Youssef Khater is a charismatic con-man reportedly living in Costa Rica. A diagnosed psychopath, Khater has deceived countless people and acted violently against many. His attack on Callie Quinn, an American living in Chile, spurred news reports of the other victims of his conning and endangering. While Callie worked to bring Youssef to justice, he continued to evade legality. His is a story of charisma, danger and ambiguous morality. His story begs the question: what is justice to a psychopath?
Youssef Khater has conned, and physically attacked, many people. In 2015, the details of his violence against a young American woman were published in Texas Monthly. His attack on Callie Quinn was brutal but not lethal. Since Callie survived, she was able to find justice for herself and Youssef’s other victims. When Youssef and Callie met, he claimed to have been a Palestinian born in Haifa, Israel. This, it turns out, was just the beginning of a string of lies. Thanks to his charismatic and magnetic personality, Youssef was able to con various innocent people in his life, as well as international organizations. Full of life, his lies attracted confidence.
Youssef’s stories of his experiences in the Danish special forces, which also turned out to be false, were incredibly detailed and full of excitement and danger. He recounted stories of his expeditions as an athlete and detailed the training he did in preparation for exotic marathons. For most, it was hard to imagine Youssef as a violent and conning liar. Rather, his victims expectantly and supportively listened, giving Youssef—at the very least—their trust.
When Callie met Youssef, she was in her early twenties. Originally from Canyon Lake, Texas, she decided to move to Santiago, Chile for a teaching job. She studied geography in college and was mesmerized by Chile’s terrain. Her parents were supportive, saying that they “admired her courage and independence.” Plus, Chile had a low homicide rate and exceptional English schools. Safety, in their minds, wasn’t a big concern.
When Callie got a work visa to teach at Bridge Linguatec Institute, she was elated. She planned to stay in Santiago for a few years and quickly found a place to live. The house, which boasted twelve bedrooms, was home to a diverse international crowd. Her housemates were from places like England, Denmark and Germany. Youssef, slightly older than most of the others, was one of the house’s vibrant personalities. But that wasn’t necessarily a good thing.
In fact, it was a case of “irritation-at-first-sight” for Callie. Youssef struck her as totally egotistical. He yammered on and on about being one of the best Palestinian distance runners in the world and about his athletic gear and sponsorships. He also made a show of his biceps, flexing his arms—which bore tribal tattoos Callie found ugly—at every opportunity. Every once in a while, the self-absorbed athlete would show a slightly different side and make a kind gesture, like sharing chocolates with the group of young adults. But as Callie would later find out, generosity was not really Youssef’s strong suit; taking was really what he was good at.
Fortunately, there were others in the house that Callie connected with. One housemate, Molly Parsons, was a fellow English teacher and fellow Texan from San Antonio. Callie and Molly found themselves to be kindred spirits and were quickly inseparable—exploring the city, eating together, and sharing laughs.
With the support of her new friend, Callie began to feel more at ease in Chile. She even warmed to Youssef a bit. Despite his rampant egotism, she glimpsed moments when he seemed to think about others. He’d prepare vitamin C-laden drinks when a housemate caught a cold. And even though he had a girlfriend, he even flirted a bit with Callie. As Texas Monthly reported, he interrupted a Skype conversations Callie was having with her mom and poked his head down to look at Callie’s computer screen. “Now I see where Callie gets her good looks,” he said, cracking a warm smile.
After getting settled into her new home, and winter came, Youssef told Callie that he owned two new condos in downtown Santiago. He suggested that Callie and Molly move out of their house and rent one of his properties instead. For Callie and Molly, two warm-blooded Texans trying to cope with the lack of heat in the big house, Youssef’s offer seemed heaven-sent. At that moment, Callie was ready to forgive Youssef for all his mildly irritating self-absorbed stories about his greatness. Now, she thought, maybe he truly is a giving soul. A security deposit and one month’s rent, roughly $1000, sealed the deal.
A day before move-in, Callie and Youssef planned to meet so he could show her where the keys to the condo were. After Callie and Youssef exchanged details, he invited her out to celebrate. They walked from the real estate office to a nearby district, Providencia, for dinner. Youssef told Callie about his exciting plans for later that evening. He was going help rescue three Danish women who had been kidnapped; his fellow friends in the Danish special forces would join him. Between the exciting tale, the promise of rescued women, and her new condo, Callie finally understood why her housemates had so much respect for Youssef.
