Tag Archives: murder

Crime and Community

Last week when I posted about writing a murder mystery, HonourTheGodsBlog came in with some powerful comments. I’ve been thinking about that a lot. I’ve no first hand experience of how murder impacts on people. I was however a teen in Gloucestershire during the Fred West case, and that certainly had a widespread impact on many people in the area, not only those who were directly affected.

Crime is something we tend to treat as a very individual issue – with individual perpetrators and individual victims. It remains difficult to do anything about situations of negligence that harm people in more subtle ways. If a person steals because they are hungry, then framing the crime as the theft, and not the hunger has significant implications.

I’ve poked around in this as an issue before – it’s something I raised in the novel Letters Between Gentleman – which had a Victorian setting. The deaths of workers in factories and as a result of industrial processes was widespread, but it wasn’t considered to be murder. That’s a political choice with a lot of implications. We’ve seen considerable improvements in labour laws, but we aren’t currently looking at the enormous damage to health and quality of life caused by work stress and insecure work. It’s not like beating someone up in an alley, except that in some ways, it’s exactly like beating someone up in an alley.

We don’t treat wage theft by companies with anything like the attention we might give to someone who stole from the till. Politicians don’t end up in court when their policies cause people to starve to death, or freeze to death, or die homeless on the streets. Even when the lines of cause and effect are perfectly clear, we don’t treat these deaths as crimes or as murders. We’re more likely to take to court someone who killed accidentally and do them for manslaughter than we are to challenge someone whose policy has demonstrably killed multiple people. 

The difficulty is that murder is framed as the intentional killing of a specific person. We aren’t really set up to deal with the deliberate killing of non-specific people. We’ve got international laws about doing it based on race, but nothing to hold to account someone whose deliberate and knowing choices result in the deaths of thousands of elderly people in care homes. 


The trouble with murder

To be clear, I have no issue with self defence. I also have considerable sympathy for anyone who kills to escape unlawful imprisonment. It happens – and it tends to be what’s going on when women kill their abusive partners. Otherwise, the standard reasons for murder are really crappy when you look at them. Jealousy, greed, revenge. For the domestic abuse escapee, the point at which you get out is the point at which you are at most risk of being killed, because loss of control over a person feels like a reason for murder, for far too many people.

As a starting point then, I have problems with books that present murderers as interesting or sympathetic. I have a particular distaste for the ‘clever serial killer who toys with the police’ trope. I’ve read and watched enough murder mysteries to have developed a certain amount of unease. I also struggle a lot with the ‘amateur detective who just happened to be there’ model, with all due reference to Murder She Wrote, and things of that ilk.

I am perpetually uneasy about the way murder can be presented as a mental health issue – as is often the way of it in the news. On one hand I think a person has to be a particular kind of unhinged to think that killing someone is a good option in most circumstances. On the other hand, stigmatising mentally ill people is cruel and unhelpful. Most people with mental illness are a danger to themselves and not to anyone else.

It has therefore come as a bit of a surprise to me to find that I’m co-writing a cosy murder series. I like a challenge, and it’s a good opportunity to look at my beliefs and assumptions around the genre and to also consider whether I could do this on my own terms. I do want to explore what the hell has to be going on in a person’s head to make murder seem like a reasonable choice. Not to validate that choice, but to make people question the kinds of thinking that might take you there.

I don’t believe that the inclination to murder is innate, or that it comes out of nowhere. The choices we make, the beliefs we adopt, the entitlement we feel and the way we justify things are all going to contribute to a trajectory. If it isn’t an accident, and it isn’t in self defence then there’s been a journey to the point where it seems like a good idea. That’s something I’m interested in exploring.


There are no crimes of passion

A new study from The University of Gloucestershire demonstrates the 8 stages that lead abusers to kill their partners. There’ an article about it here – https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-49481998 which I will be referring to in this post.  This has a number of important implications…

It makes explicit the link between domestic abuse and murder – women who were killed by their partners (it is usually women who die and men who kill in these cases) were subject to controlling behaviour before they were killed. This means that emotional and psychological abuse can be indicators of risk and should not be downplayed.

The study makes explicit that when men kill their partners, they can also kill the partner’s offspring. This has massive implications for a family court system that has long insisted that contact with both parents is by default what’s in a child’s best interest. Abusive people abuse, and some kill, and those who kill their partners and ex-partners sometimes also kill children. Putting a child into direct and unsupervised contact with an abusive parent cannot be in the child’s best interests. It is a risk that needs taking seriously.

I’m heartened by the way this report puts responsibility for killing firmly on the shoulders of the killer. Too often, this kind of murder is talked about in terms of jealousy, justified in some way by the victim’s actions, or suspected actions. We’ve got a lot of cultural framing that treats sexual infidelity as a reason for rage and murder. Tom Jones’s Delilah is a rather obvious example of the form. But it’s a myth. Men who kill don’t suddenly hit an experience they can’t handle, have a meltdown and kill in an out of control way. The take-away quote for me, from Dr Monckton Smith is “there’s always coercive control.” There are 8 stages that lead to these murders, and coercive control is reliably one of them.

Deliberately manipulating your partner to control their behaviour is something we need to take a lot more seriously. It’s noticeable that when it comes to sentencing, men who kill having claimed a state of rage in response to female behaviour, get much lighter prison sentences than women who killed abusive partners because they couldn’t take it anymore. Pre-meditation gets you a longer sentence. But when you look at the eight stages on this list, it’s pretty obvious that this kind of domestic murder is pre-meditated and they were just waiting for an excuse, an opportunity or a justification.

As the article points out, we need to start asking why people feel the need to control their partners in this way and why they feel entitled to kill. We need more studies and we need answers that can put a stop to all of this. We need to take emotional and psychological abuse much more seriously, we need to change how domestic abuse is perceived and dealt with in the law, in the media and in society as a whole.


A funeral for Mary

We’ll have a funeral for Mary
Who was buried in the jail
Procession now and fine tombstone
With mourners come to wail.

Who spoke for you, dear Mary,
When you languished in the cell?
The world bar one accused you
Promised you the fires of hell.

Only Henry, ever trusting
Only Henry, your sweetheart
Did not doubt in your virtue
Stalwart, steady, took your part.

Plain Miss Jones declared against you
Thinking she would claim your man
If they punished you for murder
Jealousy would see you hang.

Old Miss Blunt, forever sleeping
Cannot say who struck the blow
If a thief came through her window
Or her servant from below.

Storm and strife struck you that evening
Plans and dreams all stripped away
As you old mistress was slaughtered
For your blood the neighbours bray.

Only Henry, ever faithful
Would not think the worst of you,
Fought to keep you from the gallows
Never doubted, ever true.

They took you to the scaffold
You sought mercy at each turn
Blamed for a brutal murder
But your truth they did not learn.

Now they’ve found the men who slew her
Eagerly did they confess,
And Miss Jones is chased to exile
Your poor bones do others bless.

Now your Henry, always loyal
Leads your funeral parade
Your wronged corpse resurrected
Only finds another grave.

This is a true story, Mary from Littledean was hanged in Gloucester jail for a crime she was adamant she did not commit. Some years later the real murderers were found, but of course by then it was too late for her. When I read the story in Lyn Cinderey’s ‘Paranormal Gloucester’ I thought it sounded like it should be a folk song. Perhaps one day I’ll put a tune to it. In the meantime, my thanks to Lyn for the inspiration. I’m anti capital punishment, for all the reasons this poem flags up.