by | Feb 18, 2022 | Chris Goff | 9 comments

By Chris Goff

Barbara Graham Français murdered Mabel, a 64-year-old widow, for her valuables. Barbara left empty-handed, though $15K worth of money and jewels were later found in the closet of the room where Mable was murdered.

Years ago, when I was just starting out as a mystery writer, I did my due diligence, in finding out what drives people to kill. Afterall, the strength of a book depends on the strength of the motives driving the action.

According to most experts there are seven major reasons someone kills: revenge, jealousy, thrill, love, gain, conviction/hate and concealment. Thirty plus years ago, jealousy and love topped the list for the reasons most women killed. Now, with a different generation of women driving the stats, I decided to do another deep dive.

Have the reasons to kill changed? Not so much.

According to most sources, the seven categories still stand. Though, I did find an interesting article in Law Enforcement Today where former cold case homicide detective J. Warner Wallace, claims there are only three reasons why people become killers: financial greed, sexual—or relational—lust, and pursuit of power.

Either way, it turns out love has little to do with it.

Women nearly always kill for gain. “Gain homicides” being those committed for personal benefit, such as money or business and personal advantage—insurance payouts, assets, or being removed from a will following a divorce.

Women who kill are more likely than men to suffer from serious mental illness. Men are far more likely to suffer from personality disorders and are often sociopaths who are unable to empathize with their victims. This might be the reason that most of the murders in all categories are still committed by men—90.3% according to the US Department of Justice.

One thing stands true

Women are less likely to use extreme violence.

“Women tend as a rule to do softer killings, poisoning, suffocation, those sorts of things. Rarely are they the slasher types or inflicting a lot of bodily damage,” said Gregg McCrary, a retired criminal profiler for the FBI.

“Women are different in whom, how and why they kill. The victims are younger, they’re more often related to them, they kill with means other than guns. For women, killing is often seen as a last resort — a defensive move, whereas, for men, it’s an offensive move,” said James Alan Fox, a criminologist at Northeastern University.

So, what does love have to do with it?

According to a study in the Boston Globe, men are actually more romantic than women. They say “I love you” first, they have more positive recollections of their fist kiss and are more likely to end a relationship because it lacked “magic.”

Sounds like motive for a murder mystery to me.

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  1. Rogue Women Writers

    I hadn’t every focused on seven reasons people would commit a murder – this is really interesting…and Chris, you write terrific mysteries (a genre I don’t believe I could ever master what with the need to leave “clues” along the way and all the rest). Thanks for a very thought-provoking piece here…..Karna Small Bodman

    • Chris Goff

      It’s not something I really focus on, but any murder, even ones in the thrillers are done with motive. Just motives on a bigger–much bigger–stage. It’s kind of fascinating to try and fit the motives. Often there are more than one. Goes with the principles of dialogue. Make it do more than one thing and it’s stronger.

  2. Lisa Black

    Very interesting!! I assume this applies to premeditated murders, though, because after 25 years in forensics I’ve come to believe that most murders occur because somebody got made at somebody else. 2nd most common reason, I agree, is greed/power, as so many murders seem to surround the drug trade.

    • Chris Goff

      I imagine it makes a difference where you’re located in the US or around the world, too. Though certainly it makes sense crimes of passion are number one.

  3. Tracy Clark

    Intriguing piece. Motive is everything. The great P.D. James outlined just four motives for murder–love, lust, loathing and lucre, but there’s bound to be some cross-pollination going on. For sure a lot goes on in a killer’s mind.

    • Chris Goff

      PD James is one of my favorite authors of all time. I’ve read all of her books. I think the one that the cold case detective missed on her list was loathing. “I just couldn’t stand that guy!”

    • Lisa Black

      I am also a huge PD James fan! Named my first protagonist after her.

  4. Rogue Women Writers

    This falls under “who knew?”, Chris. Fascinating how things change, and then don’t change. I’d never heard that men are more romantic than women, but now that you’ve told me, yeah, so true! Thanks for a great blog!

  5. Gayle Lynds

    I didn’t realize I wasn’t logged under my name, Chris! Loved your insights! …

    This falls under “who knew?”, Chris. Fascinating how things change, and then don’t change. I’d never heard that men are more romantic than women, but now that you’ve told me, yeah, so true! Thanks for a great blog!