While Callie and Youssef were out, he got a phone call from another housemate named Sabi. Callie could hear Sabi’s voice through the phone, and could tell she was angry with Youssef. He owed Sabi quite a bit of money; he had been borrowing from her, and she had plans to leave Chile for Ecuador. She needed him to pay her back as soon as possible. Youssef promised that he had the money with him, and would have Callie bring it home with her that night.
Hours after their meeting, Callie and Youssef found themselves sitting down for dinner at a local bar. The bar, Entre-Choke, was just a few blocks from their house. Callie was surprised that Youssef ordered vodka drinks for them to share; she hadn’t seen him drink before, and assumed he was sober. He ended up guzzling three screwdrivers. As Youssef became more inebriated, and the soccer match on TV grew more heated, he grew increasingly excited.
Youssef even had an exciting proposition to make. Apparently, a house they had passed on their way to the bar had recently burned down, and a golden toilet seat survived the fire. Despite his plans to save the Danish women, Youssef suggested they go to the house to search for the toilet seat. Callie was tired, but intrigued. She agreed to join.
After a too-long journey to and through the house, Callie was frustrated to learn that Youssef led her there for nothing. She complained, “That’s not gold,” when she saw that the toilet seat was a standard beige. Even though it wasn’t what he led her to believe, Youssef took a nearby crowbar and began prying the toilet seat off the toilet. Callie said, “I’ve got to go. I have work at seven-thirty.” Youssef instructed her to wait in an eerily controlling tone. Callie didn’t want to wait, and didn’t want to disturb Youssef, so she walked to the entrance of the house. Youssef snuck up behind her.
He called after her, “Hey, Callie—” to lure her to turn around. When Callie turned to face him, he hit her on the back of her head with the crowbar. She stumbled, and Youssef kneed her in the ribs. He pinned her onto the ground. He began to strangle her, yelling, “Why did you tell Sabi that I owed you money?!” Callie had no idea why her housemate was violently angry, but feared that he would kill her. She blacked out.
Now, after midnight, Sabi was extremely worried for Callie. She called Callie’s phone, but it wasn’t on. Every call she made to Youssef went straight to his voicemail. Sabi had started to have extreme doubts about Youssef, too. He had been ducking her for weeks, offering excuse after excuse every time she asked him to pay back the money he owed her—nearly a $1,000. He claimed his passport was stolen or there was a problem at the bank. One day earlier, she arranged to meet him to get her money, and Youssef hadn’t bothered to show up. Now, Callie, who had always seemed so reliable and responsible, hadn’t shown up with the money—and Sabi wondered what had gone wrong. Finally, at one in the morning, and still with no word from Callie, she got through to Youssef. He was heading home. He promised that he gave Callie the money he owed Sabi, and pretended to be surprised that Callie wasn’t home yet.
When Youssef arrived home, he started knocking on his housemates’ bedroom doors to ask whether or not Callie was back yet. Sabi was immediately suspicious; she asked Youssef where his coat was. Since it was winter, and he had a coat on at the beginning of the night, it was strange that he wasn’t wearing one anymore. He lied, saying that he and his friends were running for exercise from bar to bar. Youssef had the nerve to ask Sabi where Callie was. He even asked: what if she had been attacked, since she was carrying so much money? Sabi immediately retorted, “It’s your fault if something happens to her.”
It was very late, but a number of the housemates couldn’t go to sleep. They were frightened about Callie’s disappearance. In addition to Sabi, Molly and another housemate, Ed, they put their heads together, wondering what the best way would be to find their missing friend.
Suddenly, Ed looked out the window and did a double-take. Someone was stumbling along the sidewalk outside. At first glance it seemed like this person was drunk, literally staggering and holding onto the iron fence outside the house to remain upright. Ed looked closer, taking in the person’s tangled hair, and ash covered face. Then he recognized the puffy coat the mysterious person was wearing. “Look!” he said, completely shocked. “Is that Callie?”
