Welcome to Friday’s Bitter End. I’ve got a real treat for y’all today. Kassandra Lamb is gonna talk to us about reasons to do a killin’.
I love this post because it does double duty. Not only is it true crime, it’s also useful to mystery and suspense writers who are stuck for motive.
I’m going to let Kass take it away…
Five Motives for Murder
I’m a retired psychotherapist so figuring out why people do what they do has been my bread and butter for decades. When I retired and started writing mysteries, I figured I would have a distinct advantage over other authors with regard to coming up with creative reasons for murder.
Hmm, that turned out to be harder than it looked (after all, none of my clients were murderers so this was somewhat new territory for me). There really are only a few basic reasons why people commit murder.
Before I tell you my list of motives, let me show you a few lists I found online. The most popular list of motives turned out to be this one: Greed, Lust, Power, Fear, and Rage. An older version was: Love/sex, Revenge, Greed and Madness.
And the FBI website’s page on serial killers noted that one must include the following on the list of motives for them: Power, Thrill, Attention-Seeking
Now here’s my list: Rage, Control, Greed, Secrets and Thrills
First, let me address why ‘madness’ is not on my list. Even crazy people are motivated by one of the five I’ve listed. It’s just that their perception of reality is off. So a paranoid schizophrenic may totally misinterpret someone else’s actions and become enraged at them for no rational reason. The motive is still rage. And statistically, ‘crazy’ people (i.e., those who have lost touch with reality) rarely kill.
But why no “love/sex/lust” you might ask? Perhaps I should pause here to define what I consider ‘murder.’ To me, murder is the willful taking of another person’s life against their will when they are not an immediate threat to oneself. So I’m not including self-defense or assisted suicide in this definition.
I cannot imagine a situation (other than assisted suicide) where love, lust or sex would be the direct and dominant reason for murder. I love you, so I’ll kill you. I desire you, so I’ll kill you. Nope, neither really flies as a motivation without more to it than that.
Love and lust as an indirect motivation, yes– the motive behind the motive. The spurned lover might kill out of revenge, but this falls under rage in my mind. The serial killer might kill because of a twisted connection between violence and sex, but this falls more in the thrills category.
I debated between the terms control or power, and decided on control because it covers things that power doesn’t. The spurned lover who kills on the premise “if I can’t have you, nobody will” is not really getting off on power per se but s/he is definitely bent on controlling the object of their love.
To my mind, power is about a need for control that has reached the level of thrill-seeking. The person gets an adrenaline rush from having power and being able to manipulate others. Control is a need born out of a feeling of helplessness. Control freaks are more operating from emotional self-defense. “I have to control you so I don’t feel out of control.”
I’m assuming greed is self-explanatory. Granddaddy died and left a fortune so let’s kill off the other heirs. Always a good motive.
But greed also covers some of the motives that might mistakenly be placed in the Love/Lust camp. Husband/wife falls in love with someone else and decides to bump off their spouse. No, this is not about love and lust. In these circumstances, most people just get a divorce. But this person doesn’t want to share their assets with an ex-spouse! Greed.
So why have I left fear off my list? Again, I don’t think this is a direct motivation for murder. If one is being physically attacked, then fear would certainly motivate killing in self-defense. Otherwise, I can’t think of a situation where fear would not be related to one of the other motivations listed. Fear that one might lose their money. Greed. Fear that one might lose their position in a company. Greed and control. Loss of their status in society.
Ahh!! Thus we come to secrets. Secrets can threaten one’s money, one’s control over their lives but secrets can also threaten one’s sense of identity. Keeping a secret from being revealed is a powerful motive for murder. Indeed, a murderer may kill again to protect the secret that they’ve committed previous murders.
Secrets can be related to a lot of other motives, but killing to keep someone from revealing the secret is the direct motivation.
And last but not least, we have thrills. Now we are in the realm of the psychopathic killer who has no empathy for his/her victim. But, for some twisted reason based on the pathological logic of their past experiences, they literally get off on killing. Fortunately, people like this are not in the majority. But the number of psychopaths is increasing. (Click here for more on the making of a psychopath.)
Again, this is not madness per se. Psychopaths are not out of touch with reality. They know that what they are doing is considered wrong by society. But they don’t care. The deficit here is not in reality testing but rather in conscience.
Kass’s comment: Okay, that last part about his victims becoming his slaves in the afterlife is pretty crazy, but the craziness is in the thinking. The motivation here is for thrills and control of ‘slaves’ after he dies.
As for the FBI’s list, I think that attention-seeking falls under thrills. The killer is getting off on the attention. This is a fairly common factor in serial killers’ motivations. But to my mind, attention-seeking doesn’t deserve full-blown status as a motivation. It is one of the ways that these killers get their thrills.
I’ve listed these motives in the order in which I think they are most common. Rage is by far the most common–ranging from barroom brawls turned deadly to carefully plotted revenge. Control just barely edges out greed, mainly because a lot of deaths, sadly, are due to domestic violence situations where the spouse must have control.
Thrills is last, because despite the increase in the number of psychopaths in our society, killing for pure pleasure is still relatively rare. And let us all pray that it stays that way.
But secrets is not far behind greed. Mainly because there can be so many possible secrets that must be preserved.
Killing to keep secrets is at the heart of my new release, Collateral Casualties. The protagonist, Kate Huntington, has learned something she wasn’t supposed to know, and someone is willing to kill her and anyone she might have possibly told.
Please check out the book and then talk to me about motives for murder. What do you think of my list? Should lust or revenge or something else be on there as well?
And thanks so much, Catie, for having me over to Long Roads and Dark Ends today!
Thanks, Kass, for joining us. I’m curious about the obvious. Did these reasons shock any of you?
Check out Kass’s New Release!
When a former client reaches out to psychotherapist Kate Huntington and reveals a foreign diplomat’s dark secret, then dies of ‘natural causes’ just days later, Kate isn’t sure what to think. Was the man delusional or is she now privy to dangerous information?
Soon she discovers her client was totally sane… and he was murdered. Someone is now trying to eliminate her, and anyone and everyone she might have told. Forced into hiding, she and her husband, Skip, along with the operatives of his private investigating agency, struggle to stay one step ahead of a ruthless killer. Skip and his P.I. partner are good investigators, but this time they may be in over their heads… and they could all end up drowning in a sea of international intrigue.
(This book is part of a series but is designed to work quite well as a stand-alone.)
About Kassandra Lamb
Writing and psychology have always vied for first place on Kassandra Lamb’s Greatest Passions list. Now retired from a career as a psychotherapist and college professor, she spends most of her time in an alternate universe with her protagonist and alter ego, Kate Huntington. The magic portal to this universe (i.e., her computer) is located in Florida, where Kassandra’s husband and dog catch occasional glimpses of her.
Find Kass Online
And you can find out more about her books at http://kassandralamb.com.