Murderers are Stupid, Generally

My friend Howard read my post about the new show, The Following, and sent me the following message:

The Following was just stupid, another one of these “being evil gives you superpowers” plots.

Now I’m mad I didn’t make that point first. I understand that for the sake of drama murderers have to be portrayed as smart, creative, and almost supernaturally capable, but in reality they’re almost never brilliant masterminds. I spent a few years studying murder for my book about the NYPD’s Cold Case Squad, and God was that research an eye-opener. Of course there are exceptions, but in general murderers are stupid. They’re inept in pretty much every area of life, including murder which they frequently bungle (I wrote about one case where they killed the wrong guy.) Murderers are the opposite of confident and powerful. They’re usually the most insecure people ever and they often kill because someone has embarrassed or made them feel ashamed in some way. Instead of addressing the insecurity they have to eliminate the reminder, the person who drew attention to whatever it is that made them feel bad about themselves.

Murderers don’t educate themselves. They don’t eat well or exercise and it shows. They’re ignorant, out of shape, have bad skin, and many kill because they drank too much, or did some nasty drug, not that they’re charming, wonderful people when sober.

Also, chances are pretty good that you’ve interacted with someone who has killed another human being and gotten away with it. It’s disturbingly easy to get away with murder alas, and at least a third of the murders in this country are never solved. (That percentage is actually a lot higher I’ve learned, I just can’t give an exact figure. A case is closed when the police make an arrest, but if it turns out they arrested the wrong person, or they later lose the case, they don’t go back and adjust the numbers.)

Note to murderers: Please don’t feel like I’ve dissed you and now you have to kill me to save face. If you are smart than clearly I wasn’t talking about you. But please don’t kill ever again. Thank you in advance.

I was walking down Staple Street, a favorite street of mine downtown, and of course I passed by a photo shoot. Can’t walk out the door these days without coming across one shoot or another.

Stacy Horn

I've written six non-fiction books, the most recent is Damnation Island: Poor, Sick, Mad, and Criminal in 19th-Century New York.

View all posts by Stacy Horn →

4 thoughts on “Murderers are Stupid, Generally

  1. Hi Stacy,
    good point. While it is true that you have your sophisticated mob hits and other well thought out murders, the percentage is small compared to the commonplace murders.

    I griped about Hannibal Lector from the same point of view that you offer here.

    One of the reasons that the French existentialists admired Dasheil Hammett, Raymond Chandler (the master), Ross McDonald, and some others was because they placed murder in the dingy back alleys and sordid circumstances where murder actually occurred.

    Apparently, before that detective fiction was primarily of the armchair variety.

    Lord So-and-so would brush the crumbcake off his waistcoat and arise to explain to the assembled suspects that one of them was a murderer and then through brilliant analysis explain who invariably had to be the murderer.

    Then Dashiel Hammett came along, followed by the never-surpassed Raymond Chandler, and suddenly murders were committed by out-of-control alcoholics, dead bodies were found in slum tenement houses, dope fiends and jealous spouses were in abundance.

    Far from the fiction of Criminal Minds and other programs suggesting murderers are all criminal masterminds.

    Agatha Christie always reminded the reader that murder had dramatic moral implications. Or as Ross McDonald once said, murder is a pretty nasty, terminal thing to do to someone.

  2. Perfect line.

    Also, the mob isn’t what they used to be. They were the ones whose hit men murdered the wrong guy (mentioned in my post). It was a really sad story actually.

    But yeah, murder is ugly all around.

  3. Hi Stacy,
    exactly right. ‘La Cosa Nostra’ is not what it once was. Since Joe Pistone infiltrated the Bonannos, things have been going steadily downhill. Every mob boss has been put out of action.

    That’s the good news. The bad news is that the Russian mob, who first took over Brighton Beach, and other organized crime groups have moved into the vacuum, and some of them are worse.

    I won’t even bother to talk about the 7 drug cartels along the Mexican border that have turned towns like Phoenix into the kidnapping capitol of the world.

    While all the attention was on this psychopath rogue cop in California, a sophisticated hit took place here in Texas. A couple of weeks ago in the town of Kaufman, a DA was killed by 2 unknown men dressed entirely in black who have disappeared without a trace. I don’t have to tell you that some individual or group who decides to take out a DA is doing some very careful planning.

    On another subject, I have to extend kudos to Jodie Foster. When a sequel to Silence of the Lambs was developed, she refused to play Clarice Sterling after she saw the script. Anyone who knows me understands that I rarely have anything good to say about people in show business. But Jodie Foster was a mother by the time the script was developed, and she apparently did not want her son to turn on cable someday and see his mom portraying a degenerate. Show business people so rarely do anything that smacks of integrity and decency, I have the highest praise for her here.

    All of the above does not challenge our agreement that most murders today take place in depraved circumstances by people on dope or booze or by anger freaks or by people who would rather kill than find a way to pay for their own carton of cigarettes.

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