That is exactly who it was. Somehow, Callie had survived Youssef’s murderous attack—evidently something her sinister housemate hadn’t expected—and had managed to get herself home. The house where Youssef had attacked her was filled with ashes, and Callie was covered in greasy, black soot. Her appearance made clear that something was wrong. Callie immediately charged at Youssef, imploring, “How could you do this to me? Get away from me!” She ran to Molly, her best friend, for safety. Sabi and Molly took her into the bathroom to help her clean off the grime and ashes, and as Molly washed Callie’s hair, she noticed a deep gash on her head. Her face was swollen. As Sabi called for a cab to take them to the hospital, Callie began vomiting blood.
At the hospital, Callie told her friends that Youssef beat and strangled her. When she was unconscious, she had a dream about her family—that was the reason she woke up. Callie insisted that Youssef was dangerous. After the doctor said that Callie’s head injury didn’t affect her memory, it was certain that Youssef had done some serious damage. Youssef, ever-deceptive, insisted he was innocent. His charming personality was enough that two of their housemates—including Sabi—weren’t immediately confident Youssef had hurt Callie.
Back at the house, Youssef packed his bags. While Sabi rested in her bedroom, he knocked on the door. “My mother is dead,” he said. “I’ve got to fly to Denmark.” Sabi, sensing Youssef’s distraught mood, began to understand that he was dangerous—and, likely, guilty. All she said back was, “Okay.” He intended to flee the scene of the crime. Doctors at the hospital treated Callie. Youssef’s violent attack had really done a number on her. They determined she had suffered a concussion, corneal abrasions, and a lesion in her larynx caused by choking her. As for the gash that Youssef opened up on her head, that required nine stitches to stop the bleeding. She spent three days in the hospital before being discharged.
Although Callie knew that Youssef tried to end her life, she didn’t understand what motivated him. After all, they were housemates and even friends. The day after the attack, while she recovered at the hospital, she was still coughing up ash. Molly filed a police report against Youssef. Unfortunately, during her interview with a police officer, the officer noted that her neck didn’t have bruises on it. There was no physical evidence of her being strangled. There were, however, nine stitches in her head. Since Callie and Youssef were both foreigners, the police officer wrote off the attack as a domestic dispute.
But the attack on Callie was clearly more than a tiff among housemates. And piecing together the events, it seems clear Youssef had staged an elaborate, lethal ruse to get out of paying back Sabi—or making good on the supposed apartment he was renting to Callie. Remember, he told Gabi that he had given Callie the money to repay her? It’s likely he thought that if Callie was murdered and the money was missing, then his debt to Gabi would be a thing of the past. As for the apartment Molly was expecting to move into with Callie, the con artist probably expected to weasel out of that debt somehow, too.
Was Youssef a charming, desperate crook? Or was the suffering from a serious, potentially lethal disorder? In other words, was he a sociopath or a psychopath? The two conditions share many of the same traits. For instance, both sociopaths and psychopaths tend to be charming—just like Youssef. They can appear trustworthy and sincere on the surface, but their lack of empathy means they have no problem betraying anyone or being deceitful.
The crucial difference between the two disorders is that sociopaths are not generally violent. Psychopaths, however, aren’t just prone to violence; it is what defines them. As one study of the difference between the two conditions put it, “Psychopaths cross the line. Sociopaths may hole up in their houses and remove themselves from society, while a psychopath is busy in his basement rigging shackles to his furnace.” In other words, psychopaths are violent, savage and cruel and they show no remorse for their actions. Sound like anyone you’ve read about?
Given these distinctions, it seems pretty obvious that Youssef would be diagnosed as a psychopath—he showed zero regrets or even an ounce of guilt when Callie confronted him about the attack. And he outright denied any involvement to Callie’s other housemates. There is, in Youssef’s defense, another only possible “reason” for his violent attack—and that involves his use of alcohol. Callie says he gulped down a number of drinks before the attack—which suggests he was probably drunk. But excessive use of alcohol is no excuse for violence! Given the scam artist's lies and the sudden penchant for violence, a diagnosis of psychopath seems unavoidable.
Sabi and Molly were troubled to learn that the police officer dismissed their friend’s attack. Sabi found Youssef’s girlfriend, a dance teacher named Sohad Alamo, on Facebook and reached out in hopes of identifying his whereabouts. Was he in Brønderslev, his hometown? Was he on the road? Was he on the run?
