The Evolution of Crime
Murder has evolved over the years.
From the methods that have been used to the reasons for killing, murder has evolved as civilisation has. Many of these changes can be related to the times and what was available for murder; some demonstrate the evolution of needs as explained in Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs.
Abraham Harold Maslow was an American psychologist who, in 1943, came up with a theory of psychological health for predicting innate human needs on a priority basis.
The theory’s basic premise is that unless a person has fulfilled the lower tiers of the pyramid, they will not climb up. If you do not have physiological needs such as food and water, you will not be interested in fulfilling your safety needs. Hungry people will put themselves at risk if they need food. You will not want to move on to love and belonging and start a family if you do not have your safety needs of a secure home.
Although this is a simplified explanation, it is the basis for all human development. Many may argue with this, but when we look at crimes throughout the ages, we can see a clear pattern between the reasons for murder and the hierarchy of need.
In a time when food was short, many people would steal to provide food for their families. One example of this would have been ancient Egypt. During the time of the Pharaoh’s, many people were short of food. So when they observed their Kings being buried with all their riches, they turned to grave robbing to provide them with money to purchase food for their families.
The poor could not afford nice things, whilst the rich were buried with gold and silver. So it is easy to see why this robbery would have been so popular. So many would steal enough silver to feed their families.
Usually, these criminals acted in teams, often many of them were involved in the burials, so they knew where to look for the riches. Some tradesperson would even carry out riches in their trade bags before the tombs were even sealed. As a result, many mummies were found intact with their seals still in place but their refinery missing.
Egypt was a cashless society until the Persian’s invaded in 525BC; robbers would have traded goods from tombs. They would have taken stolen goods to higher officials who would have paid the robbers in food. These would have then melted down the gold for their profit. Thus, Egyptians established the earliest form of fencing stolen goods.
This was not to say that the Egyptians took these crimes lightly when they were discovered. We know from ancient Egyptian court records that a guilty charge of grave robbery carried a death sentence. Perpetrators were either burned alive, decapitated or impaled.
Less severe punishments consisted of cutting one or both hands off, whipping, beating or torture. None of these punishments, though, were as bad as watching your family starve.
Victorian London was a harsh place to live. Most people lived in complete poverty.
The lack of safe accommodation and living standards in the Victorian era led to many crimes committed; Jack the Ripper is one of the most famous. However, another crime that was popular at this time was that of the baby farms. These young infants without a safe place to live, often found themselves the victims of murder. Women frightened at not having enough money to pay for the roof over their heads would poison and kill these babies to make rent.
The daily struggle for survival was arduous for women and children. The vulnerable were not protected, and many perished. Women were poorly treated. Unmarried mothers, in particular, faced great hardship. A young girl, if pregnant, had to find a way of dealing with the problem. For many, baby farms were one option. These killers operated in the shadows. It was in these environments that Margaret Waters became infamous.
Once the sum had been paid, Waters would take the children with her. She promised the birth parents that she would find suitable families for them; until then, she would look after them herself. Instead, Waters began to keep the children at home. She drugged them, so they were no trouble to her and then starved them to death. Waters was eventually caught and executed, but only after she had killed many babies.
Waters went to her execution as a calm woman, almost one with no conscience. She had done what she needed to put a roof over her head.
Love and Belonging
If we move up to more recent times, we can see this level through the relationship with Ian Brady and Myra Hindley. So besotted was she with Brady that they went on a murderous rampage together.
When they first met, it was Hindley that did all the chasing. When she noticed that Brady was into books, she went to the library and hired a copy of The Complete Works of Wordsworth. At lunch, she produced this book, and for the first time in two years, Brady acknowledged her.
He started talking to her. Then, at the Christmas party that year, he walked her home and kissed her.
It was apparent then that she was under his spell. When he suggested she read Hitler, she complied. When he asked her to pose for pornography pictures, he was an amateur photographer, she complied.
When Brady confided in Hindley, he was now ready to commit the perfect murder; she was used to bait and lure the children to their death. She stated that at the time, she felt she had no choice but to help Brady, so infatuated with him she was.
Whether Hindley took part in the sexual assaults and murders depends on who you ask. Hindley has always maintained her innocence, a fact Brady supported for many years. When she broke off her relationship with him from prison, he stated that she was involved in all aspects.
During the trial, Brady did everything he could to get Hindley off the charges. He claimed she was absent from the murders. They both presumed that she would be found innocent or get a short sentence. The defence stated that Hindley had been under the influence of Brady at all times. However, when the jury looked into her eyes, they found this hard to believe. She came across as a strong woman who knew her mind.
Once in jail, the pair fell apart and spent many years trying to incriminate each other. Many have argued the couple would not have killed, if they had not been trying to find love and belonging through their relationship.
The killer murdered five people, and as he is unknown, it is hard to say what his motivation was; however, he did use his intellect in his crimes. Therefore, we could argue that confusing the police with the letters he sent may have been his motivation.
The Zodiac named himself in a series of taunting letters and cards that he mailed to regional newspapers. In them, he was threatening killing sprees and bombings if they were not printed.
Of the four cyphers he produced, two remain unsolved, and one took 51 years to crack. He is a killer whose case is still spoken about as many amateur detectives try to solve the clues he left and answer who the Zodiac Killer was.
From his perspective, the game and riddle he set for many years may have motivated killing. He fulfilled his esteem needs by belittling others.
As our needs in society have evolved so, have the reasons that killers have been found to kill. Of course, not every murder can be related to Maslow, but it is clear that murder has evolved as the needs and wants of humanity have.
As life changes, so do our needs and wants. But, unfortunately, needs and wants are what inspires some to murder. It remains to be seen if society changes and people fall down the hierarchy of needs, whether murder will once again be motivated by the simple task of feeding our families.