Studyofmurder's Blog

The Study of Murder Course – Part IA

Posted in Uncategorized by studyofmurder on February 6, 2018


The words “Murder” and “Homicide” are often used interchangeably but they are two different terms.  “Homicide” is the killing of one person by another.  This killing could be lawful (i.e. a police officer shoots and kills a bank robber in self-defense) or it might be unlawful (that same bank robber shoots and kills the police officer).  Either way, a homicide is the killing of one person by another.  A “Murder” is the unlawful killing of one person by another.  Not all homicides are murders, but just about every murder is a homicide.

There are also several legal forms of homicide/murder.  There is “Second Degree” murder where the murder is not generally planned but is the result of a spontaneous event (like an argument at a bar over a sporting event) and there are lesser forms such as Voluntary Manslaughter and Involuntary Manslaughter, neither of which necessarily require any intent to kill.

For “The Study of Murder” the focus will be on intentional murder and it will be presumed in the cases discussed that there was a specific intent to commit murder.



A significant part of this course is the examination of the MOTIVATION for murder.  Put simply, there are no such things as accidental murders. For one thing, an accident is just that….an accident, and generally not an act that is against the law.  If I’m driving my car down the street at or below the posted speed limit and if I’m sober, properly licensed and not violating any other laws and a dog darts out into traffic and I strike the dog that, while an unfortunate event, is an accident, not a crime.

It is important to remember that every person who intentionally murders another person has a motive.  If you haven’t already read one of my earlier blogs on why I believe that people don’t “snap” then I encourage you do so so before going any further (farther?).  The primary goal of this course is to help you in understanding an offender’s motive since, by understanding the motive, it is that much easier for an investigator to identify the offender and/or to interview the offender and obtain a confession.

Another important distinction to make is between the terms “Insanity” and “Mental Illness.”  Not all mentally ill individuals are insane and the mentally ill are capable of planning and carrying out murders.

Insanity is basically when someone has a break with reality.  Their mental illness is so severe that they are unable to distinguish between right and wrong and, subsequently, just as unable to carefully plan and carry out a murder.  Often, when they do commit a murder, it is unplanned, extremely violent and disorganized.

Mental illness, however, can take many forms.  A person can be depressed, bipolar, schizophrenic, etc. yet still have the ability to develop and carry out a plan to commit murder. On April 16, 2007, Seung-hui Cho committed a mass murder at Virginia Tech where he killed 32 people and wounded 17 others.  He had a history dating back to his high school days of mental illness yet he planned, over a several month period, a detailed methodology for carrying out his attack.  Mentally ill? Yes.  Insane? No.  Responsible legally for his actions? Absolutely.

Television and the movies have created a stereotype of serial killers especially that makes them appear evil and insane.  Heath Ledger’s “Joker” in the Batman movie and Anthony Hopkins’ Hannibal Lecter in “Silence of the Lambs” portrays individuals on the brink of sanity struggling hard to hold it together.

One of the hardest parts of this course, for me, is to try and convince sane, rational, good people such as you that sane, rational but evil people exist in this world who are visually indistinguishable from the rest of us. Never assume that evil is insane and never assume that evil has a conscience.

We’ll discuss more important terminology when we meet again to discuss violent crime.

As always, I welcome your questions and/or your feedback.



The Las Vegas Shooting – Observations Based on Limited Information

Posted in Uncategorized by studyofmurder on October 2, 2017

As I write this, law enforcement investigators and behavioral analysts are trying to determine  the motivation behind mass murderer Stephen Paddock, 64, who opened fire on concert goers last night killing at least 58 people and wounding in excess of 500 more.  Already, the various television and cable tv networks have begun their parade of “talking heads,” most of them retired law enforcement officers, who have been providing their expert opinions on what may have happened.

Based on the limited information available, here are my “expert” opinions.



It is all too easy for reporters, politicians and bystanders to refer to the shooter as “crazy” or “insane.”  The first point I want to make is that there is a difference between “insane” and “mentally ill.”  It will probably come out that Paddock was, in fact, mentally ill but he was clearly not insane.  Most legal definitions of insanity state that an insane person cannot differentiate between right and wrong.  Most fatal attacks involving people who were later determined to be insane at the time of the attack revealed a person who acted spontaneously and with little or no planning.  Clearly, this is not the case in Las Vegas.

Paddock somehow had to get a hotel room high enough and on the correct side of the Mandalay Bay hotel for him to carry out his attack.  And, of course, he had to be there when there was a target-rich environment (concert) rather than just a few hotel guests for him to shoot. He then had to (probably) make several trips through the lobby carrying innocuous looking suitcases containing his firearms and lots of ammunition.  He also (probably) came prepared with a device of some sort that would allow him to break out the substantial hotel windows that were undoubtedly made to resist being broken out.

Paddock planned this attack.  He had the tactical advantages of height, darkness, and surprise.  He had overwhelming firepower (one video I saw sounded like automatic weapons were used).  He also knew he was going to die.  Again, Paddock was possibly mentally ill but he was not insane.



There are several different identified types of mass murderers.  A quick examination of them might help us identify Paddock’s typology and, thus, try and understand his motivation.

