Every serial killer is a psychopath, but a psychopath who has killed one or more people isn’t necessarily a serial killer. The mission is murder for both, but it is the motive that separates them. There’s a lot going on in their minds that is a result of something that has affected them, usually once or more in their lives. The crime they commit is a result of them trying to cope with that feeling and, as a result, feel better about themselves. However, before we even try to analyze the three people addressed in the first three episodes of “The Lesson is Murder,” we need to admit that the analysis is our perspective of what could have led them to commit such crimes. No matter how trained we get in analyzing the actions of a person by assessing a lifetime of his or her experiences, the workings of the human mind are subjective to analysis and our perception of things regardless of how broad our knowledge is, and sometimes we can only conjecture or speculate as close to the truth as we think we can.
Episode 1: Will ‘Billy’ Davis
In 2017, 33-year-old nurse Davis was convicted of killing 4 people as well as attempting to kill at least 12 others by injecting air into their arteries at the Heart Hospital in Tyler, Texas. His motivations were found to be self-imposed pressure that resulted from a father who wanted him and his brothers to excel and do well in life, a superficial charm that came from the need to seek attention and admiration, which took the shape of controlling behavior during the later stages of his life, and depression that might have been a result of the self-imposed pressure itself. Maybe Davis was so occupied trying to satisfy his father that he never got time to think about what he wanted for himself. During the investigation, he told the police that he tried to make sure that patients stayed longer in the ICU so that he could work more and get paid more.
During his interview with Bryanna Fox, the psychological criminologist for the show, Davis stated that he found a thrill in doing what he did. He used the word “euphoria” to describe his feeling, which just shows how much satisfaction he was getting out of it. One of the detectives during the investigation, Greg Roberts, tells Bryanna that Davis was picking on people who weren’t his patients. So, there is a theory that in doing so, he wanted to prove that he was doing right by his patients while the others weren’t properly taken care of and were dying as a result. This was another kick he got out of it, which didn’t have anything to do with him working overtime.
So while Davis may have stated that he did what he did because it would let him work more and do overtime as there was the risk of getting laid off [although his co-worker stated that there was no issue like that at the hospital and nor was Davis on the radar of the management, which is sometimes the case when a nurse isn’t performing well], his actions and all that he has been through show that his real motivation is power and control. This is what his father had over him; this is what he had over his girlfriend, whom he almost tried to kill [as per the girl’s cousin]; this is what even made him feel great after injecting air into the arteries of the patients because it made him feel all-powerful if not God-like. Then there is the depression, for which he even took medication.
Davis even tried to kill himself, as he told Bryanna during the interview, but he couldn’t. Could this be a reason for him being unable to vent the rage on himself and thus turning to other people, killing them, and through that, feeling better about himself? But as per Davis, his shift was called off multiple times despite there being low staff, as he later found out. He also mentions how he was affected by the hospital hierarchy, where the people at the top are getting paid a lot while sitting in their offices, while he has to do all the hard work and face bankruptcy. This brings in a possible revenge motive as well. All this made him feel powerless, and that is what led to him taking the life of his first victim in June 2017. Will “Billy” Davis was in prison for two and a half years before being convicted of the murders. For all that time, he maintained that he was innocent, and it was only after being convicted that he accepted his crime. Davis was sentenced to death in 2021, and his appeal for commutation to life imprisonment is still pending.
Episode 2: Robert Fratta
37-year-old Missouri City police officer and fireman Robert Fratta was arrested for solicitation of murder of his wife, Farrah Fratta, 34, on November 9, 1994, in Atascocita, Texas, presumably over a custody dispute. But it was how he behaved afterward that put him on our radar. Right after being questioned, he was seen smiling in front of the camera, with no sign of pain or remorse for the death of his wife.
Sgt. Larry Davis, a homicide detective, told Bryanna that there had been a break-in at the Fratta’s in June 1994 [5 months before she was shot to death], post their separation, where Farah was tased by the suspect who came in through the only door that had no alarm installed. This meant that someone had told him about it, and after all this time, there seemed to be only one person who could have told the suspect about the door, and that was Robert.
Five months later, in November 1994, he hired two guys, Joseph Prystash [middleman] and Howard Guidry [shooter], from the gym he went to to kill his wife. He also reveals that Robert wanted Farah to become the way he wanted her to be, as opposed to who she was in reality. This made her opt for divorce, which Robert didn’t like at all. He didn’t want to pay for the kids [child support] as well as watch Farah take them away. This brings in the motivation of control. He also had his own distasteful cravings in terms of his sexual relationship with Farah. The police interrogation of Robert after his wife’s death shows just how casual and rather defensive he was throughout the process. He even asks the police officers to check Farah’s lifestyle, which could have led to her death. In this way, he was trying to justify her death more than he was trying to defend himself, almost as if he believed that she deserved what happened to her.
Also, for someone who has lost his wife, he has close to zero interest in cooperating with the police. This alone strongly suggests that he might have been involved in Farah’s murder. But he doesn’t realize it. One of Robert’s co-workers states that he was very conscious of his appearance and looks. He loved being around women and was confident about it. His friends from the gym say that he had asked them if they knew someone who could kill his wife. The only explanation for him asking around how to kill his wife and not thinking that these actions would get him caught is that he knew he would get away with it. He was sure of it and maintained his innocence throughout. An interview with Robert in prison reveals that he was insecure as a kid and as a teenager. It was when he shifted to Houston that he realized that he had this ability to be popular among women, apparently due to his looks.
