Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Desperate Times Lead To Desperate Measures . . . Or Is It Just a Poor Excuse for Murder?

by Robin Sax

As the financial times and the economy continue down a very slippery slope, people are becoming more panicked than ever. Just last week I was at the airport and overhead a businessman calming his wife on the phone, explaining to her that “we’re almost there, it’s going to turn around.”

I have spoken to parents who have dutifully opened college savings plans 18 years ago, only to be stressed about how they are going to pay for their kids’ college education. The money’s just about gone, and people have lost their homes, their jobs, and their life savings. And then there are those who have lost their minds.
In the last two weeks alone, stories of desperation have made headlines throughout the country. In Los Angeles, there was the case of 45-year-old Karthik Rajaram, a guy who appeared to live the “picture-perfect life” with all the accoutrements of a successful life: a beautiful home, a career, a family, luxury cars. When he lost his job as a financial advisor, he pulled a gun on his 39-year old wife, his three sons (ages 7, 12, and 19), his 69-year-old mother-in-law, and then himself. He left a suicide note saying that his financial troubles had led him to conclude that this was his only option. All he left behind were his possessions, which are now packaged by crime-scene tape (above).

Meanwhile, in Ohio, a 90-year-old woman attempted suicide after facing eviction from her home of 38 years. In despair, she actually shot and wounded herself.

Just a few weeks ago, my post was about the bigger picture of how economy and crime went together like peas and carrots. I looked at the presidential candidate platforms for guidance, understanding, and hope. But neither John McCain nor Barack Obama inspired me or gave me answers to who was going to fix this mess. However, I was certain of and continue to know that our economy has a direct correlation to our crime rate.

I am not alone in my opinion. Richard Rosenfeld a sociologist at the University of Missouri – St. Louis said, “Every recession since the late ’50s has been associated with an increase in crime and in particular, property crimes and robbery, which would be most responsible to changes in economic conditions.” He does point out, however, that “there is typically a year lag between the economic change and crime rates.”

But as the economy continues to plunge and homes continue to foreclose, do we face increased risk of murder and suicide? Can economically hard times really lead someone to kill? I look to my colleagues—profiler Pat Brown and psychiatrist Dr. Lucy Puryear for answers. While fascinated with why people can do the things they do, as a prosecutor I know the answers are not necessarily elements of a crime that I must prove.

For example, in a murder case, I need to show that a defendant had the specific intent to kill, but I don’t have to prove motive, even if I know there is one.

As a human being, an American, and a prosecutor, I feel it is my obligation to understand how the conditions in our country can trigger this type of desperation. Is it what others suggest—a poor excuse to kill? According to Rich Paul, a vice-president of Virginia-based Value Options, Inc., which handles mental health referrals, calls about stress-related foreclosures and financial hardships have gone up 200% in California in the last year. Rates of depression increase as the economy worsens. Stress and depression are one thing. . . . Murder is another.

Since the economy affects everyone, we all need to understand how it works and come to grips with it. And perhaps, even more important, we all need to know that there are options, help, and resources for everyone in these most difficult and stressful times.


Anonymous said...

FYI Tribune did a story on this.,0,1994230.story

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Robin, I've had a couple of posts on this topic on Grits, including one today.

There's little evidence crime as a whole goes up because of an economic downturn or down during economic good times. During the Great Depression, e.g., overall crime declined dramatically. But particular offenses based in economic desperation - suicides, family violence, scrap metal theft, siphoning gas, etc. - could increase. For the most part, though, the variables linking crime and the economy, bottom line, are indirect at best and not predictive.

Dee said...

I can easily understand if/when tough economic times lead to crimes like robbery. People who have never stolen before certainly could be driven to start depending on their personal situation. To me, this would be a "desperate measure" in a "desperate time".
Murder, however, is a whole other ball of wax. My father is currently serving a life sentence for having my stepmother killed and it seems his only motive was money. She dared to try to go after his money during their divorce proceedings. Thank goodness my mother hadn't done that during her divorce from him because I'm convinced now he never would have let her walk away.
Guys like this don't kill as a last-ditch attempt to set things right (although that is what they might claim and it's what many of them talk themselves into believing) - they kill because they're deranged, sociopathic, narcissistic...whatever. The fact is, tough financial times or not, these guys would eventually kill, it would only be a matter of time.
I will say that I don't buy it when these familes are described as having a "picture-perfect life". It's never true. There are always signs. Long before any money troubles kick in.

Pat Brown said...

I would say that tough economic times do indeed affect the rates of violence as psychopaths don't like failing and losing, a consequence that is likely to increase in times of more serious stress. Even more emotional healthy people will cheat more on taxes and such in crunch times. But a psychopath who blames others for his problems is more likely to beat his wife for being laid off, kill his family for draining his finances, and kill all those bitches who are "taking his jobs away." When a psychopath fails, somebody is going to pay for it, so if his failure rate rises, so will his crimes. So I vote yes, bad economic times make for more violence, but bad economic times to not make a psychopath or an excuse for murder. Rajaram was already a controlling, nasty piece of work and when he didn't get his way, lost the life he wanted to flaunt, he decided he didn't want to live and so why should anyone else live either. It is possible if he hadn't screwed up his financial stuff his family would be alive, but then, he could have gotten pissed off he was getting older or his wife was getting a backbone or whatever excuse was useful to employ to knock off everyone.

Bad economic times adds one more excuse to the pot for a psychopath; one more reason to kill. It's always nice to validate your violence, isn't it?