On an almost daily basis, those commenting on true crime use the phrase that the criminal [any criminal in a high-profile case] “just snapped”. It’s a doozy. And in just two words the case is solved from bottom to top, left to right and everywhere in-between. There’s no need to have an investigation or a trial or write a single word in a book about the case because the case has been solved. He “just snapped”.
The term is so permissive it was actually used as the title of a true crime documentary about Scott Peterson – SNAPPPED.
One of the reasons the “just snapped” idea is so popular is because so many criminals in court, or in their versions of events like to use it, their families like to use it and dumb journalists unthinkingly recycle it.
In the Oscar Pistorius trial he doesn’t use the word “snapped” but describes shooting his girlfriend to death [four times behind a locked door] as “an accident”, something that happened “before I knew it.”
Many people, including the Judge hearing the case, and many trial pundits and media folk, believed this story and as a result Oscar initially beat the murder charge against him. Fortunately, saner minds prevailed and the culpable homicide charge was eventually overturned to murder.
Jodi Arias also used the idea of herself drawing a blank when the crime happened. She wasn’t thinking when the murder happened, she went into a fog. And then, at a particular time when it was all over, the fog lifted. So something in Jodi, according to her, snapped too.
So with so many buying into the “snapped” scenario in the mainstream media, it’s not surprising that social media regurgitates the same thing.
Below are a few more handy examples:
- OJ Simpson
2. Chris Watts
3. Henri van Breda
4. Adam Lanza
5. Stephen Paddock
But isn’t “just snapped” the lazy man’s way of addressing a simple but difficult question? When there are no low hanging easy answers to why, then “just snapped” answers why, except “just snapped” is about as useful as “just because”.
It was while I was researching a book on mass murderers that this default non-explanation really came to the fore, and the more it did the more I made it my personal mission to figure it out and give it the proper true crime treatment.
As such I consider SLAUGHTER one of my best achievements in true crime to date.
What I discovered researching SLAUGHTER was that the more heinous the crime the more inexplicable it is. Apparently. So the more people someone kills, the less reason they have for killing – they’re monsters, and mad, end of story.
And so the poster child for a confounding motive is Stephen Paddock. His crime is so sadistic that no one – not the FBI, not the cops, not his family – no one was able to figure out why he did what he did. Even today that remains the case! Apparently he had no motive. And because we can’t figure out his motive, maybe he didn’t have one…And because he didn’t write a suicide note explaining his actions, apparently what we’re left with is an unsolvable riddle. Ergo “He snapped”.
Initially, Paddock was a tough nut to crack. But as I did more and more research on 7 other mass shooters, I was surprised by how clear the motive and the sadistic patterns were in each case. Just as serial killers can be profiled, so can mass shooters and school shooters.
The dirty little secret about school shootings is it’s very easy to see who the most likely candidate is going to be, but counter-intuitively, knowing that can actually precipitate the shooting. How is that for a mind bender to the “just snapped” theory, that specifically in the high school setting one can actually set off a crime ahead of time by profiling your most likely shooter.
An incredible case study to understand why the “just snapped” notion is such ridiculous heresy is Adam Lanza. Thanks to the FBI there is a treasure trove of data which I dug into in detail in SLAUGHTER which reveals how chronically dysfunctional Lanza was as a person.
Since we’re dealing with Chris Watts here, I won’t go into detail to say how and why we know Lanza didn’t just snap, just that he’s a classic case where neighbors and the public assumed that’s what happened, while a careful study of who he was, his habits, the dynamics with his mother and his digital breadcrumbs clearly showed months of meticulous planning.
And that’s really the essence of it. A clue to what we need to do to find out what really happened is in this screengrab just below the highlighted text. Paddock’s brother claimed Stephen paddock “was just a guy” and “just snapped”.
But the real insight here is what he says afterwards:
We know absolutely nothing about his motivations or situation before the shooting…
And so, if we are to move beyond kindergarten catch-alls in true crime, we have to know more than absolutely nothing about the criminals we’re talking about. We have to know more than absolutely nothing about their motivations about other things in their lives. We have to know more about their situation before they commit crimes. When we do, what we invariably find is that these crimes were accidents waiting to happen. These people didn’t just snap, the terror is that the way they were heading, a holocaust was inevitable.
And so I’d like to encourage the regular readers of this blog: Please try to refrain from using those words, it plays into the hands of the criminals without exception. They prosper thanks to our ignorance.
We begin on the path to authentic knowledge by admitting the most difficult thing, which is that we know absolutely nothing about these people, let alone their motives. Until we know more, we can’t begin to guess their motives.
In the Watts case we have two choices. Either he just snapped and Watts will be an enigma forever and ever, or he planned, plotted, calculated and even fantasized about murdering his family. If it’s the latter then by spending time finding out who he was, and who the Watts family were, who they were as people, what their personalities were like, their back stories and circumstances, only then we will find our way to the key that unlocks the reason for why what happened happened.
TWO FACE BENEATH THE OIL is available now on Amazon.com