Most sociopaths never kill anyone. They live their lives by exploiting others.
What I remember most about the beginning of my relationship with James Montgomery, my con-man ex-husband, was how he pursued me.
He'd posted an ad in the America Online romance section — this was back when AOL ruled the Internet. He sounded much more intriguing than most men — former Green Beret, a background in TV and movies, now negotiating with local movers and shakers for his next big business venture. The reason for the ad? His wife had died, and his "grieving was complete."
Reading Montgomery's claims now, one could wonder why anyone — specifically me — would believe them.
But this was before we all knew that online profiles are full of lies. It was before I knew that sociopaths did not necessarily look like Charles Manson, with long scraggly hair and a swastika etched into his forehead. And it was before I knew that someone who proclaimed he was so head-over-heels in love with me could be lying.
When I met Montgomery, I was 40 years old, never married. Although much of my time and energy was siphoned off by my marketing business, I'd dated a lot of men. I'd never experienced anything like the attention this particular man lavished on me.
He called many times a day. He e-mailed poetry — some classics, some that he wrote. He sent faxes with mushy sentiments, complete with clip art of hearts and cupids. He proposed marriage within a week of meeting in me person.
Why wasn't this a huge red flag? Since childhood, I'd heard about love at first sight. In fact, I knew people who had fallen in love right away and were still married. I'd been waiting for my chance at true romance for years. I thought my time had come.
Montgomery frequently told me how much he respected my talent, and how I would be such an asset to his business plans.
We were a formidable team, he said, and he wanted me to benefit from the success that his ventures were sure to become. So, not long after he proposed, he also recommended that I invest in the business — he wanted to make sure that I personally profited from our efforts. An investment of $5,000 would buy me a few percentage points of ownership.
That was the beginning of the money drain.
Montgomery never asked for money for himself. All requests were presented as investments in our future, needed to secure some part of a business deal. Every time he asked for money, it was because a crisis had to be resolved immediately.
What I didn't know was that he created the crises so I wouldn't have time to think about his request. And I also didn't know, until after I left my husband, that much of my money was spent entertaining other women.
A year and a half after we married, I knew Montgomery was cheating on me.
But by that time, my husband had drained my savings and maxed out my credit cards. I was in desperate financial straits, and one of his business ventures, a Titanic exhibition, looked like it was actually going to work. I decided to ignore his infidelity until I got my money back.
Unfortunately, the Titanic sank again. Then I learned that Montgomery was not only cheating on me, but had a child with another woman during our marriage.
Then I found out that there were multiple other women, and Montgomery took money from all of them. Then I found out that Montgomery married the mother of the child 10 days after I left him, which was the second time he committed bigamy.
My head was spinning. "What kind of person does this?" I asked my therapist.
"It sounds like he might be a sociopath," she said.
A sociopath? Isn't a sociopath a serial killer?
Not necessarily. I learned that most sociopaths never kill anyone. They are, however, social predators, and live their lives by exploiting others. Sociopaths have no heart, no conscience and no remorse.
Experts estimate that 1 percent to 4 percent of the population are sociopaths. That means there are 3 million to 12 million sociopaths in the U.S. Most of them are not in jail. They live among us, targeting vulnerable people — especially people who are looking for love.
James Montgomery took $227,000 from me.
I never recovered my money and had to declare bankruptcy, while Montgomery moved on to the next woman, or, more precisely, the next several women. But I'm OK now — I've recovered, remarried, and I exposed Montgomery for the fraud that he is.
And I have a new mission in life — educating the world about sociopaths.
Donna Andersen is the author of Love Fraud: How marriage to a sociopath fulfilled my spiritual plan. Learn more at LoveFraud.com.
Also from Your Tango: