(Editor’s note: Read Part 1 of this series here.)
On the floor of de Becker’s office are piled stacks and stacks of fan letters, all written to various clients. The reason these particular letters are here, rather than in the downstairs files, is that these people are extremely dangerous “fuse cases,” in de Becker’s language.
The letters come in all forms, sizes and lengths. The longest runs to 556 pages. Another 126 handwritten pages are taped together so that they unravel like a gigantic scroll.
The fan mail runs the gamut from psychobabble to being extremely coherent. There are declarations of undying love, marriage proposals, death threats, rambling autobiographies, complex biblical and historical essays, revelations of plots to take over the world, samples of ventriloquy (in which the author writes in the first person, then answers himself, taking on the persona of the star he is writing to), as well as demented songs and poems.
De Becker has broken down the obsessions into specific categories. So a particular fan might be classified under “religious obsession” (the fan thinks he is Jesus Christ), “special powers (the fan thinks he is being directed by God), “debt owed” (the fan believes he wrote Dolly Parton’s latest hit, and wants recognition or money), “outcon” – short for out of control – (the fan thinks the world is about to be taken over by Klingons). “That category seems to be particularly popular these days.”
The pressing question obviously is, what are the causes of obsession? Not a believer in biologically induced illness, de Becker isn’t afraid of finger pointing.
“In most cases, you can look directly to the parents,” he explains. “They made them. They’re responsible for them.”
As for cultural influences, de Becker lays the blame squarely on television.
“The function of TV is to ruin your ability to edit, so that by the time the commercial comes on you’re numb. But the editing ability of the psychotic is already eroded, and TV plays directly on this weakness. So if a fan feels he is in direct communication with Johnny Carson, the illusion is encouraged.”
He adds, “Nothing on TV says, ‘Don’t come over to my house.’ In fact, I saw a commercial the other night where this very sexy young girl said, ‘I am coming over to your house.’ Now imagine Hinckley or Chapman watching, and you will see the problem.”
De Becker will refuse to take on a new client if he feels they are not truly security conscious.
“For many people, having lots of security is a status symbol. Others simply cannot stand not getting constant attention. But from my point of view, having a picture of yourself in ‘People’ magazine, posing in front of your Rolls with the personalized license plates is bad news. Besides, if you make an atrocious display of your wealth, if you thumb your nose in the face of a country that is clearly suffering, then you are not only asking for trouble, you are a fool.”
For the most part, however, de Becker has great sympathy for the people who put their lives in his hands.
“When they got into this, they did not realize how bad it would be. They were not told what is in the bargain. They are told the bargain is love, limousines and Lear jets. For that, they are willing to give up a certain amount of privacy.”
He said, “But let us say you have had your career and you just want to be left alone. But they do not leave you alone. So yes, I have sympathy for these people in that they were promised the American Dream and they have not stopped paying the price.”
De Becker also feels empathy for the people who threaten the lives of his clients.
“I have no malice toward them. I do not hate them. They are very sick individuals. I have put them on planes, checked them in and out of mental hospitals, spent hours talking to them and coming to know them intimately. They are simply our dark side.”
And what of the future? Unfortunately, de Becker cannot paint a very hopeful picture.
“We have little mental hospitals in our jails and little jails in our mental hospitals. The streets are an open ward. Now, I cannot feel too hopeful. I am afraid we are in for a lot more craziness. It is part of the American way of life.”
Mr. de Becker has known me for more than 30 years. We have worked together on a number of high-profile cases, including the Michael Perry murder case, in which Perry killed four people after becoming obsessed with actress Olivia Newton-John. We’ve appeared together on several TV shows, including “60 Minutes.” I was the first reporter, under Mr. de Becker’s direction, to interview Perry, who was preparing for his murder trial. Perry escaped the death sentence for the multiple murders because he was found to be insane.
Today Mr. Becker conducts his firm – which numbers more than 100 people – from a secret location off a South Seas Island.
Gavin de Becker is author of two No. 1 best-selling books, “The Gift of Fear,” which describes how people can use “common sense” techniques to know if they are in a dangerous situation. The book attainted a No. 1 position on the New York Times best-sellers list and remained there for numerous months.
De Becker followed up his first book by “Protecting the Gift,” which also reached the No. 1 position on the New York Times best-sellers list.