Creating Assassins

I’m back in the book The Anatomy of Motive by John Douglas and Mark Olshaker about profiling in an effort to create believable antagonists. Today that antagonist is an assassin–not the kind who kill for money, but they kind who grab a gun and go on a killing spree. The chapter begins with the story of Charles Whitman, the man who climbed the clock tower in Austin, TX, and shot a bunch of people before police killed him. Here’s what Whitman, and other assassins like him, are made of:

“Assassin personalities tend to be white male loners with self-esteem problems–no surprise there, since that describes a huge chunk of the violent predator population. More specifically, they tend to be functional paranoiacs. They’s wouldn’t be confused with paranoid schizophrenics, who have a serious psychosis often described as a shattered personality. The people we’re dealing with may be delusional, but they’re not hallucinatory. Rather, their paranoia may be described as a highly organized or methodical delusional system that may be convincing if you accept the basic premise. In other words, if you accept the basic (but delusional) premise that everyone is out to get a particular individual and is ready and able to do him harm, then it becomes a convincing argument that this individual should strike out and neutralize these enemies before they can act against him.”

Assassins aren’t leaders, and usually come from troubled childhoods. They see major weaknesses in their lives and try to compensate for that. Sometimes they’ll follow a charismatic leader who will use those violent tendencies for a cause (think of the Manson followers). Another way to compensate is with a fetish, like with guns and hunting. They’ll stockpile guns, bladed weapons, and ammunition. “The gun is a means of empowering this inadequate personality, ensuring them that when they want to, they can attain our three old standbys of manipulation, domination, and control.”

Another tell is that assassins like to express themselves in a diary, journal, or notes that detail what they’re feeling and why they do the things they do: more justification and compensation. “Since they don’t have close friends or trusted confidants, these social isolates express themselves to themselves in these detailed secret communications.” Sometimes these writings are just a way to talk themselves into committing the murders they feel they must commit.

Whitman planned his killing spree meticulously. He killed his wife and mother, leaving notes at both scenes, before heading to the clock tower. He even left a note regarding what he was going to do at the tower. He scouted the location beforehand, he brought enough food, water, and ammo to last for days, and he called his wife’s boss to let him know she wouldn’t be in that day. While Whitman had planned a day-long or even week-long spree, he lasted only one and a half hours.

While studying men like Whitman is interesting, it’s hard to base an entire novel around this type of antagonist. However, this can be an exciting parallel plot or subplot for your detective hero, to side-track him/her from the main antagonist. This assassin could also be used for a grand opening scene, providing it actually has something to do with the rest of the plot and characters. 


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