Skip to main content

Do Gang Members Commit Abnormal Homicide?

Abstract

Gang membership is a robust correlate of homicide offending and victimization, but little is known about the association between gang status and various abnormal forms of homicide (e.g., multiple-victim homicide, sexual homicide, and abduction homicide). The current study utilized data from a large sample of 618 male convicted murderers to empirically examine gang status and diverse forms of homicide perpetration. Gang-involved offenders were nearly three times as likely to commit a normal homicide characterized as a single-victim murder. However, gang members were 64 % less likely to perpetrate multiple-victim murder. In other models, gang status reduced the likelihood of sexual homicide by 75 % and reduced the likelihood of abduction homicide by 56 %. These findings present an anomaly in the gang-homicide literature, and suggestions for additional research are offered.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1

Notes

  1. 1.

    In the sociological literature (cf., Garfinkel, 1949; Mays & Keys, 2011; Pizarro et al., 2011; Sudnow, 1965; Swigert & Farrell, 1977), normal homicide, and normal crime generally, is characterized by a set of common, usual characteristics of criminal offenders, their victims, and the modal ways that the criminal justice system dispenses with these cases (e.g., routine plea bargaining, presumption of guilt of the offenders, etc.). The concept dovetails with seminal research on homicide by Wolfgang (1958) which showed that the preponderance of homicides involved offenders and victims who shared many social statuses, and that the homicide itself manifested as the result of mundane, normal interactions. In the current study, normal homicide is defined as a murder involving one victim. In contrast, abnormal homicides in the current study refer to murders that involve multiple victims or instrumental motives such as the sexual assault or abduction of the victim during the course of the murder.

  2. 2.

    Although gang-perpetrated mass murders occur, they are rare. Pyrooz, Wolfe, and Spohn (2011) recently examined case rejection factors among 614 homicide suspects as part of Operation Hardcore, a specialized prosecution unit that focused on prosecuting gang homicides. The mean number of victims in these cases was slightly more than a single victim (M = 1.35). Moreover, there data supported the idea that gang homicides are normal homicides that receive perfunctory attention from the justice system. In gang homicides involving a single victim, 64 % of cases were rejected for prosecution. In cases with at least four victims, just 2 % were rejected for prosecution.

  3. 3.

    The data collected by DeLisi and Scherer are unfortunately raw criminal justice data that lack important background factors that could be used to model pathways into gang involvement and various forms of homicide perpetration. Recently, researchers have used propensity score matching designs (DeLisi, Barnes, Beaver, & Gibson, 2009; Gibson, Miller, Jennings, Swatt, & Gover, 2009; Gibson, Swatt, Miller, Jennings, & Gover, 2012; Haviland, Nagin, Rosenbaum, & Tremblay, 2008; Ozer & Engel, 2012) to examine the selection, facilitation, and enhancement models for gang involvement, but the current data limitations precluded such analyses.

  4. 4.

    There are a host of definitional issues and measurement issues relating to the factors that inform gang membership, gang involvement, and gang-involved crime (cf., Bolden, 2012; Bouchard & Spindler, 2010; Esbensen, Winfree, He, & Taylor, 2001; Pyrooz & Decker, 2011). The current authors acknowledge these concerns and were limited by the single-item measure of gang membership found in these secondary data.

  5. 5.

    Myers and colleagues (1998) estimated that juvenile sexual murderers comprise just 1 % of the juvenile murderer population and are extraordinarily disturbed emotionally and behaviorally.

References

  1. Barker, T., & Human, K. M. (2009). Crimes of the Big Four motorcycle gangs. Journal of Criminal Justice, 37, 174–179.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Berg, M. T. (2012). The overlap of violent offending and violent victimization: Assessing the evidence and explanations. In M. DeLisi & P. J. Conis (Eds.), Violent offenders: Theory, research, policy, and practice (2nd ed., pp. 17–38). Burlington: Jones & Bartlett Learning.

    Google Scholar 

  3. Berg, M. T., & DeLisi, M. (2006). The correctional melting pot: race, ethnicity, citizenship, and prison violence. Journal of Criminal Justice, 34(6), 631–642.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Bolden, C. L. (2012). Liquid soldiers: fluidity and gang membership. Deviant Behavior, 33, 207–222.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Borgeson, K., & Kuehnle, K. (Eds.). (2012). Serial offenders: Theory and practice. Burlington: Jones & Bartlett Learning.

