Yesterday, Neil Entwistle greeted his convictionfor murdering his 27-year-old wife Rachel and their 9-month-old daughter Lillian Rose with a subtle shaking of his head, with no tears, no yelling out in disbelief, no terror, no collapse.
The man whose mask of amiability and success had dissolved on January 20, 2006 - revealing a killer capable of shooting his wife and his child pointblank with a Colt .22 - was wearing the mask again.He could have reacted the very same way to news that the dry cleaner didn't have his shirts ready or that the Lakers had lost the NBA finals.
Entwistle has had a long experience wearing what the great psychologist Hervey Cleckley called "the mask of sanity."He impressed teachers in his working class neighborhood in England, was one of the few to go on to college, landed a job as a computer programmer, won the love of a pretty woman, maintained friendships for decades and impressed neighbors with his intelligence and seeming success here in America.
When reality didn't sustain his desire to be seen as smart and affluent, he tried to reinforce the mask with a kind of psychological Crazy Glue.He lied about making a small fortune in Internet businesses that were really shams offering others the false promise of easy money and better sex (two things, it turns out, he dreamed about having himself).He lied to friends, even after the murders, about owning the home he rented in Hopkinton, Mass.He pretended to be happily married and satisfied with his family life when he was really addicted to porn and on the prowl for sex with strangers through AdultFriendFinder.com.
But like every web of lies, Entwistle's could not be sustained.The truth always wins.His reallimitations-interpersonally or emotionally or creatively or intellectually-translated into being unemployed, his shady businesses unsuccessful, and his financial situation perilous to the point of bankruptcy.People weren't "buying" Neil Entwistle.He was about to be revealed as a failure.Perhaps his wife had already learned that he was a fraud.And that much reality he could not bear.That made him want to clear the stage of the actors he had cast in leading roles in his fake life, to hit the "reset" button on the psychological cat-and-mouse game he was playing.
Because the subsoil of Entwistle's psyche is likely nothing more than chaos, a black hole of self-hatred and seemingly unanswerable questions (though they always are, with the right help) about whether he has any worth at all and any level of manhood to speak of, never mind the raw, sexual kind that he kept watching graphically play itself out on the Internet.
Men like Entwistle - the Scott Petersons of this world - feel like stripping their masks away is tantamount to killing them, because they believe those thin, synthetic disguises are all that keep them from dissolving into nothingness and feeling the full weight of unspeakable emotional turmoil, with roots that always reach deep into their pasts.
Neil Entwistle will be jailed for life.But, as he showed yesterday in a Massachusetts courtroom where genuine sorrow and love resided in the hearts of Rachel Entwistle's family, he won't even be present in the cell.His real self is but a distant echo in his mind and soul, very nearly as lifeless as his victims.
Dr. Keith Ablow is a psychiatry correspondent for FOX News Channel and a New York Times bestselling author. His newest book, "Living the Truth: Transform Your Life through the Power of Insight and Honesty" has launched a new self-help movement. Check out Dr. Ablow's website at livingthetruth.com.