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American Journal of Forensic Medicine & Pathology:

Violent Mass Shootings in Sweden From 1960 to 1995: Profiles, Patterns, and Motives

Lindquist, Olle M.D., Ph.D.; Lidberg, Lars M.D., Ph.D.

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From the Department of Forensic Medicine, University of Uppsala, Uppsala (O.L.), and the Department of Social and Forensic Psychiatry, Karolinska Institute, Stockholm, Sweden (L.L.).

Accepted November 10, 1996.

Address correspondence and reprint requests to Dr. Olle Lindquist, Department of Forensic Medicine, Dag Hammarskjölds väg 17, S-752 37 Uppsala, Sweden.

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During the past few decades, violent mass shooting in Sweden has increased rapidly. In the 36 years between 1960 and 1995, fourteen such occasions were recorded, during which 32 people were killed and 57 were wounded. The 14 offenders were men between the ages of 17 and 61 years. In the 20 years from 1960 to 1979, five shootings were committed by five offenders, leaving 10 dead and 13 wounded; in the 16 years between 1980 and 1995, there were nine different shootings committed by nine offenders, with 22 dead and 44 wounded. Seven of the shootings were classified as mass shootings, six as spree shootings, and one as a serial shooting. In all but four of these cases, the firearms used were illegal weapons. The four legal firearms belonged to an unemployed young laborer, an officer, a former United Nations (U.N.) soldier, and a member of the Swedish military volunteer corps. Of those killed, 68.8% were strangers to the offender; among the wounded, the corresponding figure was 89.5%. Profiles of the offenders and of the victims were studied. The psychiatric diagnoses among the offenders and the measures taken to prevent the increase in mass shooting in Sweden are presented.

During the past few decades, the incidence of murder caused by mass shooting has increased rapidly in Sweden. The total number of licensed handguns in Sweden was calculated by police authorities to have been just below 2.1 million in 1988. To this figure should be added about 700,000 to 800,000 firearms in the military defense system, plus about 3000 weapons in civilian pistol-shooting associations. Of the total number of licensed weapons, the proportion of pistols and revolvers has been estimated to be <5%. Thus, the total number of firearms in Sweden can be estimated roughly to be just below 3 million. It has been calculated by the police that during 1976-1988, the number of legal handguns in Sweden increased by 25% (1).

In a previous study, we found that the incidence of suicides caused by firearms was higher in areas with a high frequency of weapon licenses than in areas with a low frequency of such licenses, such as larger cities (1). When the frequency of licenses increased fivefold in one police district, there was a tenfold increase in the rate of suicide by shooting.

Incidence rates of single and double murders caused by firearms in Sweden seem to be independent of the number of weapon licenses in the area in question and are also relatively constant over a long period. Mass shootings with firearms are concentrated in cities, where the frequency of firearm licenses is the lowest (i.e., ∼4%), compared with rural areas, especially forested areas, where the frequence of weapon licenses is high because of a greater proportion of hunters within the population.

Violent mass shooting is often coupled with mass murder, of which there are two types: classic and family mass murder (2). In both types, the offender is mentally disordered, although the relation between psychiatric illness and mass murder seems to be complex and is described as being "characteristic of interface issues between law/criminology and the behavioral sciences" (3). Two additional types of multiple murder are spree and serial. The spree murder encompasses killing in at least two locations with no emotional cooling-off period between the murders. Serial murderers kill in three or more locations, usually with an emotional cooling-off period between the killings. The serial killer premeditates his crimes, fantasizing and planning the murders in detail. He also selects his victim, usually a targeted stranger he has been stalking before the murder. Serial killing may change to spree killing, in which the offender has no cooling-off periods and therefore has no possibility of controlling his behavior and stopping the act of murder.

Correct profiling, even of a single murder, with analyses of the modus operandi and the signature of the crime may indicate that the perpetrator has been killing before or will kill again (4). Quantitative studies of multiple murders are extremely rare. In Sweden, no studies of violent mass shootings have previously been undertaken.

The aims of the present investigation were to study offender profiles and the patterns and motives underlying these crimes in Sweden, to learn especially whether the offenders had firearm licenses, and to determine whether the firearms were safely deposited, with the aim of defining preventive measures that would make it more difficult for possible offenders to commit violent shootings.

