The aftermath of Darrin Call's murderous episode in a pharmacy.

Rampage Killer is a generic term referring to either a Spree Killer or a Mass Murderer.

Spree Killer

According to the FBI original definition, a Spree Killer was a person who killed two or more victims in one event that took place in two or more locations, with no emotional cooling off period between the murders. For years, spree killers covered a grey area between serial killers and mass murderers, even though they were considered by many as a muddled and arbitrary category, especially since multiple murderers who fitted both spree and serial/mass typologies existed. Following the 2005 International Serial Murder Symposium, use of the spree killer category was disregarded by experts due to the confusion surrounding the concept of "emotional cooling off period", as well as the fact that (experts of the symposium believed) it didn't provide any real benefit to law enforcement. From that moment on, cases previously designated as spree would be subsumed into either serial or mass, depending on which elements of the multicide moved it closer to one or the other.

Despite this, the term is still being used by both common people and experts who disagree with the Symposium's opinion. Two of these are Mark Safarik and Katherine Ramsland, who, in their 2019 book, Spree Killers: Practical Classifications for Law Enforcement and Criminology, redefined the category and emphasized its importance in terms of law enforcement proactivity, investigative management, intervention, and risk evaluation. According to Safarik and Ramsland, a spree killing involves at least three murders in at least two locations, arising from a precipitating incident that fuels the need to kill, and the murders occur fairly close in time. Spree killers differ from other multiple murderers: while serial killers would typically go to great lenghts to keep doing their crimes and avoid getting caught, and most mass murderers would know they're gonna die at the end of their rampage, spree killers move pretty rapidly from one experience to another, and, after a while, they almost consider themselves on a roll. Of the three categories, they think the least about their future - that is, either having one or not.

Typology

Safarik and Ramsland classified spree killers as follows:

  • Anger and Revenge - They have a grudge or seek revenge, and are furtherly sub-classified as:
    • Targeted: They know exactly who they want to kill, and are more easily identified and potentially stopped.
    • Random-Opportunistic: They have a more generalized need to act out or punish, and their victims are just in the wrong place at the wrong time.
    • Targeted and Random-Opportunistic: They target one or more people but then extend their spree randomly or in an opportunistic circumstance.
  • On a Mission - They have a sense of purpose for their rampage, sometimes clearly articulated but sometimes disjointed and delusional. They are furtherly sub-classified as:
    • Psychotic: They are affected by psychotic disorders, such as schizophrenia, severe depression, bipolar disorder, some forms of borderline personality disorder, some types of substance abuse, and exposure to environmental toxins. Most psychotic mission spree killers were affected by paranoid schizophrenia.
    • Nonpsychotic: They usually commit hate crimes or acts of terror, and see them as a noble cause. These spree killers are convinced that they are serving a higher cause, and that only violence will bring attention to it, believing that their acts will inspire others to rise up and follow their example. This is often in the service of a religious belief or political ideology. Delusional elements are present, usually in the form of non-bizarre false beliefs, but not to the degree of psychotic killers.
  • Deadly Desperation - They are fueled by a sense of "nothing to lose", and their rush is often irrational and suicidal. Generally, police knows their identity and what drives them is the sense that they must keep moving until they are stopped, or they end it. They often target random victims with modes of transportation they can steal, and move from one vehicle to another in order to stay ahead of their pursuers. Needing resources, they might invade homes or commit armed robberies.
  • Mental Illness - They suffer from mental illnesses, much like mission spree killers, but differ from them in the sense that they have not clear missions. Most of these sprees are reactive rather than carefully planned.
  • Robbery and Thrill - Thrill-seeking and robbery are both present more times than not in this category. When thrill is the primary motive, theft can be sporadic or an afterthought, especially the theft of a car or money. The killings are senseless, and violence is excessive beyond what is necessary even in terms of witness elimination. This and the use of multiple weapons speak to the fact that thrill is usually comorbid with robbery. Sometimes desperation is seen in these spree killers, who often act in couple or teams.

Mass Murderer

According to Safarik and Ramsland, a Mass Murderer is a person who kills at least four victims (others believe that the least number of fatalities should be three) in a short-lived incident in one basic locale, even if the killer travels to several loosely related spots in that general area (e.g. inside a building).