Also, Sabi wanted to alert her to potential danger. If Youssef was capable of trying to kill Callie, who had never caused him any harm, he was capable of doing this to anyone. When Sohad finally called Sabi back, a full day after the attack, the concerned housemate immediately blurted out. “Where’s Youssef?” she asked. The answer left her reeling.
“He’s with me,” said Sohad. Sabi couldn’t believe her ears at first. According to Sohad, Youssef showed up Thursday morning with a few pieces of luggage, claiming he wanted to say goodbye before leaving for his mother’s funeral in Denmark. Then Youssef claimed his visit to Sohad caused him to miss his flight! Youssef had arrived at her house around nine-thirty on Thursday morning with three pieces of luggage. He’d said he was on the way to the airport for his mother’s funeral in Denmark, but he couldn’t leave without saying goodbye. The detour, however, had cost him his flight, and he remained at Sohad’s place.
Sohad was at work when she talked to Sabi and she returned home to have lunch with Youssef. As they ate, she wondered about her boyfriend. Was he capable of such violence? Was he a thief? That evening she left the house to pick up her children. She returned to find Youssef was gone. In a note he’d left behind he explained he’d found a flight and he loved her. But Youssef also left behind something else—something you’d expect a man flying to Europe might take with him: His three suitcases.
Callie and her housemates prepared to leave their Santiago-based home. Sabi and Molly were scared to stay, fearing for their friend and their lives. Ed, their British housemate, took to Facebook on his way out of Chile. He wrote, “So yeah, basically this guy is still at large, as the Chilean police are being useless. The whole saga has left us all shaken up, and I just feel like I need to get out of here. . . . Love and limes.” As for Callie, when she finally talked to her parents, they heard her say the words they never expected: “I want to come home!” Before the housemates separated and prepared to return to their respective homes, they all agreed on one thing: Youssef was dangerous, and people should know.
Thankfully, Ed’s Facebook post reached a Santiago-based lawyer named Rocío Berríos. Rocío worked primarily on Chile’s shocking legal cases, defending innocent people like Callie. Strangely enough, Rocío and Callie met once at a party. Rocío decided to visit Callie in the hospital. Since Callie was a foreigner, and the legal system in Chile could be convoluted to outsiders, Rocío offered to represent her free of charge. Youssef needed to be avenged. Callie accepted, and Rocío instantly notified the homicide department at Policía de Investigaciones de Chile (PDI) that Youssef Khater was out and about. With enough evidence against Youssef, an arrest warrant was granted.
Next, Youssef had to be located. With a little bit of good luck, Rocío found an article on a 24-hour running race Youssef organized outside Copenhagen in 2009. Since he traveled for his running, Rocío kept looking for articles in hopes of a lead. In 2010, Youssef won the 100-kilometer Jungle Marathon in Brazil; he was representing Palestine. In 2011, the Federación Palestina de Chile in Santiago asked community members to donate to Youssef’s fund for the Atacama Crossing ultramarathon. Here, Rocío found a comment from an upset reader. Someone wrote that Youssef was not a runner; he exploited donations and sponsorships for personal gain. This was the lead Rocío needed; she replied, saying, “I am looking for information on Youssef. How can I contact you?”
While Rocío waited for a reply, she helped Callie’s story reach the news. With the right amount of news coverage, perhaps another one of Youssef’s victim would reach out with more information. Las Últimas Noticias, a tabloid paper, ran a front-page story about Callie featuring photographs of her injuries. Shortly thereafter, Callie’s story went from paper to TV. Chilevisión shared photos of Youssef and interviews with Callie. Sure enough, within a few hours of the tabloid publication, someone named Carlos wrote to Rocío. He wrote, “I just saw the LUN article about Youssef Khater, and you have all my support to help. . . . Let’s make a plan to get you the info you need, and to put you in touch with others affected.”
Rocío learned that Youssef scammed Carlos out of $8,000 for the Atacama Crossing. Carlos was excited to help a Palestinian be represented in an extreme marathon and worked hard to raise money so that Youssef could participate. However, after an ambiguous occurrence, Youssef dropped out of the race due to an alleged muscle tear. Carlos encouraged Youssef to see a doctor, but Youssef had disappeared. He didn’t reply to any of Carlos’ texts or calls after that.
