What Can Drive a Person to Murder?


Editor’s Note: The following story was written by a student in our Urban Youth International Journalism Program in partnership with Paul Robeson High School in the Englewood neighborhood. The UYIJP is generously funded by the McCormick Foundation.

Have you ever wondered what causes someone to act on violent impulses or commit a murder?

Amber Johnson, 18, a Paul Robeson student, responded, “Stress, no money, no job, childhood experiences, etc.” People are often confronted with feelings of disappointment, frustration and anger as they interact with government officials, co-workers, family and friends. Sometimes mistakes are made and the victim of a murder turns out to not be the intended target of the one who committed it. In my opinion, this urge to kill comes from built-up anger inside of that person which they have failed to release. It’s so powerful because people hold things inside of them forever and never talk about their problems. Some people are not able to control their anger by doing stuff they enjoy or talking to someone they trust to relieve stress.

The top causes of stress in the U.S are: Pressure concerning jobs, money, health, relationships and poor nutrition, according to the web sites of the American Psychological Association and the American Institute of Stress. I also did an email interview with a UCLA professor of psychiatry and bio behavioral sciences named Dr. Paul G. Mattiuzzi, who said, “Self-control is the key to a well-functioning life, because the brain is easily susceptible to all sorts of influences, both negative and positive. Where does this urge come from, and why it is so powerful? There are different types of violent offenders and their actions can lead to murder.”
Dr. Mattuzzi believes violence and/or aggression are legitimate responses to different problems in life. “Although the offenders might never admit it,” he said, “pleasure or reinforcement is derived from the expression of anger. Most typically, violence occurs in a situational context: an offense, fight or disagreement. A chronically aggressive individual is someone who is easily frustrated, limited, or shows poor impulse control, frequently expresses anger or hostility, resents authority, and is defiant with supervisors.”

I looked into various sources and here is a summary of the different types of behaviors I came across that will paint a picture of people who can become a murderer. The Over-Controlled Hostility type of offender rarely displays or expresses anger – they don’t cuss or yell and may be offended by such. They are emotionally rigid and inflexible; they appear to be polite, serious, and sober. They are morally righteous and upstanding and see themselves as good people. Often they can be judgmental and see others as not good people.

Non-assertive or passive offenders are people who often get taken advantage of, causing anger to build up like in a pressure cooker. Before they explode and after the violence, people say that they never expected it. “He always seemed like such a nice guy; he was always so quiet,” they say. The Hurt and Resentful kind of offender feels that people walk on them and that they are never treated fairly. When they are passed over, there is always someone else to blame. They do not accept criticism well, they develop grudges, which are sometimes deeply held, and they are often whiners and complainers as a matter of attitude. Violence occurs because they hold grudges and are “impotent” to deal with their anger in other ways.

The Traumatized type of offender is aggressive and the offense occurs in response to a single massive assault on their identity. If something happens that is offensive, absolutely intolerable, and strips them of all sense of personal power, and they feel the essence of their existence will be destroyed if they do not respond, violence is predicted.

An Obsessive offender is an immature and narcissistic individual who demands attention and affection; they absolutely cannot stand to be deprived of desired gratifications. When deprived of love, they continue crying, make repeated phone calls, and follow the object of their obsession. As frustration continues, they escalate to violence because: “If I can’t have her/him, nobody can.”  They may also feel “If she/he won’t have me, she/he won’t have anything.”     The Paranoid offenders are the jealous type. They believe their lover is unfaithful. The persecuted offender believes that people are out to get them; they are typically engaged in behaviors which make their paranoid beliefs come true. Delusions may reach the point at which the person is grossly out of contact with reality. The Insane offender does not understand the nature and quality of their actions. They are incapable of rational behavior. Delusional beliefs deprive them of the ability to know that their behavior is wrong, beliefs and perceptions are in congruent with reality. The last types of offenders are violent murderers. They are just dangerously bad and angry. They are a combination of most of the above (except for insane): evil, hostile, jealous, resentful, impotent and disturbed individuals who are socially isolated, and who feel worthless. They may be seeking attention and may be seeking revenge.

Have you ever had any experience dealing with a person who has committed murder? I asked Tolanda Johnson, 39. Her response was “Yes, I witnessed a murder on the South Side of Chicago. I was standing outside checking the mail when I saw a boy on a bike and saw two cars riding down the main street slowly. One of the car windows rolled down and I heard gun shots. I hit the ground behind the car where I was standing and across the street I saw the boy on the bike laying there shot. I decided to help.”

I then asked Johnson what type of person she thought would commit murder. “Someone who is evil and just doesn’t care about themselves or others – because anyone could have gotten shot when that car drove by shooting out that window,” Johnson answered.

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