Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Predicting Extreme Fatal Violence

Many Factors, Many Theories

Like others, Michael Kelleher, who wrote about mass murder in Flash Point, views the evolution of an obsessive fantasy as central to such an offender's development. "The consideration and thought that are given to the crime," he writes, "are often in the form of unrelenting and hostile fantasies of a long-standing nature." The fantasy becomes an obsession mixed with the need for domination and control.

The fantasy itself may begin early in life, because the person has been unable during childhood to deal with life's punches. They look outside themselves for the cause and decide they must destroy all hindrances.

Others are devalued as meaningless, and the potential offender becomes driven by his need to maintain control. He "typically depersonalizes at the moment of attack." Some mass killers have already killed, such as those experienced with warfare, and for them, depersonalization comes more easily.

Dr. Samenow insists that a criminal's way of thinking is vastly different from that of responsible people and that the "errors of logic" derive from a pattern of behavior that begins in childhood. Criminals, he says, choose crime by rejecting society and preferring the role of a victimizer. This appears to be consistent with the perspective of many mass murderers. They devalue and exploit others toward ends to which the criminals feel entitled. They don't learn to respond more appropriately because they don't think appropriately.

Some theorists look specifically at the earliest years of a child's development to understand how that child may become violent in later years. According to Robin Karr-Morse and Meredith S. Wiley in Ghosts from the Nursery, the roots of violence develop in the first two years of life. With the exception of certain head injuries, they claim, there is no specific biological or sociological factor that predisposes a child to violence.

In other words, violence seems to be the result of the cumulative effect of a combination of factors, along with the failure of normal protective systems in the environment. Among those factors associated with violence, these researchers list harmful substances ingested by mothers during pregnancy, chronic maternal stress during pregnancy, low birth weight, early maternal rejection or abuse, nutritional deficiencies, a low verbal IQ, and trouble with attention deficit and hyperactivity.

But in a specific case, how can we pinpoint which child is more likely to become violent than others?