Typology

  • Classic - They are mostly asocial loners who are affected by either psychotic disorders (e.g. paranoid schizophrenia) or personality disorders (e.g. paranoid personality disorder), are personal-cause, statement-oriented offenders, and often feel hatred and resentment towards an either existent, symbolic or perceived collective, community or authority (sometimes even society itself). Some of them are not psychotics but rather "functional paranoiacs" with assassin personalities: instead of addressing their wrath to a single person (such as a president or celebrity), they kill a significant amount of people in a specific place (which is often meaningful or connected to the offender), in order to go out "in a blaze of glory". They almost always employ firearms in their crimes, are gun fetishists, and tend to commit suicide/suicide by cop after the massacre, but there are also exceptions. This category includes workplace shooters and school shooters.
  • Family annihilators
    • Depressed - They are dealing with harsh situations (e.g. financial difficulties, illnesses) and come to see murder as the only way to save their families from "the vale of tears" their lives have turned into.
    • Pathological Liar - They kill their relatives in order to hide their lies and to "protect" them from the suffering caused by the latters.
    • Psychotic - They kill their relatives because of psychotic disorders.
    • Libertarian - They kill their relatives in order to get rid of their "oppression".
    • Drug Addict - They kill their relatives, usually while going through withdrawal, if they're denied the money required for their fix.
    • Heir - They kill their relatives for their inheritance.
    • Jealous - They consider their families as their properties, and kill them for jealousy related to an either real or perceived fact.
    • Vengeful/Stalker - They do not accept the end of a relationship, are sensitive to rejection, and can get to the point of committing a familicide.
    • Litigious - They commit familicide during the course of a domestic dispute.
  • Alternative family annihilators' typology:
    • Self-Righteous - They hold their wives responsible for the breakdown of the family unit, and are often overly dramatic, choosing to carry out their murders on dates that are important to their families. Unsure in their roles as providers, they are threatened by their wives' careers or financial windfalls.
    • Disappointed - They believe they have done right by their families, but the family has not done right by them, for example, by opposing to their religious beliefs.
    • Anomic - They see their families as an extension of their own success, so if success eludes the family (e.g. in the form of bankruptcy or a public scandal) they are no longer serving their function.
    • Paranoid - They perceive a threat to their families (e.g. children will be removed by the legal system, and they will not have access to them anymore), whom they kill as a means of "protecting" them.
  • Mission-oriented - They are either terrorists or members of a cult who kill a significant amount of people to bring to the fore their arguments. They are often affected by the same types of pathologies of Classic mass murderers, but they come up with a religious, racial, political... cause as an excuse.  
  • Indiscriminate/Situational - They commit mass murders in conjunction with other offenses (e.g. a robbery or home invasion). Sometimes the murders are planned along with the offense, sometimes they are the result of a degenerating situation which prompts the offender to kill.  
  • Devolving - They are serial/spree killers who devolve to mass murder. 
  • Atypical - They defy classification, often being a mixture of these typologies.

Real-Life Spree Killers

Real-Life Mass Murderers

On Criminal Minds

Female Rampage Killers

Female rampage killers are extremely rare. In "Public Enemy", however, Morgan incorrectly states that rampage killers, unless they are school shooters, are always middle-aged males. Documented examples include:

  • Sylvia Seegrist: Opened fire at a Springfield, Pennsylvania, shopping mall on October 30, 1985, killing three people and wounding seven others before being disarmed by a shopper John Laufer (who mistakenly assumed Sylvia shooting to be a prank, as it was close to Halloween). The individuals killed included two men, Ernest Trout, and Augustus Ferrara, and a two-year-old, Recife Cosmen. She was 25 years old and had been diagnosed as suffering from paranoid schizophrenia ten years earlier.
  • Brenda Spencer: Used a .22 rifle and fired at the staff and students of an elementary school across the street on which she lived, killing two and wounding nine, on January 29, 1979, while she was still 16. She is currently serving time in a San Diego prison and has been denied parole four times. When asked why she did it, she simply said that she doesn't like Mondays and that killing "livens up the day".
  • Amy Bishop: Shot six colleagues, three of whom died, with a 9mm handgun February 13, 2010, shortly after learning that she had been denied tenure. She was arrested and indicted for the shooting and is currently in custody. The authorities also reopened the case of her fatally shooting her brother years earlier, an incident which previously was believed to have been an accident. In June 2010, she was charged with first-degree murder of her brother, nearly 24 years after the shooting occurred. In 1993, Bishop and her husband were also suspects in a case in which a pair of pipe bombs were sent to a Harvard Medical School professor.
  • Jennifer San Marco: Killed a neighbor, then went to a mail processing plant, where she killed an additional six before shooting herself in the head on January 30, 2006. She was apparently motivated by severe paranoia and bigotry (San Marco was a known racist, and with the exception of neighbor Beverly Graham, all her victims were minorities).
  • Laurie Dann: Opened fire in an elementary school on May 20, 1988, after several failed poisoning and arson attempts at numerous locations, killing eight-year-old Nicholas Corwin and injuring five other schoolchildren. Dann then broke into a random home, taking the occupants hostage and seriously wounding one of them. After a standoff with police, she committed suicide by shooting herself in the mouth. It is believed that had her poisoning and arson attempts succeeded, she would have become the most prolific female rampage killer in modern history, and possibly also one of the deadliest rampage killers.
  • Sherie Lash: A former Native American tribal leader in northern California who shot five people during a tribal meeting on February 21, 2014, killing four of them, including the current tribal leader. She then grabbed a kitchen knife and stabbed a sixth person who survived. She was subdued and arrested by responding police officers.

