3 Reasons Why People Become Killers


3 Reasons Why People Become Killers

There are only three reasons why people become killers, according to former cold case homicide detective, J. Warner Wallace.

The one time detective of Torrance Police Department in Los Angeles County and noted author made his declarative statement in an editorial published by Fox News.

Searching for Answers

With the culturally shattering events we call “mass shootings,” most recently in Santa Fe, Texas people are searching for answers.

Society frequently focuses on “how” (a firearm) versus “why” (the thought process and general make up of the individual who decided to commit mass murder). And those answers appear illusive.

But are they? Moreover, people often ask, “How do you make sense of such a senseless tragedy?”

‘Few’ Red Flags

Texas school officials said there were “few red flags” that appeared prior to the mass murder in Santa Fe.

“Unlike Parkland, unlike Sutherland Springs, there were not those types of warning signs,” Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said at a news conference following the bloodshed. “The red-flag warnings were either nonexistent or very imperceptible.”

The accused shooter’s parents said the media reports of the shooting seemed “incompatible with the boy (they) love,” and the 17-year-old boy’s best friend said he was “one of the most responsible people I knew. He didn’t drink or do drugs, to my knowledge … he was academically proactive, making all A’s.”


At this point, detectives have not yet identified the motive for the shooting.

However, Wallace declares he knows “precisely  why this latest killer did what he did.” Moreover, he wrote, “And I also know what will motivate the next killer to act in a similar way.”

Analyzing High-Profile Murders

As a homicide detective himself, Wallace investigated high-profile murders in Los Angeles County.

As a result, he carefully chronicled the motives for every homicide that occurred in the region. “You might think there are a million reasons why someone would commit a murder,” he said, “but there are only three possibilities.”

Why People Become Killers

Wallace believes one of three motives is the driving force behind every homicide, theft, burglary and robbery. Furthermore, he says, “These three motives lie at the heart of every conceivable crime or misdeed.”

This is his simple list:

  • Financial greed
  • Sexual—or relational—lust
  • Pursuit of power

Regardless of expanding sub-categories, he says there isn’t a fourth category. For instance, when asked about jealousy or anger, he responds with a question, “What is causing the jealousy or anger?” As you might expect, he says one of three listed categories above provide the explanation.

3 Reasons Why People Become Killers
“These three motives lie at the heart of every conceivable crime or misdeed.” – J. Warner Wallace (Image used by permission of J. Warner Wallace)


Wallace used the notorious gang, MS-13, as one example. He said they “inadvertently confirmed these three motives when leaders chose the motto for their criminal organization: Kill, Steal, Rape, Control.”

Analyzing Santa Fe Mass Murder

Wallace continued:

All murders (kill) are motivated by financial greed (steal), sexual lust (rape) or the pursuit of power (control). Sometimes only one of these motives is the driving force behind a crime. Sometimes two or more are involved.

The latest school shooting is a good example. While there doesn’t appear to be any financial motive, the killer does appear to have been driven by the other two motivations I’ve described:

Sexual Lust – A 16-year-old girl killed in the Santa Fe shooting, Shana Fischer, was apparently pursued by the accused killer in the days and weeks prior to the shooting. Her mother said the accused shooter “kept making advances on her and she repeatedly told him no.” According to Shana’s father, she “told her mother two weeks ago he was going to come and kill her.”

The Pursuit of Power – This form of motivation can be very nuanced and includes one’s sense of respect, authority, embarrassment, prestige or control. For example, as the accused killer became “more aggressive” in his advances toward Shana (approximately one week prior to the shooting), Shana eventually “stood up to him” and “embarrassed him in class.”

In addition, several news organizations have reported that the accused shooter was bullied and “mistreated at school.” Episodes of perceived disrespect and embarrassment are often the motive for murder. This would also explain why some of the accused killer’s friends said that he recently “started wearing a trench coat” and telling students he was “buying knives off Amazon.”

The accused shooter incrementally sought the respect (and fear) of others, a classic example of the pursuit of power. During the attack, the killer even selectively spared students he liked “so he could have his story told.” This effort to elevate his fame and prestige after the fact is consistent with the motive I’ve described.


Sadly, Wallace expects school shootings to continue since there are only three ultimate motives behind each one.

However, there are solutions. 

Wallace says we, as a nation, need to be willing to “embrace and promote a worldview that helps us understand the proper role of money and financial stewardship, promotes sexual purity and restraint, and helps us place the needs of others ahead of our own desires.” Otherwise, he says, “we can expect more of the same.”

Furthermore, Wallace refers to these guiding principles as “restorative values” that are part of our “collective heritage and common worldview.”

Wallace concludes, “They are also our last and greatest hope if we ever expect to minimize and contain the only three reasons anyone commits a crime.”


The background which establishes J. Warner Wallace as an authority includes: Cold-Case DetectiveChristian Case Maker, Senior Fellow at the Colson Center for Christian Worldview, and the author of Cold-Case ChristianityCold-Case Christianity for KidsGod’s Crime SceneGod’s Crime Scene for Kids, and Forensic Faith.

Finally, Wallace was previously featured at Law Enforcement Today with the article, “The Value of Developing a Detective’s Perspective.”

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