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All known cases of mass shooting in Sweden during the period from 1960 to 1995 not connected with armed robberies were collected from the departments of forensic medicine and forensic psychiatry through the agency of the Swedish police and courts. Records and protocols from the police investigations, including scene-of-the-crime investigations, results of autopsies, medical examinations of the wounded, forensic psychiatric examinations of the offenders, and protocols from the courts were studied. One case of family mass murder by violent nonmass shooting, in which the father killed his sleeping family with single shots and then committed suicide, was not included in the study.

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The profiles are presented in Tables 1 through 4. Altogether, 32 people were killed and 57 wounded during the period from 1960 to 1995. Between 1960 and 1979, five shootings were committed by five offenders, in which there were 10 deaths and 13 people wounded. Between 1980 and 1995, nine different shootings were committed by nine offenders, with 22 dead and 44 wounded.

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Profiles of the Offenders

Five of the 14 offenders (35.7%) were immigrants to Sweden. Profiles of the offenders are shown in Tables 1 through 4. All perpetrators were white males; their mean age was 24.5 years (range, 17-61 years). Eleven of the offenders were born in Sweden, and six of the offenders had never before been suspected of or sentenced for any crime.

Of the six first offenders, one was a young unemployed laborer, one a store assistant, one a laboratory assistant, one a farmer, one a former U.N. soldier, and one a regimental officer. The farmer, who was not sentenced, was known by the courts because of a civil process against his former spouse.

A seventh unpunished person, a truck mechanic, had for a long time been suspected of violent shooting with a submachine gun at different places before his spree shooting began.

The offenders came from various ethnic groups. Eight offenders were Swedes born in Sweden with Swedish citizenship, two were foreigners, and two were naturalized immigrants with Swedish citizenship, of whom one was born in Sweden.

Of the offenders with an immigrant background, one was a professional criminal from Finland, one was a criminal Romani from Finland living in Sweden; the parents of another criminal offender who was born in Sweden had come from Central Europe. A fourth offender was a criminal immigrant from Turkey who had been sentenced in the former West Germany, Norway, and the former Yugoslavia; he became a Swedish citizen 4 years before his shootings, despite the fact that he had previously committed crimes such as illegal possession of arms, fraud, assault and battery, and involvement with drug trafficking in Sweden and abroad. The fifth offender with an immigrant background was a criminal Swedish citizen born in Sweden, whose mother was Swedish but whose father had emigrated from Spain. Three of the native Swedes had previously been sentenced, two of them for illegal use of weapons.

In three of the 14 shooting incidents, the offender committed his crime with accomplices. These accomplices were two Swedish criminal men (Stockholm, 1967), one Finnish criminal woman (Åmsele, 1988), and three immigrant men (Stockholm, 1994), all of who were already known to the police and the social authorities. The weapons used are listed in Table 1.

In eight of the 14 investigated shootings, military firearms were used. Three were stolen from military supplies, and in only one case was the weapon stolen from the legal civil owner. In five cases, the firearms had become available to the offender in some other illegal way (e.g., by purchase or exchange). Only four of the 14 offenders had obtained their weapons legally. One of these perpetrators was a young unemployed laborer, one was a former U.N. soldier from the Swedish army, another was a second lieutenant in the regular Swedish army, and the fourth was a member of the Swedish volunteer corps. All had free access to their weapons. The young laborer had access to his Mauser rifle through his shooting association.

All the offenders had an interest in firearms and violence (Table 2). In many cases, an increased pathologic interest in weapons and violence had been noted since childhood. This was manifested by identification with Rambo, large collections of firearms, violent shootings before the crimes, or frequent viewing of videos or movies containing excessive violence.

None of the offenders was alcoholic or addicted to drugs; however, in eight cases (57.1%), the offender was under some influence of alcohol at the time of the crimes. Use of anabolic steroids was suspected but could not be confirmed by chemical analysis. One offender admitted taking anabolic steroids on three occasions, for a period of 9 weeks altogether, a few months before his shootings. Previous tendencies toward violence were noted in all but one offender, as seen in Table 4. At least eight of the offenders had been previously hospitalized for psychiatric disorders, which in some cases had been detected in their childhood.