    Google Scholar 

  6. Bouchard, M., & Spindler, A. (2010). Groups, gangs, and delinquency: does organization matter? Journal of Criminal Justice, 38, 921–933.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Braga, A. A. (2012). Focused deterrence strategies and the reduction of gang and group-involved violence. In M. DeLisi & P. J. Conis (Eds.), Violent offenders: Theory, research, policy, and practice (2nd ed., pp. 259–280). Burlington: Jones & Bartlett Learning.

    Google Scholar 

  8. Braga, A. A., & Weisburd, D. L. (2012). The effects of focused deterrence strategies on crime: a systematic review and meta-analysis of the empirical evidence. Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, 49(3), 323–358.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Campbell, J. H., & DeNevi, D. (Eds.). (2004). Profilers: Leading investigators take you inside the criminal mind. Amherst: Prometheus Books.

    Google Scholar 

  10. Craig, W. M., Vitaro, F., Gagnon, C., & Tremblay, R. E. (2002). The road to gang membership: characteristics of male gang and nongang members from ages 10 to 14. Social Development, 11, 53–68.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Cunningham, M. D., Sorensen, J. R., Vigen, M. P., & Woods, S. O. (2010). Inmate homicides: killers, victims, motives, and circumstances. Journal of Criminal Justice, 38, 348–358.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Decker, S. H. (2003). Policing gangs and youth violence. Belmont: Wadsworth.

    Google Scholar 

  13. Decker, S. H., & Curry, G. D. (2002). Gangs, gang homicides, and gang loyalty: organized crimes or disorganized criminals? Journal of Criminal Justice, 30, 343–352.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. Decker, S. H., & Pyrooz, D. C. (2011a). On the validity and reliability of gang homicide: a comparison of disparate sources. Homicide Studies, 14, 359–376.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Decker, S. H., & Pyrooz, D. (2011b). Timing is everything: Gangs, gang violence, and the life course. In M. DeLisi & K. M. Beaver (Eds.), Criminological theory: A life-course approach (pp. 149–164). Sudbury: Jones & Bartlett.

    Google Scholar 

  16. DeLisi, M., Barnes, J. C., Beaver, K. M., & Gibson, C. L. (2009). Delinquent gangs and adolescent victimization revisited a propensity score matching approach. Criminal Justice and Behavior, 36(8), 808–823.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. DeLisi, M., Kosloski, A., Sween, M., Hachmeister, E., Moore, M., & Drury, A. (2010). Murder by numbers: monetary costs imposed by a sample of homicide offenders. Journal of Forensic Psychiatry and Psychology, 21, 501–513.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. DeLisi, M., & Piquero, A. R. (2011). New frontiers in criminal careers research, 2000–2011: a state-of-the-art review. Journal of Criminal Justice, 39(4), 289–301.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. DeLisi, M., & Scherer, A. M. (2006). Multiple homicide offenders: offense characteristics, social correlates, and criminal careers. Criminal Justice and Behavior, 33, 367–391.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. DeLisi, M., & Walters, G. D. (2011). Multiple homicide as a function of prisonization and concurrent instrumental violence: testing an interactive model—a research note. Crime & Delinquency, 57(1), 147–161.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. Drury, A. J., & DeLisi, M. (2011). Gangkill: an exploratory empirical assessment of gang membership, homicide offending, and prison misconduct. Crime & Delinquency, 57, 130–146.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. Esbensen, F.-A., Winfree, L. T., Jr., He, N., & Taylor, T. J. (2001). Youth gangs and definitional issues: when is a gang a gang, and why does it matter. Crime & Delinquency, 47, 105–130.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. Ezell, M. E., & Tanner-Smith, E. E. (2009). Examining the role of lifestyle and criminal history variables on the risk of homicide victimization. Homicide Studies, 13(2), 144–173.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. Farrington, D. P., Loeber, R., Stallings, R., & Homish, D. L. (2012). Early risk factors for young homicide offenders and victims. In M. DeLisi & P. J. Conis (Eds.), Violent offenders: Theory, research, policy, and practice (2nd ed., pp. 143–160). Burlington, MA: Jones & Bartlett Learning.

