How Common Is It For Murderers To Know Their Victims?

What is it that prompts a killer to become acquainted with their victim(s) before striking? Is it something perverse and fetishistic, or is it simply pragmatic to know the ins and outs of the person's life before exacting one's deranged will upon them? Maybe there's a psychological thrill inherent in humanizing the individual before taking that awful final step over the threshold of a grisly murder. It's an unsavory and chilling thing to muse over, but given the massive cultural uptick in true crime subject matter and its widespread popularity, it stands to reason that we'd take a minute to ask such jarring questions. 

And there have been documented cases of killers attending the funerals of their victims. For example, Jeffrey W. Scullin, Jr., the man who murdered his would-be-mother-in-law Melinda Pleskovic in 2017, actually appeared as a pallbearer at her funeral and feigned immense sorrow before authorities pegged him as the killer later on (via WKYC). In 1985, 17-year-old Karen Severson attended her best friend's funeral with a heavy heart and tear-soaked cheeks, though it was later discovered that Severson was the reason the funeral was happening in the first place. She murdered her best friend Missy Avila, 17, and was later sentenced to 15 years to life in prison (she was released in 2011, as Courthouse News reports). So how common is it for a murderer to know their victim personally before killing them? Well, as it turns out, the answer might surprise you in the worst way.

Lots of killers know their victims

In 2011, a substantial amount of data was extracted by the FBI: UCR that reflected an interesting and disturbing phenomenon: Apparently, some 54.3% of homicide victims knew their killer(s) personally before they died, and 24.8% of those deceased individuals were killed by their own family members. You can read the entire spectrum of data behind that figure here. While strangers who never knew their victims prior to their assaults/attempted assaults have certainly been responsible for a great bulk of violent crimes, historically speaking, most of those crimes have been of a non-lethal nature (rape, robbery, and assault), as the U.S. Department of Justice reports. 

The nature of such killings varies. Sometimes, it's merely a crime of passion between familiar parties that results in the death of one or the other. Other times, it's a meticulously well-thought-out system of cat and mouse that involves learning as much as one can about the victim before striking.

It's a terrible thought to imagine someone you know as being responsible for your untimely demise, but according to the vast bulk of statistics readily available to our curious eyes, it's actually more to happen than the alternative (assuming it's a homicide/murder we're talking about). The examples we provided in the previous section only represent a minute portion of the many such instances in which killers elect to take the life of someone they know, sometimes a close friend or a beloved family member (via the DOJ).

Abigail Williams and Liberty German

In 2017, the bodies of Abigail Williams (13) and Liberty German (14) were discovered along the secluded Delphi Historic Trails in Delphi, Indiana. Their likely assailant — who remained at large for five whole years before being apprehended by police — was one Richard M. Allen. According to CNN, Indiana authorities are currently maintaining secrecy in regard to how Allen was arrested, though he is posed to stand trial in the coming months and faces murder charges for the deaths of both girls. 

What has been made public, however, is the fact that Allen apparently knew the victims. CNN reports the 50-year-old Delphi resident actually helped process the funeral pictures at the establishment's photo booth. "I went into the store to print photos of Libby for the funeral, and he was the one who helped me," Tara German, Liberty's aunt shared. She told reporters that she knows Allen from shopping at the pharmacy. "I was a mess trying to get the images off my phone. Once they were printed, he looked at me and said, 'I'm not gonna charge you for this.'"

Michael and Angela Hockensmith and Daniel P. Smith

The murders of Michael and Angela Hockensmith and their business partner, Daniel P. Smith, seem especially cruel and taunting. According to the Courier-Journal, the three Kentucky residents had completed a business transaction in 2013 that left Kenneth A. Keith, a fourth party who stood to benefit from the sale, out of the equation. In a gesture of fury and discontent, Keith reportedly shot both the Hockensmiths and Smith before the eyes of the Hockensmiths' children before fleeing the scene. 

"Everybody's in shock. He (Keith) was at the funeral," Michael Hockensmith's brother Tony told the Lexington Herald-Leader after learning the truth about the killer. Even more disturbing, the Clinton Herald reports Keith was the pastor of the Main Street Baptist Church in Burnside at the time and offered grieving attendees a comforting hand during the funeral proceedings. However, he was later arrested and convicted of the killings and ultimately plead guilty to the charges leveled against him. He's currently serving a life sentence (per Lexington Herald-Leader).