Yes, pun intended. This past week I’ve been learning more about Barry H. Landau (he’s especially important; get the H in there). As the Washington Post called him, he’s the “the once-esteemed collector of presidential memorabilia” who was sentenced to seven years in federal prison for stealing historical documents.
More than 10,000 “objects of cultural heritage” worth more than $1 million — including letters signed by George Washington, John Hancock, John Adams, Karl Marx, Marie Antoinette and Napoleon Bonaparte — were recovered from Landau’s Manhattan apartment, court records say.
The scheme unraveled last summer in Baltimore, when an employee of the Maryland Historical Society spotted Savedoff (his young accomplice) stealing a text from the city-based archive. Landau and Savedoff, who were both living in New York, were indicted in July and charged with taking dozens of documents and selling several of them, though prosecutors said there were thousands that were pilfered.
This is old news, right? So why am I telling you this? Almost instantly upon hearing about Landau, I thought, “wow, he’s using some of the oldest tricks in the book.” In many ways, this guy seems to be a textbook narcissistic sociopath. That doesn’t necessarily mean he’s violent; it means he’s crafty, self-serving, and self-important.
What really grabbed me about this story is that Landau would bring cakes and cookies to the librarians and archivists at the institutions he robbed. After these attempts to ingratiate himself to those employees, he would proceed to insert our precious historical artifacts into specially designed deep pockets in his clothing. Some documents were also found in his laptop case. He was caught after a Maryland Historical Society employee witnessed his klepto tactics firsthand.
The cakes and cookies bit really struck a chord because of my own experiences with a low to no conscience type who surely couldn’t be guilty because– they were involved in charitable activities and baked for people. That experience, among others, taught me that the first thing dishonest people, particularly sociopathic types, will do when entering a new situation is ingratiate themselves to people. If you have to carve that into your dining room table to recognize it when it occurs, please consider.
They might be hired to do one job, but if they recognize that they can get promotion and protection from higher ups, they might end up doing something entirely different. Those who question their autonomy are usually ground into a pulp. If they need gatekeepers to look the other way, as in Landau’s case, they will ply them with gifts and favor. And oh… they will prey upon your sympathies with reckless abandon. They just CAN’T be guilty of wrongdoing because they’ve had a hard life, or they’ve gone through a tragedy, or they’ve survived something– as if that makes a person moral and trustworthy. Both monsters and mahatmas come out of the school of hard knocks.
Female sociopaths can position themselves in a supposedly subservient role, use sex, and stroke egos to get what they want. I’ve seen them situate themselves as alleged victims of other employees to activate the “defender” part of a male supervisor’s character. They might appear motherly or sacrificial, almost a saint in the eyes of those whose butts they’re kissing. Whatever method sociopaths use, they lull their “defenders” into believing they can do no wrong and anyone who accuses them is lying or crazy.
The sad part? I’ve seen intelligent, educated people, especially men, fall for this time and time and time again. It’s funny how the more your feelings and ego are manipulated, the further you walk away from logic and common sense. To me this is so disgustingly transparent and I get frustrated that others fall under the sociopath’s spell instead of seeing them for what they really are. This has quite a bit to do with why I left law enforcement, but in a classic Robert Hare Snakes in Suits scenario, I’m not the one who was defended when push came to shove.
The great tragedy is that attempts to find justice in some of these situations have just lead to the complainants or witnesses being told that “there’s no way” that person could do that. If an investigation is done it may just be conducted by people close to the suspect which is not objective. I’ve seen the police snowed by some of these people but the police will also be the first to defend them. This is why I believe that other agencies or civilian panels need to conduct most internal investigations at government agencies.
Such experiences have only fueled my passion for teaching others the tricks of the sociopath’s trade. I have seen low to no conscience types get away with sexual assault, domestic violence, harassment, lying in background checks, and even suspicious deaths. At one job I encouraged the company’s owner to do at least cursory background checks on applicants and sure enough, the immaculately groomed, svelte young woman who caught the owner’s eye did not actually have the college degrees listed on her resume.
These holes in dishonest people’s stories will usually appear if you dig deep enough. The problem is that they can be so fun, charming, or in need of sympathy that we take them at their word. They can appear to be the perfect job candidate with all the right answers or the long-suffering caregiver who just needs a leg up. But employ someone who will take an objective look into their past and you might find all sorts of discrepancies, exaggerations, and flat out falsehoods.
Barry H. Landau originally fashioned himself as one of the good guys. He was, in a sense, heroic for his drive to preserve historical treasures. He rubbed elbows with politicians and celebrities, attending state dinners and hanging out with artists and actors. For decades he was known for his amazing collections of mementos and documents, and at Oprah’s urging, he wrote a book about it all. He was not only somebody, but somebody who won friends, influenced people, and distributed baked goods.
When interviewed after his arrest, there was at least one woman who realized he was a phony early on. Apparently she was in the minority because he was able to carry on his crime spree for years. Everyone else either went along with it or looked the other way. Perhaps those who did suspect wrongdoing were reluctant to turn him in for lack of proof. Ultimately, his stories about accompanying presidents on trips and other great feats didn’t add up, but he’s been spinning the same web of lies for so long that he has at least a few defenders who don’t believe he’s guilty.
People of Planet Earth, this is what sociopaths do. They build a false self. They construct a fortress out of sympathy ploys, lies, and strategic flattery and bring those who fall for it into that fortress as their personal army. Those who point out that the lord of that castle is a great pretender are summarily shot down and slandered. The army rushes to defend the great lord, sometimes because it’s easier to do that than stand up to them. Attacking the complainant’s credibility and shutting them up is done to take the spotlight of truth off of the castle walls; if the light remains pointed in that direction it will reveal the deception within.
Men and women who’ve experienced domestic violence might know these tactics well. Abusers sometimes spend years weaving their backstories so that if their victim stands up for themselves, the victim will be seen as a miserable, mentally ill, sniveling attention seeker who’s trying to irrationally ruin their lives. I can picture readers’ heads nodding “yup” here… but would you recognize this same game in the workplace? At church? At a social club? In a school? Or in Barry Landau’s case, in a library?
Know the tactics. Sociopaths instinctively know how to deceive. These moves are second nature to them. Some may hone their skills or practice their lies, and the more they use them the more believable their fables and fabrications may become. They may accessorize themselves with snazzy outfits, charity work, volunteering, the perfect family, cookies and cupcakes, or so on. But keep that spotlight trained on them a little longer than they would like. Darkness hates light and they might slip and reveal themselves, or you might see some red flags that were otherwise hiding in the shadows. Red, after all, can look like black in poor light.
While I’m sure not all employees of the institutions Barry Landau tried to sweet-talk his way into fell for the sugar-coated bootlicking, or even most of them, his pastry pushing ways are so pathetically typical of sociopaths. They appear as acts of kindness, but when viewed along with other aspects of the person, they appear… hinky. Hollow. Disingenuous. Desperate. I would love to interview some of the recipients of the baked bounty because they probably had their antennae up around this guy. Perhaps they just knew things weren’t right but had no way to prove it.
The moral of the story is, beware the sociopath, for– to paraphrase 2nd Corinthians 11:14– Satan himself masquerades as a purveyor of pastries.
Profit is sweet, even if it comes from deception. –Sophocles
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