The Psychology Behind Mass Murderers (Part Two)

The Psychology Behind Mass Murderers (Part Two)
Photo Credit:Jamie McCaffrey CC BY 2.0
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By Lin I-hsin

“Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it." – Helen Keller

Random killings are not uncommon in foreign countries. In recent years there have been a number of school shootings or mass killings in Europe and America, such as the 2011 Norway attacks where the death tool reached 77 people, as well as the overseas students who lost their lives in the recent California Isla Vista shootings. Taiwan’s national conditions and social environment resemble its neighboring country, Japan. Since 1993, statistics show random murder cases appear more than once every year. Regarding such offenses, careful research is of great value.

  • In 2013, the Ministry of Justice in Japan proposed the “non-discriminatory anti-event-related studies," which analyzes the background and characteristics of 52 murder cases since 2000, attempting to describe the happenings and propose prevention methods. First, let’s start with the characteristics of people who go on a killing spree.
  • In most cases, the person has no previous criminal record.
  • When looking at the criminal motive, there is the “suicide or the wanting death penalty-type”, as well as the “having a desire to kill-type" of which the offenders are relatively young.
  • The criminal has bad or weak relationships with the family and doesn’t really interact with others. The criminal usually has no friends or very fragile relationships. But this is almost the same among all criminals.
  • Looking at economic statuses, there can’t be a positive and stable economic life with low incomes. From a residential perspective, there’s no secure home or living in social care facilities. A lot of criminals lack a long-term stable living environment.
  • “Suicide or wishing the death penalty" and the “interested in killing and having a desire to kill” type of people usually have no previous criminal record.
  • These people are more sensitive, self-critical and have feelings of inferiority. They lack confidence, get easily upset and tend to be more biased.
  • Before committing the crime, a certain percentage of criminals seek help from doctors regarding their inner impulses.
  • Almost half of the criminals who have been in prison before end up committing random murders within a year after getting released. There is also a considerable amount of people that commit a crime only one month after being released. This shows that many people run into difficulties after they get out of prison.
Analysis of random killings in Japan

A. Age – predominantly young males

Japan calls these kinds of murders, “phantom killers (通り魔).” Out of a total of 52 offenders, most of them were younger than 38 years old with up to 17 people (32.7%) ranging between 30 to 39 years old. 14 of the criminals were between 20 to 29 years old (26.9%). But there were also two seniors aged 60 to 64 (3.8%), which is different from most homicides.

B. Family status – half of the men lived alone, 80% were unmarried and 50% did not have any friends.

Looking at residential and marital statuses, 43 people (82.7%) lived in cities while 26 people lived alone (50%). But 30 people were living with relatives, which is not a big difference from the amount of people living alone. However there is a clear difference in marital statuses. Up to 43 people were unmarried and among the nine people that were married, seven were divorced and one lived separately. During the time the crimes were committed, 45 people did not have any relationships with other people, of which 18 didn’t even have any experience going out with the opposite sex (six people are still unknown). There were also 28 people who hardly had any friends.

C. Employment and economic status – over 70% of the criminals were unemployed and over half had no income at all.

Looking at employment statuses, though 47 people (90.4%) had working experience, only 25 people still had a job a year before committing the crime. During the time of the crime, only ten people still had a job. Among those ten, only four were regular employees. In terms of livelihood, 31 people had no income and 27 people didn’t even have a relative providing financial support. In contrast, three people had a monthly income over JP$ 200,000, and two people even had loans over JP$ 5 million.

D. Education – over 90 % did not go to college while over 30% dropped out of high school and university.

From an educational perspective, most people don’t have a higher education or are university dropouts. But there were two university students (3.8%). More than half had no previous criminal record. Out of those who did have a criminal record, most of the criminal activities were small felony offenses and they were very young at the time the crimes were committed.

E. Criminal record – nearly half of the people had a criminal record for multiple felonies or several prison records.

24 people have criminal records with as many as 54 convictions. A study indicates that the people with over five offenses took up 1.5%. Most of these were serious crimes.

F. Random homicide patterns summarized – criminal patterns and their motivations are hard to understand, creating increased difficulty in crime prevention.

Motives for committing the crime: 15 people were dissatisfied with their lives, five people held grudges against specific people, five people hoped to get the death penalty, eight people wished to escape reality by being locked up, three people had the desire to kill and nine people had unspecified motives.

