Suicidology Online 2010; 1:19-27.
Suicide in Mass Murderers and Serial Killers
The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey, USA
Submitted to SOL: 18th February 2010; accepted: 1st March 2010; published 3rd March 2010
Abstract: Research carried out by the author on suicide in mass murderers and serial killers is reviewed. The incidence of suicide in rampage murderers (34.7%) is much higher than in serial killers (4.4%). Whereas all of the suicides in mass murderers occurred during attempts to arrest them, 52% of the suicides in the serial killers occurred after arrest. Case studies are presented, and suggestions made for future research.
Copyrights belong to the Author(s). Suicidology Online (SOL) is a peer-reviewed open-access journal conforming to the Budapest Open Access Initiative.
*Murder followed by suicide is not an uncommon event, and several research reports have appeared on the topic. For example, Palermo, et al. (1997) found that typical murder-suicide in the Midwest of America was a white man, murdering a spouse, with a gun in the home. In England, Milroy (1993) reported that 5% to 10% of murderers committed suicide. Most were men killing spouses, with men killing children second in frequency. Shooting was the most common method. Similar patterns have been observed in Canada (Cooper & Eaves, 1996) and Japan (Kominato, et al., 1997).
April 3, 2009: Binghamton, New York Jiverly Wong, aged 41, a Vietnamese immigrant, kills 13 immigrants and wounds 4 others at a community center, and then commits suicide.
April 30, 2009: Baku, Azerbaijan Farda Gadyrov, a Georgian citizen, enters the Azerbaijan State Oil Academy, kills 12 and injures 13 before turning his gun on himself.
Mass murder has become quite common in recent years, from workers at post offices “going postal” to school children killing their peers in school. Data from the United States indicate that the percentage of homicides with more than one victim increased over the period from 1976 to 1996 from 3.0% to 4.5% (Lester, 2002). Indeed, Lester (2004) recently called mass homicide “the scourge of the 21st Century”.
Examples are easy to find. Here are three cases from recent media reports:
March 11, 2009: Winnenden, Baden-W爀ttemberg, Germany Tim Kretschmer, aged 17, a former student, enters the Albertville-Realschule and kills 9 students and a teacher, flees and kills 3 others before committing suicide when confronted by police.
⨀ David Lester, Ph.D. Distinguished Professor of Psychology The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey Pomona, NJ 08240-0195
USA Tel: Email:
+1 609-652-4254 David.Lester@stockton.edu
Parts of this article have been presented in Wrzburg (Germany) in June 2009 as a talk in celebration of Prof. Dr. Armin Schmidtke’s career.
There are many categories of mass homicide, including familicides (in which a person slaughters other members of his or her family), terrorists such as Timothy McVeigh who killed 168 people at the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma city on April 19th, 1995 (Michel & Herbeck, 2001), and those who simply “run amok,” such as Martin Bryant who killed 35 people and wounded over 30 others at Port Arthur, Australia, on April 29th, 1996 (Cantor, Sheehan, Alpers, & Mullen, 1999).
Holmes and Holmes (1992) classified mass killers into five types: Disciples (killers following a charismatic leader), family annihilators (those killing their families), pseudocommandos (those acting like soldiers), disgruntled employees, and set-and-run killers (setting a death trap and leaving, such as poisoning food containers or over-the-counter medications). It has been difficult to study several of these categories of mass murderers because no one has developed a comprehensive list of murderers falling into the groups. The only category studied hitherto has been the pseudocommandos (also known as rampage murders).
In a preliminary study of mass murderers, Lester, Stack, Schmidtke, Schaller and M氀ler (2004) examined 143 incidents of mass murder committed by 144 men and one woman reported in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung between January 1, 1993 and August 31, 2002. They found that the death toll was