Because of criminality, mental disturbance, or conflicts with society, 13 of the 14 offenders (92.9%) were already known by the school, the military system, the police, the courts, the medical care services, and other social authorities before their violent mass shootings. Two offenders had previously been convicted for illegal possession of weapons.

Seven of the offenders walked to the scene of the crime, four arrived by car, one arrived by car then walked a short distance to the crime scene, and one used his car or bicycle or walked to and from the scenes of the crime on different occasions.

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Profiles of the Victims

A total of 19 males and 13 females were killed. Of these victims, 22 (68.8%) were strangers to the offenders. These 22 victims included the female owner of a post office (Haverö, 1967), two policemen (Stockholm, 1967), a security guard acting as a night watchman at a shopping center (Stockholm, 1967), a male pub visitor outside a pub (Uppsala, 1970), another policeman (Gällivare, 1984), a female civil servant (Gävle, 1988), a 3-person family (Åmsele, 1988), a male immigrant (Stockholm, 1991-1992), a boy (Mora, 1992), five members of Women's Services, two males (Falun, 1994), and three young women outside a restaurant (Stockholm, 1994).

Of the wounded, 51 (89.5%) were totally unknown to the offenders (Haverö, 1967; Uppsala, 1970; Gällivare, 1984; Gävle, 1988; Stockholm, 1991-1992; Mora, 1992; Falun, 1994; and Stockholm, 1994). The relationship between the offenders and the victims is shown in Table 2.

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Patterns and Motives

Motives and patterns of the mass shootings are shown in Tables 1 through 3. Of the 14 violent mass shootings, six were classified as mass murders, six as spree killings, and one as a serial killing. In one additional case included in the shooting spree category, no one was hurt despite hundreds of bullets fired from a submachine gun.

Six shootings took place outdoors, four indoors, and four in a combination of both outdoors and indoors. The first spree killing started outside a school, continued inside the school, and ended in the school yard (Kungälv, 1961). The second spree shooting started in a street and ended in a post office (Haverö, 1967). The spree shooting in Gällivare, 1984, started in the streets and ended in a school in the central part in the community. The serial shootings in Stockholm, 1991-1992, started outdoors in Stockholm, took place indoors in Stockholm, and then continued up to a distance of about 70 km from Stockholm.

The last of the the serial shootings was carried out indoors; during the last five shootings the offender changed from distant shooting with a small-bore rifle to shooting with a revolver at close range. There was also a tendency for the offender to change his targeted area from the trunk of the body and the genital organs to the victim's head. The offender, who was called "laser man" because of his use of a laser sight, was a serial killer of the same type as "Son of Sam" (David Berkowitz, New York, 1976-1977), whose shooting killings of dating couples sitting in cars in New York were sexually motivated and caused by feelings of hatred toward women, especially his own mother (5). The "laser man" shot at male immigrants in and near Stockholm during a 10-month period. He was the only child of two immigrants from Central Europe. His violent and antisocial behavior was recorded for the first time during his military service, but his criminal behavior was not predicted. It emerged in court that he considered himself to have an Aryan look and to be a cosmopolitan. He shot immigrants who he considered to come from uncivilized countries such as Somalia and who should not be in Sweden. Conversely, he believed that immigrants from civilized countries in Central Europe should be allowed to live in Sweden. In addition to his shootings, he was also accused of 10 robberies, many of which were committed when he was armed, and he was always alone. He acted in an extremely resolute and accustomed way, packed the stolen goods himself, and expressed himself in short English phrases. He traveled by bicycle and car. The offender possessed good knowledge of the scenes of the crimes, because he lived in the city and had worked there as a taxi driver. He had been unemployed since 1989 and derived his income from robberies, roulette playing abroad, and trading in the stock market. He had been treated in a psychiatric clinic shortly after his father died in 1978. The offender lacked a solid sense of identity, and for this reason he frequently changed his name and appearance. He altered the style and color of his hair, wore contact lenses of different colors and eyeglasses despite his perfect vision, and underwent plastic surgery. To maintain his feelings of great significance and omnipotence, he also took the name Ausonius, a famous Roman landscape poet who was a professor in Roman eloquence and had received a prize from the Emperor of Rome.

