It’s a simple question, but people have been struggling to find the answer for centuries. 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 many. Profiling 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”.
Of 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. He 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 certain 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!