Five Categories of Murder, Plus Two More

The FBI has come up with five categories of murder. I’m stealing this information out of Sean Mactire’s book,  Malicious Intent: A Writer’s Guide to How Murderers, Robbers, Rapists, and Other Criminal Think. It’s the perfect resource for creating believable antagonists. Anyway, here’s the list (nearly word-for-word):

1. Felony Murder. A homicide committed during the commission of a serious crime, such as armed robbery, hijacking, or arson.

2. Suspected Felony Murder. Pretty self-explanatory.

3. Argument-Motivated Murder. A homicide that occurs during a domestic dispute and is distinct from criminal-motivated murder, the proverbial “crime of passion.”

4. Other Motives. Homicides with identifiable motives that are separate from the first three types of murders. 

5. “Unknown” Motives. Homicides with no clear motive present.

These seem pretty straight-forward, so I won’t dwell too much on them, but it might be nice to know what kind of murderer you have in your book. Moving on, there are two categories of mass murder:

1. Family Mass Murder. This is the killing of four or more members of the same family by another family member. 

2. Classic Mass Murder. This is the killing of four or more non-family victims in a single location at one time. This is the type of seemingly motiveless crime that is becoming more and more prevalent worldwide. The motive, if there is one, is usually discovered long after the killings took place, but the pattern indicates that classic mass murderers are mentally ill people who vent their hostility against society in an orgy of stabbings and/or shootings of victims chosen at random. 

A Spree Killer is someone who commits murder in two more locations, but the killings are linked by motives as a single event.

A Serial Killer is someone who has killed three or more people over a period of time, usually with a cooling off period between the murders, whose motivation for killing is usually based on psychological gratification. 

The terminology isn’t all that important (unless you mis-label your serial killer as a spree killer, then your readers will wonder why you didn’t do your research well enough). What’s really important in these categories is the motive. Every bad guy has a reason for doing what he does, even if the police don’t know it. As the author, you have to know why your antagonist is killing people. Is he receiving instructions from the Gammazed’s mother ship orbiting Earth? Is he killing redheaded women in an attempt to silence his abusive mother’s memory? Is he trying to expand his scientific knowledge of the human brain? Is he desperate for a woman to love him unconditionally? Is he trying to feel something, anything, other than apathy/ennui? Know your antagonists motive and you’ll be one step closer to creating a believable character that readers will root against. And that’s all you can ask for.

Next time, I’ll discuss the profile matrix. It’s a complex process, so it may take more than one post.

-Sonja
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