Every hour and a quarter, 24 hours a day a murder is recorded on a U.S. police blotter. Men shoot and stab each other. They crack each other’s skulls with sash weights. They poison. They use fists. They put bombs in planes, killing dozens to do away with the one life they are after. 1957 is the last full year on which figures are available. The research is decades old but the trends haven’t changed. Back in 1957 almost 7,000 persons were known to the police to have died by murder. In actuality, there were more than that for the undetected murder, masquerading as death by natural causes or by accident, never becomes a murder statistic. While the total number of major crimes in the country has gone up for at least 20 years and has risen far faster than the growth of population the rate of murder has been falling almost steadily. Murder s one crime that is growing less and less popular. Perhaps it’s been replaced by pachisi.
This is no cause for rejoicing. The United States still holds clear title to being the world’s most murdering nation. The murder rate appears to be almost eight times as high as England’s, twice that of Japan, four times that of West Germany, 13 times that of Norway. Murder is not a major cause of death. Well, it certainly leads to death but not in major proportions. Known murders amount to less than half our known suicides and claim less than a fifth of the number of lives in auto accidents. Statistically the murderer is only one-ninetieth as big a killer as heart disease. Students of murder can spot only the ostensible reasons for it; greed, jealousy, fear, revenge, or a sudden insane anger that seizes a person and, a moment later blots out all memory of his deed. Here is what we know of murder as of the spring of 1959.
Despite the headlines as of late murder is not predominantly committed by crazy juvenile delinquents. In a group of cities with a total population of 40,000,000, persons in the 30-34 age group, in 1957, committed more murders than any others – 15 percent of the total. The 25-29 age group was close behind. But murders by kids 18 years old and less were only 8.7 percent. Women as well as men commit murder and the bleak statistics leave large areas for free play of the imagination on cause. Divorced men are nearly six times as likely to be murdered as married men. Widowed men are four times as likely to be murdered. Do most such men expire while a woman scorned, brimming with furies worse than hell stands over them clutching a smoking gun? Think Betty Broderick and Jean Harris. Heaven hath not so great a rage as love to hatred turned, nor hell a fury as a women scorned, or something like that. Murder is predominantly a man’s crime. Women killed less than a quarter of those who met death at the hands of others in 1957. How civilized is the gentler sex.
On the receiving end divorced women stand a three-to-one greater chance of being murdered than their married sisters. Single women are the safest. A man’s chance of being murdered or of murdering varies greatly according to geography. Sixteen Southern states, with only 29 percent of the population had more than 42 percent of the murders. Southern cities have the highest per-capita rate. Macon, Ga., with a 1957 rate of one murder for each 4,542 residents, led all the rest. Columbus, Ohio was the most murder-free big city, with one murder for each 41,054 people, closely followed by Buffalo and Milwaukee. But that was by no means the tops in performance. Among 557 U.S.
cities of more than 25,000 population, 189 of them had no murders at all. The Federal Bureau of Investigation cautions that there are pitfalls in comparing crime data among cities. It lists many non-comparable environmental factors: climate, size of population and its stability, its composition as to age, sex, and race, economic status, the size an efficiency of the police force, policies of prosecuting officials and courts, local attitudes toward crime and the city’s facilities for education, recreation and religious worship. Generally poverty-stricken areas are the most likely for murder and other types of crime. Crime is an accepted way of life. Children grow up surrounded by it and accept it as normal.
Among the great metropolitan areas, New York had the largest number of murders in 1957. But it could muster evidence that it was a pretty safe place if live: one murder there for each 24,000 residents. The Los Angeles-Long Beach area, despite TV’s Lieut.Friday, had one for each 19,500. In Chicago the rate was one for each 13,000.
During hot weather more murders are committed. For the 10 years starting with 1948, the frequency of murder climbed in late spring stayed high in the summer and dwindled in the fall. But here a strange phenomenon occurs; in five of those 10 years the single month with the highest incidence of murder was December. Police explain the warm-weather peak as resulting from anger induced by discomfort. It’s hot, one citizen offends another with a hair-trigger temper and gunshot settles the issue. Opportunity is also a factor. The woodsy, isolated areas frequented by those escaping the heat are convenient murder locales. So much for vacationing in Florida this winter.
As for the December peak the cops also have some theories – though these can’t, in the nature of things be readily tested. For one thing the winter solstice is near, days are short and darkness encourages the crime of ultimate secrecy. There is more drinking during the holidays and this can lead to arguments culminating in murder. Finally people are walking around with money in their pockets for Christmas presents and murder may be a by-product of the sharp increase of robbery. Peace on earth and good will toward men. Mind you, suicides are also the highest during the Christmas season. People who lack family and friends feel this isolation sharpest during a season that celebrates togetherness and love.
Police records indicate that murder weapons change little from year to year. An exotic weapon gains publicity because of its very rarity. The booby-trapped auto or the bomb-laden suitcase are sure of headlines. An imaginative dentist became notorious when he filled a victim’s cavity with slow-acting poison. Nice. But by far the largest number of murders are committed with four “standard‘ weapons: hand guns, cutting instruments, blunt instruments, and bare hands. Hand guns are of commonly revolvers or automatics, cutting instruments range from razors to switchblade knives and cleavers. The blunt instrument is a tire iron, bat, poker. Ouch. Dare I say you have to be pretty darned determined to do the deed when you resort to such measures?
