Roni Leibovitch

The Biker Bandit


    As demonstrated above, usually low self-esteem or feelings of inferiority are associated with psychotic symptoms, namely mad behaviors that contain delusions, hallucinations, or disorganized speech. Nevertheless, in some rare cases, when the individual's self-esteem is damaged as a result of a specific stressful event, he/she may use neurotic disorder to inflate his/her self-worth. This mode of coping is illustrated in the case study of Roni Leibovitch, which received a large amount of publicity in Israel (see a biographical account by Maron, 1995). Leibovitch, a 30 year-old married man, robbed 22 banks between February 1989 and October 1990.  He would arrive at the bank on his motorcycle, threaten those present with a pistol, and rob the cashier of an average of $4,000 each time. He led the police on a wild goose chase, and despite significant police efforts, it took nearly two years to catch him.

     Although the initial robberies appeared to be normal criminal acts, the expected low benefit compared with the extreme high risk, which continuously increased, questions the initial impression. Indeed, in a study in which 50 students and 50 prisoners evaluated Leibovich's behavior with regard to the first five robberies, 80% of the students diagnosed him as normal and 20% as abnormal, as opposed to 36% and 64% respectively in the criminal group. However, both students and prisoners (94% and 92%, respectively) diagnosed Leibovitch as abnormal when they evaluated his behavior with regard to the last two robberies, for which the risk became extremely high (the entire police and the public made every effort to catch him), compared to the small financial gain.

     Not only do Leibtovitch's behaviors appear senseless, but like all the above cases, he too was unaware of the underlying motive for his conduct. The lack of awareness is evident in his confession to the police when he said, "I made a terrible mistake... I still have not begun to absorb it. What foolishness. I do not know what got into me all of a sudden. A shame, what a shame" (Maron, 1995, p. 233). Likewise, in a letter to his father after his arrest he wrote that he does not know the reasons for his behavior, saying, "Even between me and myself I cannot provide exact answers [for the underlying causes]" (Maron, 1995, p. 251). As noted by Raine (1994), "Despite Leibovitch's attempts to explain his motives in numerous monologues, the credibility gap remains" (p. 10).

    Unlike the aforementioned cases, Leibovitch had successful adjustment records prior to his insane criminal act. He lacked a criminal record, succeeded in high school, graduated university, completed the Israeli army as a Major, and married (Maron, 1995). Nevertheless, he was similar to the aforementioned case studies in terms of a deep sense of failure and strong feelings of inferiority. He was the son of a wealthy industrialist family but after a few years in the family business, his father relieved him of nearly all managerial duties in favor of his brother and nephew. Consequently, as testified by Leibovitch himself (Maron, 1995, pp. 29-34), he became heavily preoccupied with extremely painful thoughts relating to his self-perception as a failure and his animosity towards his family, whom he blamed for his unfortunate situation.  Leibovitch remarked, "From the day my father and brother joined in the conspiracy against me, the matter became more difficult, sevenfold... I was hurt, surrounded by feelings of anger, humiliation, and a wish to take revenge, to mend, to pay them back in kind" (Maron, 1995, p. 29). He was extremely depressed and not only did therapy fail to help him but he viewed his "turning to a therapist as admittance of [his] weakness, downfall and [his] total lack of self-worth..." (Maron, 1995, p. 35).

    The principle of controllability affected the choice he made to rob banks due to the following three factors: 1) Increasing debts; 2) A desire to humiliate his respectable family, particularly his father, whom he blamed for his failures (Maron, 1995, p. 36).  Leibovitch was infuriated with his family to the point that he did not care if he was arrested, since it would humiliate his family; and 3) A need to boost his self-esteem. The public became amused with Leibovitch’s brazen success, and he was "portrayed by the press as something between a national hero and a latter-day Robin Hood, who coolly carved his way through the security of 22 banks" (Raine, 1994, Jerusalem Post, December 16, p. 10). The media’s enthusiastic acceptance of the Biker Bandit’s success in fooling the police enhanced Leibovitch’s very low self-esteem. No less important in boosting his self-esteem was the high regard which, according to Maron (1995), Leibovitch received from his son (p. 120),  wife (p. 147, 182) and friends (pp. 181-182), before his arrest. Thus, Leibovitch's insane criminal behavior provided him a powerful repressive measure and enabled him to have significant control over his stressors, mainly his deep sense of incompetence.

     Liebovitch's decision to become the "Biker Bandit" was affected by two main available experiences: 1) His strong attraction to motorcycles since childhood, which motivated him to purchase one at the age of sixteen. Several weeks before his first bank robbery, when he experienced intense depression but no criminal aspiration, he bought a new motorcycle, despite the objections of his wife. As noted by Leibovitch, it "constituted some comfort for days of darkness and despair which came to me" (Maron, 1995, p. 36); 2) the availability of the pistol he had purchased for protection, as his family’s factory was located in the occupied territories (Maron, 1995, p. 37). However, Leibovitch would not use the specific type of mad behavior if this would not serve his unique controllability need. The third principle that affected his intuitive decision to use this type of bizarre behavior was cost-benefit principle. Although he regretted his actions after his arrest, this was not the case during the long period when he executed the robberies. These behaviors repressed the stress-related thoughts, helped him pay his debts, boosted his self-esteem, and thus significantly reduced his level of depression.

     It is also important to note that Leibovitch met all of PBT's five major criteria of madness. The robberies intensively preoccupied his attention and severely disrupted his daily life (1);The onset of the senseless behaviors was not associated with specific observable event which uniquely associated with this behaviors (2); As specified above, Leibovich was unaware of the underlying cause of his behavior (3); His persistent criminal behaviors, despite low prospect for monetary rewards and the extremely  high risk of arrest, is an extremely rare phenomenon (4); Although  the public was impressed by his exceptional success and portrayed him as a national hero, in retrospect after his arrest they would describe him as mad or bizarre, as were the subjects in the aforementioned study.