As previously mentioned, six of the 14 mass shootings were spree shootings and were committed during a school dance after a minor quarrel (Kungälv, 1961), by a schizophrenic patient in a street and post office in the offender's home village (Haverö, 1967), during a police hunt after the offender had been rejected by his girlfriend (Gällivare, 1984), during a police hunt by car for a wanted criminal suspect (Gävle, 1988), in a public office after a rejection of an application for child adoption (Gävle, 1988), and in a park after a quarrel with and rejection by the perpetrator's girlfriend in a restaurant (Falun, 1994). Of the other seven mass shootings, two happened outside restaurants (Uppsala, 1970; Stockholm, 1994); one in the garage of a shopping center during a burglary (Stockholm, 1967); one in a courtroom during a negotiation in a civil process between a man and his ex-wife, the judge, and two lawyers (Söderhamn, 1971); one in an apartment after a quarrel (Stockholm, 1980); one in a churchyard (Åmsele, 1988); and one in a street (Mora, 1992).

The motives or the stressful events triggering the crimes were different in all cases. The shooting in Kungälv, 1961, was committed by a 17-year-old former pupil in a state secondary grammar school who showed violent tendencies while under the influence of alcohol. This boy, who had an intelligence level above normal, was described as silent, shy, and withdrawn. He had previously shown "courage" by playing Russian roulette with his school friends. After a minor quarrel, the offender, on a whim, started to shoot at his former classmates. He had been consuming alcohol heavily and did not remember why he had started shooting. He was sentenced to psychiatric care.

In 1967 in Haverö, a small village in northern Sweden, a 24-year-old, paranoid-schizophrenic, unemployed forestry worker on leave from a psychiatric hospital used a stolen shotgun to fire on houses and people in his home village from the street. He felt helpless and disdained by the people in the village. From the street, he first shot into a house in which two elderly people were living. About 150 m from their house, he wounded an old couple by shooting into their kitchen. Finally, he killed the 75-year-old woman who owned the post office; the offender mistook her for a man he did not like. The offender was found to be psychotic and sentenced to further psychiatric care. The shotgun used was an illegal weapon that belonged to the offender's younger brother. The offender took the shotgun from a woodshed in his family home.

The shooting in Stockholm, 1967, was committed by a man with schizophrenia who, under the influence of alchohol, became increasingly paranoid during a burglary with two other criminals. He shot furiously with his stolen submachine gun at a security guard and two policemen, all of whom died instantly. The offender admitted consuming about 400 ml of schnapps and 250 ml of wine before the killings. He was sentenced to prison, became psychotic, and was referred to psychiatric care.

In Uppsala, 1970, a 26-year-old laboratory assistant, after heavy consumption of alcohol while watching television in a restaurant, went to a pub and then walked home and took out his submachine gun. He was a member of the Swedish voluntary military corps and had permission to have his weapon in his apartment. He then returned to the pub he had last visited. He began to aim and shoot at young customers of the pub who were standing outside the establishment. During the shooting, he told some of his victims that the revolution had come and that they had to choose sides. While watching television in the restaurant some hours before the shooting, the offender had seen a 1-hour episode of a series about a Polish officer in the resistance movement during World War II. In the third episode of the series, this officer, named Captain Kloss, was shown mowing down German soldiers with his submachine gun. The offender was sentenced to psychiatric care. Some years later he committed suicide by throwing himself in front of a train.

In Söderhamn, 1971, a 61-year-old farmer shot four people during a negotiation in court. The offender, who was prematurely senile and paranoid, considered himself to be a victim of dogmatism. He was sentenced to psychiatric care. Before the murders, he had been refused an application to be heard by the Supreme Court of Justice in a case regarding a dispute against his former spouse, who he thought was swindling him. The offender has since died of natural causes.

In an apartment in Stockholm, 1980, three men and a woman were killed by pistol shots and by stabbing with knives. The offender was a 22-year-old criminal Finnish Romani. He had previously been sentenced to psychiatric care for rape and was on leave at the time of the crime. A short time before the killings, his mother had begged the doctor in the psychiatric hospital not to give the offender leave to come home over the holiday. During sadistic sexual intercourse with a woman, the offender accidentally killed the woman with a pistol shot in her chest. He later immediately killed three male Romani at a drinking party at which the offender and the victims were all gathered.