    Google Scholar 

  25. Garfinkel, H. (1949). Research note on inter- and intra-racial homicides. Social Forces, 27, 369–372.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  26. Gibson, C. L., Miller, J. M., Jennings, W. G., Swatt, M., & Gover, A. (2009). Using propensity score matching to understand the relationship between gang membership and violent victimization: a research note. Justice Quarterly, 26(4), 625–643.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. Gibson, C. L., Swatt, M. L., Miller, J. M., Jennings, W. G., & Gover, A. R. (2012). The causal relationship between gang joining and violent victimization: a critical review and directions for future research. Journal of Criminal Justice, 40(6), 490–501.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. Haviland, A., Nagin, D. S., Rosenbaum, P. R., & Tremblay, R. E. (2008). Combining group-based trajectory modeling and propensity score matching for causal inferences in nonexperimental longitudinal data. Developmental Psychology, 44(2), 422–436.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  29. Horton, A. (2007). Murder in the city: embedded, intractable and treatment resistant? Journal of Human Behavior in the Social Environment, 16, 15–31.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  30. Howell, J. C. (1999). Youth gang homicides: a literature review. Crime & Delinquency, 45, 208–241.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  31. Hutson, H. R., Anglin, D., Kyriacou, D. N., Hart, J., & Spears, K. (1995). The epidemic of gang-related homicides in Los Angeles County from 1979 through 1994. Journal of the American Medical Association, 274, 1031–1036.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  32. Jennings, W. G., & Reingle, J. M. (2012). On the number and shape of developmental/life-course violence, aggression, and delinquency trajectories: a state-of-the-art review. Journal of Criminal Justice, 40(6), 472–489.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  33. Katz, C. M., Webb, V. J., Fox, K., & Shaffer, J. N. (2011). Understanding the relationship between violent victimization and gang membership. Journal of Criminal Justice, 39(1), 48–59.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  34. Kubrin, C. E. (2003). Structural covariates of homicide rates: does type of homicide matter? Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, 40(2), 139–170.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  35. Kubrin, C. E., & Wadsworth, T. (2003). Identifying the structural correlates of african american killings what can we learn from data disaggregation? Homicide Studies, 7(1), 3–35.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  36. Langevin, R. (2003). A study of the psychosexual characteristics of sex killers: can we identify them before it is too late? International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology, 47, 366–382.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  37. Lattimore, P. K., Linster, R. L., & Macdonald, J. M. (1997). Risk of death among serious young offenders. Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, 34, 187–209.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  38. Mays, G. L., & Keys, D. (2011). Normal homicides, normal defendants: finding leniency I Oklahoma’s murder conviction machinery. Western Criminology Review, 12, 35–42.

    Google Scholar 

  39. McGarrell, E. F., Corsaro, N., Melde, C., Hipple, N. K., Bynum, T., & Cobbina, J. (2013). Attempting to reduce firearms violence through a Comprehensive Anti-Gang Initiative (CAGI): an evaluation of process and impact. Journal of Criminal Justice, 41(1), 33–43.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  40. McGloin, J. M. (2012). Gang involvement and predatory crime. In M. DeLisi & P. J. Conis (Eds.), Violent offenders: Theory, research, policy, and practice (2nd ed., pp. 221–234). Burlington: Jones & Bartlett Learning.

    Google Scholar 

  41. Miller, J., & Decker, S. H. (2001). Young women and gang violence: gender, street offending, and violent victimization in gangs. Justice Quarterly, 18, 115–140.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  42. Myers, W. C. (2004). Serial murder by children and adolescents. Behavioral Sciences and the Law, 22, 357–374.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  43. Myers, W. C., Burgess, A. W., & Nelson, J. A. (1998). Criminal and behavioral aspects of juvenile sexual homicide. Journal of Forensic Sciences, 43, 340–347.

