Administration of Justice 421

Violent Crime


Spring 1995



Philip Jenkins                                                  Class meets Tuesday/Thursday 1-2.15 pm


The course

A study of major issues surrounding violent crime in the contemporary United States - its nature and frequency; different theories of causation; and the problems caused for the justice system by extremely violent offenders. Special attention will be paid to offenses like multiple homicide, rape and arson. Can violent crime be reduced by deterrence, rehabilitation, or by social and environmental intervention?



The grade for the course will be based on two essay examinations (25 percent each) and a research paper on the cultural and political dimensions of violent crime (40 percent). There is no comprehensive exam, and therefore note that there will not be a final examination, regardless of what the course schedule says. The three exams make up 90% of the grade. The remaining 10% is based on class attendance and participation.

See below for details of the research paper. Note that I am expecting you to consult with me at regular intervals on the paper, show me prelimiary drafts, etc.



Deadlines matter, and I intend to enforce them strictly. If you miss a deadline without getting an extension in advance, you get a non-negotiable grade of F on that particular exam, paper or project. Do not try getting in touch with me after the fact to explain why you missed an exam, unless you produce a proper medical note. Excuses must always be supported by documentation. Valid reasons include medical problems and the like. I am aware that ROTC sometimes makes strange demands on its members, and these reasons would be valid: but note that ROTC also provides documentation for these absences, which must be produced if you want to claim this as a reason for an extension.

The following are not valid reasons for an extension, so please don't ask:

"I have other exams that day" (so ask the other professors for the extension)

"I'm leaving early for break" (not if you want the grade, you're not)

"I overslept" (Always a danger in an early class. Buy an alarm clock)



All are required; all are in paperback editions


*Philip Jenkins, Using Murder, Hawthorne, NY: Aldine de Gruyter 1994.

 ISBN: 0-202-30525-2

*Stephen G Michaud, Lethal Shadow New York: Onyx 1994

 ISBN: 0-451-40530-7

*Neil A Weiner and Marvin Wolfgang, Pathways to Criminal Violence Sage 1989

 ISBN: 08039-3344-4



1. Jan 10. Introduction and definition. Some myths about violent criminality. Rates and patterns of violent crime in America today. 

READ: Weiner and Wolfgang, Pathways to Criminal Violence


2. Jan 12.  A historical and comparative perspective. Mass and political violence. 


3. Jan 17.  Causation - biological  and biomedical explanations. 


4. Jan 19.  Psychiatric and developmental factors. The cycle of family violence. Alcohol, drugs and crime. Domestic battering. Case-study - Lesko and Travaglia.


5. Jan 24. Social factors - violence in mainstream criminological theory. Control and strain. Subcultures. The politics of debates over violent crime


6.  Jan 26.  Race and violence.


7. Jan 31. Myth and reality about drugs and street-gangs. The impact of narcotics trafficking on violent crime. The homicide rate in New York City.


8. Feb 2. The violent hard core. Robbery, aggravated assault and the career criminal. Debates over selective incapacitation


9. Feb 7. Homicide - classifying American murders by motive and offender. Felony and conflict murder.

Please tell me the subject of your research paper


10. Feb 9. Case-study of modern opinions  on violence - Interpreting assassins.


11. Feb 14. Mass murder.

Read: Jenkins, Using Murder


12-15. Feb 16-Feb 28. Serial murder. Nature of the offense. Social and individual causation. A typology of offenders - the lust killers. The victims of multiple homicide - chance and choice; the role of unsafe environments.

VICAP and the debates of 1983-1985 - the growing federal role. 


16. March 2. examination one


17. March 14. Rape; the serial rapist. 


18. March 16. Film: Rapists


19. March 21. Investigating violent crime. The controversial impact of new technologies. Other forms of chronic violent behavior

Preliminary bibliographies are due today


20. March 23. Violence in popular culture


21. March 28. Extreme violence and the mass media: myths, moral panics and crime scares. Read:  Michaud, Lethal Shadow


22. March 30. Preventing and reducing violent crime - social and environmental intervention. "Target-hardening".  Guns and gun control.


23. April 4. The medical and psychiatric environment. The role of the mental health system; civil commitment and the impact of decarceration; the insanity defense and violent crime.


