His mother, Rae Gabler, says that she doesn't know anything about bipolar disorder but that her oldest son has a long history of abrupt mood swings, delusional thinking and impulsiveness — all textbook symptoms. "He is grandiose," she says. "If you looked up the word in the dictionary, it would say 'Victor.'"

"He gets really hotheaded, really fast," adds Victor's sister. "It's not a normal temper. He lashes out at people. I don't think he knows how to live in the real word. He thinks he's doing the right thing at the moment, but he doesn't look at tomorrow or the next day or a week from now."

But Lori Marquez, an ex-girlfriend who first met Gabler sixteen years ago, suspects his bipolar claims are one more feat of criminal impersonation, one more scam. "I probably know him better than anybody on this earth," she says, "and I don't feel sorry for the guy. He tries to play off like he's crazy, and that's why he commits these crimes. Maybe he has a little ADHD. His mind is constantly going, and that could be manic. But he's had a lot of time to get help for that."

After years apart, Marquez and Gabler became reacquainted earlier this year. She's now the complainant in two criminal cases against him, alleging assault, stalking, harassment and retaliation against a witness. "I don't see him, then or now, as having a major bipolar condition," she says. "I've seen a lot of that, and I don't put him in that category. I do think he's a very dangerous person, even on a good day."

According to Colorado Department of Corrections figures, at least one-fourth of the state's 23,000 adult inmates have a "significant need" for mental-health treatment. Fifteen percent have been diagnosed with serious, chronic mental illness; many more are undiagnosed and untreated ("Head Games," September 21, 2006). While some inmates may fake a mental condition, others try to hide it, fearing that being identified as a "psych case" will single them out for attack and prevent them from taking classes that could get them paroled faster.

Even if the state's doctors find that Gabler is bipolar, chronic mental illness doesn't constitute an insanity defense in Colorado; it doesn't necessarily mean you're not competent to stand trial, either ("The Good, the Bad & the Mad," May 29, 2008). Gabler admits that he knows the difference between right and wrong. It's just that when things start going fastfastfast, the line starts to blur.

"It's not like I don't have guilt over this stuff," he says. "When I'm in a controlled situation, I can stop and see what people have to go through because some asshole like me, someone who's taken shortcuts their whole fucking life, has messed up their lives. I read that it takes the average person 700 hours to get their shit whole after identity theft."

He pauses — a rare breather — and reflects on that staggering figure. "I think it's ridiculous," he says.

If, as some scientists believe, there's a strong genetic component to the mysteries of personality, brain chemistry and mood disorders, then Victor Gabler might prove to be a promising case study. Gabler never knew his father, Arnold Richardson. Yet to his mother, it seemed that the boy started following in his father's wayward footsteps at an early age.

"I don't know how many times I've wondered about it," Rae Gabler says. "I've said, 'He didn't know Arnold. How can he be so much like the man that impregnated me?'"

Now deceased, Arnold Richardson was a thief and a brawler — aggressive, restless, teeming with energy and criminal schemes. He went to prison shortly after his son was born. Rae divorced him and married a trucker named Tom Gabler. "Both of the children grew up knowing that Tom was their stepdad and Arnold was a waste of space," she says.

Gabler was raised in the suburbs northwest of Chicago — not a classic urban war zone, though young Victor apparently found it so. "From preschool, he would pick fights," his mother recalls. "It was Victor hitting this kid, Victor spitting on that kid. Then around third grade, five of them jumped him and bashed his head into the street."

In the 1970s, no one talked about "attention deficit" or "hyperactive" children; Rae remembers that her son was simply regarded as disruptive and different. Gabler says he was the class clown who couldn't sit still and blurted out things he didn't mean. One teacher put up a screen around his desk, walling him off from the rest of the class. He claims to have been abused at home. (He was spanked, Rae says: "Now it would be considered child abuse.")

But Gabler quickly adds that he's not trying to make excuses for himself. "I was a horrible kid," he says. "I was acting out. I was trying to get attention. I got beaten and sent away and forgotten about."

From adolescence onward, Gabler's story reads like a primer in crime. It goes like this: At twelve, Victor is formally adopted by Tom Gabler. Filling out the court paperwork, he sees for the first time the name he was born with: Victor Arnold Richardson. At thirteen he starts skipping school and running away, sleeping in a park behind a friend's house and freezing his ass off, working a paper route and busing tables for cash. He figures he might fare better living with his grandparents in Tucson. His stepfather tells him that if he starts running from his problems, he'll never stop.

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