Katz Chapter 8: Cold-Blooded Senseless Murder
Katz's final chapter covers the type of murders that cause the public the greatest concern and puzzlement, the cold-blooded, senseless killing of total strangers. Often these killings occur in the midst of a robbery or kidnapping, but they can not be explained as an attempt to eliminate witnesses, because often times other witnesses are spared.
This is probably Katz's most complex chapter. His comparison of the fear associated with the supernatural in primitive religions and type of fear/respect that cold-blooded killers try to create in their victims uses considerable poetic license.
Katz limits his discussion by eliminating the following type murders from the senseless murder category:
Murders Katz includes under his senseless category are the "Onion Field" murders, Gary Gilmore's murderous rampage that lead to his execution in Utah, etc. The killing is part of an abduction or robbery, the individuals offer no resistance, often witnesses are allowed to escape, and the murder actually makes it more certain the individual(s) will be caught because a tremendous amount of police manpower will be employed to solve the case and caught the killer(s).
Katz offers a 3-part explanation of such killings:
1) Creating dread:
Cold-blooded killers are the modern equivalent of ancient deities including the God of the Old Testament who were to be feared and approached only with the greatest caution and proper respect (sacrifices, purification rituals, etc.) The wrath of God was greatly feared. God's law was his warning to the people that if they failed to obey him they could expect punishment. Katz sees a modern parallel in the dress and demeanor of the badass. Their clothing, tattoos, and use of language automatically conveys a message that one must avoid this individual. Destruction may follow without any deliberation if you stray into their path.
2) The dizziness of deviance:
All of the individuals Katz discusses had had long histories of institutionalization in juvenile and adult correctional facilities. This severely impacted upon their ability to live in the community successfully and abide by the law. Obviously, they were lacking in social skills, work-related skills, etc. This meant they felt they were outcasts or individuals with pariah status. While they had been in prison they had remained steadfast in their conviction not to give in to the authorities there, and thus they disobeyed the rules there. To give in would have shown themselves to be weak. Once released a new problem emerges. The parolee's behavior is now viewed by society in a very unique way. When ordinary citizens obey the law not much is said or thought about it. However, when an ex-con upholds the law its seen as an example of "keeping his nose clean." It's like people are waiting for him to fail to prove that he hasn't really reformed.
Some ex-cons react in what most would consider a strange way to these pressures. They come to feel trapped by the constant societal pressure to do good and come to see being good as too easy or an act of cowardice. They want to be bad just to prove to everyone that they can't be so easily controlled. At that point they are under the "spell of deviance," searching for a way of out this dizzying situation. Choosing deviant behavior at that point gives the individual an edge, meaning that it is one way of regaining self-esteem in this situation. It helps the individual to think he is putting one over on those who are stifling his life. Some of these criminals, even returned to the scene of their crimes, (car thief) to see if even then they could get away with it.
Killing is the ultimate act of transcending the morality of the community
and thus creating a transcendent identity. One of the alleged
killers of Dr. MacDonald's family (in False Witness) went around the entire next day
with blood stains on her white boots [she smelled of blood, too], but no one reported her
to the police. She mentioned the murder to people before the press had become aware of it.
The other killers were with her and they made no attempt to clean up her clothing or keep
her from talking.
3) The importance of the scene:
The goal of creating a sense of dread and the dizziness of deviance are not enough to explain senseless killings, because it still doesn't explain when and where cold-blooded murderers have chosen to kill. It also appears that the scene must be right. Of course, just what is the right scene is in the killer's imagination. Many while in prison had frequently fantasized what they would do when they got out. These "escapade" dreams often include criminal activities or capers. While a senseless murder during one of these capers may appear to the public to occur randomly, the killer seems to know that the scene or situation is right. Most of these murders occur at night, and frequently very late at night. Some occur in specific locations such as the basement or the bathroom. One set of killers only murdered after having driven long distances in a car with the victim. The "Onion Field" murderers drove the captured police officers hundreds of miles from LA before killing them. This killing transformed the individual (Powell) from a small time crook into a fearless cop killer. There would be no doubt about his deviant identity from then on.
Katz argues it would be quite easy to try and explain such killers in traditional psychological or sociological terms. Most were isolated individuals before they killed (although most didn't act alone) making it easy to label them as suffering from antisocial personality disorder or sociologically attribute their actions to lack of social ties. Katz rejects such models as too simplistic and frequently the result of' the way these cases tend to be written up by the press and crime non-fiction writers. Katz has used their accounts, but found things in the writings that could be used to construct his very different causal descriptions.