Murder is a Family Affair

Sean Mactire’s book, Malicious Intent: A Writer’s Guide to How Murderers, Robbers, Rapists, and Other Criminal Think, contains useful information for creating a better victim. My last post revealed that there’s a greater risk of family members being the victims of criminal offenders than acquaintances or strangers. Today I want to look at that fact more in-depth.

Murder is a family affair. Among all murder and violent crime victims, family is the largest victim’s group. That’s why the police on all the good cop shows interview and suspect family members first. Holidays, and all the stress that goes with them, usually are a factor involved in the motive, and while mental illness is usually the cause of holiday murder and mayhem, it is the opportunity for the victims to be in the wrong place at the wrong time that is a crucial factor. 

Carjacking victims are victims because of the make and model car they are driving. Drive-by shooting victims are generally children are are only victims because of the neighborhoods they live in. But most violent crimes are crimes of opportunity and availability. Family members are almost always available. (Side note: the Justice Department says the two fastest growing victim populations are male teenagers and elderly victims – keep that in mind when plotting a murder mystery). 

Mactire gave two examples of family-involved crimes. One case involved a child and his mother who were killed by the boy’s grandfather. The grandfather was upset that the child took a turkey wing without permission. The mother condoned the child’s behavior, so the man punished them both by shooting them. I said earlier that violent criminals were immature sinners with impulse control problems, and here’s a perfect example. Most readers identify with a grandfather who loves his daughter and grandson. Although a grandfather who murders for a turkey leg exists in reality, you might want to come up with a better motive for a novel setting, as most readers won’t buy the turkey leg scenario as believable.

In the other case, a woman stabbed her husband to death because she didn’t get what she wanted for Christmas. The husband was awake and sober but caught completely off guard by his petite wife’s sudden attack. Again, real life might be too outlandish even for fiction, but you can see how the holidays affected both killers in these real-life examples. 

Therefore, if you want your antagonist to polish off a family member or two, why not set it during a holiday to make it more believable? It’d definitely follow real-life statistics.

-Sonja
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One thought on “Murder is a Family Affair

  1. I agree – if you tried to put real cases into fiction, readers wouldn’t accept them as believable! My husband comes home with "stupid criminal" stories that sometimes defy logic.

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