The Ideological Mass Murderer – these murders are carried out in the furtherance of some religious and/or political cause. ISIS has already tried to claim responsibility, saying that he converted to Islam a few months ago but, in technical terms, that’s bullshit.  So far there has been ZERO evidence linking this to any religious motivation.  While there might be a political motivation (we just don’t know yet) that seems unlikely to me at this point.

The Disgruntled Employee – this murderer attacks former or current employers/co-workers due to some disagreement in the workplace.  Unless there is some as yet unknown connection between the offender and Jason Aldean or his entourage, this also seems unlikely.

The Family Annihilator – this is the most common mass murderer but one who selects family members to murder.  Again, highly unlikely.

The Psychotic Mass Murderer – this is someone with extreme mental health issues.  He will kill spontaneously as the voices in his head command him to.  Again, not likely.

The Disgruntled Citizen – this is an individual who is “mad at the world.”  He blames the government and/or society at large for his problems and finally decides to make a violent and deadly statement.  That statement is often, “This is what you made me do.”  A recent news report regarding the offender said that, according to his brother, Paddock had recently “retired to Las Vegas because he liked to gamble.”  Could this be a motive?  Could Paddock have gotten so deeply in debt that he began blaming the casinos (remember where this shooting took place) for his financial difficulties?  At this point, this seems most likely to me.



Remember, this post is based on INCOMPLETE information based on SWAG analysis (Sophisticated Wild-Ass Guess).  I am no more informed than most, if not all, of the “talking heads” I mentioned earlier.  More information will come out and it might be that I am completely off track.  That happens all the time with INDUCTIVE analysis.

This was indeed another tragedy.  Sadly, it will not be the last.

“The Study of Murder” Course – Continued

Posted in Uncategorized by studyofmurder on July 12, 2017

For more than fifteen years I taught a course at Santa Barbara City College entitled, “The Study of Murder.” The primary focus of the course was to try and provide my students with an insight into the motivation of an offender. This was done by examining developmental behavior in violent, as well as sexually-motivated, offenders as well as looking at both serial killers and mass murderers.

I retired from Santa Barbara City College at the end of the Spring, 2017, semester. Since that time my wife and I have moved to another state and are currently settling into our new home.

And I need something to do….

So, over the next several months, I will be creating blog entries that outline and discuss some of the key lectures from my “Study of Murder” class. I will do my best to provide appropriate citations for the information and research I write about, but I will apologize ahead of time for some of the references that may have been lost over the past 15+ years.

Don’t expect a set schedule. After all, I am retired and I am a golfer.

I will also still take the opportunity to comment about current cases that I feel are interesting, or demonstrative of specific behaviors.

I hope to interact with you along the way.


Tom Mahoney

Beyond The News Story – A Tragedy Prevented

Posted in Uncategorized by studyofmurder on March 27, 2015

First, let’s look at the story:

Condoms, K-Y Jelly, a pistol and more: Police say Rock Hill man was spying on children in bushes

Rock Hill, South Carolina – March 24, 2015 – Written by James Brierton, Web Producer/Digital Journalist

A man carrying rope, condoms and a stolen weapon – found hiding in a bush –  was arrested Monday for allegedly spying on female students at a nearby bus stop, according to a Rock Hill Police Department incident report.

Concerned neighbors called 911 after they saw Michael Mobley, 25, hiding along Chestnut Street, according to the report.  It appeared that he was watching children at a bus stop.

Mobley told responding officers that he was waiting for a friend.  He then fled from police when asked if he was carrying a weapon.

Officers caught up with Mobley and placed him into custody.  They recovered a stolen handgun, a pair of latex gloves, yellow rope, three condoms, a tube of K-Y Jelly, a box cutter, a black beanie and a cell phone.  He is facing charges including possession of a stolen weapon, unlawful possession of a weapon and resisting arrest.

Michael Mobley

Michael Mobley

Analyzing the Story

Now, let’s ask ourselves just what this story actually told us and what tragedy might have been prevented by the neighbors who called police.  It should be noted here that the following is speculation on my part.  I have no additional information on this specific case.  What I am about to do is to create a criminal profile of what Mr. Mobley might have been planning to do based on his actions and his possessions at the time of his arrest.  Other media reports on this case indicate that Mobley has a prior criminal record but they do not indicate what the record is for.

Organized v. Disorganized – Organized offenders are relatively intelligent and take the time to plan and carry out their offenses.  Disorganized offenders are often spontaneous and, as a result, leave behind evidence that get them caught fairly quickly. Mr. Mobley clearly is an organized offender.  He was probably preparing to act out a violent, sexual fantasy that he had been mentally rehearsing and masturbating to for some time.  He had reached the point where he had decided to bring his fantasy to life.

Act-Focused v. Process-Focused – Act-focused offenders murder quickly and get it over with; all they want is for the victim to die.  Process-focused offenders, on the other hand, get pleasure and sexual satisfaction from the process of killing their victims.  The longer they can draw out their victim’s pain and suffering, the more they enjoy it.  Several of the items that Mr. Mobley had with him, and I will go over them one-by-one, suggest that he is a process-focused offender.

