Why Do People Kill?

It’s a simple question, but people have been struggling to find the answer for centuries.MH900202201  In last week’s blog I discussed the core legal definition of murder but asked this very question as I researched the subject.

And law enforcement officials are burdened with this question as they search for the core reason why a person commits murder. It’s an important legal step in determining how the accused will be charged with, and eventually convicted of, the crime.

In this enlightened age of science and technology, there are numerous methods to identify a murderer and to determine how the murderous deed was accomplished, but the “Why” of killing still baffles manyProfiling a murderer has gained much ground as a science, but it falls short of definitively answering the question, “Why do some kill to accomplish a specific goal and others choose less lethal methods?”

It’s been documented that the central reasons people kill are for POWER and CONTROL.  Yet we have many influential, successful professionals who don’t murder and never say, “The devil made me do it”.

MH900387938Of the numerous personality disorders, statistics show that almost 50% of Americans fit into one or more of the anti-social personality disorder classifications at one time in their lives.  So is it a coincidence that the US has the highest rate of serial killers than any other country in the world?  But what makes specific people turn to murder?

Dr. Pete Ash states that people decide to kill because of a psychological build-up of physical or emotional trauma over time.  He further states that the initial triggers are numerous but considers the major ones are fear, anger, desperation, greed and religious fanaticism.

A noted criminologist, Dr. Lonnie Athens, believes that no one is born a bad person.  HeMH900442299 states that psychopaths are not born; they are created.  He further states that mental illness is often not a factor in killing people, an opinion shared by special agents in the FBI’s Behavioral Science Unit (BSU).    Dr. Athens concludes that some brutalization in the killer’s lives (possibly the triggers suggested in Dr. Ash’s research) is responsible for the initiation of the specific psychopathology.

Dr. Ash also explains that these initial triggers can be exacerbated when ones natural inhibitions are removed (as with alcohol or mind-altering drugs).  For instance, an otherwise rational person could act out inappropriate anger in the form of road rage while under the influence of a psychotropic drug.

Dr. Paul Mattiuzzi has lectured that individual personality traits play a key role in how MH900438653certain triggers can evolve into acts of violence and murder.  Chronically aggressive individuals as well as those with opposite traits, such as overly suppressed hostility, can react similarly in threatening situations.  And those that are emotionally resentful from a past severe hurt or trauma can become similarly and inappropriately aggressive in specific situations.

So we have to dig deeper to find the emotional triggers that motivate people to murder.  A person may not like his or her significant other, but why does one seek a separation or divorce while another plans a murder?  Why does one person work harder to outperform a competitive coworker while another plans an intricate murder?  Does it all come down to an evolution of a personality disorder?  That certainly makes for interesting murder mystery writing, but is there more involved?

Last week’s blog suggested that three factors influence a person to kill: genetics, brain malfunctions and various forms of abuse. Experts in criminology usually agree that a specific event in a killer’s life triggers the psychology that eventually preoccupies the mind to act out criminally.  And without proper psychological and pharmaceutical intervention, the need for a specific inappropriate act can eventually becomes an obsession.  This is what leads to the development of major criminals, and certainly serial killers.

The mind and its manipulation, either intentionally or accidentally, is interesting subject matter and allows for unique character development. And it’s those unusual characters that make a story interesting and give value to you as their creator.

Thoughts? Comments? I’d love to hear them!

About James J. Murray, Fiction Writer

With experience in both pharmaceutical manufacturing and clinical patient management, medications and their impact on one’s quality of life have been my expertise. My secret passion of murder and mayhem, however, is a whole other matter. I’ve always loved reading murder mysteries and thrillers, and longed to weave such tales of my own. Drawing on my clinical expertise as a pharmacist and my infatuation with the lethal effects of drugs, my tales of murder, mayhem and medicine will have you looking over your shoulder and suspicious of anything in your medicine cabinet.
This entry was posted in a killer gene, About James J. Murray, About Writing, Character Development Techniques, Characteristics of Killing, Characteristics of Murder, Defining Murder, Murder is Defined, Reasons Why People Kill, Reasons Why People Murder, Story Development, The Definition of Murder, The Psychology of Murder, The Science of Murder, The Warrior Gene, Why People Kill and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

24 Responses to Why Do People Kill?

  1. Being in possession of an ex-wife, I’m a bit of an authority on this subject, and I can tell you that abuse or mistreatment is definitely in the running. Even well-(at least moderately)balanced, sane, middle-of-the-road Joe-Blows can be driven to do the unthinkable (or at least ponder it very seriously), by harsh, insensitive treatment over the course of years. And I think sometimes the choice of mayhem over divorce might be a choice for revenge, or just a need to purge some of the pent-up rage. Just sayin’ 🙂
    Great read, my brother…

    Thomas Rydder

  2. Jim,
    Don’t forget boredom as a “reason” for murder (http://www.latimes.com/nation/nationnow/la-na-nn-oklahoma-australia-20130820,0,1628182.story). We have to beware of a society that pre-punishes people because they might do something really bad. Take everybody’s guns away because a few people use guns to kill. Check everybody for the “aggressive gene” and monitor or even imprison those who have it. Ditto for everybody who has been abused or who has certain “brain malfunctions.” As we have found in countless cases, just labeling someone or a group as having a trait can greatly influence the future of that individual or group, usually with bad results.
    For a novelist, these conversations are fascinating, helping writers create the tension and believable hidden motivations for a character’s actions. For a society, scientific explorations of these topics may lead to a better understanding of human behavior at the large scale, and hopefully to programs that tackle some of the underlying issues that exacerbate bad behavior: education, jobs, opportunity. We need to prevent programs that lead to the pre-punishment of the individual “just in case.”