In 1984, in the center of a Northen Swedish community, an 18-year-old unemployed laborer, after consuming 10 cans of beer because of rejection by his girlfriend, began to hijack cars. He then began to shoot violently with his Mauser rifle in the streets and from inside a school at cars passing by as well as at police cars that had followed him. Three young women were wounded and a policeman was killed. The offender also punched a male driver with his fists when the rifle had failed to fire. He later told the police that he had not intended to shoot anybody but was just passing through the community on the way to visit a shooting range, where he used to practice as often as four times per week. The offender was a member of a shooting association and sometimes hunted small game in the company of his brother. The offender, who had a license for some hunting weapons, could not be regarded as an avid hunter, however. He was sentenced to psychiatric care.

In Gävle, 1988, an 18-year-old truck mechanic was driving his car in the central part of the town when the police started to chase him. He was suspected of firing his weapon in and around buildings belonging, in some cases, to shooting associations, and of stealing other weapons from the military defense installations as well as from a private citizen, who had a military weapon in his possession. The offender fired violently at the police cars pursuing him after he had picked up a young friend in the street to join him for a ride. Fortunately, no one was hurt, although the offender fired hundreds of shots with the stolen submachine gun. In his car, he had a total of 41 magazines with 1440 bullets for the weapon. He was sentenced to psychiatric care.

In the building of the County Administrative Board in Gävle, 1988, a 51-year-old criminal immigrant from Turkey, who felt rejected and violated by the Swedish society, took his revolver and shot at four civil servants. He wanted to be refunded money he had spent during a trip he had made to Greece to adopt a child, but this demand had been refused. He was also denied the right to adopt by the authorities and the courts. The offender admitted that he had intended to blow up the building. Despite an extensive criminal record, he had become a Swedish citizen 4 years previously. After the shootings, he was sentenced to psychiatric care.

A family was brutally murdered in a churchyard in Åmsele, 1988, by a 23-year-old Finnish criminal when the family, consisting of a father, mother, and son, tried to prevent the theft of their bicycle. The offender was on a crime spree in Sweden with his girlfriend. They identified themselves with Bonnie and Clyde; the offender regarded himself as the most famous criminal in Scandinavia. He was sentenced to life imprisonment and is now serving his sentence in a Finnish penal reformatory.

Between the summer of 1991 and the winter of 1992, a 38-year-old bank robber stalked and shot at male immigrants in Stockholm and its surroundings as far as 70 km from the city center (Stockholm, 1991-1992). He initially fired from a distance, using a small-bore rifle equipped with a silencer and laser sight, staying within his own quarter where he felt comfortable and had lived and studied. He then continued to shoot with a .38/.357 caliber revolver at closer range. The offender had bought his weapons in Belgium and South Africa. He was sentenced to life imprisonment.

In a street in the central part of Mora, 1992, a 26-year-old former U.N. soldier fired on some young people, who were unknown to him, who had arrived in Mora from Orsa, another village, by car. He was depressed because some weeks before he had been rejected by his girlfriend, who now had a new boyfriend. Jealous, walking alone in the street after having been thrown out of a party, he felt teased and humiliated by the unfamiliar young people. He went home, fetched his pistol, returned, and shot them. Before the crime, he had been consuming alcohol. He also admitted using anabolic steroids some months before his crime. The bullets he fired from his duty pistol had a cavity in their tips. He was sentenced to 12 years in prison.

In a park outside the Army regimental headquarters in Falun, 1994, six women and two men were shot by a regiment officer with his automatic carbine (AK 5). The offender, a second lieutenant, had just been spurned by his girlfriend in a restaurant. After the quarrel with his girlfriend, he had tried to strangle her in the restaurant. He felt ill-used and told her that he was immortal. He then went home and changed into his military uniform, walked to the regimental headquarters, took out his weapon, and started a spree killing of seven people. He was then shot by the police. He was sentenced to life imprisonment. The offender was intoxicated and had 1.67 mg/ml alcohol level in his blood when arrested. He was depressed before his crimes and psychotic when they were committed (6).

The last shooting during the study period occurred in Stockholm, 1994. A 25-year-old, male, unemployed criminal offender, together with his friends, was refused entry into a restaurant by a security guard known personally to the offender. After some disturbance, the offender retrieved a stolen military machine gun (AK 4) from a hiding place and returned to the restaurant, where he shot the security guard and 26 other young people outside the restaurant. He was given a life sentence. Three of his friends were also sentenced to prison for their roles in the shooting.