Ideal Victim Type – sexually-motivated offenders generally seek out a victim who matches the one that exists in their sexual fantasies.  Some of these victim types are general (i.e. female, mid-20’s) and some of them are very specific right down to hair color, body type, attire, etc.  In this case, some media reports have suggested that Mr. Mobley was hiding in the bushes watching young girls.  Absent statements by Mobley affirming this analysis, this might be an erroneous assumption.  Sure, most male serial killers attack females.  But not all.  Wesley Allan Dodd was a male serial killer in Washington State who, in the early 90s, specifically fantasized and preyed upon young boys.  He tortured and raped them before killing them.  It might very well be that Mobley, in this case, was seeking a young boy as his victim rather than a female.  Follow-up investigation on the part of detectives may determine this.

Mobley’s Possessions – now let’s take a look at what Mobley had with him when he was arrested and what they might tell us about what he had planned for his victim.

The Handgun – there’s no secret here.  The purpose of the handgun was to intimidate and control his victim.  Any child would be afraid of a menacing adult with a handgun.

The Boxcutter – This item had a different function: terror.  While the gun was to be used for control, the boxcutter was intended to terrorize his victim with its blade.  Mobley may have been planning to use it to cut off his victim’s clothing or to inflict cutting wounds on the victim’s body, especially in sexually significant areas.  Mobley wanted his victim, while he or she was alive, to grow more and more terrified.  It was about fear and the total domination over another human being.

 The Yellow Rope – this would be used to bind and control his victim while Mobley transported the child to wherever he intended to carry out his sexual fantasy. News reports indicated that Mobley lived in Rock Hill.  I would be interested in just how far away from the actual scene of the arrest he lived.  Would he be able to carry his victim to a nearby house or apartment or would he need a car?

Latex Gloves – this is a clear indication, among others, that Mobley is an organized offender.  He is well aware of the fact that his fingerprints are on file from previous arrests and, if they were discovered in connection with his current victim, he would be immediately identified.  The gloves are primarily to protect his identity.

The Condoms – this is another indication of organization and intelligence.  South Carolina has a law that allows the collection of DNA from offenders.  Mobley knew his DNA was on file and was planning on using the condoms to prevent his subsequent identification.

The K-Y Jelly – whether his intended victim was a young girl or a young boy Mobley knew that either vaginal or anal penetration of such a small child would require lubrication.  The K-Y Jelly was for his comfort.

The Planned Offense – this is more difficult to speculate on with any great detail.  It seems reasonable to me, though, that Mobley went to the bus stop with the intention of identifying and capturing a small child that met his Ideal Victim Type in his sexual fantasy.  He planned on taking this victim to a pre-determined location where he would have the time to carry out his violent sexual fantasy before ultimately killing the child and disposing of the body.

The Offender Typology – this is also a bit difficult but, if the rest of my analysis is correct, I believe that Mobley might fall under the category of Thrill Serial Killer.  The Thrill offender receives his sexual satisfaction from instilling fear and dependency in his victims.  He is into intimidation and both physical and psychological terror.  Also, while I realize that we do not, as yet, have any information that Mobley has killed before (and he may not have), my assessment of him as a serial killer is based on what I believe were his future intentions.  Had he killed once, he would have killed again.

There is no doubt in my mind that the observations and reporting of the neighbors, coupled with a quick police response, may have saved the life of a young child.  Unfortunately, Mobley cannot be prosecuted for what he was planning to do and he’s probably much too smart to discuss his sexual fantasies with detectives.  He will be prosecuted for the possession of the stolen gun and, hopefully, sent away for a long time.  If he is released, however, his violent sexual fantasies will still be there, and the local authorities need to be well aware of his presence as a further threat to children.

As always, I welcome your responses.


UPDATE:  On October 29, 2015, Mobley plead guilty to weapons, stolen property, and drug charges.  He received four years in prison.  At his sentencing hearing the prosecutor stated that, “A tragedy has been prevented.”  I agree.  But this potential tragedy will be back on the streets within the next four years.  I don’t think he’s finished with his fantasies.

The Ferguson, MO shooting of Michael Brown and What Might Have Happened

Posted in Uncategorized by studyofmurder on August 18, 2014

Let me first preface this blog with the caveat that everything I write about the shooting of Michael Brown will be based upon limited media reports.  I have not had access to any official law enforcement documents so some of my “facts” may be in error.  With that said….

I was a police officer for more than 24 years.  During that period of time I was (earlier in my career) involved in an officer-involved shooting where the suspect died and (later in my career) involved in conducting officer-involved shooting investigations.


Prior to becoming a police officer I served in the U.S. Marine Corps for four years.  Later, I completed a boot camp-like police academy before going on patrol.  I was well-trained and accurate in the use of my pistol.  My partner that evening has served in the U.S. Army in Viet Nam and was a decorated combat veteran.  You would think, therefore, that we would at all times be cool, calm and collected.  Guess again.

Shortly after midnight on March 7, 1975, we stopped our police car to investigate what appeared to be the burglary of a motor home parked on the street. We approached the motor home and saw some movement in nearby bushes.  We ordered the suspect to come out of the bushes and he started firing a .38 caliber pistol at us.  At one level, I responded to my training.  I pulled my pistol, took cover, and returned fire.  At another level, I was in a form of shock as I, for the first time in my life, confronted my own mortality.  When it was over (the suspect, though mortally wounded, had run out of bullets and yelled “I give up!”) my partner and I called for back-up.  At the time, I could not recollect, nor could my partner remember, how many shots we had fired (I had fired five; he had fired six).  My point in all of this is that, in such moments of crisis, training can take over and control an officer’s actions while reasoned, calm thinking can take a short vacation.



