persons steal for more than one major reason; individuals are
complex and their actions are usually multi-determined. For this
reason, relatively few theft offenders can be accurately described
as pure or ‘classic’ examples of either ‘typical’ or
‘atypical’ theft offenders. In fact many theft offenders
display both atypical and typical features.
we shall consider the bases upon which such a differentiation can
be made. A number of
important questions, articulated in the next chapter, will be
employed in seeking the answer to the question of whether, and to
what extent, a particular offender should be considered more of an
Atypical or Typical Theft Offender. To illustrate the desirability
of such a differentiation more clearly, let
us draw upon differing assessment impressions of two theft
offenders, James (Case #23) and Geraldine (Case # 24), both of
whom committed acts of theft that
involved relatively large amounts of money.
As will be clear from the descriptions offered of these
cases, James is clearly an Atypical Theft Offender while Gerald
epitomizes the Typical Theft Offender syndrome.
# 23: James, a major fund-raiser who stole a lot!
a 45 year old husband and father had been apprehended after an
audit showed that he, as a senior fund raiser for a major
hospital, had siphoned off over $500,000 for his own purposes over
a two year period. Further investigations uncovered that James
had, during that period, treated
himself to numerous trips to Los Angeles, where he had splurged on
upscale hotel accommodations, limos and the best tables at the
most expensive ‘in’ restaurants.
He had been the top fund raiser for his public ally run
institution for nine years running and had frequently worked sixty
hour weeks. He was a boy’s club leader, an active member of his
church, the assistant conductor of the church choir, and had been
awarded several commendations for his high-profile volunteer work
in the community.
after he was apprehended, a psychiatrist-friend of his had
recommended that he seek a professional consultation in advance of
his trial, in order to perhaps provide himself
with a forensic professional’s report that might be used
by his lawyer to speak
to the possibility of a reduced sentence. He refused to do so
however, saying that he did not want to ‘cop out’ of suffering
the full and, in his view completely deserved, punishment for his
when initially confronted with the auditor’s report of probable
wrongdoing, James had immediately confessed his guilt, and refused
to even be defended by a lawyer. He told his friend that while he
didn't understand why he had carried out his theft behavior (which
was an affront to his ethical code and religious beliefs), he
reiterated that he nevertheless believed he deserved to be
severely punished, and he did not want to enter a plea that would
attempt to either excuse his conduct and perhaps reduce his
contacted me only after he had served his full term in
told me that now that he had served his sentence he
believed that he had paid some of his debt to society, and he was
now ready to undertake an examination of his conduct.
He said that he was actually very confused and frightened
by what he had done, as he had always believed himself to be an
honest individual, had always prided himself for not being a
clock-watcher, and had thought of himself as a person who gave
‘more than full and fair value’ for his wages. He believed the
hospital did marvelous work in his community and it was well
regarded by the nation’s medical ‘who’s who.'
scared him most was that he did not have any idea why he had
defrauded his employer of a half-million dollars, and why he had
acted out by living such an extravagant and bizarre life-style,
which was so out of keeping with his upbringing and usual mode of
middle-class living. Furthermore
he was afraid that unless he dealt with this matter, he might do a
similar thing again at some time in the future.
our early sessions I learned that James and his mother had been
abandoned by his father when James was 12 years old.
He had very fond recollections of his father although he
admitted that he still at times experienced brief but almost
overpowering rages whenever he thought of his father having left
him and his mother in such dire straits.
They had been forced to live with his grandparents for
several years until his mother had remarried when James was 18
father was an accountant who had held a very responsible
managerial position with a pharmaceutical company. He was also a
very authoritarian individual who had a major drinking problem,
and when drunk he would mete out brutal punishment to James for
his youthful misdemeanors. James
remembered only too well the sounds and sights that accompanied
his father’s weekend binges, and the beatings he had endured.
His recollections included painful images of his mother
trying to get his father to stop his drinking, and father’s
violent responses to her pleadings.
Father chose to leave rather than change, and shortly
afterwards his mother heard through mutual friends that her spouse
had moved to another city with a woman he had met months before he
left the family home. James
never forgave his father, and he never saw him again, other than
once at a relative’s funeral a few
years later. James did not acknowledge his father’s
calling out to him on that occasion.
anger towards his father remained undealt with, although he had
prayed for guidance regarding how to handle his feelings of hurt
and rage. When he
received a promotion at work to the post of chief fund-raiser he
also found himself reporting to a vice-president who was a much
older man and whom James viewed as unreasonable and authoritarian,
a man who was an alcoholic and who seemed to be continually
berating James over an unending number of petty matters in spite
of his obvious competence and success in fund-raising.
