Wikipedia:"Murder of" articles

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There is an appropriate way to write about murder on Wikipedia

Tragically, murder is not that unusual. In some countries, including the United States, multiple people are murdered in an hour. Murder inflicts great loss in the lives of loved ones and damage in the community where it has occurred, as well as scaring others who live in those communities.

At the same time, the subject of murder fascinates quite a lot of people. Every homicide is followed by an investigation which utilizes forensic science and other techniques to solve it. If a suspect is identified and evidence is found, there may be a trial, and if there is a conviction, a sentencing. Often, there are appeals. There may be plenty of news about the crime which at the very least is local, and sometimes it goes beyond. In some cases, the event may later be told about in one or more books or TV series. It is this very coverage that makes the case meet Wikipedia's notability guidelines.

It is a given: not all murders are notable. Many cities have several hundred murders every year, and some have several thousand. Most homicides do receive, at the very minimum, a little local coverage. But a lot more than that is needed to make them worthy of an article. Guidelines on events require continued coverage in order to be notable.

Some factors that may lead to a murder being notable include a large volume of coverage beyond the local area of its occurrence and continuing for a lengthy period of time thereafter, a highly publicized investigation or trial, an article about the case in a magazine long after the case has been closed, coverage on a TV series, a movie or documentary being made about the case, a new forensic technique being used to solve the crime, a law being passed as a result of the crime, or other lasting effects.

If an article were to be created, the general protocol would be to title the article "Murder of [victim's name]." Such a title focuses not on the perpetrator or victim themselves, but on the event, since the creation of such an article makes the presumption that the event is notable as opposed to the perpetrator or victim. Still, such an article does not belong unless it can meet these notability guidelines.

When this applies[edit]

Single event, single victim, no prior coverage[edit]

In these situations, the article should almost always be a "murder of" article, given that it is the event that is notable, not the people. Exceptions are rare. In some cases, if either have become notable for other events after the fact, then separate articles can be created.

There are some exceptional cases in which an article can be created about the perpetrator in addition to the case. An example is Scott Peterson, who was convicted of the Murder of Laci Peterson; this was an extremely heavily reported case.

Single event, multiple victims[edit]

It is a question if a person who murders multiple people in a single event should have an article bearing their name alone.

For the practicality of article titling, it is still possible to title an article as "Murder of [victim A and victim B]. An example of this is Murders of Gerald and Vera Woodman, a married couple who were murdered simultaneously. Once three or more victims come into the picture, it is more difficult to title the article unless all victims have a common last name, are part of a group that shares a common name, or the entire event has largely been given a name. An example is the Dawson murder case, a single event in which an entire family of seven was murdered.

Being that it is impractical to place the names of too many individuals in a title, an article could be created with the perpetrator's name, since they could then be labeled as a mass murderer.

Single victim, multiple perpetrators[edit]

When two or more people jointly murder one person, the obvious thing to do is to write that the article is about the murder of the victim. This efficiently puts all the information collectively in one place. An example is the murder of Anita Cobby, a crime that five people were convicted of.

Single event, multiple victims, multiple perpetrators[edit]

When this occurs, it is most practical to write an article about the event. This efficiently places all the information in one place. An example is the 1977 Arizona armored car robbery, an event committed by two brothers who are not notable for anything else, and two people were murdered by them.

Exceptions[edit]

There are exceptions to the titling guidelines, as follows:

Articles titled with the perpetrator's name[edit]

A perpetrator of a murder may be notable enough for their own article if:

  • They committed multiple murders in separate events (since this is more than one event).
  • They killed multiple victims in a single event, and that event received ongoing, widespread coverage.
  • They have committed other serial crimes that have become notable.
  • They are already notable for some reason other than the murder.

Articles titled with the victim's name[edit]

A victim is notable for an article with their own name (minus "murder of") if they are notable for some other reason prior to being murdered. An example is John Lennon.

Be aware that often, when there is a high-profile murder case, much information about the victim may be published in mass media. But this information has only become known to the public as a result of news of their murder, and was previously unknown. This does not qualify the victim for an article minus "murder of".

