, Volume 5, Issue 1, pp 47-64

Mass Murder: An Analysis of Extreme Violence

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Abstract

Mass murder involves the slaughter of four or more victims by one or a few assailants within a single event, lasting but a few minutes or as long as several hours. More than just arbitrary, using this minimum body count—as opposed to a two- or three-victim threshold suggested by others (e.g., Ressler et al., 1988, Holmes and Holmes, 2001)—helps to distinguish multiple killing from homicide generally. Moreover, by restricting our attention to acts committed by one or a few offenders, our working definition of multiple homicide also excludes highly organized or institutionalized killings (e.g., war crimes and large-scale acts of political terrorism as well as certain acts of highly organized crime rings). Although state-sponsored killings are important in their own right, they may be better explained through the theories and methods of political science than criminology. Thus, for example, the definition of multiple homicide would include the crimes committed by Charles Manson and his followers, but not those of Hitler's Third Reich, or the 9/11 terrorists, despite some similarities in the operations of authority.