Carlos soon found out that Youssef owed another man, named Rayner, upwards of $60,000. Rayner came with Youssef to the Atacama Crossing and gave Youssef a small fortune for athletic apparel and real estate investment. When Rayner demanded his money back from Youssef, Youssef took Rayner on a convoluted and dangerous walking route to the lawyer’s office. When Rayner bent down to tie his shoelaces, Youssef attempted to hit Rayner over the head with a stick. The two men battled—Youssef attacking and Rayner defending—and Rayner eventually cracked his head on a rock. If it weren’t for some bystanders, the attack could have been deadly. Youssef gave Rayner an I.O.U. note and begged him to keep the attack a secret.
Rocío soon realized: wherever Youssef went, he conned someone out of money. He typically conned people surrounding marathons or property investments. The conning Youssef pulled off in Denmark was eventually written about in the newspaper Hvidovre Avis. When he lived in Denmark, he was arrested once, and had outstanding warrants for arson, embezzlement, forgery, and fraud.
Rocío also realized something else after talking to Rayner. After Youssef had physically attacked the man he owed thousands of dollars, the conman had remained in Chile. There was any number of reasons for him to flee, as he was potentially facing assault, fraud and embezzlement charges. But instead of bolting the country, he’d stayed put. Because of this, Rocío suspected Youssef was still in Chile. He wouldn’t run—fittingly, he actually never ran in the races he claimed he would run—instead, he would hide.
Rocío eventually heard from Youssef’s sister. She said, “He has destroyed our lives. He has always been like this. My mother, brother, and I don’t have any contact with him.” It turned out that Youssef was from Beirut. He was Lebanese. He pretended to be Palestinian to exploit people. Furthermore, he wasn’t a good runner; he never actually completed a marathon, and his tales of training were phony. Rocío told Callie all of this, and they agreed that they should try to bait him with money.
A razor-sharp lawyer, Rocío learned that Youssef had contacted an ex-girlfriend to ask her for money—apparently claiming he needed it to have a leg amputated! The attorney hatched a plan to wire Youssef the money and have the police on hand to arrest the murderous conman. It was a good and simple plan. But Youssef was a shrewd, slippery character. And he threw a wrench in her plans.
Berríos discovered Youssef was going to send Taiwanese man Lin Chia-Min to pick up the cash instead from the wire-transfer office. Luckily, a Chilean investigator, Nelson Contreras, found Chia-Min’s address and send police to stake him out. When he went to a Chilexpress office, cops where on his tail. They spotted a familiar man waiting for Chia-Min on the sidewalk. It was Youssef. And he was finally under arrest—two days before Callie’s 24th birthday!
He had been hiding at a hotel within miles of the house he shared with Callie, just within plain sight. At the time of his arrest, Youssef hadn’t even paid for his hotel expenses. He had been there for two weeks. When the PDI searched his hotel room, the hotel concierge was shocked to discover she’d been housing a violent fraudster. Youssef, she said, had always been so sweet. “Who’s going to pay for the room?” she wondered. The investigators laughed: “Not us!” But it wasn’t really that funny. She was another victim in Youssef’s endless string of cons.
After being analyzed by a psychologist, it was revealed that Youssef “displays narcissist, paranoid, and asocial traits. He lacks empathy, and his relationship with others is instrumental.” He was a psychopath. Seemingly without conscience, he did whatever he wanted as long as it benefited himself. He had no problem with exploiting others, or even endangering them.
In 2012, Berríos and Callie went to trial against Youssef at Centro de Justicia in Santiago. He had already been in jail, and Callie hoped that his ragged appearance would give her solace. She was shocked when Youssef entered the courtroom wearing Under Armour athletic wear. He was still in shape; had he been working out in prison? Callie felt no solace. Thankfully, Berríos expertly prepared her case, and Youssef was sentenced to 541 days in prison for attempted murder, as well as an additional 61 days for fraud. Now, Callie could breathe. Justice, or some semblance of it, was served.
Even though Youssef was in prison, it turned out that he had charmed his way into extra privileges to train behind bars. He had the audacity to con—even in prison. In 2013, less than a year after the trial, he was on the front pages of Las Últimas Noticias for participating in a sports rehabilitation program for inmates. Frank Lobos, a Chilean soccer player and the director of the rehab program, convinced the prison board to let Youssef participate in a marathon while still serving his sentence. For most, prison would be a time to reflect on one’s ill deeds. For Youssef, it was just any other time, full of people to take advantage of.