It was after nearly three years of working under that
supervisor that James’ stealing began.
his clinical treatment James had to learn to deal in more
appropriate ways with his anger generally and towards authority
figures in particular. He
also had to confront his unresolved feelings regarding his father.
When he had faced these issues and other related matters in
the course of several months of intensive therapy, he became much
more appropriately assertive with peers as well as authority
figures, and learned to get his needs met through means that gave
him greater feelings of satisfaction and contentment than he had
experienced in a long time.
He also requested and received a transfer to another
department with a supervisor who was fair and welcoming.
full assessment of James and his behavior suggested that he was a
classic example of Atypical
Theft Offender. His theft behavior likely occurred in response to
the deep-seated anger that dated all the way back to his
father’s mistreatment and eventual abandonment of James and his
mother. These feelings were aroused by his being mistreated by a
supervisor whose conduct towards James and blatant addiction to
alcohol so closely paralleled those of his father.
now consider a very different case, that of Gerald, a classic Typical
# 24: Gerald: A psychology professor who stole $1,000,000 from his
was a psychology professor at a major university in the Northeast.
He was reasonably well regarded in his academic department
although his attitude often seemed rather self-centered and
rebellious to some of his colleagues. Also, it turned out, he
lived a shadow life.
his father was setting up his estate, about five years before he
died, Gerald persuaded him that, as the eldest of five siblings,
he would be the logical one to be the executor of his father’s
estate. His father, a successful businessperson but a rather
socially isolated individual who ran his own retail women's wear
store, acceded to Gerald’s request.
year after their father died, and in response to having had
distributed to them by Gerald what they considered a surprisingly
meager inheritance compared to what they had been led to expect,
Gerald’s siblings hired their own lawyer to conduct an
independent investigation into their late father’s financial
affairs. After a substantial search some key documents surfaced
which showed that Gerald had hidden the existence of several very
substantial investments their father had made during his working
life. These documents
included a handwritten note by Gerald to his old high school
friend who was also the lawyer that had handled the writing of
Gerald’s father’s will, indicating Gerald’s clear intention
to acquire most of father’s estate for himself. The amount that
he kept for himself and refused to even acknowledge the existence
of to his siblings, was exposed by the acquisition of a computer
printout of the contents of an offshore bank account where he had
placed the funds. These documents
clearly showed that Gerald had planned for at least four
years prior to their father’s death to abscond with the bulk of
denied to his siblings that his actions constituted any wrongdoing
until he was confronted with the written documentation. At that
point he changed his story and told his siblings that their
father, a month before
he died at the age of 85, and when he was very ill indeed, had
decreed that Gerald alone should acquire most of the estate.
Gerald could not explain away, however, his own handwritten note
to the lawyer, written four years earlier, that clearly showed his
intention to abscond with the bulk of their father’s estate, nor
could he produce any written documentation signed by their father
to support his claim. Faced with going to court Gerald and his
siblings reached a financial settlement.
In my office Gerald said, “Dr. Cupchik, I am only here to
satisfy my lawyer’s suggestion that I do so. Be advised, however
that I have no remorse whatsoever for my behavior, either about
the sale of drugs to my friends, or
the taking of the bulk of my father’s
estate. It was simply his dying wish, and I agreed to
close examination of the cases of James and Gerald reveals many
major differences in their motivations, behaviors, and the ways in
which the criminal acts were carried out.
James represents the classic Atypical Theft Offender;
Gerald is an excellent example of a Typical Theft Offender.
in both cases the amounts stolen were substantial, and both James
and Gerald used the funds for their own enjoyment, James had
clearly suffered from mental and emotional exhaustion, had acted
out from a regressed state of mind, and experienced considerable
remorse. Gerald, on the other hand, had coolly planned to steal
from his siblings several years before their father died and
neither experienced nor expressed any remorse about his theft
apprehended, James not only admitted his guilt immediately, but
refused an opportunity to gain a favorable forensic assessment; he
did nothing to escape his punishment. Meanwhile, Gerald had, for
years, denied any wrongdoing, and when caught red-handed so to
speak, he refused to take responsibility for his actions, claiming
he was merely serving his father’s wishes. He never did
acknowledge any wrongdoing on his part.
a way of facilitating clinicians in more formally differentiating
between Atypical Theft Offenders and Typical Theft Offenders we
shall next present two valuable pen-and-paper devices, the Cupchik
Theft Offender Questionnaire and the Cupchik Theft Offender
Spectrum. (chapter 16 is continued...)