Years later, as a police Lieutenant, I was part of my department’s Officer-Involved Shooting Team.  I first went through extensive and very specialized training and it was drilled into me over and over that, most importantly, my job was to find the truth.

One of the things that I learned was that it was critical to try and determine the officer’s “state of mind” at the time he or she fired. It really didn’t matter that much what was learned after the shooting occurred about the person who was shot but it was critical to determine what the officer’s perception of reality was when the gun was fired.

As an example…one evening two officers were confronted by a burglary suspect who reached into his waistband and pointed a gun at them when they tried to arrest him.  Their state-of-mind was that they were being confronted by an armed felon and they drew their weapons, fired, and killed the suspect.  Later, it was determined that this suspect had a replica firearm, a pistol that was identical in appearance to a real weapon but, obviously, could not fire any bullets.  While that made the situation a bit more tragic (and confusing….why did he do it?) it did not negate the fact that this was a lawful use of force based upon what the officers were confronted with.



As I said, the “facts” are still in a state of flux and vary depending on which side is telling the tale.  I will first provide the general facts as I know them today and offer a few possible scenarios as to what might have happened.  You can decide for yourself which one you believe is most reasonable, or e-mail me with a different scenario as you see it.

August 9, 2014, 11:51 – A report of a robbery of a convenience store is received by the Ferguson P.D.  A suspect description matching Michael Brown is given.

12:01 – Officer Darren Wilson, 28, encounters Michael Brown, 18, 6’4″ tall and 292#, and a friend of his (who was apparently present at the robbery) Doxian Johnson, 22, walking in the street, blocking traffic.  Shortly thereafter, the shooting occurred.


Scenario #1

Officer Wilson, with no knowledge of the robbery, sees two black males walking in the street and confronts them about this (albeit minor) traffic violation.  Officer Wilson normally wouldn’t bother with this type of behavior, but decided to confront these two males because they are black and Officer Wilson is biased.  While the two young men are fairly cooperative, for some apparent reason Officer Wilson picks on the largest of the two and shoots him unjustifiably.  At the same time, he chooses NOT to shoot Mr. Johnson.  If this is the case, Officer Wilson deserves to go to prison for the rest of his life.


Scenario #2

Officer Wilson, with no knowledge of the robbery, sees two black males walking in the street and confronts them.  Mr. Brown, who has just committed a robbery of a nearby convenience store and believes that Wilson knows about it and is about to arrest him, decides to resist arrest and/or attack Officer Wilson.  Mr. Johnson, it appears, did not attempt to assist Mr. Brown in this hypothetical attack and, as a result, was not the focus of any shooting by Officer Wilson.  Officer Wilson (whose vital statistics are not known to me but whose picture seems to depict an average-sized individual), confronted with a very large and assaultive male, and who arguably was in fear for his life, pulls out his gun and shoots.  Mr. Johnson later said that Mr. Brown’s hands were raised up as if to surrender.  Or were they raised over his head in an attempt to grab him?  I don’t know.  IF Officer Wilson fired because he felt his life was in danger, he is not guilty of any crime and should not be prosecuted.


Scenario #3

This one is far less likely only because of what has been publicly stated by the police department.  Officer Wilson, who has heard about the recent robbery, sees Mr. Brown, who answers the description of the suspect and attempted to detain/arrest him.  Mr. Brown resisted arrest and/or attempted to grab the officer’s gun at which point, Officer Wilson, confronted by a very large and assaultive felony suspect and in fear for his life, shoots and kills Mr. Brown.


I don’t know, exactly, what happened.  We may never really know.  What I ask my students to do is to work past the rhetoric and seek out the facts and then apply common sense.  Is this about race or is it about the unfortunate decision of a young man to fight a police officer to avoid going to jail?

There’s a lot we don’t know about Michael Brown and even more that we don’t know about Officer Wilson.  Perhaps he has a personnel file full of complaints of racial discrimination.  Or, just as likely, he has a file full of commendations for excellent performance of his duties.  There will, at least, be a civil lawsuit (I’m sure that planeloads of lawyers have been parachuting in since the 10th of August) and, perhaps, Officer Wilson will be prosecuted.  In either case, the contents of his personnel file will likely become a part of the public record.

Think about the scenarios that I have suggested.  Which one makes the most sense to you?  I’d love to hear from you.

Officer Involved Shootings and Dead Children

Posted in Uncategorized by studyofmurder on October 26, 2013

Two Sheriff’s deputies in Santa Rosa, California came upon what they initially radioed to their dispatcher as a “suspicious person.”  This person was wearing a hooded sweatshirt at 3:14 p.m. on Tuesday, October 22nd.  The person’s back was to the deputies but it appeared that he was carrying an AK-47 assault rifle.  Both deputies, believing this person was armed and dangerous, took cover behind their patrol vehicle.  One of the deputies, (confirmed by witnesses) twice ordered the person to drop the weapon.  For some reason we will probably never understand, the 13-year old boy holding the replica AK-47 then turned towards the deputies.  One deputy, fearing for his life and the life of his partner, opened fire and killed the boy.  Later it was discovered that the boy, Andy Lopez, was also carrying a toy handgun in his waistband.  The AK-47 turned out to be an airsoft pellet gun.

