Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

'Movies Made Me Murder'


Movie Poster: Taxi Driver
Movie Poster: Taxi Driver

A number of high-profile crimes were influenced by plots or scenes in films, but one that affected the legal system across the country, and was even shown in court, was Taxi Driver, released in 1976.

John Hinkley Jr.
John Hinkley Jr.

John Hinkley, Junior was obsessed with the film, particularly a young actress who starred in it named Jodie Foster.  He read the novel and watched the film over and over, looking to it as a guide for his actions.  Robert DeNiro starred as Travis Bickle, a disturbed taxi driver who decides to assassinate a presidential candidate as a way to attract the attention of a female political worker that he has his eye on.  However, he fails at this and becomes involved with a young prostitute name Iris (Jodie Foster).  He rescues her by killing three people and thus, with criminal violence, becomes her hero.

Scene at the Reagan Shooting
Scene at the Reagan Shooting

Hinkley, a failed songwriter with an imaginary girlfriend, was apparently impressed by all of this, and in his bid to win the attention of Jodie Foster (whom he'd already been stalking all the way to Yale), he stalked President Jimmy Carter for a while and then, after some psychiatric treatment for depression, set out to shoot Ronald Reagan, president who succeeded Carter.  On March 30, 1981, outside the Washington D.C. Hilton Hotel, Hinkley emptied a revolver and managed to wound Reagan, along with three others, before he was wrestled to the ground and arrested.  Foster was reportedly horrified.

At Hinkley's insanity trial, in which he was charged with thirteen offenses, Dr. William Carpenter, Jr., described how Hinkley had strongly identified with Travis Bickle, dressing like him and imitating him in a variety of ways.  He'd isolated himself and lived largely in his fantasy world, coming to believe that he was in fact Bickle.

The movie was shown to the jury to help them understand how Hinkley "became" this character, and Hinkley strained to get a good look at his hero.  He sat rapt throughout the screening, although he apparently could not watch the scene in which Iris hugged her pimp — one of the people that Bickle later killed. 

The trial lasted seven weeks.  Found not guilty by reason of insanity in 1982, Hinkley was confined to St. Elizabeth's Hospital in Washington, DC.  He continued to be obsessed with Foster for the next two decades.  This verdict upset the American public, so the federal government, along with several states, revised their laws regarding insanity.  Four states abolished it as a defense altogether.

Still, the U.S. was not the only place where killers took their cues from a movie.  Let's look at a young man in Scotland.


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