Since only a small fraction of our traffic comes from prisons and volcanic hideouts, we're guessing that most of what you know about crime comes from pop culture. Shockingly, badass action movies and ennui-filled cable shows aren't the best sources for accurate data about this subject. Other than the "doing crimes" part, the lives of criminals are drastically different from what we imagine. Just look at how ...
If you need money in a hurry and aren't too keen on that whole "work" thing, have you tried robbing a bank? It's incredibly dangerous, sure, but if you pull it off, you'll have a lifetime of relaxation awaiting on your new private-island-shaped yacht or yacht-shaped private island. Or even a yacht-shaped yacht, if you're one of those weirdos.
Of course, there are a couple of things that we should mention. Firstly, please don't rob a bank (our lawyers begged us to add that). Secondly, it turns out that bank robberies are such a terrible way to make money that, screw retirement, it'd be hard to justify calling in sick to your day job on the day of the "big" score.
Or at least, that's the conclusion of a study conducted by economists Giovanni Mastrobuoni and David A. Rivers. After poring over data relating to every bank robbery conducted in Italy between 2000 and 2006, the two discovered that the average bank heist yielded $19,800, which is nowhere near the $10 million you promised Brad Pitt if he joined your crew.
Giovanni Mastrobuoni and David A. Rivers
They also found that the average heists lasts four minutes, and if you manage to stay in there for longer than that (think of baseball or something), each additional minute nets you an extra $1,700 on average. Somebody's gonna have to do the math on how many minutes you'd have to be camped out in your local depository if you want those aforementioned yachts and islands, but put it this way: Pack a good book and a penknife, because you're going to have to whittle one of those cashier desks into a bed.
Leo DiCaprio movies aside, white collar criminals are usually portrayed as about the sleaziest type of human beings imaginable. What could motivate someone to screw hundreds or even thousands of people merely to go from "rich" to "even richer"? Is it greed? A belief that they won't get caught? Pure black-hearted evilness? How about greed? Did we mention greed?
Good news, we have an answer! And it's ... balls-out stupidity.
When Eugene Soltes, a researcher who specializes in white collar crime, decided to look into how business leaders could turn on a dime (or a lot of dimes), he found something interesting. Namely, the vast majority kinda bumbled their way into it -- "it" being crime, and then a jail cell.
When Soltes interviewed executives convicted of white collar crimes, one recurring rationale was that for all their brilliance and expertise, they never figured that they were doing anything truly wrong. In their minds, the crimes were so small and the rewards so minute that they didn't really stop to think that they were breaking the law. Even Bernie Madoff, the guy behind the largest Ponzi scheme in history, was like "Eh, it's not that big of a deal."
As the crime itself is so removed from any sense of consequence (over, say, pickpocketing), few consciously say to themselves, "OK, I'm gonna be a criminal now." For the vast majority, it was a slow gradual slide to the bottom, or the consequence of poor impulse-driven idiocy. This is why when Soltes pressed his interviewees about the point at which they knowingly crossed over into doing crime, only a few could identify it in hindsight. We can imagine Madoff watching the Robert De Niro movie they made about him and going, "Ohhh, so that's why I'm doing 150 years in jail."
Guns are a hot topic nowadays, probably as a result of them being fired so damn much. Many of these discussions about how we're, um ... misusing firearms tend to focus on high-profile phenomena like mass shootings and gang crime. But when you look at the figures, it's clear that the most prolific form of lead infusion, the one that's doing the most damage to society, is suicide. And it's been like that for some time.
Last year, the CDC released a report highlighting how 2017 was the worst year for gun-related deaths since the 1970s -- a figure that sent all corners of the media into histrionics. But the lede that most outlets buried was the fact that over half of these deaths were suicides -- 23,854, itself the highest number in nearly two decades. But since that's a subject more likely to make you keep scrolling than hate-click, you don't hear about it.
Good thing that the president keeps bringing the national conversation back around to the subject of mental health whenever a mass shooting occurs, huh? It'd be even fucking sweller if he could put some money toward funding those services, but hey ho.
In the last few years, vehicle ramming attacks (VRAs) have become a popular tool of terrorists and murderers. If you don't believe us, literally every other word of this sentence links to a recent story about someone driving a vehicle into a crowd of people, and it's getting a little depressing now holy shit how are we still going.
It's easy to think that VRAs are only a trend du jour because some terrorist think tank determined it's an easy way to get a good kill count, but the actual explanation is much dumber. It's a meme, basically. According to researchers from the Universities of Kent and Copenhagen, this sudden wave is "akin to a virus spread by social contagion whereby a single action leads to a wave of others, which would otherwise not take place."
The people responsible for these attacks have "vastly different political and religious beliefs and backgrounds." Lots are terrorists, yes, but many others are regular wackjobs who just decided to hurt people one day. Then they looked at the TV or their phones, saw all the coverage VRAs were getting, and said, "Hey, there's an idea."
It isn't all bad news, though. As with all memes and viral phenomenon, VRAs will eventually die out, although as the researchers note, "they will be likely be replaced by another form of horrific attack that will also spread through digital networks." Ha, you thought the opposite of bad news was good news, didn't you?
Whether they're doing it because of the voices in their heads or because they're on the line for a fat payday, assassins are single-minded predators who think of nothing but the kill. They like disguises, rifles, dodgy accents, and -- in a move that might be singlehandedly keeping the newspaper industry afloat -- sending their intended targets threatening notes or letters.
How do we know all of this? The same way we know about, uh, most things: movies like Ronin, Day Of The Jackal, John Wick, Taxi Driver, and In The Line Of Fire. And, as a result ... you already know where this is going.
When the Secret Service decided to go all Mindhunter on people who have tried to kill (or actually killed) public figures in the United States, they discovered that our image of assassins is pretty much made from bullshit whole cloth. That thing about how the only two types of assassin are "paid" or "crazy"? They didn't find a single instance of a paid assassin, while less than half of those doing it for free showed signs of mental illness. "We didn't find demons or evil people," one agent who presumably didn't have clearance for the government's secret demon-holding facility said.
That thing about them being single-minded? Many of them started out with a target in mind, but somewhere along the way decided to switch it up, "valuing the act more than the victim." That thing about them threatening their intended target? While most assassins do blab to a family member about their plans, only a marginal percentage of the people who assassinate or attempt to assassinate an American politician ever signed their crime. Not even John Wilkes Booth, and that guy was used to autographs.
So what are assassins like? For the most part, like regular people, except they're assassins. Yeah, that should help narrow things down.
Adam Wears is on Twitter and Facebook, and has a newsletter dedicated to depressing history facts. It's not as heartbreakingly sad as it sounds, promise!
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