Why do they do it anyway?

I was writing up a new MWAB case today, a man who was murdered by a co-worker in a dispute over money. The victim bought used cars, fixed them up and resold them. He paid the defendant to repair and refurbish the cars. Anyway, the murderer accepted money to fix a car, never did the work and never gave the money back. And when the victim started bugging him about it, the murderer went to his house and shot him.

This was a clearly premeditated crime: the bullets used in the murder had been purchased five days beforehand. And it couldn’t be chalked up to a youthful indiscretion either: the killer was in his fifties. Now he’s going to spend the rest of his life behind bars, and good riddance.

So many of the murders I hear and write about were committed for similarly stupid reasons. Now, outright murder (as opposed to killing someone in self-defense) is never acceptable, but sometimes I can understand why someone might be tempted to do it. Like, if there was a lot of money involved, for example. If you set morals aside (and a terrifingly large percentage of people can do so), weighing all the odds and so on, it might be worth risking a very very long prison sentence for a million dollars or so. Or if the victim had done something really, really bad to someone you loved. I’d hate to see what Michael would do to Rollo if he ever got his hands on him. (Or maybe I wouldn’t hate to see it after all…)

And there are also the completely random murders of strangers, committed by serial killers. Those are incomprehensible to me and belong in a class by themselves. Fortunately, those are quite rare. As are other murders committed for similarly psychopathic reasons (Josh Powell anyone?), and murders committed by people who are truly crazy. (I should note that people with severe mental illness are much more likely to become VICTIMS of violent crime than commit violent crime themselves.)

I read about homicides being committed for the dumbest reasons, by people like you and me, people who are troubled perhaps, but certainly not psychopaths. The Elizabethan-era poet Christopher Marlowe was murdered at age 29 in a dispute over a bar tab. (Maybe.) But, assuming it happened the way the “official” story says it happened, that was what they call a crime of passion and his killers were probably drunk. But premeditated homicides are also committed for stupid reasons. Like the dispute over car repair money I mentioned above. Dude, just give the money back. Or, if you spent it already, set up a payment plan. Or if the person wants to press charges, let him. You’ll probably get probation or whatever. Or go to jail for a few months. It’s better than going to prison forever, or even facing the death penalty. (The murderer in that case didn’t get the death penalty, but his crime was committed in a death penalty state.)

A few days ago I read a book, Among Murderers: Life After Prison, about three guys who’d who were each convicted of first-degree murder and spent decades behind bars. It was a true story about their reentry into society. It was very interesting. One of the men didn’t actually commit the murder himself; he planned a robbery with some other people, one of whom killed two men during the crime, which made each of the co-conspirators responsible for what happened. Another strangled a female friend after an argument. He could never explain, even to himself, why he did this. He was just a very angry young man, eighteen years old at the time of his crime. The third guy killed a stranger on the street. He’d gotten into a spat with the victim and his explanation went like this: The victim kept sticking his hand in his pocket as if he had a gun, which made the other guy (who DID have a gun) reluctant to try to hit him or anything like he wanted. Then he realized the victim was not really armed and was just messing with him. And he was like, “You don’t pretend you have a gun when you don’t really have one. That’s just not cool. I HAD to shoot him.”

What. The. Eff.

And none of these men were psychopaths. Neither did they suffer from mental illness. The first man felt terrible about what happened and actually had hallucinations of his victims in his cell. He said he had never committed a violent act and wouldn’t have gone into the robbery if he’d known any of his partners was armed. The other two were also quite remorseful — okay, the third one not so much, but he did acknowledge he’d committed a terrible crime, and when he explained why he did it he was only describing his state of mind at the time and not trying to claim the victim truly deserved his fate. He felt like he had to atone for what he did by being extra-good from then on and doing all sorts of good things for society. When the three killers were released from prison, they probably weren’t any more dangerous than the average person. Statistically speaking, if you commit murder, the odds that you’ll commit another murder are only about two percent. Compare that to other violent crimes like rape and robbery, which many of the perpetrators do over and over again.

So why do they do it in the first place?

Anyway. This is a bit of a pointless entry. I just don’t get what goes through those people’s heads.


18 thoughts on “Why do they do it anyway?

  1. Ilya Sitnikov February 28, 2013 / 10:37 am

    Had a related question:

    Do you think that harsher punishment would deter someone from committing a murder?

    I’m curious…

    • Meaghan February 28, 2013 / 10:45 am

      No. These people are obviously not thinking logically or they wouldn’t have committed murder in the first place. When a person commits murder either they:

      1. Don’t believe they’ll be caught, in which case the specified punishment doesn’t matter to them because they don’t expect it will be applied.
      2. Are so angry and irrational at the time that they’re really not thinking ahead as to what will happen to them later on.

      I think that for most or not all crimes, for prevention it’s not the SEVERITY of the punishment that much so much as the CERTAINTY of it. I took a criminology class when I was a teenager and was shocked to learn that only about half of all murders get solved, according to a broad definition of “solved,” which included the police deciding they knew who did it even if for whatever reason the suspected killer was never prosecuted.

  2. Ilya Sitnikov February 28, 2013 / 10:57 am

    Also…have you ever seen a website called Murder Wall?

    They have a list of entries for stories of murder victims – none of those are working right now, but I remember going through them in the past and being horrified at senselessness of the crimes.

  3. Ilya Sitnikov February 28, 2013 / 11:00 am

    What I find surprising too is that majority of murders seem to be a bleep on the map – people are saying “oh well” and move on most of the time, unless it’s something truly despicable (Shanda Sharer would be a good example).

