May 1, 2013
When a production company for Investigative Discovery called to discuss murders in Indianapolis, Jennifer Murray soon found herself at a taping as an expert on killers.
This summer she will be filmed for two more episodes of "Evil Kin," a follow up to the channel's popular "Evil Twins" series.
"It will air most likely at the end of fall," said the assistant professor of criminology and criminal justice at Indiana State University.
Murray's television appearances began with a case in which a brother and sister killed their mother and grandparents, chopped up their bodies and cemented them in the basement floor of the grandparents' home in an effort to obtain the grandparents' money. After filming that episode, which includes comments from officers and reporters, the show's producer asked her to examine two other cases and to discuss those. She will travel to Washington D.C. to film those episodes this summer.
Murray studies killers and her class on them at Indiana State quickly fills though the topic and photos are not for the faint of heart. She also will teach a class at Sterling University in Scotland this summer comparing U.S. and British mass and serial killers. Her research focuses on antisocial people who by himself, or with a few friends, exact "homicidal revenge" on selected targets, who fulfill a personal vendetta for the killer.
Following stints as a golf pro and a flight attendant, Murray turned to studying at Arizona State University after working in a sex offender unit where she became curious as to how sexual deviancy crosses into murder. It was while working with her professor and mentor, John Johnson, an expert who has extensively researched murderers, that Murray found her research passion.
"We got to thinking about mass killers, so many had happened," she said. "I always wanted to do something there was a real need for...I have a passion for this work."
From Sandy Hook to Virginia Tech to Columbine, mass killings have become a part of the country's consciousness. Mass killings are defined as the killing of four or more people by a lone assailant - or a few assailants - usually in a single location or in several locations in close proximity to each other during a period of a few minutes or hours.
"Usually mass killers are in their 40s, but we have the phenomenon of school shooters where the process is speeded up," Murray said.
That process comes from common signs that can be seen in most mass killers. Most have severe abnormalities in their psychological and social development, which leads to difficulties in developing relationships.
"We don't want to get involved with odd ducks," Murray said, explaining that people tend to stay away from others that they perceive as different.
Mass killers are usually loners, misfits with poor coping skills who find it difficult to adapt to changes in their lives.
"Many try to fit in, but they can't," Murray said. "They don't know how to be social and have an identity to fit in society. They try and try until they give up."
Then comes an event that shatters them and in an effort to put their selves back together, the killer begins to indulge in fantasy. Those themes may range from re-asserting personal power, re-claiming his masculinity, seeking revenge or trying to obtain attention or public infamy, Murray said.
"A mass killer blames everyone else for his woes," she said.
As the mass killer becomes immersed in his fantasy world, his second world, it becomes cathartic for him, Murray said. But over time, it only leads him closer to the act.
"They know what they are doing. They don't explode overnight. It is typically a long process of planning," she said. "There's not a single case that if you go back over the history that the signs aren't there. You can see the derailment."
To combat the problem, Murray said there needs to be awareness and education of teachers with a protocol for reporting students who may be at risk in schools. Also administrators need to "do something" instead of ignoring the problem. Additionally, she suggested that people attempting to buy guns should undergo mental health checks.
"Mass killers almost always purchase guns legally," she said.
Also, bullying must continue to be combated in schools. The Columbine and Virginia Tech shooters felt as if they were bullied relentlessly. Murray said, mass killers sometimes internalize that they are being bullied, even if they actually are not as in the case with the Virginia Tech shooter.
"We've always had bullying, but today it's on a different level," she said. "If you notice it, instead of ignoring it, you need to intervene."
Contact: Jennifer Murray, Indiana State University, assistant professor of criminology and criminal justice, at 812-237-3006 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Writer: Jennifer Sicking, Indiana State University, associate director of media relations, at 812-237-7972 or email@example.com
Jennifer Murray teaches class on murderers, researches mass killers. She will be the expert witness on an Investigative Discovery Show regarding "Evil Kin."