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“Charm was a scheme for making strangers like and trust a person immediately, no matter what the charmer had in mind.” Kurt Vonnegut

Some assailants simply attack. They might rush or ambush their target and overwhelm with brute force or threaten with a weapon. There is no doubt as to their intent.

Others offer a façade. The intent is to get your guard down. Perhaps, with charm, interesting conversation, or appealing to your empathy. You might be approached somewhat spontaneously a man sees you from across the street and plans his approach. Perhaps, he has been watching for some time. You let him approach and even engage in conversation because he looks like a decent person.

Perhaps he is. Perhaps he isn’t. Perhaps he has sinister intentions.

An infamous example of this “deliberate stranger” as some called him, is the serial killer Ted Bundy. Bundy, for some time, targeted and killed many women. He presented as anything but the monster he was. He attended law school, presented as charming and attractive, he spoke in soft and measured tones and observed etiquette and social niceties. Even true-crime writer Anne Rule, who worked with Bundy at a suicide prevention hotline, described him as “kind, caring, and slated for a great success as an attorney. (Jeffers, 100). At various times, people described him as “the killer next door”, or, as previously mentioned, “the deliberate stranger”.

Along with charm. Bundy appealed to empathy to get close to his victims. Sometimes, he wore an arm brace or crutches to appeal to empathy and present as non-threatening. Only when it was too late would his victims realize his ploy. Years ago, as mentioned in one of our articles, one of our students was approached by a man claiming his keys were locked into his car. The window, he said was partially open. Too small for his arm but enough so she could reach. He seemed friendly and harmless but when she got to the car she saw the window completely rolled down and she fled.

Appearances can be deceiving. Bundy used his looks, decent status, and charm to access his victims. His “likeable qualities” lead people to deny signs or intuitive clues of his malicious intentions. They saw him as a charming, harmless gentleman they randomly met rather than the “deliberate stranger” he was.

We don’t want you to see every stranger as a threat but we encourage you to trust your observations and your intuition above appearances.

Jeffers, H. Paul. Who Killed Precious?: How FBI special agents combine psychology and high technology to identify violent criminals. New York: Pharos Book, 1991.

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