Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Crime 101 - Types of Murder

Murder is an interesting thing. It is a final response, and a total game ender for one of the people involved. The fact that murder can come about in so many different ways also makes it a real hard act to pin down. The end result is the same, sure, but the path taken to get there can be vastly different. Pre-meditated, pre-planned, intentional but not pre-planned, spur of the moment, accidental, and all of that is before you get into the differences between a professional, semi-professional, and down right amateur kills. So, lets pull back the shades a bit and take a look at one of the oldest crimes in human history.

Intentional vs. Unintentional
Right off the bat, and before we can look at murder in and of itself, we need to look at the difference between unintentional and intentional. See, while some people don't, I personally see a big difference between murder and the much lesser crime of killing. Now, unlike with robbery and burglary, I'm not going to go into definitions here, but will just say this. Murder to me is the intentional act of killing someone who is, for all intents and purposes, defenseless and in a situation that does not directly call for their death. Killing, on the other hand, is the killing of someone either by complete accident, or because the situation demands it in some strange way. These are vague differences, yes, but they can be important none-the-less. For example, if I were to take a knife, walk across the street, and kill one of my neighbors, that would be murder. If, when I went over to murder my neighbor, they killed me while trying to defend themselves, that would be killing (justified killing in this case, but that is beyond the scope of this).

Now, like I said. Some people view all killing as murder. You may scoff at this, but it is a view point. What constitutes the extenuating circumstances that downgrades something from murder to killing is also highly up to debate. These facts though are, luckily, beyond the scope of this post. Suffice to say, I will be focusing on the intentional and deliberate killing of someone for the rest of this post, and not accidental death.

A Crime of Passion
The messiest kind of murder is murder as a crime of passion. This is the heat of the moment action. Someone has been hurt. They have been shamed. They feel like they are cut and bleeding, and in that moment they can't stand it and they just snap. In that moment, the source of their pain - or at least the perceived source of their pain - must be ended, and they are going to make sure that that happens.

I said these are messy, because usually they are exactly that. The murderer is caught up in the moment, and they are acting on the passion that the moment brings with it. Rage, pain, fear, sorrow, regret, one or all of these are flowing through them, and at levels that are quite simply off the scale. Often times after the act is done, sanity returns, and the person is faced with the reality of what they've just done. Some may flee, others will turn themselves in, while still others simply break down on the spot. Either way, the crime is messy, it is brutal, and it is quick. A clear sign of just what a person is capable of when they have been pushed past their limits.

On the other hand, we have pre-meditated murder. While, there may be passion and hurt behind the motive for killing, this is an altogether scarier type of anger and hurt when it is the case. A cold anger. This is the kind of action that gets you put away for a long time when they can prove it, because it is so much more than just a simple crime of passion. You don't just murder someone, you intended to do it. Not only that, you planned it out from the very beginning. This isn't a "I found my wife is cheating on me, grabbed a gun, and shot her and the lover dead." This is, "I found my wife is cheating on me, so I followed the person home, planned it out for several weeks where I learned their habits and weaknesses, and then one night when they were alone walked into their home and shot them dead."

I'm sure you can see the difference here. One of these acts can be explained as an irrational act by a person who has been driven irrational. The other shows a measure of sanity, rationality, and long term intention that was methodically planned out. The other big thing you need to be aware of is that professional murders are almost always pre-meditated.

Amateur murderers, just like anywhere else, tend to make mistakes. Unlike in other areas, amateurs seldom get into the game because it looks fun or interesting. Instead, circumstances of one sort or another push them into it. An Amateur can range anywhere from an angry spouse that has just found they're being cheated on, to the picked on kid in school, to a low ranking member of a gang that is trying to get in, or get some respect. Either way, the thing they all have in common is that they generally haven't done this before, and they're likely very very scared.

Amateurs are also the most likely to get caught by police. While some have advantages - those low level gang members I was telling you about - for the most part, the cards are stacked against them. Motive is usually directly there, and clearly present to just a bit of investigation. After all, most people don't just kill a random stranger, there has to be a reason for it. If that reason isn't business, it is personal, and personal stuff comes up easily. Second, and going along with what I just said, they often know their victim. They have to for the motive to come up. This is where the gang members doing initiation have an edge, because if you're just looking to kill someone to get into a gang the connection and motive is harder to find. Third, like I said before, Amateurs make mistakes. They leave behind evidence, and they do things that get them caught. Often they can't live with the guilt of what they've done, and they'll walk forward on their own. Other times, they'll over-react to police presence and single themselves out by how they act. Either way, they make mistakes, and mistakes get you caught.

Professionals on the other hand have a lot of things going for them. They have very little, to no contact with the victim. Their motive is business. They take their time, plan things out, and being as this is their way of life, they usually know how to clean up their messes to leave a minimum of evidence. The only real weakness here is the person who hires them, which is why many professionals are very careful about who they will work for. See, those same mistakes that amateurs make that get them caught, can just as easily be made by the person paying for a murder. When that person gets caught, they'll very likely flip and bring the police after the pro, and so it is in the pros best interest to make damn sure of their client before taking a job.

Professionals can be a nightmare to catch for all of those reasons, and the fact that they tend to move around. If they're in a gang, they have protection all around them. People who will take them in, care for them, and make it so they can stay low. If they aren't, then there isn't much easier - or better - to do than simply to pick up and leave town once you have some heat on you.

Wrapping Up
This is just a very basic over view of murder. LIke I said in the beginning, there are so many factors in play that to cover it all would take a lot of posts. We'll likely do more on murder later on, but for now we've covered the very basics of how things work. On Thursday I'm going to go over the basics of murder in your games. Like the basics, it is kind of direct. Hopefully we can find some fun ways to handle it though.


  1. I heard an interview once of a famous police investigator that is now retired. He said something interesting about crimes of passion. A lot of times they can be sooo passionate about it they don't show any of the usual psychological effects of the murder. They feel that the victim absolutely deserved it and without good evidence it's up to a confession. The problem is they don't feel any pressure to confess. Worse, police will often pressure them by saying things like "We know you did it, don't you feel horrible?" The problem is they don't feel horrible. They feel good about the murder, even after a long time. The "pressure" further psychologically distances them from the murder. The way you get this kind of person to confess is to say "That guy was so evil, they deserved to be offed. I don't blame you for doing it." Then the murderer will agree and start telling the police how they did it.

  2. That is an awesome addition, and something I completely forgot to go over. Thanks Emmet. Those type of criminals can be weird to catch in other ways too, primarily from the lack of guilt like you said. There's no emotional duress, and so they can lie and act smoothly as they talk to the cops.

  3. I just heard a really interesting piece on NPR about assassinations and how they are very rarely politically motivated. The assassins feel like they are invisible to society and use the politician's fame to put them in the news. It was really fascinating. It was called "Fame by Assassination".