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The present study shows an increase in violent mass shootings in Sweden during the past two decades that is independent of the total number of firearms in Sweden. Of these perpetrators, only four had free access to their firearms without any restrictions from, for example, the shooting association or military authorities. No serious hunters were involved in the mass shootings, but all offenders were in some way connected to the military defense system or had a pathologic interest in weapons or violence. In seven of the 14 shootings, Swedish military firearms were used. In three cases, these firearms were stolen. Another offender used a stolen cross-cut shotgun. In another case, a stolen shotgun was used. In two cases, the firearms were used in connection with other criminal activity. Abuse of alcohol and situations of rejection, violation, and paranoid reactions were found to be common precipitating mechanisms in the studied shootings. This was not true for the serial shootings, in which sexual or racial motives seemed to be more probable. All offenders showed varying degrees of personality disorders with paranoid, immature, antisocial, and narcissistic traits. At least three offenders suffered from schizophrenia, and in four cases the offender showed signs of reactive depression and prolonged crisis reactions. In at least six cases, the shootings could possibly have been avoided either by psychiatric interventions or by stronger control of the owner's possession of a weapon. Eight of the offenders (57.1%) were known to a psychiatric care unit before the shootings.

The present investigation clearly shows that, in the past few years, the Swedish courts have become more inclined to sentence the offender to imprisonment than to forensic psychiatric care, despite the presence of a serious mental disturbance in the offender. In recent years, no offender has been sentenced to psychiatric care or, since 1991, to forensic psychiatric care, which was the more usual punishment for mass shootings occurring between 1960 and 1988. The change to a more repressive system is the result of pressure from the Swedish government, public opinion, and relatives of the victims. It is obvious that other methods of prevention must be taken into consideration if the increase in mass shootings in Sweden is to be suppressed. Such measures should include safer disposal of military firearms in peacetime and a more profound psychiatric examination of any military personnel showing signs of mental disturbance. A stricter control of individuals with a license to possess weapons does not seem to be of value, because the offenders committing violent mass shootings usually do not have a license. The offenders also usually are not chronic abusers of alcohol or drug addicts; therefore, even if they had a license to own a weapon, they would not be readily detected in this regard by society, police, or professionals involved in psychiatric care. Thus, more stringent control of ordinary people with a licensed weapon, such as hunters or competition marksmen, or a proposal that possession of firearms should be restricted, is not justified.

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Eight of the violent mass shootings in Sweden between 1960 and 1995 were committed with military firearms, of which three were stolen. In seven cases, the weapons were from the Swedish military services. In four cases, the offenders used their own military weapons, which they had at their free disposal. Many of the mass shootings could have been avoided, because the offender had shown clear indications for violence and signs of mental disorders before the shootings. Chronic alcohol and drug abuse did not seem to be a cause of the mass shootings, but was a precipitating factor in individuals with early association with and fixation toward violence, sex, and death. Through safe disposal of military weapons and thorough psychiatric examination of military personnel who show signs of any mental disturbance, a continuing high incidence of mass shooting in Sweden should be preventable.

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1. Henriksson TG, Lindquist O, Spännare BJ. Clear correlation between gun ownership and firearm suicide; 92 per cent of result in deaths. Läkartidningen 1992;89:667.

2. Ressler RK, Burgess AW, Douglas JE. Sexual homicide: patterns and motives. Lexington, MA: Lexington Books, DC Heath, 1988.

3. Busch KA, Cavanaugh, Jr JL. The study of multiple murder: preliminary examination of the interface between epistemology and methodology. J Interpersonal Violence 1986;1:5.

4. Douglas JE, Burgess AW, Burgess AG, Ressler RK. Crime classification manual: a standard system for investigating and classifying violent crimes. New York: Lexington Books, 1992.

5. Abrahamsen D. Confessions of Son of Sam. New York: Columbia University Press, 1985.

6. Ingvar M, Lidberg L. It is unfortunate to make a diagnosis based on news advertisement (letter). Läkartidningen 1995;92:3350.


Shootings; Multiple murders; Profiling; Psychiatric diagnosis

© Lippincott-Raven Publishers.


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