Inside the Mind of a Killer – Andy Peloquin

Andy Peloquin

I am an artist – words are my palette

Inside the Mind of a Killer

How many people would take up a weapon to kill to protect someone? Most of us would, if driven to it. But how many would take up a weapon and kill for a living? Not many! How many would find new and creative ways to do it, or even to excel at it? Fewer still!

The United States Secret Service studied 83 people who had attacked or tried to attack celebrities or political figures in the second half of the 20th century. Psychologists and agents analyzed the lives of assassins both living and dead. In fact, 23 real-life assassins participated in the study! The discoveries were truly fascinating:

The assassins killed for one of eight major motives:

To achieve notoriety or fame

To bring attention to a personal or public problem

To avenge a perceived wrong; to retaliate for a perceived injury

To end personal pain; to be removed from society; to be killed

To save the country or the world; to fix a world problem

To develop a special relationship with the target

To make money

To bring about political change

There are four types of assassins:

Type I assassins view their acts as a probable sacrifice of self for a political ideal.

Type II assassins are persons with overwhelming and aggressive egocentric needs for acceptance, recognition, and status.

Type III assassins are psychopaths (or sociopaths) who believe that the condition of their lives is so intolerably meaningless and without purpose that destruction of society and themselves is desirable for its own sake.

Type IV assassins are characterized by severe emotional and cognitive distortions that are expressed in hallucinations and delusions of persecution and/or grandeur. As a rule, their acts are mystically “divinely” inspired—in a word, irrational or insane.

(Source: JAAPL)

Here is the reasoning behind the actions of assassins trying to kill the U.S. President:

Motive Delusional Thinking or Active Psychosis Harm Intent Animus Toward POTUS*
Resentful Retribution None Yes Yes
Pathologically obsessed Retribution or Personal gain Persecutory or Grandiose Yes Yes (Retribution)No (Personal gain)
Infamy seeker Political statement None Yes Not necessarily
Intimacy seeker Realization of fanaticized relationship Erotomanic No No
Nuisance To provide help to or seek help from the President Grandiose, narcissistic, or dependent; may be actively psychotic No No
Attention seeker To see or be seen with the President None No No

What kind of person becomes an assassin?

77% were white and 86% male

51% had used a handgun and 30% a rifle

25% were employed full time

57% were not delusional

61% had been evaluated or treated for mental health problems

41% had shown signs of being suicidal and 39% had a history of substance abuse

97% had a history of strongly expressed resentment and grievances

0% sent a direct threat to the person targeted

(Source: Psychology Today)

According to the Secret Service, it’s nearly impossible to identify an assassin by WHO THEY ARE. Assassins look like just everyone else you know. There is no specific psychological profile to determine what kind of person becomes an assassin.

However, they can be identified by WHAT THEY DO. There may be a few indications of their behavior, and there is a very logical (in their mind) trail of events that led them to believe assassination is acceptable. Psychologists can analyze the thought processes and patterns that led them down the path to taking another person’s life. You cannot simple label them as “crazy” or “irrational”, despite their actions. While mental health problems are common among assassins, the delusions–while influencing their decision to kill–did NOT divorce them from reality. They understood full well what they were doing and why.


The mind of a killer is a truly fascinating (and horrifying) place, and you can find a lot more information at the following websites:

New York Times: Secret Service Challenges Assassin Stereotypes

Psychology Today: The Mind of the Assassin

Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law: Assessing Presidential Stalkers and Assassins

This last link is particularly interesting, and it contains a WEALTH of information on the subject.


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  1. Good article, Andy, although I also think there is a fifth category of assassins – those businesslike assassins who had extensive training and experience in killing fellow human beings through military service or mercenary work, and who have taken their homicidal skills to market. Unlike Type I, they don’t sacrifice themselves for a political ideal (in fact, most don’t care about politics). Unlike Type II, they don’t crave recognition or status, but are simply killing for profit. They come closest to Type III, but Type V is not inclined to destruct society, but rather to profit from the inequalities and loopholes. And they are definitely not Type IV, because delusional killers wouldn’t be stable enough to perceive killing as a business.

    Type V assassins will be most likely to either work as ‘wet work specialists’ for governmental covert services, as hitmen for criminal organisations (like the sicarios who kill for drug cartels), or freelance for the elimination of business competitors (like corporate troubleshooter Katla Sieltjes, who specialises in disguising homicide).

    • Fascinating! I know that Type falls under one of the eight motives for becoming an assassin, but I wonder if the “killing experience” contributes to psychological trauma to such an extent that they see killing others as a way to make money.
      Perhaps we will need to add Type V, then! 😀

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