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Patterns and Prevalence of Mass Murder in Twentieth-Century America

NCJ Number
Justice Quarterly Volume: 21 Issue: 4 Dated: December 2004 Pages: 729-761
Grant Duwe
Date Published
December 2004
This study estimated the mass murder rates and offense, offender, and victim characteristics for the period 1900 through 1999.
Despite the lack of research on mass murder prior to 1965, scholars have contended that the onset of an unprecedented and increasing mass murder wave occurred in the mid-1960's. The current study attempts to fill the gap in the research literature by examining 909 mass killings that took place in the United States between 1900 and 1999. Data were drawn from newspaper articles in the New York Times and the Federal Bureau of Investigation's (FBI's) Supplemental Homicide Reports (SHR). Results of statistical analyses revealed that, although the mid-1960's marked the beginning of a wave of mass killings, the prevalence of mass murder was not unprecedented as mass murder was observed as being fairly common in the 1920's and 1930's. Moreover, familicides were more prevalent prior to the 1970's than they are today. Analysis of the characteristics of offenders indicated that mass murderers during the first two-thirds of the 20th century were older, more suicidal, and less likely to use guns. The only new type of mass murder observed as emerging during the 20th century was drug-related mass killings. The contentions of scholars that mass murders have increased since the mid-1960's may be due to a significantly greater number of public mass killings and sensationalistic news reporting. Future research should focus on cross-national comparisons of the patterns and prevalence of mass murder in other nations. Figures, tables, references