    Google Scholar 

  44. Ozer, M. M., & Engel, R. S. (2012). Revisiting the use of propensity score matching to understand the relationship between gang membership and violent victimization: a cautionary note. Justice Quarterly, 29(1), 105–124.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  45. Papachristos, A. V. (2009). Murder by structure: dominance relations and the social structure of gang homicide. American Journal of Sociology, 115, 74–128.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  46. Pizarro, J. M., & McGloin, J. M. (2006). Explaining gang homicides in Newark, New Jersey: collective behavior or social disorganization? Journal of Criminal Justice, 34, 195–207.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  47. Pizarro, J. M., Zgoba, K. M., & Jennings, W. G. (2011). Assessing the interaction between offender and victim criminal lifestyles and homicide type. Journal of Criminal Justice, 39, 367–377.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  48. Pyrooz, D. C., & Decker, S. H. (2011). Motives and methods for leaving the gang: understanding the process of gang desistance. Journal of Criminal Justice, 39(5), 417–425.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  49. Pyrooz, D. C., Wolfe, S. E., & Spohn, C. (2011). Gang-related homicide charging decisions: the implementation of a specialized prosecution unit in Los Angeles. Criminal Justice Policy Review, 22, 3–26.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  50. Shelden, R. G., Tracy, S. K., & Brown, W. B. (2013). Youth gangs in American society (4th ed.). Belmont: Wadsworth/Cengage.

    Google Scholar 

  51. Sorensen, J., & Davis, J. (2011). Violent criminals locked up: examining the effect of incarceration on behavioral continuity. Journal of Criminal Justice, 39(2), 151–158.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  52. Sudnow, D. (1965). Normal crimes: sociological features of the penal code in a public defender’s office. Social Problems, 12, 255–276.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  53. Swigert, V. L., & Farrell, R. A. (1977). Normal homicides and the law. American Sociological Review, 42, 16–32.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  54. Trulson, C. R., Caudill, J. W., Haerle, D. R., & DeLisi, M. (2012). Cliqued up: the postincarceration recidivism of young gang-related homicide offenders. Criminal Justice Review, 37(2), 174–190.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  55. Turvey, B. (Ed.). (2002). Criminal profiling: an introduction to behavioral evidence analysis (2nd ed.). New York: Elsevier.

    Google Scholar 

  56. Valdez, A., Cepeda, A., & Kaplan, C. (2009). Homicidal events among Mexican American street gangs: a situational analysis. Homicide Studies, 13, 288–306.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  57. Valdez, A., Kaplan, C. D., & Codina, E. (2000). Psychopathy among Mexican American gang members: a comparative study. International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology, 44, 46–58.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  58. Varano, S. P., Huebner, B. M., & Bynum, T. S. (2011). Correlates and consequences of pre-incarceration gang involvement among incarcerated youthful felons. Journal of Criminal Justice, 39(1), 30–38.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  59. Vaughn, M. G., DeLisi, M., Beaver, K. M., & Howard, M. O. (2009). Multiple murder and criminal careers: a latent class analysis of multiple homicide offenders. Forensic Science International, 183, 67–73.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  60. Vaughn, M. G., DeLisi, M., Gunter, T., Fu, Q., Beaver, K. M., Perron, B. E., et al. (2011). The severe 5 %: a latent class analysis of the externalizing behavior spectrum in the United States. Journal of Criminal Justice, 39(1), 75–80.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  61. Wolfgang, M. E. (1958). Patterns in criminal homicide. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

    Google Scholar 

  62. Woodworth, M., & Porter, S. (2002). In cold blood: characteristics of criminal homicides as a function of psychopathy. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 111, 436–445.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  63. Worrall, J. L., & Morris, R. G. (2012). Prison gang integration and inmate violence. Journal of Criminal Justice, 40, 425–432.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  64. Wright, K. A., Pratt, T. C., & DeLisi, M. (2008). Examining offending specialization in a sample of male multiple homicide offenders. Homicide Studies, 12, 381–398.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  65. Wright, K. A., Pratt, T. C., & DeLisi, M. (2009). Multiple homicide offenders: arbitrary cut-off points and selection bias. Homicide Studies, 13, 193–199.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  66. Zagar, R., Arbit, J., Sylvies, R., Busch, K. G., & Hughes, J. R. (1990). Homicidal adolescents: a replication. Psychological Reports, 67, 1235–1242.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  67. Zagar, R. J., Busch, K. G., Grove, W. M., Hughes, J. R., & Arbit, J. (2009). Looking forward and backward in records for risks among homicidal youth. Psychological Reports, 104(1), 103–127.

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Matt DeLisi.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

DeLisi, M., Spruill, J.O., Vaughn, M.G. et al. Do Gang Members Commit Abnormal Homicide?. Am J Crim Just 39, 125–138 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12103-013-9201-y

Download citation

Keywords

  • Gangs
  • Homicide
  • Normal homicide
  • Abnormal homicide
  • Serial murder