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To White Collar Psychopaths, Stealing and Backstabbing Come Easy

Wednesday, 22 Aug 2012 | 11:08 AM ET
Roy Hsu | Getty Images

The notion of a colleague betraying you is at least as old as the tale of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, who famously uttered the phrase "et tu" as Brutus plunged a knife into his back.

And if you’ve ever encountered a co-worker who will do anything to get ahead — even if that means ruining your good name in the process — you know how calculating and callous such people can be.

But did you realize that such a person could also have psychopathic tendencies?

We often think of a psychopath as being a serial killer. Yet according to former criminal profiler Gregg McCrary, psychopathy runs on a continuum — with white collar criminals falling in the middle.

As a former agent for the FBI for 25 years, 10 of that in the behavioral science unit, McCrary knows the pattern of psychopaths well. While they vary in degree, he says psychopaths share common traits. “They have no guilt, remorse or shame. They’re deceitful and egotistical. It’s all about them.”

Using standards developed by Dr. Robert Hare, a leader in the study of psychopathy, researchers estimated that 3 million Americans — or one percent of the general population in the U.S.— were psychopaths compared to about 20 percent of the prison population.

High Functioning Psychopaths: The White Collar Criminal

When it comes to white-collar criminals, they might not physically destroy you, but they have no problem financially destroying you. According to McCrary, this type of psychopath should be considered high-functioning.

Unlike lower-level criminals who might rob a bank and leave behind evidence, white collar psychopaths are much harder to catch. They’re intelligent, have great interpersonal skills, powerfully persuasive and able to disguise themselves very well.

“A psychopath’s approach to life is all about manipulation,” McCrary said. “They make great natural psychologists. They read people well and look at them and businesses as being there to serve their needs. They’re always assessing, “How can this particular job or person meet my needs? How can I exploit them?’” McCrary said.

Take the story of Jim Hammes.

McCrary has not met Hammes but said his actions clearly exhibited psychopathic behavior. For nearly 15 years, Hammes worked as the controller of a Pepsi bottling company in Lexington, KY. Viewed as a trusted employee at the family-run business, Hammes appeared to be a devoted father and top-notch employee.

Then an anonymous tip led investigators to uncover that Hammes had allegedly been embezzling money for more than a decade, taking $8.7 million from the company and putting it into his personal account. When the FBI confronted Hammes with the allegations, rather than defend himself he chose to run. Just like that, he became a fugitive and abandoned his family.

Compartmentalizing: Playing the Perfect Role

To a certain extent, most people compartmentalize and lead different lives. It's entirely normal for your work persona to be divergent from your family life. With psychopaths, however, McCrary says the compartmentalizing is much more exaggerated.

When Amanda Hammes learned of the accusations against her father, she refused to believe authorities.

“I knew I would get a call. I knew he’d show up at my house. I knew for sure he would. And then when he didn’t, I was like yeah, this is true,” she told CNBC’s “American Greed: The Fugitives.”

Living a Double Life, Ready to Escape
After Hammes is confronted with evidence that he allegedly embezzled nearly $9 million, he flees. Searching for answers, his family is stunned to uncover more than one shocking discovery. It leads them to wonder if they ever really knew Jim Hammes at all.

Crushed and confused, she and her stepmother searched for clues as to who Jim Hammes really was. They stumbled upon shocking discovery after discovery: from a locked room with books on how to disappear, to both birth and death certificates. (WATCH the video for more about Hammes’s escape plot.)

But most shocking was the realization that Hammes had cheated on his wife, and had been supporting another child for years.

If Hammes is indeed a psychopath, his accused actions aren’t shocking to McCrary. The extreme compartmentalization and jarring secrets would fulfill the need to feel superior. The deceptive life would be thrilling.

“He’s married with a family, but has a girlfriend and another kid. He’s working but also stealing, and nobody knows these things. So he’s smarter than everyone else, and they’re all jerks. And when no one catches on, it reinforces the narcissism," McCrary said.

“I call it duping delight," he added. "They take great delight in duping people and getting over on them because it’s an indicator of how smart and brilliant they are.”

Are Psychopaths Capable of Love?

Crossing the White-Collar Line: Are Psychopaths Capable of Love?

Depending on how strong a person’s psychopathic traits are determines how far down the continuum they will fall. It’s been known that psychopaths lack empathy. Still, more recent studies by scientists — such as Kent Kiehl and Nigel Blackwood, among others — indicate that the structure and function of the psychopathic brain is different: they process emotions and impulse control abnormally.

The Fugitive's Fascination with Fires
Friday, 17 Aug 2012 | 12:00 AM ET
The family of alleged embezzler Jim Hammes' deceased wife has a troubling suspicion that he might have had something to do with the fire that killed her, even if the official investigation into her death is currently closed.

As Hammes' family pieced together his secret life, they became highly suspicious that he might have had something to do with the death of his first wife, Amanda's mother Joy. (WATCH the video for more about Joy's death.)

In 2003, Joy Hammes died in a fire that started late one night when Jim Hammes was out taking a walk and Amanda was on a date. Jim had a history with mysterious fires that only fueled the families suspicions of his involvement.

"Jim had been involved in five different fires, and when I would ask somebody what they thought about that, their comment would say: 'You know, I've never been involved in one fire, let alone five,'" said Robert Johnson, Joy's father.

"I think if he's capable of the kind of deception and double life that he apparently led, and he's capable of deserting his new wife and daughter, I certainly think he's capable of starting that fire that killed my sister," said Jane Ryan, Joy's sister.

If Hammes is a psychopath, he could be incapable of having any real relationships or real bonds with people, McCrary said.

"There's arguments about psychopaths not being capable of loving. I don't really know. But they are capable of mimicking love," McCrary said. "I mean this guy leaves his daughter, what the hell is that about? Does he even love his child? They're more reptilian, like how reptiles will eat their young."

The official investigation into the fire that killed Joy was closed. The fire department and the insurance company both determined the cause to be accidental, but they arrived at conflicting accounts on how it started. That lack of consensus heightened the suspicions of Joy's family, who had not stopped looking for answers. Meanwhile, Jim Hammes remains a fugitive.

The FBI is still on the hunt as well. The agency has no information on Jim Hammes's whereabouts, but it said he could have assumed two identities: Robert Randall Gulley or Michael Clay Bowers.

The FBI asked anyone with information about his whereabouts to leave a tip at www.fbi.gov.

Watch "American Greed: The Fugitives" Thursdays 10p ET/PT on CNBC.

Contact American Greed: The Fugitives