Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Observations on the Psychology of Bernard Welch

Bernard Welch en route to prison.
Reprinted with permission of the DC Public 
Library, Star Collection, © Washington Post.
One question I have often asked myself is. “What caused Bernard Welch to become what he was?”  The simple answer is that he was a sociopath, but a one word definition of behavior is not an explanation. From his actions and the statements of others, it can be deduced that he was intelligent, cunning, greedy, amoral, secretive, self important, violent, distrustful, a bully, a habitual liar, a criminal and a racist. He was an olio of much that was bad and little of what was good. Nowhere in his mental landscape was there a sign of sympathy, shame, remorse or real love.

From his criminal record, it seems obvious that Welch was driven by compulsion. The thousands of burglaries during his lifetime indicate that he was an over-achiever. While that might be laudable in the working world, in the world of crime, it eventually leads to defeat, as Al Capone learned in the 1930s. Over-achievers have a need to succeed for many reasons, including the need to prove their superiority to others. According to many psychologists, this compulsion is underlain by a person's belief that he, or she, really is inferior.

I believe Welch secretly believed he was inferior and that he probably turned to crime as an antidote for that powerful insecurity. He was a school dropout, and at best, a self-taught plumber destined for a second-rate life. He wanted more, but had no way to get there. The only thing he had ever been good at was stealing, so that was the way he went. Welch stated in a press interview that he enjoyed the “thrill” of a life of crime. Why? Was it because he was able to prove by stealing and rape that he was better, smarter and stronger than his victims?

It must have been in his early teens when Welch realized he was different from everybody else. Others would resist doing certain things they believed to be wrong. They were restrained by conscience, and it is evident that from an early age, he was not. It seemed there was nothing to hinder Welch from doing whatever he wanted, except the penalties of law – and that only mattered if he was caught.  

Of course, he was caught and incarcerated several times. He could have changed his course at any time, but he didn’t. In prison, he learned new criminal skills and refined old ones. He even received some degree of respect from fellow inmates, more than he garnered on the outside. He must have relished that.

Welch was quoted by the newspapers as saying, he intended ”to have it all,” meaning he could get whatever he wanted by criminal means. Did he believe he could go on forever and not get caught? Did he think he would be able to retire to a condo in Florida some day? That would never happen. He could never retire. He was what he was, addicted to life choices he was powerless to change. Intellectually, he had to understand his only retirement plan would be penal servitude. But something within his psyche must have overridden logic, obscuring the ultimate outcome of his criminal career. 

Deep within his core, Welch was so confidant in his ability to elude authorities that he had no real exit strategy.  To quote Paul Marturano, his 1975 fellow escapee, “He (Welch) has got confidence you wouldn’t believe. He figured that he could always get out…one way or another.”

It was that sort of hubris that eventually brought Bernard Welch to a humiliating downfall.
                                                                                                           — Jim King


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