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Same end, different means: The typologies of killers

Killers come in all forms. Some killers do it on large scale, some on small; some do it for hate, some for pleasure; some accredit it to mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, some to disenchantment of their social environment. Legally speaking, there are three dimensions by which to measure the murder’s offense: the methodology, the scope of the murder, and its motive. Depending on the combination between these three criteria allows for a standard of punishment to be assigned, and for killers to be given a label in the history book.

First, one has to look at the micro or individual level killers. Spree killers, for example, are killers that embark on a murder rampage in a short period of time. The scope of their location is unimportant; the ambition is to maximize the damage in such a way that the goal of the spree killers is rarely to escape alive or be subtle about their murders. The Virginia Tech massacre in 2007 where Seung-Hui Cho killed 32 in a shooting rampage at the university is an example of a rampage killing. It is random, the motives of spree killers often bred out of revenge, and characterized by individuals suffering from a history of mental illness.

Murders and Killers

Murders and Killers

The most common form of individual murderer title is the serial killer. At its most rudimentary definition, the FBI defines a serial killer as a person who kills three or more people over a month period. Unlike mass murderers, a serial killer is more strategic and quiet about their murders. As Albert Fish, himself a cannibal killer, said, many of his victims were African-American or mentally-challenged because he figured they would be less noticeable. The serial killer wants to extend his killing spree and is more systematic in that sense.

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Even within these types of killers, another dimension that is investigated are motivations. Spree killers, for example, are commonly associated to kill out of anger and revenge. It is a quick and damage maximizing strategy that is not looking for an escape. By contrast, the motives of serial killers vary drastically: Some serial killers do it out of anger at the world, but that is actually the minority of cases. Many do it out of hedonistic urges; sexual arousal achieved by the torturing and absolute dominance over others. Some are mission oriented killers. These killers convince themselves that external or internal voices in their heads command mission oriented killers to murder. These hallucinations are often a symptom of schizophrenia or other mental illnesses.

On a more macro level of killers are the mass murderers. Mass murderers can range from very effective spree killers to those responsible for genocide. The perpetrators are commonly associated with the political – the Killing Fields in Cambodia are viewed as mass murder, for example. However, the technical definition limits ‘mass murder’ to signify the death of four or more in a particular event – a level above more isolated serial killers or small-scale spree killers. The motives for mass murders vary from the political to revenge to the thirst for fame.

[ad#downcont]Though killers are not uniform, each is equally reprehensible in its own way. However, it is impossible not to internally weigh different actions against one another even if each is individually heinous. Can a drive-by shooting for revenge be equated to torture and death for sexual pleasure? Can a massacre of a village truly be equal morally and legally to a working place shooting? Mass murderers, serial killers, spree killers, mission oriented killers or cannibal killer…  All of these are horrifying in their own way, but it demonstrates defining a killer as only a killer is only part of the equation.

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