Notes

  • The most prolific spree killer in modern history was Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel, a Tunisian-born Frenchman who deliberately drove a large cargo truck and fired a gun simultaneously into a crowd celebrating Bastille Day on the Promenade des Anglais in Nice, France, on July 14, 2016. 86 people, including several foreigners, were killed and 434 others were injured, 52 critically. The rampage covered a distance of 1.2 miles before ending at a hotel beside the walkway. There, responding police officers cornered Lahouaiej-Bouhlel's truck and opened fire on it, shooting and killing him. Unconfirmed reports claimed that Lahouaiej-Bouhlel shouted "Allahu Akbar!" (a phrase popularly used by Islamic terrorists) during the rampage. Despite being described as not being particularly religious, an eyewitness placed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel, a newly-hired truck driver and Muslim who had a small criminal record, as a frequent attendant of a mosque in recent months. An investigation of Lahouaiej-Bouhlel's phone records found that he was in contact with known Islamic extremists. On July 21, the French prosecutor confirmed that Lahouaiej-Bouhlel planned the attack for months with nine accomplices, who have all been arrested and charged.
  • The rampage killer criteria described a somewhat uninterrupted rampage and the end of said killing spree through arrest or death, either by police officers or suicide. However, there has been only one exception to this fact: William Unek, an African police constable who murdered a total of 21 people with an ax near Mahagi, Belgian Congo, on New Years Day in 1954. He then avoided capture for three years, eventually hiding in Tanganyika. Unek was then captured after he perpetrated a second deadlier killing rampage in the town of Malampaka after a work dispute, in which he brutally killed 36 additional people by either shooting, stabbing, burning, or strangulation. He was able to avoid capture again for nine days, to then he was tracked down by police and mortally wounded by a fire that engulfed the house he was hiding in. Unek later died of his injuries. With a total of 57 people killed and at least an additional 30 injured, he would be considered the third-deadliest spree killer in modern history, only below Anders Behring Breivik and Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel as described above, but as his killings occurred in two separate events that were three years apart, this position is officially held by Woo Bum-kon, a South Korean spree killer who murdered 56 people and injured an additional 35 before committing a suicide bombing.

Sources

  • George B. Palermo and Vincenzo Mastronardi. Il Profilo Criminologico. Dalla Scena del Crimine ai Profili Socio-psicologici. Giuffrè. 2005. ISBN: 978-8-814-20491-3
  • John Douglas and Mark Olshaker. The Anatomy of Motive: The FBI's Legendary Mindhunter Explores the Key to Understanding and Catching Violent Criminals. Scribner. 1999. ISBN: 978-0-684-84598-2
  • Mark Safarik and Katherine Ramsland. Spree Killers: Practical Classifications for Law Enforcement and Criminology. CRC Press. 2019. ISBN: 978-0-367-37000-8

References

  1. Safarik and Ramsland included him in the Targeted category, but the fact that he also shot random police officers definitively makes him Targeted and Random-Opportunistic.
  2. Safarik and Ramsland included him in the Mission category, but Gonzalez's only "mission" was to become a famed killer.
  3. Safarik and Ramsland included him in the Targeted category, but he also killed in a Random-Opportunistic manner.
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