Is Jaycee Dugard's tormentor mentally ill?

Sex offender Phillip Garrido held a girl captive for 18 years but says people will find the story "heart-warming

Published August 28, 2009 2:29PM (EDT)

"I've completely turned my life around. And you're going to find the most powerful story coming from the witness, the victim -- you wait. If you take this a step at a time, you're going to fall over backwards and in the end, you're going to find the most powerful heart-warming story." So says Phillip Garrido, the man who allegedly abducted 11-year-old Jaycee Dugard in 1991 and kept her for 18 years in "an isolated backyard compound of tents, outbuildings and a shed," where he repeatedly raped her, fathering two children, the first born when Jaycee was 14 years old. Garrido, who was on federal parole for an earlier rape and kidnapping, was arrested on Wednesday along with his wife, Nancy, after he brought Dugard and her two children along to a parole meeting, where the victim told the officer her real identity.

It's tempting to ask how this went on for 18 years, despite Dugard's stepfather, who witnessed the abduction, providing an accurate description of Nancy Garrido and the car Jaycee was pulled into; despite regular visits to the Garridos' home from a parole officer over the years (the area where Dugard and her daughters were kept was hidden from view); despite neighbors knowing he was a registered sex offender, finding him "creepy," and even meeting Dugard and her two children. But of course it's only in retrospect that all, or any, of the pieces fit together. Tim Allen, who did business with Garrido and met his two daughters with Dugard, told KRCA in Sacramento that he used to feel sorry for the criminal: "We never thought anything bad about the guy. He was just kind of nutty."

Indeed, Garrido might very well be mentally ill, and that's likely to be his defense attorney's first claim. Like Brian David Mitchell, the man who, with his wife, abducted Elizabeth Smart in 2002, Garrido is a religious fanatic who believes God speaks directly to and through him; that final parole meeting came after he was stopped and questioned by a University of California Berkeley police officer while distributing religious literature on campus. Over the last year, Garrido kept a blog, Voices Revealed, on which he wrote two weeks ago, "the Creator has given me the ability to speak in the tongue of angels in order to provide a wake-up call that will in time include the salvation of the entire world." And in the full transcript of the interview with KRCA, he exhorts the interviewer to look at documents he claims to have left with the FBI and says, "the Government in the end, the federal government, ended up being involved because they are being pursued by hundreds and hundreds of thousands of people who are suing them with lawsuits ... just read the documents and we'll go from there."

None of that smacks of sanity, to be sure. And yet, the possibility that Garrido was not in his right mind hardly makes his crimes any more understandable or forgivable. Experiences like Jaycee Dugard's, or Elisabeth Fritzl's, or Shawn Hornbeck's, or Elizabeth Smart's, or Abby Drover's inevitably earn the label "evil," regardless of the criminals' mental states. And when a convicted sex offender who kidnapped an 11-year-old girl and enslaved her for 18 years tells the world it's ultimately a "heart-warming" story, it can be awfully hard to hear that as evidence of anything else.


By Kate Harding

Kate Harding is the author of Asking For It: The Alarming Rise of Rape Culture--and What We Can Do About It, available from Da Capo Press in August 2015. Previously, she collaborated with Anna Holmes, Amanda Hess, and a cast of thousands on The Book of Jezebel, and with Marianne Kirby on Lessons from the Fat-o-Sphere. You might also remember her as the founding editor of Shapely Prose (2007-2010). Kate's essays have appeared in the anthologies Madonna & Me, Yes Means Yes, Feed Me, and Airmail: Women of Letters. She holds an M.F.A. in fiction from Vermont College of Fine Arts and a B.A. in English from University of Toronto, and is currently at work on a Ph.D. in creative writing from Bath Spa University

MORE FROM Kate Harding

Related Topics ------------------------------------------