Will the future allow us to detect killers before they commit a crime?

Murder is a horrendous and incomprehensible act that seems to plague society. It is something that has been around since the dawn of time, but thanks to readily available media, it is now everywhere, all the time…in the news, on our phones, in political campaigns.

Blogs like this aren’t meant to bring these horrible events to the forefront of our minds, or to place doubt in humanity, but rather to educate and inform us in a way that discusses this topic with substance other than “gun control.” It involves the awareness of human psychology and possible red flags that may be detected early in a person’s life which may indicate that they are capable of murder.

We hear about senseless killings almost daily, and we can’t help but wonder, “Why would anyone ever do something like this?”

Criminal psychologists have been asking this very same question for many, many years. Why do human beings murder? And are there signs that can aid in stopping these criminals before they act?

These questions cannot be simply answered, and there are numerous arguments as to what contributes to the making of a murderer. These arguments range from genetic makeup to childhood up-bringing to everything in between, (autism, violent videogames, bullying, you name it).

Let’s take Adam Lanza for example. He was the 20-year-old responsible for killing twenty children, six adults, his mother, and himself in a mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December 2012. The mental and emotional make-up of Lanza has criminal psychologists in a frenzy… so much so that PBS has a series that attempts to “create a psychological profile” of him. Is the mind of a killer a portrait that can even be painted? A lot of researchers seem to think that we are definitely headed in that direction.

Serial Killers v. Mass Murderers

Criminal psychologists are learning more and more about the differences in mentality between serial killers and mass murderers, and there are detailed classifications and traits for both. The most significant difference in mentality that researchers have discovered is that serial killers tend to “lure,” while mass murderers tend to “hunt.”

These classifications help in trying to decipher the motivation and mind-set behind the crimes. The goal of researchers and psychologists is to take this information and come up with a way to identify and provide mental and emotional help to people who intend to kill. In order to do that, classifications had to be created to help break down the thought process and over all personality of the killer in question.

The History of Forensic Psychology explains that there are four classifications that a serial killer can fall into: the visionary type, the mission-oriented type, the hedonistic type, and the power/control-oriented type.

Visionary Type: In this classification, murders are committed in response to auditory or visionary commands in one’s head. Many visionary type killers suffer from some kind of mental disorder.

Mission-Oriented Type: Offenders in this classification believe that it is their duty in life to rid society of a certain group of people. An example of a killer in this classification is Gary Ridgeway, who murdered prostitutes.

Hedonistic Type: These offenders are thrill seekers, and kill for pleasure.

Power/Control-Oriented Type: These offenders murder because they seek the power of watching their victims cringe, cower, and beg.

Mass murderers have a total of ten classifications. These classifications are based on psychological, biological, and sociological categories.

Family Annihilator: An offender of this classification is one who kills his or her family, then commits suicide, such as the previously-mentioned Adam Lanza.

Murderer for Profit: Just as the title of the classification suggests, these offenders murder for material gain, usually for money.

Murderers for sex: Again as the title of the classification suggests, these offenders intend to rape and murder their victims.


Pseudo-Commando: These offenders have an obsession with guns and fantasize about murder.

Set and Run Killer: This classification of offenders includes those who plan an escape route for after the killings.

Psychotic Killer: This classification of killers include those who suffer from psychosis and are considered to be legally insane.

Disgruntled Employee: Offenders in this classification kill for revenge on coworkers and/or employers. These “wrongs” may be real or imaginary.

Disciple-Type Killer and Institutional Mass Murderer: These classifications include offenders who commit murder to fulfill the command of a charismatic leader.

Ideological Mass Murderer: An offender (often times a cult leader) who persuades others to kill each other and/or themselves.

As it stands today, we do not have enough information about how the brain works to be able to detect why certain people not only think about killing, but also follow through with it and truly believe in their minds that the act was logical. As science and research becomes more and more advanced, it is quite possible that in our lifetime, we will be able to know why some people kill and what the red flags of a murderer are and be able to help them before they commit horrible and unnecessary crimes.

Categories: Criminal Defense