  3. Pingback: Why Do People Kill? A fascinating artcle (and maybe a story idea or two), from Jim Murray at Prescription For Murder | Thomas Rydder

  4. Jean Huffman says:

    Your post has convinced me I have a lot more work to do on my villains’ backstory, the reasons why they kill. Thanks for the article!

  5. Once again, an enlightening post well worth taking the time to peruse — and instructive for those of us who write mysteries and thrillers. Thanks, James. BTW — your new photo looks great!

  6. kc says:

    Very interesting. I tried to get inside the minds of killers (true crimes) in my small town: 2 were serial killers: 8 died and 4 were ruled suicides even though they were not. http://amzn.com/B00DNPPUNQ

  7. Hi James. I’m not sure whether the US has a higher proportion of people disposed to serial killing than other countries. However, it does appear that in the US these people have much easier access to the weapons that enable them to carry out these acts.

  8. Hi Charles:
    Statistics show that serial killings in the US are up and it may well be b/c of easier access to weapons. Those statistics are not as clear, but one can assume…
    BTW: Loved your novel and I highly recommend it to my readers. I just finished it and will post a review that will please you very shortly.
    To my readers: Here’s the link to Charles’ novel “Retribution”: http://viewbook.at/Retribution It’s a good read and if you like thrillers, you won’t be disappointed. See my review.

    • A friend and reader of this blog just sent me some updated information on weapons statistics in the US after reading my comments to Charles.

      “The United States is 3rd in murders throughout the World.
      But if you take out Chicago, Detroit, Washington D.C. and New Orleans, the United States is 4th from the bottom for murders.
      These 4 cities also have the toughest gun control laws in the United States.”

      Thanks, Walt, for the insight and I’m posting this to share with the rest of my readers. All the best!

    • MU says:

      No, one cannot assume. Access to guns does not make people kill, at least not any more than access to other weapons (e.g. knives) drives a person to murder. Look at the recent mass killings by murderers using knives (e.g. Kunming, China, Pittsburgh, PA, etc). People bent on killing will find a way to kill, whether their access to weapons is limited or not.

      • Thanks for your comments, Matthew. This is a subject that continually is discussed around the world – and neuroscientists continually dig for answers. All the best!

      • I agree with you Matthew. People bent on killing will find a way to kill. What a gun does is ‘depersonalize’ the act of killing. It can be done at a distance. It makes the whole act easier to carry through, and more likely to happen. Owning a gun (and having the right to carry it around) makes ‘mass killings’ simpler to carry out. [Incidentally, Walt’s observation above, about the US being ‘4th from bottom for murders,’ would only be valid if you do the same for ALL countries around the world (e.g. take out London, Birmingham, Manchester and Liverpool from the UK’s figures before comparing them with the US figures minus those for Chicago, Detroit, Washington D.C. and New Orleans). Then see where the Unites States appears on that list. That would be a very interesting list.]

  9. Pingback: Predictive Punishment | wrLapinsky's Blog

    • Check out Walt’s recent post on the future of computer technology. Such technology can be both a blessing and a curse. AND if you are a conspiracy theorist, it could be downright scary. If you’re a writer, maybe the subject matter in some of Walt’s blogs may give you interesting subject matter for an intriguing plot of murder and mayhem!

  10. Chyna says:

    The world scares me…literally. Idk what makes a person or drives a person to kill. Its simple rage and evil, if you ask me. Why would anything be easier by killing someone close? Likewise, what type of rush or fascination fulfilled can one obtain for taking random people’s lives? I just dont get it. I am perplexed beyond confused. It actually makes me want to stay indoors, never to integrate in the world because if it doesn’t break you down and kill you, it spawns humans who kill for anger or thrill. That’s too scary

    • I wish I had the answers to some of the question you raise, Chyna, but this subject can be perplexing at times. The good news is that such people only represent a small portion of an otherwise healthy, well-adjusted population. Thanks for sharing.

      • Dominic Colgan says:

        I agree with the above comment.Murder is rare. A violent reaction is more understandable but the desire to actually terminate another human life ,especially randomly ,is evidence of a deep psychosis and is only comprehensible through deep psychological analysis.
        Staying indoors is an over reaction and I hate to say it but a murderer could break in anyway. The USA,South Africa and the West Indies have the Worlds highest murder rates and guess what it is extremely easy to possess a gun.It doesnt take the famous rocket scientist to put those two facts together !!!!!!!

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