    • holly February 28, 2013 / 11:11 am

      I agree.
      Her murder and torture was horrendous. And it seemed to be like you stated “a bleep on the map”

      • Meaghan February 28, 2013 / 11:24 am

        And two of the people involved are out of prison now.

  4. holly February 28, 2013 / 11:09 am

    I can’t say I get why people kill people. I don’t and I don’t accept “reasons” for it. But it remains completely unfathomable why people murder children. Adults tick other adults off. Okay. And there’s the whole love,jealousy,rage,etc issues with adults. Not a reason. But……children. Souls who have not done anything to anyone;trusting kids who most often and sadly know the people who take their lives,I cannot understand it. I hope I never do..

    • Meaghan February 28, 2013 / 11:22 am

      I think parents mostly abuse and kill their children because they (the parents) have serious life problems (mental problems, health problems, substance abuse problems, poverty, whatever) and can’t cope with parenthood. So they lash out.

      I don’t have children and I am afraid I would make a terrible parent. To begin with I had bad examples growing up, and there’s also my sensory issues. Kids are NOISY and I am terribly sensitive to loud high-pitched noises. I remember a few times in doctor’s waiting rooms or whatever, listening to some toddler screeching for no apparent reason and wanting to strangle it with my bare hands.

      • holly February 28, 2013 / 11:30 am

        I agree. Its good that you can see that. Many people who have children feel exactly the same way. And the problem comes in when the kid isn’t perfect and quiet. So they do things that make them bad parents (neglect,abuse,etc). We live in a society where if you don’t have children then there’s something wrong. I’m from the south and if you don’t have at least two kids and married at twenty-two,there’s an issue. And I do not fit into that mold. Nor will I ever. I have two daughters who are my life but hell will have a blizzard before I marry again. I’m off subject here. But just because society tells us parenting is the norm,,it is not for everyone and its smart to realize that.

      • Meaghan February 28, 2013 / 11:35 am

        My mother had seven children and wanted to have more — Dad put his foot down — when she shouldn’t have had even one child. She is just totally unsuited to it.

        Another good reason for me not to have kids is the meds I take. One of the medications I take for my bipolar disorder will have a 20% chance of causing serious birth defects if I continue to take it during pregnancy. My kid could be born with flippers or something. I could go off it easily enough (you can stop taking it right away, I think, rather than tapering it off slowly like you have to with some psych meds) but that would result in much misery for me and I’d go back to feeling suicidal 25% of the time. Not worth it.

  5. ADH February 28, 2013 / 11:38 am

    I had a co-worker once… nice guy, he worked at the company for many years and got along with everyone. He had taken days off here and there for court dates, and mentioned to me that he was trying to get custody of his daughter, because his ex-wife had married “a creep”.

    One day he came to work extremely distracted and rather agitated – which was very unlike him. I asked him what was wrong, and he said he had learned that his daughter’s step-father had been molesting her.

    He worked that full day, but he never showed back up after that. Nobody had any idea what happened to him until months later, when I received a letter from him at work.

    He didn’t elaborate a whole lot, but he said he had been charged with attempted murder, and he wanted a character reference for an upcoming court date. I gave him one.

    I think he just snapped. The system failed him and his daughter, and he felt he had no other choice left but to take it into his own hands.

  6. Kelly Evans February 28, 2013 / 2:45 pm

    I think I know exactly which mwab case you’re talking about. He lived next door to my ex-husband. I can’t believe when guys like this get caught, they won’t just tell the family where the body is…

    • Meaghan February 28, 2013 / 2:52 pm

      James Britt. Just posted today.

  7. Princess Shantae February 28, 2013 / 3:09 pm

    The harsher punishment might not realy deter them from doing wrong, but if they’re locked up or dead the odds of them doing the same thing again go way down.
    Did you see on Murderpedia the other day a woman named Pamela Perillo? Her and this married couple she was hitching with met up with this guy in Texas? He had them help him move house, took them out to eat several times, bought them stuff and so on. They saw he had some money and decided to kill him for it. The next day or maybe day after that he goes out to get them doughnuts and coffee and he comes back and they attack him, pistol whip him, tie him up. His male friend is there and is taken to the otherb room and tied up. First guy is strangled by Pamela Perillo, who has found a tape player and records the whole thing. Second guy is strangled in the bedroom.
    They take what they want, and give the tape player toa pawnshop but they forget to take the tape out of it, so the pawnshop guy listens to the tape and hears a man being strangled to death and then the roof falls in.
    Perillo and the husband got the death penalty and he was executed in 1995. She’s still waiting and will probably die of old age. The wife got five years probation b/c nobody couold be sure she was actually in the room when this happened.
    But there’s a crime with the stupidest motive: a guy is nice to them, feeds them and all, and they think hey, let’s take his money and kill him and his friend while we’re at it. And let’s record it on tape too. No damn sense.

    • Justin February 28, 2013 / 11:51 pm

      Pamela Lynn Perillo’s sentence was commuted to life in 2000 because of a technicality. The state did not want to retry the case after her sentence was overturned on appeal, so they made a deal with Perillo and she accepted a life sentence plus 30 years for aggravated robbery. She is eligible for parole at this time.

  8. Princess Shantae March 1, 2013 / 8:32 am

    Oh I didn’t read down far enough I guess.

    • Justin March 2, 2013 / 12:10 am

      I was surprised that she lasted 20 years with a death sentence in Texas. In California, that’s the norm, but Texas tends to not let them take up too much time on Death Row. The prosecutors must have made a lot of really stupid mistakes with her case for that to happen.

      • Meaghan July 1, 2014 / 1:57 pm

        Maybe because she’s a woman.

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