Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Female Mass Murderers: Major Cases and Motives

Mass Murderers

Charles Whitman
Charles Whitman

Mass killers are generally profiled as white, middle-aged males who have lost their jobs or have some other anger-related issues or revenge fantasies.  Disgruntled postal workers, bankrupt day traders, fired plant employees and the like have typically dominated media headlines. One notable exception to this rule is Charles Whitman, a student who went on a shooting spree in 1966 from the top of a tower at the University of Texas in Austin. Whitman is considered a mass murderer, but had not lost a job and did not share other characteristics common to many male mass killers.

By definition, a mass murderer is a person who kills four or more people in a single incident, either at a sole location or in loosely-related locations. Even if one kills a victim hours before a mass slaughter, the first incident is still considered to be the result of the same precipitating trigger.  There's no psychological cooling off period, as there is with serial killers.  Some criminologists include on their lists anyone who has killed at least three, but others consider that a triple homicide. In some instances, killers who claimed the lives of one or two victims actually intended to kill more, signifying their intent was to commit mass murder.

Incidents of mass murder have also been grouped in categories, such as family mass murderers, organically-impaired, workplace, mentally ill, and visionary mass murderers.  To that list, criminologists James Alan Fox and Jack Levin add perverted love, copycats, and hate crimes.  They acknowledge that these categories, as well as those differentiating spree-killing from mass murder, are sometimes unhelpful, as there is a crossover. Mass murderers are sometimes confused with spree killers, and some serial or spree killers having also committed mass murder.  Generally speaking, the psychology of a mass murderer is quite distinct from that of a serial killer, especially a predatory one who is not guided by delusions.  Often, mass murderers know they will be caught, are trying to make a public statement or wreak revenge, and generally expect to die in the process.

The one category that has received little mention is the female mass murderer, in part because there have been so few.  But is it possible that we'll see an increase in the number of incidents like the one that occurred in Goleta?


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