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Science of Murder

Is there a science to murder? Is evil real or folklore?

William Blackstone (citing Edward Coke), in his Commentaries on the Laws of England set out the common law definition of murder as:

“ when a person, of sound memory and discretion, unlawfully killeth any reasonable creature in being and under the king’s peace, with malice aforethought, either express or implied.”

The elements of common law murder are:

The killing—At common law life ended with cardiopulmonary arrest—the total and permanent cessation of blood circulation and respiration. With advances in medical technology courts have adopted irreversible cessation of all brain function as marking the end of life.

of a human being—This element presents the issue of when life begins. At common law, a fetus was not a human being. Life began when the fetus passed through the birth canal and took its first breath.

by another human being—at early common law, suicide was considered murder. The requirement that the person killed be someone other than the perpetrartor excluded suicide from the definition of murder.

with malice aforethought—originally “malice aforethought” carried its everyday meaning—a deliberate and premeditated killing of another motivated by ill will. Murder necessarily required that an appreciable time pass between the formation and execution of the intent to kill. The courts broadened the scope of murder by eliminating the requirement of actual premeditation and deliberation as well as true malice. All that was required for malice aforethought to exist is that the perpetrator act with one of the four states of mind that constitutes “malice.”
Now, these are only a few mentionings of the legal aspects of murder.
What are some of the scientific factors involed in one human being coming to that snapping point of murder. What actually happens in the brain?

The Killer’s Brain
What makes a murderer? Can malfunctions in the brain compel someone to commit acts of extreme cruelty? Are killers born or made? From Columbia University, forensic psychiatrist Dr. Michael Stone has created journeys to better understand why people kill and shows this information on Discovery Channel’s Most Evil . He talks with a variety of scientists about their work and examines possible scientific explanations for violent behavior. Here is a small video excerpt:

Do you think that committing murder is only a matter of choice? Does everyone have the capability of preventing that snap in the brain? Is it all just chemical imbalances, lack of one chemical or too much secreted of another that causes the switch to flip in the mind of a murderer?

To argue agains chemical imbalances, Elliott Valenstein, Ph.D., is a professor of psychology and neuroscience at the University of Michigan who rejects the simple-minded ‘chemical imbalance’ theories. He challenges the conventional assumption that mental illness is biochemical.
In his 1998 book, “Blaming the Brain: The Truth about Drugs and Mental Health”, Valenstein agrees that while psychotropic drugs sometimes do work, they do not even begin to address the real cause of mental disorders. They are still considered an “unproven hypothesis” used as pocket-padding marketing practices of the drug industry.

So, are all of the murderers in our prisons considered to have a chemical imbalance/mentally ill?
Just eight years ago, there were 148,300 persons in America’s state prisons who had been sentenced for the crime of murder. Within these confines, approximately 16 percent of the population had been diagnosed by doctors, prescribing chemical lobotomizing drugs, as having mental illness. Thirteen percent of incarcerated persons who were mentally ill had been sentenced for murder. Based on these rates, and a recent state prison population count of 1,255,514,1 it is estimated that more than 26,000 persons with a mental illness are currently incarcerated for murder in the United States. Despite the magnitude of these counts, surprisingly little is currently known about prisoners with severe mental illness who have been incarcerated for murder. a high school education or equivalent, were living in stabilized housing, and, to a lesser degree, were involved in significant intimate and familial relationships. Rage or anger, sexual perversions and issues of control were overwhelmingly directed toward intimate or family relations and were frequently mentioned motives for murder. The use of a firearm or sharp object, were the widely used tool of choice . Most of those who were chosen to be studied had been raised in households with significant family dysfunction, had extensive histories of substance abuse and criminality, and had received little treatment for their mental and substance use disorders.
Some like to blame the quick-to-prescribe-a-pill psychologists and their sidekick pharmaceutical companies for creating these monsters. Others want to blame the actions of these twisted minds on the social impacts of poverty, alcohol and street drugs. And still, scientists are saying that they now have a way to prove the makings of a murderer through new technologies which can measure aspects of the human brain.
Is evil real and can science prove or disprove its existence within us?

REAL PHOTO OF A SERIAL KILLER’S LETTER TO POLICE:

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Gumshoe

You may or may not be familiar with the term “gumshoe”,  but most have heard the term as a nick-name used for many private investigators.

After a little investigating of my own,  information was come across as to where the term originated.

The first post proposed that the term “gumshoe” was a tribute to the sticking power of a PI — “you can’t get them off. They stick.” Cute explanation, but couldn’t be sure of its veracity. Read on.

The next theory suggests that the name originated from the gum-rubber soles on the shoes worn by detectives and PIs way back when. The rubber soles allowed the investigator to move quietly and avoid detection. Sounded plausible, but still the investigation persisted.

The final theory offered on the page suggested that the term originated because private investigators did so much walking in bad neighborhoods to interview people and gather information that they inevitably ended up with gum on their shoes. Hmmm, sounded a little suspect.

Turning to the search results, I tried to pick up the trail before it got cold. Our next stop was a web page called Cool Words, dedicated to the etymology of interesting words. The entry on “gumshoe” backed the rubber-soled shoe theory.

The evidence was piling up, but there was still need to consult a trusted informant before concluding the investigation. Turning to encyclopedia.com, a reliable source,  or at least appropriately enough, the site seemed to corroborate the rubber-sole theory.

It turns out that the original “gumshoes” of the late 1800’s were shoes or boots made of gum rubber, the soft-soled precursors of our modern sneakers… At the turn of the century “to gumshoe” meant to sneak around quietly as if wearing gumshoes, either in order to rob or, conversely, to catch thieves. “Gumshoe man” was originally slang for a thief, but by about 1908 “gumshoe” usually meant a police detective, as it has ever since.

Most everyone remembers this cynical, cigar weilding gumshoe.

For those of you who are too young to recall the dectective stories/ t.v. series, maybe you might have caught the  comic turned movie, Dick Tracy with Madonna playing the part of the seductive and pouty “bad girl”.

madonnadicktracy.jpg Dick Tracy image by kcsupercooper

Other than movies or telelvision, literature has been home to many mysterious and exciting adventures involving quick witted and detail focused detectives.

The famous Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote on the beloved Sherlock Holmes.

Agatha Chritie wrote of Hercule Poirot.

But today, the honor goes to Raymond Chandler, in honor of remembering his birthday. He was author of such great pulp-fiction works as “The Simple Art of Murder” or “The Big Sleep”, truly admired classics.

Chandler was a novelist and screenwriter who had an immense influence upon the modern private detective story, especially in the writing style that is now characteristic of that genre. His protagonist, Philip Marlowe, along with Dashiell Hammett’s Sam Spade, is considered synonymous with private detectives.

Stories of mystery and murder can really work the imagination and critical thinking process, trying to deduce the motives and oust the real criminal.

So, if you are wanting to delve into the world of “Who-Dunnit?”, visit your local library and see if you can catch the clues before you read to the end.

 “Ability is what you’re capable of doing. Motivation determines what you do. Attitude determines how well you do it.” 

~ Raymond Chandler