24. April 6. The courtroom and the legal environment. Plea bargaining, prison overcrowding, judicial intervention.  The collapse of the urban criminal justice system

Preliminary drafts of your research papers due now: individual meetings with instructor


25-26. April 11-13. The hillside strangler case; film of  Mind of a Murderer.


27. April 18. Rehabilitation and behavior modification.


28. April 20. Sanctions, punishment and prediction. Film: Shakedown in Santa Fe.


29. April 25. Capital punishment - the case of Richard Biegenwald. Conclusion, summary of themes and ideas.


30. April 27. Exam two


Final Examination Period  - Final versions of research paper due


The Research Paper

Take any recent case involving serial murder, mass murder, serial rape or some other form of extreme violence. Describe the course of the crimes and the investigation from the point of view of the mass media. Then, and this is the crucial point, analyze the cultural themes and images in the reporting, and the political messages, either overt or covert. One important theme here will be a discussion of the language and terminology.


Please note some critical points:


1. Do not choose a case on which there is already a book or major study, eg Ted Bundy or the Hillside Stranglers. This is not a book report.

2. It may be that there is a major article on the case in some magazine. You can use this, but the bulk of the references must be from the contemporary newspapers. This is primarily an exercise in newspaper research.

3. The crimes must either have occurred or come to public attention since 1986.


Please also note, you will find a huge amount in the resources in Pattee library, including Newspaper Abstracts and Periodical Abstracts on LIAS, and PRO-QUEST, the neat CD-ROM  facility they have to search newspapers and magazines. Ask for assistance with this, it's a wonderful tool. Thereís one for newspapers in the Microfilm room, another for magazines in  the Periodicals Room. Learn to use these materials early in the term, and be sure to ask me if you need assistance.


You want to find one case, which can either be one that is closed, by the conviction or death of the suspect(s); or one that is pending. Use common sense about finding a major source, and you only absolutely need one newspaper. The Boston papers will obviously have the best coverage of a case like the New Bedford murders, the LA Times will have LA and San Diego cases, Chicago papers are usually good on Kansas City, etc. The Miami Herald will be strong on the Florida campus killings. or the Miami prostitutes case. When you have identified a case, let me know which one it is. Your paper will address these types of issues, though every case will raise different issues, and so you do not have to follow this outline. Obviously, no one case will involve all these issues!


a. Write a "history" of the case.

As far as possible, give a chronology with the dates of the murders and of any arrests. Describe at what stage the police and press first identified the killings as linked. How widely did estimates differ on the number of victims? Was there debate between agencies about the nature of the crimes? Did the case become a political issue? If the case lasted a long time, how did different groups explain the failure to find a suspect? Was there discussion of the role of several offenders? How did police suggest that people might take precautions to protect themselves? Were these suggestions realistic or helpful?

When were suspects first apprehended? Were suspects arrested, then freed as more evidence became available? Did the media appear to prejudge the guilt of an accused person on the basis of police suspicions? What picture did the papers give of the suspect and his background?  Is this account credible?

 Describe the legal course of the prosecution, trial and subsequent disposition. Was there any suspicion that the wrong individual might have been caught, and that the murders might still be in progress? Can the case be described as closed?


b. The role of the media

How big a story was the case? What decided how much coverage it got? Was it that the killer turned to some types of victims rather than others? How fully did the police describe the case and the ongoing investigation to the media? Were there leaks? Is it possible to determine anything about the sources of the leaks? How did the press react to police policies? Did the investigation lead to discussion of the nature of the victim population at risk, eg the inhabitants of the local red light district, or the solitary elderly? Do you think the media were irresponsible? Were they trying to spread panic, or responsibly trying to keep people informed? In your opinion, did they help or hamper the investigation?


c. Interpreting the events

Were the papers aware of current research and ideas about serial murder? What kind of analogies did they draw to the case under review? In other words, how did they understand it? Was the interpretation of the crime psychiatric, or moralistic/supernatural? What experts were quoted on the case?


d. Political and Cultural Dimensions of the Case

Use the relevant chapters in Jenkins, Using Murder for an example of this.


e. Context and discussion

How does the case fit into the issues raised in class and in the readings? How does the killer fit into the various typologies suggested? Can we learn anything from this case that might be useful for future serial murder investigations? What can we learn about the role of the media in such an incident?


Your paper should be at least 16-20 pages, typed, and fully referenced, with the titles, dates and bylines of all the news stories consulted. It is due by the final exam period in May