When Your Gut Tells You Something’s Wrong with a Coworker, Listen

The meanness of Jaku embarrassing his friend so readily, pricked me like a pin jabbed into my heart. Ouch! What kind of friendship allowed for this? Why did the two hang out? Was it a case of opposites attract?

That pinprick was my first, faint inkling that something was wrong with Jaku, the man that eventually murdered my dear friend Vic in cold blood. It wasn’t until much later, after enduring a heavy burden of emotional pain, that I realized Jaku was lacking something most of us possessed—a conscience. If I’d known something about personality disorders at the time, this could have been my first lesson in Sociopath 101.

Jaku had just pulled three Polaroid snapshots from his pocket. He held them up, saying, “See these pictures me and Lazzarini took of each other?”  The pictures showed Vic and Jaku at the wash rack, their right hands shoved down the front of their shorts, Jaku leering, and a silly grin on Vic’s face.

Vic’s face flushed. He turned to Jaku. “Aww, why’d you show them those? Now they’ll think I’m a…a pervert.”

Jaku grinned, rapidly nodding his head up and down, over and over. “That’s right, brah. That’s what we are.”

Were these two pals just immature clowns, or was Jaku an instigator and Vic an undiscerning follower? I couldn’t begin to imagine why Jaku would so pointedly embarrass the kind, gentle Vic, but it was clear he took great pleasure in doing so.

That was just the beginning of a string of behaviors that would set off alarm bells for me when it came to Jaku. How could I know right off that he was a sociopath? What I did know though, was that something was just not right.

When I first met him, I remember that Jaku’s grin was wide and warm. “Welcome, Liz,” he said and enthusiastically raised his bushy eyebrows up and down, Groucho Marx style.

He grabbed my cold hand, encompassing it in his warm one and slowly looked me over from my blue tennis shoes to my blonde curls. “The guys say you’re one fine wahine. The buggers no lie.” He repeated his Groucho Marx routine. It made me shiver.

I quickly retracted my hand. I knew then and there that what I initially took as an attempt to be charming was not what was actually happening. Jaku was someone I’d need to watch out for. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough in the end.

In hindsight, there were many other signs that Jaku was violent and dangerous. I remember wondering if a knife had caused the scar zigzagging across his forehead – later he told me it had and bragged about winning the knife fight. I remember the other firemen describing how Jaku had cut his face on a rock when he’d tried to learn how to surf – only after swearing me to secrecy – because they worried about how angry he’d get and the repercussions they’d have to endure if he found out that his clumsiness was revealed.

Then there were other times that the signs of sociopathy were there, but were a bit less obvious to the untrained eye. Jaku often tried to inflate his importance, in what sometimes appeared to be an awkward attempt to impress. He had no problem disrespecting or devaluing others.

For instance, once he dove into tales about his Navy days. He gestured and strutted, his whole body punctuating stories about his bravado and the wild haole nurses he’d known. And I was haole, too, wasn’t I? He grinned at me, and said, “The B-shift guys say you’re one hot haole on the radio.”

I smiled politely, even though I disliked being called a haole, which in Hawaiian means a person who is not a native Hawaiian, especially a white person – but can also literally mean devoid of spirit—ha ole, without breath.

“Haole, yes, wild, no,” I said. “I’ve lived with my boyfriend for five years.”

“That dark-skinned local dude drove you here yesterday?”

I nodded.

“You’re all right, Liz.” He wiggled his eyebrows at me. “You’re cool. You ain’t the kind of stuck-up haole broad who thinks you ain’t right if you ain’t white.” I opened my mouth to respond but he sped on with, “Bet you never knew I was stationed on an aircraft carrier in ’Nam’.”

I shook my head.

He plunged into a pantomime, demonstrating how he fought fires caused by bombs falling on the deck with a “kaboom!” He slammed his body against the alarm room’s stained brown carpet, sprang up, dragged an imaginary fire hose, and extinguished the flames “that were all around” accompanied by the “whoosh, whoosh” of water from his hose. I laughed.

His performances were often funny and animated, as above. I would often laugh at them. Sometimes my laughter was genuine, his antics causing me to lower my guard a bit. Being a good-hearted person, it was difficult for me not to look for some good in people. At other times, my laughter was forced, so as not to clue him in to the fact that I felt he was mean and ill-behaved, as in the above case – I was trying to avoid enduring any more of his deeply disrespectful attitude toward women (myself included). I simply wanted to move him along (and out of my path), so I’d feed his never-ending ego with my laughter at times.

For Vic’s sake, I wish I could have better heeded and responded to these signs of sociopathy. Maybe I could have warned him or taken some action that would have helped reveal how potentially dangerous he was. But, as they say, hindsight is 20/20. Looking back now, I’m not sure what I could have done differently. I didn’t know anything about sociopathic behavior or people at the time. I believe that had I known about the dangers that interacting with a sociopath unawares could hold, I’d have been better prepared to deal with the situation – and maybe better prepared to warn others, Vic included. Hence, this post.

Dear reader, be warned: Trust your gut. If things feel off – they are. Please take steps to protect yourself and those you love if these stories ring a bell. You may just save a life.

If you’d like to know more about Jaku and how dangerous a sociopath can become, read my book,
Angel Hero, Murder in Hawai’i, A True Story. Not ready to buy? Subscribe to my email news and I’ll send you a link to read the first chapter free.  

If you like the graphic, we’re doing a “Sociopath Survival 101” series on my Facebook page (check the photo album for more tips you can share with your friends and family). Like the page to get the upcoming tips planned for this series in your newsfeed.

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