The psychology of a psychopath

The Case of Priscilla Martin (the psychology of Mother)

Mother is available now on Amazon

While Priscilla Martin has refused to divulge the details of her childhood – indeed, it is unlikely she recalls them with any clarity – we were able to gain some insight from several of her long-time acquaintances that might help explain some of the behavioral patterns that led to the shocking incidents in the quiet little neighborhood called Morning Glory Circle.

Barbara “Babs” Vandercooth first met Priscilla when her parents hired the teen to babysit Babs. She says, “Prissy scared me because she was so beautiful. I was just a little girl and, before that, I hadn’t even thought about hair, makeup, and clothes. I guess I was something of a tomboy. But the first time Prissy walked in, she looked like a princess. She wore makeup like a model and a hot pink minidress with a Peter Pan collar. Her lipstick and nails were the same shade of pink. Her glossy dark brown hair flowed over  her shoulders like a royal cape. I remember my father looking at her, then looking again. I didn’t know what it meant, but it disturbed me and I never forgot. What was more disturbing was the way Prissy smiled at him – she was all teeth. She would try to get him to drive her home, but he always refused. Mom took her home. I was an adult before I realized that Dad was afraid she might come on to him.

“I think Prissy was born bossy – and she was much pickier than my parents. She would criticize and correct my table manners and, worse, insisted I open my mouth so she could see that I had brushed my teeth properly before bedtime. She also wouldn’t let me lock the bathroom door; it didn’t matter if I was relieving myself or taking a bath. I would really hurry when I had to urinate because she liked to conduct what she called “pop inspections” – she would just open the door and stare. Once she tried to teach me how to wipe myself – while I was on the toilet. I was humiliated, even though she said she was going to be a nurse, and told me not to be embarrassed.”

Ms. Vandercooth went on to say that she didn’t inform her parents of Priscilla Martin’s intrusive behavior, and that it continued until Babs was old enough to forgo a sitter. But perhaps the most interesting insight Ms. Vandercooth gives us is about Priscilla’s own parents. 

“Her mother was a homemaker, a nice lady who loved to bake. She specialized in Italian desserts – her cannolis were the best in town. In fact, she gave Giuseppe Bartoli the recipe as a gift when he opened his bakery and deli. Bartoli’s is famous here in Snapdragon these days.

“But Priscilla rarely spoke of her mother; when she did, she was critical – she liked to call her “the kitchen slave” instead of Mom.  I have no idea why, other than it probably fed Prissy’s own ego – Priscilla was a bottomless pit when it came to receiving compliments. She lived on them. She didn’t respect  her mother – she thought she was frumpy and old-fashioned.” Babs chuckles. “All teenage girls are tough on their parents, but there was something more about the way Prissy spoke that made me a little afraid for Mrs. Baker. Pris was just so cold, you know? 

“I had the feeling she was jealous of her mother – but she absolutely worshipped her father. It surprised me because Assistant Principal Hardwick Baker was a much-hated fixture at Snapdragon Junior High. None of the kids liked him, but then, that’s to be expected. I met the man a number of times when he dropped Prissy off and the way he stared at me made my skin crawl. He had a shiny head and these pale amber eyes, just like Prissy’s. Mrs. Philpott down the block had a Weimaraner named Roscoe, who had the same color eyes. They just didn’t look right on a human, you know?

“Anyway, Prissy did love her daddy. They had a song together – The Andrews Sisters’ Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree. Sometimes she brought the record over and played it for me, saying it was ‘their song.’ She’d talk about her daddy as if he were a beau, telling me how they danced and sang and how they played chess and Monopoly. They’d go for overnights at least one weekend a month so her mother could have some private time. They went to Lake Tahoe, Reno, San Francisco, and even stayed in the Dungeon Room at the Candle Bay Hotel – that was their favorite. The things Prissy and her daddy did together were things my mother and father did without me. It was just so odd, you know? ”

So, here we have a partial portrait of Priscilla Baker Martin as a girl. She obviously had Oedipal issues that followed her into adulthood.

According to Stephanie Banks, a psychiatrist and long-time acquaintance of the Martin family, Priscilla Martin is “definitely a severely troubled woman.” Says Dr. Banks: “While I’m unable to officially counsel – and therefore, diagnose – Priscilla Martin at this time, I can say with absolute confidence that the behaviors she exhibits are those of a textbook narcissist with sociopathic tendencies.” 

And Dr. Stephanie Banks ought to know. She was engaged to Priscilla’s son, Timothy, who ultimately committed suicide before their wedding day. “We moved to Brimstone, Arizona, to get away from Priscilla,” says Dr. Banks. “After an accident which left Tim with a broken leg, Priscilla drove all the way to Brimstone to retrieve him. I came home to find him gone. I never saw him again.” When asked what she thinks made Tim return to Snapdragon with his mother after a lifetime of trying to gain independence, Banks says, “I think he just gave up. This was his big shot at freedom. He knew he’d never be able to put enough miles between himself and his mother to live a life free of her. She was obsessed with him. When she followed him to Brimstone, he just … gave up. He resigned himself to his fate, believing himself helpless.” She wipes away a tear and continues, “Of course, there’s a lot more to the story. The real reasons for his suicide are just … stupefying. I was stunned when I learned the whole story. Absolutely stunned.” 

When asked to elaborate, Dr. Banks says she’d rather allow those following this sordid tale of lies, secrets, and shame to discover the full story for themselves. “It’s all there,” she says, “in the new Thorne & Cross book, Mother. If people want to know the whole story – the real story – I recommend this book.” She pauses and lets out a sigh, brushing back a lock of auburn hair before continuing. “Of course, I should warn the readers that this is not a tale for the faint of heart.” 

And indeed, it isn’t. Mother delves not only into the secret lives of Priscilla Martin and her family, but also into the dark corners of Morning Glory Circle, the neighborhood in which the book takes place. Mother gives us shocking glimpses into the lives of each of Morning Glory Circle’s residents, showing us the many sordid ways in which one woman is able to dominate those around her.

“We were puppets on her string,” says another neighbor, Phyllis Stine. “As Babs Vandercooth always says, ‘No secret is safe on Morning Glory Circle. Will my picture be published in this article?” She pats her platinum puff of hair and lights a cigarette.

Priscilla Martin’s daughter and son-in-law, Claire and Jason Holbrook could not be reached for comment. And their silence, perhaps, says more than anything else.