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  • Victoria Maamari

A murderer’s motive: Analyzing the Idaho murders

Updated: Oct 18, 2023

TW: Violence


What pushes someone to take the life of another individual? Scholars have been studying why people commit murder for decades. While there is no clear answer, one scholar, Peter Morrall, condensed motives into four Ls: Lust (a person might murder a rival of a lover), Love (murdering as a mercy killing), Loathing (killing a group or person one hates) and Loot (murder as a means of financial gain).


In another study, authors broke a murderer’s motive into several factors: physiological, developmental, psychopathological and social. Physiological factors focus on the link between violent crime and genetic anomalies, suggesting that someone could be genetically predisposed to committing violent crimes.


Developmental factors can also play a prominent role, especially if someone experienced violence or abuse at a young age. Researchers have found that families play a crucial role in a child’s development, and when it is dysfunctional, it has great potential to negatively impact the child.


Researchers also analyzed psychopathological factors, including psychiatric disorders, as potential reasons for violence. Notably, the number of people with psychiatric disorders is low and individuals suffering with psychiatric disorders most often commit murder when experiencing a crisis or after not taking their prescription medication.


Lastly, social factors examine the atmosphere around individuals, such as socioeconomic status, social inequality and population density. Studies have found a link between these social factors and violent crime, but they recognize that they are not enough to fully explain why individuals commit murder.

The recent murders of four college students in Idaho has put the question of motive directly in the public spotlight. On Nov. 13, 2022, Bryan Kohberger stabbed Ethan Chapin, Madison Mogen, Xana Kernodle and Kaylee Goncalves to death in their college house in the early morning. After over a month of limited clues and no suspects, authorities finally arrested Kohberger on Dec. 30, 2022, after finding DNA on a knife sheath recovered from the scene and matching the DNA to his family member. All the physical evidence linking Kohberger to the murders is there, but one thing remains missing: the motive.


So far, investigators have found no obvious link between Kohberger and the victims, leaving the question of motive even more in the dark. Looking at Kohberger’s history and background may give some answers as to why he committed the murders. Kohberger was a graduate student at Washington State University pursuing a PhD in criminology with a specific interest in the mindsets of criminals. Former classmates and professors of Kohberger have described him as curious about crime scenes and serial killers, but this did not seem unusual to them because it fit with his class curriculum. Others have described his demeanor as quiet and intense, often making students uncomfortable. Notably, Kohberger struggled with heroin addiction in high school and was reportedly cruel to classmates.


The general understanding on why individuals commit murder and what might have induced Kohberger may be a combination of the factors listed above as well as reasonings that might yet be unknown. Every case has particular circumstances, and unless the murderer is willing to disclose his motives, authorities are left with assumptions and inferences. In the case of the Idaho murders, until more information is released, Kohberger’s motive will remain a mystery. Hopefully when the truth eventually does come to light, it will give insight as to why someone commits such a heinous crime.






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