Throughout the interview, he tries to pin Farah’s actions as the cause of her death. Farah wanted child support; the gun with which she was shot belonged to her; Farah didn’t want him to be with the kids; Farah started dating multiple guys; everything is Farah. He tells Bryanna that he doesn’t know who shot her and is confident that he can prove that he is innocent. He even had a website where he made his statements and explained himself. But there is one thing that he tells Bryanna that proves that he is responsible for the death of his wife. He tells her that if he wanted to kill her, he could have done it and gotten away with it. If he knew he was innocent, he wouldn’t have thought of other ways to kill her wife, much less gotten away with murder. His regret isn’t that he got Farah killed but that he got caught after killing her.
The episode doesn’t really take us to his past and tell us if he had any experiences that may have resulted in such behavior. All that we can deduct from the interviews is that Robert wanted control, and he made sure that he got it in the only way he thought remained for him. As for his remorseless attitude, a lack of empathy that may have resulted from him being around women at one point in his life, which in turn made him look at women like objects that he could claim, is an explanation in the absence of any other. Robert isn’t a serial killer, but he does fit the definition of a psychopath, who is a person who suffers from a mental disorder that manifests itself in antisocial behavior, a lack of empathy, and having a large ego [the desire to control].
Episode 3: Ivie de Molina
27-year-old dominatrix (sex worker) Ivie De Molina is arrested along with her team of four youngsters for the murders of James Polites and Joseph Fiammetta. Her case was the most complex of the three because how she was in prison and how she behaved with Bryanna were totally different from the actions that led to her arrest. It was as if they were two different personalities. One of the lead investigators, Frank Kelaher, states that Ivie wanted to prove to herself that she had power over her victims, both of whom were her customers.
Detective Pat Albergo, who spoke to Ivie in prison, stated that she had no remorse and did what she did for the money. She and her Poison Ivie gang, including Jamie Farthing, 18, Benigno Rosario, 17, Efrain Papaleo, 19, and Thomas Christopher James, 21 (Ivie’s boyfriend), were on a partying spree. The daughter of Ivie’s ex-husband, Victoria Shaw, addressed Ivie as a very loving and caring stepmother, the perfect mother figure. But she also went shopping a lot. This again matches her love for money, as mentioned by Detective Albergo. Victoria’s father, Victor, addresses her as a great leader and says that she, as a star recruiter, was great with kids at welfare centers and got them not just into schools but jobs too. Here again, there was a lot of money that she was earning. She then took to drugs and became addicted to them. This affected her work and, thus, her income. He also mentions that Ivie was raped more than once as a child. It was during her time doing drugs that she took up her job as a dominatrix. So, this leadership quality of Ivie’s may have been what allowed her to gather a group of like-minded people to help her with the murder that was followed by robberies of the house in which they killed the men.
All this makes Ivie’s downfall very clear. First, we have Victoria, for whom Ivy was the perfect mom. Second, we have Victor, for whom she was a lovely woman and a great leader, as well as someone who was falling into a dark pit of drugs and sex work. And thirdly, we have the detectives for whom she was a criminal. Finally comes the man (whose identity is undisclosed) who married Ivie while she was serving time. He was impressed by her and found her to be a completely different and sweet person who helped other inmates in all ways she could. This guy also confirms what Victor said about Ivie being sexually abused as a child, which she had a very upsetting memory of. He moved to the US after meeting her and deciding to marry her. This again proved how good she was at convincing people to meet her needs. Ivie and the guy married in 2016 and separated in 2018.
An interview with Ivie De Molina revealed that she was sexually abused as a 6 or 7-year-old girl, and the shock and trauma remained with her all her life. According to her, it was in 1993 that she got into drugs and sex work. This differed from what Victor stated. As per him, the year was 1988 when she got herself into those things. She also tells Bryanna that she couldn’t stop her boyfriend Thomas from killing James, although she did want him killed, which contradicts Thomas’s testimony that says that it was Ivie who asked him to put an end to James. Is this a way for her to try and mitigate her responsibility for the crime?
A mother, a leader, a dominatrix, and a serial killer, Ivie De Molina is the perfect example of all these roles. She has been almost able to walk in and out of these roles as per her requirements. And in all these, there is again the show of power and control. Perhaps her childhood abuse is what led to her trying to prove to herself and others that she is strong in a way that is as physical as it is mental. Moreover, the fact that she doesn’t even mention Vitoria or Victor or even her marriage in prison proves her ability to distance herself from things on every level. Ivie De Molina’s case is as complex as it can get and is certainly a great study of human behavior.
“The Lesson is Murder” shows three bizarre cases, each of which is completely unique. The criminals possess characteristics, some of which contradict one another, making it tough for people like Bryanna to analyze them effectively and figure out why they did what they did. It may not necessarily bring out what truly motivated the murders, but it sure does provide us with some kind of closure as we find out the thought process of the criminals, which is what more often leads to the crime.