The world was shocked recently when an Ohio man was arrested and charged with kidnapping three women and holding them prisoner in his basement for more than a decade. Even more shocking, the man's family visited his home regularly and never caught wind of his evil deeds.
How does this kind of thing keep happening? Time after time, we find a psychopath has been living amongst us, undetected by those around him.
As a country, we need to get better at psychopath detection. Is someone you know holding innocent people captive in their homemade sex dungeon? It is up to you to read the signs correctly.
Some helpful hints on psychopath detection:
DOES YOUR LOVED ONE LOOK LIKE A SERIAL KILLER?
In the case of Ariel Castro, the alleged real-life monster behind the crimes in Ohio, the answer is yes. In his mug shot, he looks like an evil Pillsbury Doughboy with facial hair and beady kidnapper rapist eyes.
Anybody should have been able to tell just by looking at him that he was not on the up and up.
It's amazing how often people ignore the obvious warning signs of a psychopath:
Does your loved one make you feel uncomfortable in a "Silence of the Lambs" kind of way? Would you classify their wardrobe as "backwoods ax murderer meets regular ax murderer?" Do their hobbies include taxidermy and sharpening knives? Would you approach your loved one if you saw them standing at the end of a dark alley, in the daytime, next to Jesus, the Easter Bunny and "Turner and Hooch"-era Tom Hanks?
Man has evolved over millions of years to become the No. 1 species on the planet at detecting creepazoids. Trust your gut. If your instincts are telling you that your friend or family member is a sadistic kidnapper whack job — you owe it to everyone to make at least one anonymous phone call to the police department.
OR IS YOUR LOVED ONE NOT CREEPY AT ALL?
Like R.E.M. said, everybody creeps sometimes. You're tired, so you make eye contact with a stranger on the bus for a couple seconds too long; you have to pick up your little sister from eighth-grade prom, but she already got a ride home without telling you and now you're the grown man sitting in the parking lot of the skating rink blasting Metallica while preteens pour out into the night. Creepiness happens to everybody.
Everybody, that is, except psychos.
The scariest part about psychos is that they often appear to be normal, everyday Joes or Jodis. (But mostly Joes; let's be honest here.) So if your friend or loved one seems completely normal and well put together, beware: He or she might be hiding the impulse to kidnap and imprison you in their basement sex dungeon.
DOES YOUR LOVE ONE HAVE RANDOM DOORS IN THEIR HOMES PADLOCKED OR CHAINED SHUT?
This is a red flag that many people miss. When at a friend or loved one's residence, always keep an eye out for padlocks in weird locations — which, to be clear, is anywhere at all.
Nobody padlocks the doors in their own home besides serial killers and people trying to survive a zombie apocalypse. Look around you: Are zombies currently trying to eat your brains? If not, you might have a serial killer on your hands.
DO YOU HEAR CRIES FOR HELP EMANATING FROM BELOW?
This could be a sign that you are suffering from a schizophrenic break with reality, but it could also mean that there are people imprisoned directly beneath you.
When you hear muffled screams rising from the floorboards of your friend or family member's house, always err on the side of caution and investigate. If your friend or family member attempts to stop you, this could be a strong sign that you should call the police.
Of course, sometimes psychos and serial killers have no family or friends to keep a concerned eye on them. Maybe you are a suspicious neighbor? What can you do as an invested third party?
A few thoughts:
POST A CRAIGSLIST ADVERTISEMENT FOR A SEX DUNGEON DESIGNER
See if your neighbor responds to the ad. Check his references. Then call the cops. (NOTE: Do not use your real name, email address or picture in the Craigslist advertisement.)
NOMINATE YOUR CREEPY NEIGHBOR'S HOUSE FOR "EXTREME MAKEOVER: HOME EDITION"
Stand back and let Ty Pennington do the dangerous work — after all, that's what he's there for. Well, that, and middle aged sex appeal.
Watch him turn a dungeon of horror and depravity into a cheery, bamboo-themed exercise room in less than two hours flat.
EXERCISE YOUR RIGHT AS A NEIGHBOR AND BE NOSY
Used to be that you could pop over to your neighbor's house and ask for a cup of sugar. But then sugar got expensive, and relations between neighbors got ugly. Good fences make good neighbors, some poet said. But they also make good serial killers.
Nowadays, dropping in on your neighbor unannounced has become a lost art. But make no mistake, you should find any and every reason you can to stop by your neighbor's at random.
Drop in to borrow a hammer, some duct tape or chloroform — and while you're there, innocuously force your way inside and wander through as many rooms as possible. Ask questions. Get all up in their chili.
Just remember not to get imprisoned in a basement dungeon — or serial-killed in the process. Practice safe amateur detective work, and together, we can make this world a safer place for basements and non-psychopaths everywhere.
Ryan Jackson majored in criminal psychology at the University of "Law & Order: SVU," and he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.