Throughout the area, people are asking why this young man had to die.  The FBI is conducting a separate investigation into the shooting.  Both deputies, as policy dictates, have been placed on administrative leave during these investigations.

At the website “Fact Sheet About Toy Guns” ( there are over 70 cases going back to 1983 where children have either been shot by police for threatening them with toy guns or who have themselves used toy guns to commit violent crimes.  Many of these stories are tragedies but not because the cops made mistakes, but because the young people did.

In my law enforcement career I was trained to investigate officer-involved shootings and had the opportunity to conduct several such investigations.  In fact, one case involved a 16-year old who burglarized a high school office late one night and stole, among other things, a replica revolver.  While fleeing he was confronted by two police officers.  His immediate response was to draw this replica revolver and point it at the officers who shot and killed him.  Maybe he thought the revolver was real (it certainly looked identical to a real revolver), or maybe he thought he could scare the officers.  We’ll never know.

In attempting to determine whether or not an officer-involved shooting was justified the most important thing to ascertain is the “state of mind” of the officer(s) at the time of the shooting.  The fact that the gun turned out to be a toy is interesting and adds to the tragedy of the situation, but it is ultimately irrelevant in determining whether the officers were justified or not in the use of deadly force.

In the Santa Rosa case there are certain facts that appear to be undisputed:

1.  The officers saw a person they believed to be carrying a high-powered assault weapon, a 7.62mm AK-47.

2.  So concerned were the officers for their safety that they took refuge behind their police vehicle while ordering the person to drop the weapon.

3.  The shots that killed Andy Lopez were in his thigh and chest….in other words, it appear as though he was facing the officers at the time they fired.

Teen carrying replica rifle shot by police


Look at these two weapons.  The one on the left is a real AK-47 and the one on the right is the “toy” replica that Andy Lopez was carrying and apparently pointed towards the officers.

Much is being made about the fact that the deputy who fired at Andy did so only 10 seconds after he notified dispatch of the suspicious person.  Trust me when I say that 10 seconds is an eternity if you believe someone is pointing a loaded weapon at you.

Others believe that the officers should have been able to tell the difference between the “toy” replica and a real AK-47.  It took me a few seconds looking at this picture before I could tell the difference and not one was pointing it at me.  And my adrenaline wasn’t pumping.

Some say that this child did not have to die and I agree.  He could have dropped the weapon when ordered to and he would still be alive.  I’m assuming that his parents bought him that “toy” pellet gun so they must assume part of the blame for giving such a weapon to a 13-year old and letting him take it outside.

Andy Lopez’s death is a tragedy but a tragedy that could have been avoided through common-sense on the part of Andy and his parents.  But to blame the deputies for this death is wrong.  They did what they were trained to do and acted within the law and their department policy.

Knowing cops the way I do I can tell you that the deputy who fired at this child and killed him will not be celebrating.  He will not be seeking “high-fives” from his colleagues.  The Deputy will regret this incident for the rest of his life and will always second-guess about what could have been done to save Andy Lopez’s life.