As time went on, and Youssef was out of prison, he didn’t stop conning. After being imprisoned, he fled to Costa Rica where he conned a Canadian tourist. He was going by the name Joseph Carter when he met Sheena Taylor, a Canadian on vacation, and launched his typical scam artist charm-offensive—beguiling her with claims he had served with the Danish military forces.
Unfortunately, for Sheena, she believed his endless stream of fantasy, calling the meeting “love at first sight.” The tourist told reporters: " I liked his charisma, he was generous and I thought he was an interesting man, which captivated me. In the evening he took me to the beach where he wanted to kiss me, he asked me to stay one more week so he could take pictures while training.”
During their seventeen days together, Youssef was very romantic at times. In between murmuring sweet nothings, he also bought her clothes. But he also exhibited a violent streak, threatening to kill her, even suffocating her with a pillow just for show. But clearly, he had his eye on Sheena’s money. "When I went to the ATM Khater accompanied me on several occasions,” she said, noting that the probably saw her PIN number at some point. “Days later I went to the bank to check my account and noticed that there were several withdrawals that I had never made.” $17,000 worth of transactions, as it turned out.
Callie continued to follow Youssef, frightened that he might find her once out of prison. When Callie read about how he wronged Sheena, she emailed her. She wrote, “My name is Callie Quinn. I am not sure if you are familiar with who I am, but I was also a victim of Youssef. . . . I don’t want to presume your feelings at this time. All I know is how I felt after the fact and perhaps you share some of these sentiments. I felt foolish. I felt duped. I was embarrassed. . . . But this is not how I should have felt and I no longer do. As victims, we are now given the responsibility to do what we can to prevent him from continuing.”
However, the question of prevention is difficult in cases involving psychopaths. Rocío noted, “Chileans feel there’s no point in punishment if there’s no hope that someone can get better, and we cannot punish the person for who he is. The only punishment we can accept is for past conduct. We cannot put a person in custody because he will commit more crimes.” Each country handles mentally ill perpetrators differently, but in Chile and the United States, the life sentence for a psychopath is limited to forty years. Unfortunately, women like Callie and Sheena may never find relief.
While in Costa Rica, Youssef struck up another predatory friendship. This time with a man named Todd Flanders, a Texan who had relocated to Costa Rica and opened an electronics store. A warm, jovial man, Flanders was an ideal mark for Youssef. Even though Flanders—known locally as “Super Gringo,” was separating from his wife and fighting for custody of their two-year-old twins, he took the time to help Youssef and ordered him $3,500 worth of Under Armor training gear—which, of course, was never repaid. Eventually, Flanders helped broke and broken-hearted Taylor get back to Canada. He also papered the town with photos of Youssef denouncing him as a con man. But the man people called “Super Gringo,” eventually ran out of steam. Evidently depressed over his domestic troubles—and no doubt frustrated by Youssef’s betrayal—he hanged himself.
That news left Callie furious. Even years after the attack, she still must cope with the memory of the attack and the fact that Youssef remains at large, ready to use and abuse—and possibly kill—anyone who crosses his path. “He needs to be institutionalized,” she said. “I acknowledge that what he does is basically out of his control, but he needs to be under supervision for the rest of his life in some capacity.” If Youssef rots in prison for the rest of his life, Callie admits, she will shed no tears. Absolutely none. “If that’s in jail, and it’s a horrible condition for him, that’s fine by me,” she continued. “I want him to have a horrible, difficult life. I don’t feel bad saying that.”
In 2015, Youssef was pictured running in the 20th Marathon Costa Rica. In the photo, he’s with a woman. His new Facebook is under the name Josef Maria. He was reportedly in a relationship with the woman and presumably living in Costa Rica. It’s impossible to know whether or not Youssef has evolved, or if he will con and endanger his new girlfriend. But it doesn’t seem likely. Although Youssef stayed out of the news for two years, in January 2017, he was arrested in Costa Rica. The Tico Times reported that Youssef was apprehended “when the National Police Force and Tourism Police detained him Tuesday (January 3) in Puerto Viejo, on Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast, on accusations of fraud.” Three days later, the paper reported the con man had been released. The slithery trickster apparently talked his way out of trouble one more time.