Tuesday, June 16, 2009

All You Need to Know About Murder

By Chester Campbell

Today is Education Tuesday. We’ll take an in-depth look at the subject of this often amusing, sometimes contemplative, but always entertaining blog, namely: MURDER.

Let’s start with where the word comes from. Merriam-Webster traces its etymology through Middle English murther and Old English morthor to Latin mort-, mors, death and mortuus dead.

Mysteries often deal with homicide detectives and talk about homicides. Actually, homicide only refers to the act of killing another human being. It can be accidental or purposeful. Criminal homicide occurs when a person purposely, knowingly, recklessly, or negligently causes the death of another. Both murder and manslaughter fall under the criminal homicide umbrella.

Murder (sometimes called felony murder) is the unlawful killing of another human being with intent (or malice aforethought), and generally this state of mind distinguishes murder from other forms of unlawful homicide.

Some jurisdictions define felony murder the same as first degree murder, but under the felony murder rule, an offender who kills accidentally or without specific intent to kill during commission of a dangerous felony is guilty of felony murder. Any participant in the felony becomes criminally liable for any deaths that occur. In states with capital punishment, that can make them eligible for the death penalty.

There is also a second degree murder crime that in some states occurs when a premeditated murder occurs without special circumstances, such as those that do not involve a particularly heinous death. Exact definitions of murder vary from state to state.

You are no doubt familiar with some of the many forms of homicide, such as fratricide, the killing of one’s brother or sister, or patricide, the killing of one’s father. But do you know what uxoricide is? Give up? It’s the killing of one's wife. Then there is tyrannicide. Nope, it’s not the killing of a dinosaur. It’s the killing of a tyrant. I guess that’s what Brutus thought he was doing.

Although you probably wouldn’t realize it from watching the nightly news, the murder rate has been going down in the U.S. According to the latest report available, the FBI’s “Crime in the United States, 2007,” there were 14,831 murders that year. Males are much more at risk, with 11,618 involving men and 3,177 women. The report lists 36 as unclassified. I don’t know if they were weirdoes, or there was just not enough left to tell the sex. About half were black, half white or other.

You read a lot about young teen killings, but in 2007 the largest age group was 18 and over, representing 13,013 of the total. The most at-risk group was 20 to 24-year-olds. We of the 75 and over set are least likely to be cashiered by the bad guys.

What lay behind all these murders? Arguments of one type or another represented the largest cause. Romantic triangles accounted for only 105, and gambling 4. If you’ve been worrying about a sniper attack, forget it. There was only one in 2007.

Firearms were the number one choice of evil-doers, with knives and “other weapons” next. A smaller but significant number involved “hands, fists, feet, etc.” I'm not sure how you do someone in with et cetera, but I suppose anything's possible.

If you don’t want to become a murder statistic, what places do you want to avoid? Well, California is the number one state for violent homicides with 2,249 deaths reported. In second place was the wild and woolly state if Texas at 1,419. Your best bet at avoiding a place in the 2009 report is to stick around New Hampshire. It reported only 11 murders in 2007.

We writers always talk about how important it is to make our mysteries as factual as possible. But how realistic is the virtually 100 percent closure rate of our detectives? Well, according to the FBI, in 2007 jurisdictions across the country cleared only 61.2 percent of murder and non-negligent manslaughter cases. Still, that was a heck of a lot better than rapes at 40 percent or robberies at 25.8 percent.

Now that you have become an instant expert on the subject, get out there and put your new knowledge to practice. No, don’t go on a killing spree. Get busy on creating that murder mystery that will confound us all. But you’d better solve it in the end. One hundred percent of the readers will want to know whodunit.


Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Great post, Chester, loaded with interesting information!

With my cozy mysteries, I write lots of blunt force trauma murders....but it sounds like guns and knives are more the reality.

Mystery Writing is Murder

Chester Campbell said...

Do 'em in however you like, Elizabeth. Just so it's believable.

Jean Henry Mead said...

Sorry to be tardy to class, Chester, but I'm certainly going to print your post for future reference. I'm not surprised that my home state leads the murder pack although I thought New York would come in second.

The bottom line is that murders by all means: guns, knives, etc. pale in comparison to more than 100,000 deaths caused annually by medical mistakes and pharmaceuticals.