Serial Killing: Was Richard Castle Right?

Castle: Head Case


In last night’s episode of Castle, Richard Castle, the TV show’s amateur sleuth/novelist defined a serial killer as a murderer without motive. Therefore, he (Castle) felt the murderer in the show couldn’t be a serial killer since there was a motive for committing his crimes. Was his statement correct? I say no. Not by a long shot (pun intended).

Warning: This is a spoiler for those of you who haven’t seen the show!

Black’s Law Dictionary defines motive as:

“Cause or reason that moves the will and induces action.”

Dr. Katherine Ramsland, one the country’s leading experts on serial killers, defines a serial killer in her book, The Human Predator:

A serial killer murders at least two people in distinctly separate incidents, with a psychological rest period between, which could be considered a time of predatory preparation. He, she, or they also choose the murder activity, such as stabbing, strangulation, shooting, or bombing, and may move around to different places or lure successive victims to a single locale. They view victims as objects needed for their ultimate goals, and manifest as addictive quality to their behavior, so that choosing murder is a satisfying act rather than merely a reaction or instrumental goal.

Add the two definitions together and what do you get? You get Castle’s suspect, the serial-killing, greedy, revenge-driven, brother who murdered his sister (and two innocent people in order to cover his tracks) so he could claim the entire amount of his dying father’s assets.


Satisfying needs, such as revenge, money, sexual thrill, or even to meet the demands of various rituals, are all motives. And the killer Castle so comically chased down and caught definitely had a couple motives for committing his crimes.

I’m just saying…


So, what are your thoughts about the show? Did you enjoy it? I thought it was okay. Well, it wasn’t offensive.

Oh, the poker game was a nice touch.

15 replies
  1. Toni Rose
    Toni Rose says:

    I am one of those stereotypical librarians who love a good mystery. I have enjoyed Castle, but missed much of the first season. I was pleased to receive the Season 1 DVD set as a gift, and have been shuffling around between books and video. We in the public library world refer to this type of story as “mind candy” not necessarily the best, but certainly leaves you wanting another piece.I also find it quite entertaining that people who claim they don’t watch TV seem to know so much about it, don’t you? I bet they don’t read fiction, either. 🙂

  2. jenifer
    jenifer says:

    I liked the show enough to give it time to develop a bit. First episodes are often difficult, but I’m going to give them a chance to develop the characters and see what happens. The poker game was great. 🙂 And the woman wasn’t an author, but the game’s dealer.

    I had already seen the beginning of this post before I watched the show, so I caught that line immediately when he said it. I took it more to mean that a serial killer doesn’t necessarily have a personal motive connecting him/her to that particular victim, but it could have been better worded.

  3. Katherine Ramsland
    Katherine Ramsland says:

    Hi – thanks for quoting me. The FBI actually changed its own definition in 2005 to be consistent with criminalists who say that two murders in two separate events can be a serial killer. The actual idea is that, because these are often stranger murders, it’s “seemingly motiveless,” i.e., the typical motives don’t immediately apply. But further investigation finds a motive for an act like this, even if it’s “no reason in particular” except that he felt like it that day (David Maust).
    I didn’t stay with the show long enough to see that line. The writer was too stereotypically smarmy to hold me, along with his too predictable mother and daughter. I liked the cop, but the story line we’ve seen before, too.

  4. Carol Davis Luce
    Carol Davis Luce says:

    Lee, I love your blog and read it every day. I guess you’d say I’m a lurker (is that similar to a stalker?). I’d post more often but I can never remember my password and so I have to go through the ‘new password’ thing again.

    Anyway, I’m so glad you’re all better from your surgery complications. You had me worried there for awhile. Advice of the day: stay away from doctors and hospitals, they’re try to kill ya.

  5. D. Swords
    D. Swords says:

    Let me se – left to right – James Patterson, Stephen Cannell?, that famed author Ann Onymous – and the star of last night’s show, which I did not watch because I was so emotionally drained from two hours of “Dancing with the Stars.”


  6. Lee Lofland
    Lee Lofland says:

    Hi there, Carol Davis Luce. I haven’t seen you around in a while!

    I agree. The chemistry was good. I’m pulling for the show to work. We’ll see.

  7. Carol Davis Luce
    Carol Davis Luce says:

    Lee, I had the same reaction as you did to Castle’s comment about serial killers not needing a motive. However, it didn’t spoil my enjoyment of the show. I liked the characters, and the wit, and the chemistry I sense between Castle and the lady cop. The show is not as good as ‘Life,’ which is my favorite cop series, but I found it entertaining. Time will tell.

  8. Terry
    Terry says:

    There’s an interesting blog post on Murder She Writes today, using a television show as a writing lesson. I tend to watch shows that way myself: Is this backstory dumping? Character development? A plot twist? Even hubby’s started noticing the storytelling basics. “Conflict, right?”

    I also admit I will look at the clock because if it’s a mystery/cop type show and there’s still 20 minutes left, odds are, they’ve got the wrong suspect.

  9. Lee Lofland
    Lee Lofland says:

    Hi Gerald. Thanks for stopping by. I don’t expect the show to be fact-finding spot on, either. In fact, I hope not. I’m up to here (touching the top of my head) with shows and books that attempt to force feed police and forensic facts down the audience’s throat.

    It would be refreshing to have finally found a show that’s strictly for entertainment. Overall, I enjoyed the first show, and there was enough there to make me want to try it again next week. Although, it will be tough to surpass the thought-provoking complexity of Big Bang Theory… 🙂

  10. Gerald So
    Gerald So says:

    I agree with you about serial killers having motive. As a show, “Castle” was fast and loose, but I liked how Castle himself doubted he was right about who the murderer was. Coincidentally I had seen all of the pilot’s punchlines in commercials and online, so the real test for me will be next week’s episode.

    I don’t expect “Castle” to be very procedurally accurate, and it hasn’t claimed to be. I just hope Rick Castle is more than the onlooker’s idea of what an author is.

  11. Lee Lofland
    Lee Lofland says:

    I don’t watch much TV either, unless it’s a documentary, or something on HGTV. However, I am addicted to The Big Bang Theory on Monday nights. I stop what I’m doing to watch that show.

    I stumbled across Castle because I was still seated in front of the tube talking to my wife when it came on last night.

  12. Terry
    Terry says:

    Television? People have time to watch television? (Ok, I admit I watch 3 shows a week — usually taped so I can run through them in 42 minutes each instead of an hour).

  13. Lee Lofland
    Lee Lofland says:

    Some murders are knee-jerk reactions to a specific event, such as during a heated argument, or when the guy comes home and catches his wife in bed with the TV repairman. But, I guess you’re right, the events still qualify as motive according the the definition from Black’s.

  14. SZ
    SZ says:

    Dont all crimes have motive ? Even if it is not premeditated, it still came to a “cause or reason”.

    I do not own a television set, so dont know about the new show.

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