Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Bad to the Bone: All About Criminal Motivation

Introduction

John Taylor (left inset) & Craig Godineaux (right inset) & the Wendy's restaurant in Queens, NY (AP)
John Taylor (left inset) & Craig Godineaux
(right inset) & the Wendy's restaurant in
Queens, NY (AP)

On the night of May 24, 2000, two desperate men walked into a Wendy's fast food restaurant in Queens, New York City. They were both armed with handguns. The men rounded up the seven employees and took them down to the basement. The hostages were tied with rope and forced to lie down on the floor. Then, one by one, the suspects shot the defenseless employees in the head. Five of the victims died. Within a few days, police arrested John Taylor, 32, and Craig Godineaux, 36, who were charged with the bloody massacre. One of the men was found hiding in his grandmother's home. Less than $2,000, all in coins, was stolen during the event. Taylor may become the first defendant to receive the death penalty in New York State in 40 years.

Kipland Kinkel (AP)
Kipland Kinkel (AP)

Kipland Kinkel, 15, a high school student in Springfield, Oregon, who had just been suspended, went on a shooting rampage on May 21, 1998. Kinkel had killed both his parents earlier in the day and booby-trapped his house with high explosive bombs. One of the bombs was hidden under his mother's corpse. Later, Kinkel went to school armed with semi-automatic rifles and opened fire on his fellow students. He killed two and wounded 10 others before he was disarmed and captured. His classmates had once called him "most likely to start World War III."

Whenever a particularly violent or grisly crime grabs the headlines, most people have the same thoughts. Why does crime exist? What causes such mindless violence?

Throughout history, social scientists, physicians, researchers and psychologists have struggled to answer those questions. In Medieval times, it was thought that demons and evil spirits of all types and forms took possession of the individual causing him or her to do bad things. The "witch" hysteria in Salem, Massachusetts, during 1691 is an example of alleged demonic possession that resulted in the murder of innocent people. Even the ancient Romans had a theory about the origins of criminality. They believed that human behavior ebbed and flowed with the phases of the moon. The word "lunacy," which is derived from the Latin word "luna" for moon, reflected that belief.

But as quickly as some theories appeared, they vanished. Criminological theories have gone through an evolutionary process that still continues today. For what seemed like a valid explanation during one era, bordered on the verge of madness the next. And there is probably no other aspect of social science that is so permeated with superstition, quackery, sensationalism and outright fraud as crime theory.

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