Moving Beyond Motive to Murder

coldjusticeWhen the TNT show, Cold Justice, premiered last September I found myself transfixed. It’s been a staple in my home since. I love Kelly Siegler and Yolanda McClary. They are obviously caring, compassionate and determined women who know their business and they are closing cold cases all over the country. But with each episode I find myself shaking my head and wondering how people can so callously take the life of another.

Motive is only a portion of it. Being motivated to kill is one thing, actually killing is another.

I’ll reveal something about myself that I don’t readily offer up: I’ve killed someone.

At the age of 21 I worked nights. One evening, while on my way to work, I found myself in a line of traffic, on a poorly lit two-lane highway, just after sundown. The last streaks of daylight dipped in the western sky and the headlights of oncoming cars created a halo-like glow. As I passed a grocery store, the red tail lights of the car in front of me swerved and I pressed my brakes, unsure what might be coming. In mere seconds, a head, with gray hair, hit my windshield at eye level. A shoe flew to the right. I stomped the brakes, a body rapidly flew from the hood and landed in the opposite lane. Cars were swerving to miss the body.

Now, this wasn’t something I chose. When I was informed that the man died, a guilt took up residence inside me and it didn’t leave for years. That experience makes the idea of willingly kill someone even more perplexing.

Photo provided by John O'Neill and freeimages.com

Photo provided by John O’Neill and freeimages.com

It’s rare for me to write about murder, but as a writer of mainstream/women’s fiction, it isn’t outside the realm of possibility. The one time I did take on the task, the motivation took center stage and the killer suffered from mental instability. Her reasoning was skewed and irrational. It made me uncomfortable to delve into her mind, so when it came time to write the scene in which she attempts murder suicide, I blocked all emotion and wrote clinically. No macabre images. Just the struggle, both emotionally and physically, of two people, one wanting to live the other to die.

Is that what it takes to actually commit murder? Shutting down, not thinking of action and consequence? If so, how do we explain murder in the name of jealousy and greed?

I guess the reason for this post is to query you, my readers and fellow writers. How do we go beyond motivation and get to the action of killing? Is this a subject you’ve explored before?

  • Having read your story about the murder/suicide and hearing your story about the accident now, I’m intrigued about your approach and your premise. I don’t think the people who chose to commit murder feel the same horror that the people in your situation do, so I don’t think there is a detachment; rather, I posit there is a fulfilled desire or a chemical high that’s met. I’ve always thought that the people who commit premeditated murder must have clinical mental issues (who could do that otherwise?), so I have to rationalize that they are fulfilling (or trying to fulfill) some need inside them. I don’t think they detach; I think they are hyper-aware.

    Now I want to write a novel from that perspective and explore those feelings… Wonder what exactly that means?

    • I think that means I’ll be VERY conscious of staying on your good side. Don’t want to become your research subject. 😉

      Seriously, though. I think you’re correct about the hyper-awareness, especially in serial killers. I can’t imagine having a NEED to kill. What does it say about me that I’m pondering the psyche of killers?

    • I think that means I’ll be VERY conscious of staying on your good side. Don’t want to become your research subject. 😉

      Seriously, though. I think you’re correct about the hyper-awareness, especially in serial killers. I can’t imagine having a NEED to kill. What does it say about me that I’m pondering the psyche of killers?