Adam Lanza and the Struggle to Understand Evil

Posted in Uncategorized by studyofmurder on December 29, 2012

On December 14, 2012, Adam Lanza, 20, of Newtown, Connecticut, shot and killed his mother, Nancy while she was sleeping in her bed. He shot her four times at close range. He then drove over to the nearby Sandy Hook Elementary School where he proceeded to shoot and kill 20 students and six adults before taking his own life as the police arrived.
Since then various media outlets have written stories trying to understand why Lanza “snapped” and committed these murders. Lanza has been described as being “dark and disturbed,” “deeply troubled,” and having some form of “developmental disorder.” Others say that he “snapped” because his mother had threatened to have him institutionalized. Now we hear that his DNA is going to be studied to determine if there is a genetic link to extreme violence and/or mental illness.
Just about every reporter or commentator agrees that what Lanza did should be classified as “evil” and that every effort should be made to understand just what could have caused this young man to become “evil.”
First, let me speak to the popular notion that something, or someone, caused Lanza to “snap” just before he began killing. Those of you who have read previous blog entries know that I have a particular disdain for the careless use of the word “snap” to describe violent behavior, especially the violent behavior of a mass murderer or a serial killer.
The use of the word “snap” is a way to take from an offender part of the responsibility for committing the crime. To “snap” is to act without thinking or in some blind rage. In fact, in my opinion, very few violent acts occur when a person is not thinking. I believe that just about every violent act is a decision, something done by choice.
One common response to this theory of mine (and others) is for people to point to the consequences of these actions and ask how any sane, rational person could have made such a decision, knowing what probably would happen. My response is to point out that all of us, at one or more times in our lives, have made decisions that we would happily go back in time and change if we could. Not all “sane” decisions are good ones.
At the beginning of every semester in my “Study of Murder” class I tell my students that one of the most difficult challenges for me is to try and convince good, honest, and law-abiding people such as they that there exists in this world people who are visually indistinguishable from them who commit evil acts for their own reasons, without hesitation, and without remorse. This difficulty for me is compounded by the fact that each and every one of us has our own personal barometer for behaviors we feel are “normal,” “reasonable,” or “acceptable.” When someone does something outside of these norms of ours, especially something violent and harmful, we try to find a way to explain these behaviors in terms that we can understand and accept.
One of the first things we tend to do is to bifurcate our “good” behavior from that of the “bad” behavior of the violent offender. We start to rationalize that, if we are intelligent, logical, and “good” and would never consider committing such a violent act then the only type of person who would commit such a violent act must, therefore, be unintelligent, illogical, and “bad.” We then start to use words such as “sick,” “insane,” or “demented” to explain such an individual’s behavior and, in doing so, begin to remove from the individual the responsibility for having made the decision to commit the violent act. We reason that no “sane” person could have conceived of such a violent action, especially a young person, so something must have been “wrong” with him or her to cause them to act in such a horrific manner.
I do not disagree that there are violent offenders who suffer from some form of mental illness. Not all, of course, but some. Mr. Cho from Virginia Tech, who killed 32 people before taking his own life, had been diagnosed with depression, mutism, and was referred for treatment. Unfortunately, he also suffered from anosognosia, which, in essence, is an individual’s inability to accept that they need psychiatric help and, thus, refuse to seek or accept it.
But Mr. Cho was not “insane.” In fact, his crimes were diabolically planned. He first killed two people at one end of the campus and then, while the police were all gathered there, went to the other end of campus and, after securing the entry doors with pre-cut lengths of chain and padlocks, began to systematically kill students on the second floor of that building. It was later determined that he spent hours on a nearby pistol range practicing his reloading techniques. Like in the Lanza case, Cho killed himself as soon as the police SWAT team made entry into the building. Mr. Cho, however, did not “snap,” he made decisions that, to him, made sense in his life at that time.
Recently, I watched a movie on television. It was a relatively bad re-make of “The Three Musketeers” and I didn’t watch the movie very long. Just before I turned the channel, however, one of the “bad” guys in the movie commented to another of the “bad” guys that something he was planning on doing was “evil.” Bad Guy #2’s response was, I thought, brilliant. “Evil,” he said, “is just a point of view.”
In that one sentence is the essence of understanding behaviors that most of us consider “evil.”
People who commit “evil” acts know the difference between “right” and “wrong,” “legal” and “illegal.” They know the differences, but they don’t care. Whether it’s Timothy McVeigh who, in 1995, blew up the federal building in Oklahoma City murdering 168 people in an attempt to stir up an anti-government revolt or Dennis Rader, the self-described “BTK” serial killer of 10 people whose motive primarily was sexual sadism, there are individuals who are mass murderers, serial killers, rapists, thieves, and others who are all aware of the social and legal limitations of behavior but who just do not accept the fact that those limitations should apply to them. If you want to label these people “evil,” then do so. Just understand that they do not necessarily agree with you.
We may never know why Lanza killed his mother and all of those innocent children and adults. There are many theories and there will undoubtedly be many more expressed in books and criminological journals.
The purpose of this blog, however, is not to explain why he did what he did but, rather, to dispel the notion that it was somehow not really his fault, that he couldn’t help himself. In a word……bullshit.
Lanza gave his actions a lot of thought. He waited until his mother was asleep and helpless before killing her. He then drove to the elementary school armed with four weapons and lots of ammunition and began killing adults and children as quickly and methodically as he could.
But I doubt that Lanza thought of himself as “evil.” He may have suffered from some form of mental illness but he was not insane. In fact, there’s a good chance that he honestly believed that he was doing what he had to do for his own reasons and from his point of view.
As always, I welcome your responses and feedback.


Book Review: “Camouflaged Killer” by David A. Gibb

Posted in Uncategorized by studyofmurder on October 27, 2011

Those of you who have been reading my all too infrequent blogs are aware that I have never before authored a book review.  During my studies on the subject of murder I have read hundreds of books, scholastic journals, law enforcement training publications, and other sources.  There’s a lot of great material out there on the subject, as dark and disturbing as it can be, but I want to take this opportunity to recommend to you my most recent read, “Camouflaged Killer” by David Gibb.

The subject is Canadian serial killer and former Canadian Air Force Colonel Russell Williams.

I became fascinated with the Williams case from the beginning.  Here is a serial killer who seemed to have begun his rapid and progressive degeneration into a sexually-motivated serial offender much later in life than average.  He also seemed to have progressed very quickly from being a voyeur (peeping tom),  to a fetish-burglar (women’s panties), to a home-invader/sexual attacker, and finally to a murderer acting out his violent, controlling fantasies all while unbelievably maintaining a stoic mask of normalcy as the local Canadian Forces Air Base Commander.

At first, when the book was released a little more than a year after Williams was sentenced to life in prison for his crimes, I was skeptical that this was some quickie pulp-sensation book full of speculation and based entirely on media reports.  I was, happy to say, quite wrong.