Other situations[edit]

Capital cases[edit]

In the United States, most modern capital murder cases (those resulting in a death sentence) are notable. The process of appeals following a crime is lengthy, and the American mass media covers these cases so much over a long period of time, that notability guidelines are likely to be met. Still, articles should be titled "murder of [victim]" as long as the involvement is a one-event perpetrator and a one-event victim.

Mass murderers[edit]

There is a good chance mass murderers could qualify for their own articles, regardless of whether there was one or multiple events, and regardless of whether or not the death penalty was issued. The Federal Bureau of Investigation defines a "mass murderer" as one who has killed four or more people.

In many cases, those committing familicides can be labeled as mass murderers (e.g., John List).

Serial killers[edit]

Serial killers are generally notable because by definition, they have committed multiple murders on separate occasions, thereby constituting multiple events.

When serial killers work in pairs, an article can be created jointly on both. An example is Ray and Faye Copeland. They are notable for nothing other than being a murderous pair.

Mass shootings and terrorist attacks[edit]

Mass shootings and terrorist attacks are generally notable as events given that these are large events by nature. Often, the perpetrator is also notable enough for their own article. If a notorious group as opposed to an individual committed the act, they are generally notable as well. Victims are generally not notable, and lists of victims can be printed in the article on the event (or a subarticle when necessary). An exception to this is if the victim is notable for some other reason (e.g. Gabrielle Giffords).

When murder is uncertain[edit]

If a person has died under suspicious circumstances, but their death has not been legally ruled a murder, the article should be titled "Death of [victim]" instead of "Murder of [victim]." For example, in the Death of Mutula Kilonzo, the victim died under suspicious circumstances, but foul play was never conclusively determined, so under no circumstances can such an article be labeled as a murder.

In the death of Caylee Anthony, the prime suspect was put on trial for murder, and the public widely held beliefs of murder, but since this defendant was acquitted and legally can no longer be tried for murder, the case cannot be labeled as "murder" under Wikipedia guidelines.

When death is uncertain[edit]

If a person is missing and presumed dead as a result of foul play, but their death has absolutely not been determined, the article should be titled "Disappearance of [victim]." An example of this is the Disappearance of Melissa Brannen. This victim was kidnapped, and a perpetrator was charged in her kidnapping, but her body was never found, and she was never proven dead, so the perpetrator was never charged with murder.

Redirecting[edit]

When there is a "murder of" article, the names of the perpetrator(s) and victim(s) can be redirected to that article, disambiguated as necessary.

If someone becomes a suspect in the case, but is not charged, their name should not be redirected to the article. To do so would be a BLP violation. Many people become suspects in murder cases through no fault of their own, often because they are related to or know the victim, were in the vicinity of the crime scene, look similar to the witness descriptions given, or own the same make and model vehicle as the perpetrator, besides numerous other reasons. But these do not prove murder. In theory, when a body is found, and clues to the killer have not been determined, everyone in town could initially be a suspect. And generally, if innocent, they are quickly eliminated.

Only if someone is actually charged with the crime and tried should their name be redirected. If they are acquitted or charges are dropped, this redirect should promptly be deleted.

Some factors that may make a murderer or murder case notable[edit]

  • Length of coverage: News of a murder just when it happens, no matter how many sources cover the case, may not be sufficient for notability. But if the aftermath receives significant amounts of coverage, this could make the case notable.
  • Numbers of victims: An unusually high number of victims is likely to result in greater amounts of coverage, thereby making the case notable.
  • Previous fame or notability of the victim: If an already notable person is murdered, this is likely to result in more than normal amounts of coverage.
  • Coverage on TV documentaries: If a TV series covers a segment about a killer or a case, this very likely makes it notable. If more than one unrelated series covers the case in a full episode or a section devoted just to the case, it is almost certainly notable. The series, if the information provided is seen as true and accurate, is considered to be a reliable source of information. Referencing should if possible indicate channel, season, and episode number and what information was provided on air. If the show states that information is changed (which is common) and it cannot be determined which information is true and which not, uncertain information should not be used.
  • Appearance in pop culture: If the case is a magnet of pop culture, this is a strong indication of notability. This could include a book about the case, a movie based on the case, references in song, or the case being an inspiration for fiction.
  • Passage of laws: If one or more laws have been passed because of a case, possibly named after the perpetrator or victim, and this can be sourced, this can be a sign of notability.

See also[edit]