Because of its admixture of races and cultures, and its extremes of wealth, New York City supplies a rich sample of modes in murder. A study of 320 murders in 1958 showed that about half the killers used knives or other cutting instruments. They used hand guns only half as often and blunt instruments only a fourth as often. They killed with their bare hands only one time in eight. Far down the list were rifles, shotguns, poisons, and the automobile. A persistent murderer seldom changes his modus operandi. An English killer got caught after his sixth slaying only because he extinguished each of his victims in the same way by strangling. He was in a rut. Meh. We all get that way now and then.
Case Study Number One – Robert Ben Rhoades
Robert Ben Rhoades is considered one of the most dangerous and notorious serial sex offenders and killers in the United States. Some investigators believe that he is responsible for at least 50 but possibly hundreds of deaths. However he has only been convicted of one homicide for which he is serving a life sentence. Rhoades was a professional long-haul truck driver and his case dramatically demonstrates the sophistication of a criminal predator who can effectively defy law enforcement by taking advantage of fragmented law enforcement efforts, disconnected and detached data resources, and inconsistent investigative approaches.
On April 1, 1990, Trooper Mike Miller, an Arizona highway patrolman, observed a semi-tractor-trailer parked on the shoulder of I-10. As Miller approached the vehicle to offer assistance, he looked inside the 18-wheeler and observed a bound, nude, white female in the sleeper berth of the cab. A horse-type bit and bridle was in the mouth of the terrified victim who was chained to the interior of the truck. Also in the sleeper berth was Robert Ben Rhoades, who, when surprised by the trooper’s advance, immediately exited the truck and tried to convince Miller that nothing was wrong. Rhoades stated that the events being discovered were consensual and a private matter. Yep. You see women bridled due to mutual consent every day. After the terrified victim (later identified as Lisa Pennal) was released, she recounted her story of abduction and torture. She stated that she had accepted a ride with Rhoades at a coffee shop in Buckeye, Arizona. Although Pennal was difficult to interview and spoke in fractured sentences, the investigators learned of her transient lifestyle and current drug abuse. The investigator noted that though she was dressed in a skirt and shirt, on her feet she wore only slippers designed like a cartoon tiger.
Rhoades made light of the mental capacity of the victim and tried to get the investigator to sympathize with him as he described her as the aggressor in the event, referring to her as a “lot lizard.” Here was his defense at the time of his arrest: “‘I can tell you, this girl is not playing with a full deck. ‘She ain’t wrapped too tight. You don’t screw around with the women on the road. Not unless you want your dick to drop off, okay? . . . She wanted to go to bed. . . . I was dragging anchor. She was going back to bed.‘ I said, ‘Go ahead.’ She started taking off her clothes, and I said, ‘What the $%^& and I let her'” It is safe to say that Rhoades would never have made an effective criminal defense lawyer. The Rhoades case demonstrates the rare case of the insane serial killer-rapist who simply stalks and murders for pleasure. There’s always that, as rare as it is. In The Mind of the Murderer, W. Lindesay Neustatter remarks, “. . . motive, without the whole background in which it is set, tells little of the criminal’s psychology.” He classifies murderers as the schizophrenic (with delusions of persecution), the hysteric, the mental defective, the paranoiac (victim of a systemized delusional insanity), the epileptic (with epileptic automatism and amnesia), the constitutionally unstable psychopath, and finally the chap who is simply depressed possibly due to low blood sugar (momentary malnutrition). Be warned: avoid epileptics, nutcases and people with hypoglycemia. Seriously.
Case Study Number Two – Christine and Lea Papin
For six years, sisters Christine and Lea Papin lived and worked as maids in the household of Monsieur Lancelin, a retired solicitor, Madame Lancelin and their daughter Genevieve, in the town of Le Mans, France. On February 2nd 1933, while the family was out, a fuse blew as the sisters were ironing. This fuse had already blown and had been fixed the previous day. The cost had been deducted from the maids’ wages. Madame Lancelin and her daughter returned home to discover the lights out. They confronted the maids on the stairs where they were murdered. After the murder the maids bolted the doors to the house. They then bolted the door to their own room and lay together in bed, engaging in incestuous sex. The sisters and Madame Lancelin had been experiencing a strained professional relationship for some time. On their weekly day off the girls spent all day locked up in their bedroom together and it was discovered they engaged in incestuous sex, possibly an exaggerated expression of sisterly affection. Certainly this was their first venture miles from home and their lack of mothering may have led to their unnatural relationship. Madame was decidedly unimpressed and began to abuse her maids mentally and verbally. Class differences and economic dependence also tormented the two sisters, who developed a vengeful hatred toward Madame Lancelin.
Monsieur Lancelin, on returning home from a game of bridge and finding himself locked out eventually broke in with the help of a locksmith and three policemen and discovered the scene. The maids were tried and found guilty of murder, despite a defense of insanity. Christine was sentenced to the guillotine. However, she actually died in an asylum, four years after the trial, of a lung infection as a result of starving herself. Lea was sentenced to ten years of hard labour, after which she returned to her former occupation as a maid and to live with her mother.
Both Rhoades and the Papin sisters committed sexually motivated crimes, definitely a common theme among murderers. Murder is murder not only in its time and place but also in the murderer’s own image of himself. For he can say with Shakespeare’s Othello, “an honourable murderer, if you will;”For naught I did in hate, but all in honour.” Tell it to the judge.