David Gibb has clearly been deeply involved in investigating this case as a journalist from the very beginning.  Using police investigative reports and the input of witnesses, law enforcement sources, criminal profilers and psychologists, he has written a chronological description of the events that occurred and provided insightful analysis into just how Russell Williams may have developed into a cruel and sadistic rapist and murderer.

The Author recreates the crimes in detail, a process made fairly easy by the fact that Williams kept video, photographic, and written records of all of his crimes. The reader is taken through Williams’ life story and his stellar rise through the ranks of the Canadian Air Force.  The police investigation and the subsequent arrest and interview of Colonel Williams are recreated.

For me, however, the best part of this book begins with Chapter 24, entitled “Character Unbecoming.”   In this chapter the Author uses experts such as former FBI profiler Roy Hazelwood (The Evil that Men Do) to meticulously dissect and analyze Williams criminal behavior to closely examine his motivation.  It is, to me, the most enlightening part of the book and, quite interestingly, the part of the book Mr. Gibb’s publisher suggested that he not include.

If you are one of my “Study of Murder” students, or if you are a student of criminal behavior, I commend this book to you as an extremely well-written and though provoking case study of an absolutely fascinating, and at the same time, evil, serial murderer.


Murders, the Media, and The Long Island Serial Killer

Posted in Uncategorized by studyofmurder on April 16, 2011

Since late 2010, the New York press has been reporting on an apparent serial murderer they have dubbed “The Long Island Serial Killer.”  It began with the discovery, in December, 2010, of the bodies of four women, all found in burlap bags and about 500 yards apart from one another in the thick brushy area off a Long Island beach.  The women were apparently prostitutes who used Craigslist to find their clients.  Since then, at least four, and possibly six more bodies have been found along the beach, spread out over an area of about 3.5 miles.  As of the writing of this blog, not all of the victims, including the body of a child, have been identified.  The cause of death for several of the victims has been reported as “homicidal asphyxiation” which could be manual strangulation, ligature strangulation, or smothering.

Serial murderers are rare and they always seem to stir intense interest, especially among people who, for some reason or another, seem to get a thrill out of gruesome murder mysteries.  In fact, I have to confess that these cases interest me as well for I have spend a good deal of my life studying murder in its many iterations. Each semester I teach a class called, “The Study of Murder” and each semester, sadly, there are always new cases to study.

In our class discussions on criminal profiling (I do not present myself as a trained criminal profiler, but as someone who is familiar with the process), I always point out to my students the folly of generalizing, of using inductive logic to try to solve any crime or series of crimes.  In most high-profile cases such as the Long Island Serial Killer (LISK), law enforcement officials, of necessity, always hold back as much significant information as they can.  They do not want information published in the media that might (1) aid the serial killer in avoiding detection, or (2) encourage “copycat” killers from using the opportunity to try and disguise their murder as the act of another.  In case after case, such as the Atlanta Child Killer or the Night Stalker, information that was leaked to the press and subsequently published assisted the murderer and potentially delayed his capture.  As a result, homicide detectives tend to keep sensitive information close and usually only release it when they feel it might help their investigative efforts.

Based on limited information…and speculation….and “highly-placed sources close to the investigation”…and, frankly, rumors…members of the print and television news media begin to seek out “experts” to provide their opinions.  These experts are typically retired FBI agents, some profilers, retired homicide detectives, and college professors like myself who have spent years studying homicide in all its many forms.  These experts then provide intriguing soundbites that are used to spice up the retelling and re-retelling of all of the limited information that officials have released.  While I have no quarrel with these experts and their opinions (after all, I have mine as well), the real purpose of this blog is a cautionary one.  Since none of these experts, despite some of their so-called “connections”, have all of the information that would be required for a professional criminal profile, it is important that you know that, for the most part, they are using what a former instructor of mine called the S.W.A.G. method…….the Sophisticated Wild-Assed Guess.  Retired FBI agents and retired homicide detectives present their opinions because active-duty agents and cops will not.  And that, in part, is because these SWAG generalizations can often be wrong.  Dead wrong.

Wally Zeins, a former NYPD homicide detective is quoted as saying, “He could be a copycat of the BTK killer.”  Really?  The BTK (Dennis Rader) killer did not prey on prostitutes.  The BTK killer invaded women’s homes, killed them, and left them all (except one) behind; he didn’t dump their bodies anywhere, much less along a beach.  None of BTK’s victims were found in burlap bags.  Other than that, though, he might be a perfect match.

Another uncredited report surfaced last week that “authorities” are considering that the offender might be a cop, or an ex-cop, because he appears to be familiar with police procedures and leaves no evidence behind.  Really?  BTK wasn’t a cop or ex-cop (though he was a code enforcement officer) but he did have a degree in Criminal Justice from Wichita State.  Ted Bundy wasn’t a cop, but he read everything he could find about serial killers.  Danny Rolling, the Gainesville, Florida, serial killer of the early ’90s was an organized murderer who wasn’t a cop (but his father was). The Hillside Stranglers weren’t cops, but they used phony badges to gain control over their victims by pretending to be cops.  And Gary Ridgeway, the Green River Killer who killed around 50 prostitutes and who was active for many years not only wasn’t a cop, he wasn’t what you call extremely intelligent, either.

