It is common in crime dramas on TV for the detective to exclaim “Where is the motive?”. When the motive is found it goes a long way towards solving the crime. Eventually the perpetrator gives in and confesses or is carried away by the police and the closing credits roll. All good entertainment.
Every crime has a motive of some sort – that is fairly obvious – but some acts in the commission of a crime are very difficult to explain or for which it is difficult to find a motive. A robber may rob a store and on his way out, he may smash something or cause some damage. A burglar may steal from a house and then turn on all the taps or knock holes in walls or do even more obnoxious things.
The reason that they do such things is a mystery to me. It’s not as if their original nefarious plans would have included such actions, I imagine, in so far as they had plans anyway. The only thing that I can think of is that it is a throwback to some distant time when an invading force (such as a Viking band) would rape any women they came across, kill any men, steal any valuable goods, and burn down the houses.
Rape, pillage, kill and destroy. Raping the women and killing the men would ensure that the invaders genes would spread at the expense of the victims’ genes and destroying the houses would demonstrate the invaders’ power and discourage the victims from following and seeking revenge. I’m not sure if this is a likely motive for such ancillary acts in the commission of a crime.
Mass killers are another group where it is difficult to image what the motive for their crimes is. We tend to think of mass killers as a new phenomenon, but I’m not sure that they are. The earliest one that I can think of is “Jack the Ripper” who operated 1888. He was an instance of a subset of mass killers, a serial killer. Another type of mass killer is the person who open fires usually more of less indiscriminately in a public place. John Brunner’s 1968 prophetic novel “Stand on Zanzibar” calls such people “muckers” from the work “amok”.
I suspect that mass killers have been part of the human race for a very long time. In the bible Herod orders the “Slaughter of the Innocents”, which could be considered an early mass killing. Even if the event was made up by the gospel writer it was likely to have been based on some other real event. There is a story in the Old Testament about the killing of the Canaanites (the people who inhabited Canaan before Moses and his followers took over the land), a mass murder or genocide which is discussed (from a Christian perspective) in this article. Whether or not you believe the bible to be the word of God, or merely a collection of folk tales this could be construed to be evidence that mass killings have occurred for millennia.
After hunting about on theInternet for a while I came across the names of two serial killers, Gilles de Rais and Elizabeth Bathory. I guess that while these two cases are the most prominent and remembered there have almost certainly been others that have not been recorded, or that I have missed.
de Rais’ motives appear to be purely sexual, and strongly sadistic, since there was no monetary or other advantage to him. Elizabeth Bathory’s motives do not on the face of it appear to be sexually motivated and appear pure sadistic. However, it is hard to tell for sure as I don’t believe that investigations would have been rigorous in those days and rumour and speculation was apparently often taken as fact.
It’s pretty certain that people like these are not normal, whatever normal is. As such I don’t think that we can guess their real motives, if they had any. They appear to be driven by urges which they were unable to control, and de Rais is supposed to have exhibited remorse, although that didn’t seem to stop him.
In modern times, there seems to be an increase in a particular sort of killing. This is where the perpetrator, usually a teenager or fairly young person, takes a gun into a public place and more or less indiscriminately starts shooting, killing as many people as he can, before he is killed by the police or commits suicide. Of course, the ready availability of guns and ammunition facilitates these killing sprees – you probably couldn’t kill many people in a short time with a bow and arrow or a spear or a sword.
Many of the perpetrators of these mass killings seem to be maladjusted or social outcasts, who are often fans of guns and weaponry. As outcasts, it is probably to simplistic to assume that their actions were some sort of revenge against society or against people around him, but that could possibly be a factor.
I don’t think that I have really answered the question I raised when I started this piece. People who are not extreme, as these killers are, can’t reliably guess the killers’ motives, I guess. What is apparent is that the killers don’t appear to have much control, if any, over their actions. It seems that the way to stop similar mass killings is to locate the killers before they have killed. It doesn’t seem that short of locking them up, there is any way to prevent them killing. Some potential killers have been given drugs and some killers have previously received drugs, but stopped taking them for one reason or another. All in all, I think that society is a long way from understanding the phenomenon of mass killers.
I’ve had a lot of trouble writing this piece. Once I started I was determined to complete it, but I made at least two starts. My first start tended towards being an apologia for Naziism and I definitely didn’t want my piece to be that! The Nazis started from an invalid premise (the superiority of the Aryan race and the consequential inferiority of the other races) and their flawed logic led to the concept of racial cleansing. That together with the erroneous idea that the Jews caused the surrender of Germany at the end of the First World War did not justify their horrendous actions.
Hopefully I’ll hit on a much lighter topic next week.