The Japanese research shows, random killers are usually people living in bad social conditions, received bad education and employment, have bad relations with family and friends or have all kinds of stress and are discontent about various events. They regain self-worth through mass killing. Under long-term social pressure, they may have come down with a certain degree of mental illness. In order to prevent offenders from committing a crime, we need to spend more time on improving situations for people on the edge of society in terms of educational and medical needs.

How to improve the situation

Law professor at National Taiwan University, Li Mao-sheng, once said, “The frequency of random murders is becoming increasingly higher, but the time-frame in which they happen will be getting shorter."
Li compared Japan and Taiwan saying, “Japan doesn’t only do research after such an event, but also establishes laws. Even though the regulations haven’t been as effective as hoped and there are still some human rights concerns, but at least Japan is doing something. Taiwan has taken no action other than having the death penalty.”
Regarding convicts that are charged with random murders, Japanese studies mention:
First, to improve the violent nature of a person, personality disorders and other problems need to be treated as a mental disorder.

Second, it is important to help criminals recover from social digression.

Strategies to implement within society:

First, to prevent anti-discriminatory incidents, it is important to prevent isolation.

Second, create an environment that will enable people to participate in various social activities and find a place for themselves within the society.

Third, broadcast relevant information related to mental disorders so people with these disorders can be treated as soon as possible.

Fourth, some behavioral patterns are recognizable before the crime is committed. One of the most common actions is an attempt to commit suicide. Promote measures to prevent suicide to reduce the number of suicide attempts. That way it will also prevent random murders.

After the incident (MRT killing spree in Taipei), Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-jie indicated during an interview that we need to show care for the alienated people in the society. “The opposite of love is not hate, but ignorance," and “caring for others is self-protection," are what should be kept in mind.

What should become a priority is how to prevent these random murders from happening again. We should identify and reach out to these potential social outcasts.

In addition to the overall improvement of the social environment and integration of other resources in Taiwan, the people should be more aware and have a sense of crises. Most importantly, if family and friends have these social outcasts among them, they should inform psychologists, psychiatrists or a consultant. In Japan, more than half of the random killers live with their families, but they obviously did not receive any intervention.

Afterword

People are still living in fear after the random killings of Zheng-jie last year. I read a lot of related articles and realized this is not the first time random killings happened in Taiwan. It was only a big deal because it took place on the MRT in Taipei and a lot of people died.

But because there were relatively few related articles available in Taiwan, I also turned to study random murders abroad. I learned that in Taiwan, only few people pay attention to this matter. Also, the Taiwanese society often covers things up. The corporate thinking has always been, “Make money first and reduce costs. Let the government deal with all abnormal issues and handle the crisis.” Corporations do not want to take any responsibility.

Think about this; if something similar occurs in Ximending, how would management units deal with it?

The world is becoming increasingly uncertain with natural disasters happen more and more often. While the types of crimes are becoming increasingly more diverse, people should have a deeper awareness of crisis. Crisis management in other countries is a kind of significant learning, but there is no particular advocacy for these matters in Taiwan nor do authorities pay attention to crisis prevention like the Japanese Ministry of Justice and provide detailed reports on related research.

Taiwan’s research in local random killings is close to zero. In fact, there is the old saying, “Prevention is better than curing." Related departments should establish local information soon in order to grasp the characteristics of various murderers and to have reference for prevention and treatment.

The killings by Zheng Jie made me want to understand criminal psychology better. In early June this year, after speaking to psychologist Li Zheng-da, I decided to start watching the movie, “Zodiac,” to understand these situations better. I happened to find a list of the world’s top ten killers on the internet. All of a sudden it made me feel horrified and gave me goose bumps. I became scared at night and it was difficult to fall asleep. I more or less understood the phrase by Nietzsche, “If you stare into the abyss, the abyss stares back at you."

The glory of humanity is infinite, like the scorching sun illuminating everything. But at the same time, it is this bottomless, dark and frightening hole where terror attacks. The old saying by English poet John Milton in “Paradise Lost” goes, “The heart is in his position, only an idea between; heaven becomes hell, hell becomes heaven." It only takes a second for one to decide whether he or she wants to be a good or bad person. This makes me understand human nature at a deeper level, to which you cannot help but smile.

Translated by Sarah Grasdijk
Edited by Olivia Yang

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