In fact, throughout the history of organized, intelligent serial killers very few of them had any connection to law enforcement at all.

And, finally, we come to the actual criminal profile itself.  The basic profile being provided by the experts in this case is a white male, 25-45 years old, intelligent who is socially competent and not a loner.  Really?  This would be the same profile generated by any one of my college students or, quite honestly, by anyone who has been a consistent reader of John Douglas, Robert Ressler, Gregg McCrary, or other former FBI Criminal Profilers who have published their memoirs….and they did not have a 100% success rate when they were profilers.

The SWAG method of criminal profiling has been around for years and is always an interesting conversation starter.  But it is almost never accurate.  Remember the D.C. Snipers back in 2002?  The media brought dozens of high-profile “experts” to their news and talk shows for their opinions.  As I recall, however, not a single one of them said, “You know, it’s probably two black guys in a modified sedan.”  The cops caught Malvo and Muhammed, not based on the televised “expert” profiles, but because of their diligence in following the evidence they discovered and did not share with the media.

Is there one LISK, two, or more?  I don’t know.  Is he white, black, asian, hispanic?  I haven’t a clue.  Do I know what his motivation is?  Nope.  I can only hope that this guy (or these guys) are caught soon.  And when they are, the arrest will most probably have nothing to do with the efforts of the media and their “experts” but they’ll always be out there.

As always, I welcome your feedback.

People Don’t “Snap” – Part II

Posted in 1 by studyofmurder on February 16, 2010

In my first blog I opined that people do not “snap”, but that they often make rash and foolish decisions.  I realize that it sometimes seems that people fall prey to what some psychologists have called “temporary insanity” but, quite frankly, that’s a large load of crap.  “Insanity” is a severe mental illness and mental illness does not come upon one suddenly.  Mental illness is generally a slow degenerative process.  Take a chronological look at the paintings of Vincent van Gogh and you can see how, near the end, his mental illness is reflected in his brush strokes.

On Friday, February 12, 2010, University of Alabama at Huntsville (UAH) Professor Amy Bishop stood up at a faculty meeting, took out a pistol, and began shooting people in the head.  In the end, three people were dead and three people wounded, two in critical condition as of this writing.  It was revealed shortly thereafter that Dr. Bishop had apparently been denied tenure earlier that same day at UAH and it was then speculated that she had “snapped” and shot her colleagues.

Bullshit, I told myself, people don’t snap.  Rather than writing a blog response at the time, I awaited further developments and information about Professor Bishop’s background.  The results were, to quote Mr. Spock, “Fascinating“.

The first revelation was that, in 1986, Professor Bishop had shotgunned her 18-year old brother to death in what was, at the time, considered an accident even though two rounds had been fired.  The case was investigated but, for some reason, the case file has disappeared.  An investigation into the decision not to charge Bishop at the time and the surprising disappearance of the case file is ongoing.

In 1993, Professor Bishop and her husband were both questioned regarding a pipe bomb which had been sent to one of Dr. Bishop’s colleagues at the Childrens’ Hospital in Boston.  The pipe bomb did not explode and no charges were ever filed.

Now we learn from Professor Bishop’s husband that, just days before the shooting at UAH, she decided to go to the pistol range to practice her shooting.  The pistol range.  For no apparent reason, he said.  Right.

Professor Joseph Ng who was present during the deadly UAH faculty meeting last Friday, said that everything was going along like a typical faculty meeting until Amy stood up, took out a 9-mm pistol, and began “shooting her targets in the head” until her gun jammed. (Apparently, no one taught Professor Bishop that you’re supposed to clean your weapon after visiting the rage to avoid blockages.  A fact that may have actually saved some lives.) Afterwards, Bishop then left the room and discarded the pistol in a bathroom trash can.  She was taken into custody a short time later.

Amy Bishop has a history of dealing with problems with force.  She killed her 18-year old brother with a shotgun and probably sent a pipe bomb to a “colleague” she was undoubtedly having some sort of dispute with.  While she may have made stupid, rash decisions, she nonetheless made decisions; she did not “snap.”

Now she finds herself in the position of probably losing her teaching position at UAH.  She was denied tenure which, in academe, generally occurs for good reason.  She had engaged an attorney to fight her tenure denial but the odds were against her.  Her response was to go to a pistol range and practice loading and shooting a 9-mm pistol.  She then attended a faculty meeting where, after 30-40 minutes, she took out the pistol and began deliberately shooting her colleagues in the head.  Those same colleagues who, earlier in the day, had voted not to grant her tenure.

The two most glaring bits of information that point to the fact that Professor Bishop did NOT “snap” are the facts that (1) she had gone to the pistol range only days earlier, and (2) she had a pistol with her during the faculty meeting.  Basically, everything points to the fact that this was a premeditated and calculated murder.  Was this the wrong way to handle the situation?  Absolutely!  Were her emotions involved in making this decision?  Clearly.  But did she suffer from “temporary insanity” when she brought a loaded pistol to a faculty meeting where she methodically began shooting her colleagues in the head?  Not only NO! but HELL NO!

Dr. Bishop’s mass murder makes her eligible for the death penalty.  Alabama is a state with a history of using the death penalty.  To give this murderer anything less than she deserves would be……insane.

As always, I welcome your response.