pushed away the bins, got out from under the bed and fled from the house. She ran into a local woman, who took her to a nearby home. The resident there armed himself and called the police.
SPOIL THEIR PLANS Almost all predators use some form of approach that is designed to minimize our normal appreciation of warning signals. They may be well-dressed, well-spoken and even appear kind. But regardless of their initial impressions, they distract their victims long enough to gain control.
Understanding these dangerous mind games and why they work gives you an advantage when dealing with people you do not know and who may not have your best interests at heart, and knowing these tactics allows you to adjust your level of situational awareness accordingly.
Arrested on Charges of Impersonating Police Officer, Abducting Teenage Girl on Long Island,” CBS New York, Feb. 4, 2021,