Torture murder

Torture murder is a loosely defined term to describe the process used by murderers who kill their victims by slowly torturing them.

Legal position

One of the criteria for a judgment of "Murder in the first degree" in the laws of the state of New York is: "...the defendant acted in an especially cruel and wanton manner pursuant to a course of conduct intended to inflict and inflicting torture upon the victim prior to the victim's death. As used in this subparagraph, "torture" means the intentional and depraved infliction of extreme physical pain; "depraved" means the defendant relished the infliction of extreme physical pain upon the victim evidencing debasement or perversion or that the defendant evidenced a sense of pleasure in the infliction of extreme physical pain... Similar positions are taken in the laws of Italy, Germany and Norway and others, as seen in references in Country-specific murder law.


Torture murder is often preceded by a kidnapping where the killer will take the victim to a secluded place. There, the killer will kill the victim by torture. For instance, Leonard Lake and Charles Ng, during the 1980s in California, killed over 18 men, women, and children after torturing them for days or weeks. The torture included killing infants in front of their mothers, burning alive victims bound to wooden planks, and whipping victims with barbed stakes.

Houston serial killer Dean Corll subjected his young male victims, ranging in age from nine to twenty-one, to sexual tortures, which included plucking their pubic hairs one by one, shoving glass rods up their penises and then crushing them, and shoving large bullet-like objects in victims' rectums. A sheet of plastic was placed under the plywood torture board to catch the excreta, blood and vomit that would invariably be discharged during the abuse, and the radio would be cranked up full blast to drown out the victim’s screams. Occasionally he'd castrate his victims, often their severed genitals would be buried next to the bodies in small plastic bags. At least one boy's corpse was found with his penis gnawed nearly in two.

Four teenage boys, including Jo Kamisaku, held captive for over forty days and tortured to death a Japanese girl, Junko Furuta, in 1988. The boys said that they had not intended to kill her and instead pled guilty to a lesser charge.

Another high-profile and highly controversial case from the UK is the murder of James Bulger on February 12, 1993. In particular, the shock centred on the young age of the offenders: Jon Venables and Robert Thompson were aged 10 when they abducted 2-year-old James Bulger from a public shopping centre and murdered him. The murder and the ensuing trial attracted mass media attention and debate, mainly over the sufficient "guilty mind" as is required in UK law for murder, with felons of such a young age. Evidence suggests that the boys took Bulger on a 4-mile walk, kicking and throwing him around, then they threw blue paint on the toddler's face, placed batteries in his mouth and continued to beat him with bricks, an iron rod and by kicking him. They eventually left his body across a railway to be decapitated by a train and make it look like an accident.

In the United States, those killers accused of torture murder are most often charged with the crime of capital murder, which can result in a death sentence.

State sanctioned

Torture murder may also be a legal act of a state, especially in nations which know the death penalty, or which employ torture as a means of interrogation.

Historically, state-sanctioned torture murder falls under human sacrifice and under death penalty. Scaphism was a particularly cruel method of execution practiced in the Persian Empire according to Plutarch. Execution by burning was a form of capital punishment in the Roman Empire, besides other forms like crucifixion, crushing or devouring by wild animals, notably inflicted in the persecution of early Christians in the Roman Empire. Execution by burning of Christian heretics was introduced by Justinian I in the 6th century and remained a common practice until the Early Modern period (see auto da fe).

"Cruel and unusual punishment" was abolished in the 1689 English Bill of Rights, ending the medieval and Tudor period practices of hanging, drawing and quartering, impalement, boiling to death or breaking on the wheel as accepted forms of capital punishment.

In the 20th century, Nazi Germany was well known for state sanctioned torture murder, as members of the SS were often employed to interrogate enemies of the state under slow torture, often killing them in the process. Death by slow torture was also a common occurrence in Nazi concentration camps. Those who kill by torture under the authority of a state may be later tried by another state or authority such as the International Criminal Court."

The Bolshevik secret police, Cheka, practiced deadly torture on a huge scale during the Red Terror and Russian Civil War. Victims were allegedly skinned alive, impaled, crucified, hanged, stoned to death and tied to planks and pushed slowly into furnaces or tanks of boiling water. Torture was also employed by the NKVD during Stalin’s reign, particularly during the period of the Great Purge. According to some historians, many that were tortured to death were likely not counted amongst the executed.

During the reign of Pol Pot in Cambodia during 1975-9, torture was used to identify possible espionage activities against the Khmer Rouge regime. Hundreds of torture and interrogation sites existed around the country, the most notorious being S-21, a former secondary school where 16,000 people were held, being tortured into 'confessing' to often absurd activities involving foreign intelligence agencies. Many died while being tortured, but most were transferred to The Killing Fields once their confessions were complete.

List of torture murders

Some notable perpetrators and victims include the following. The dates indicate the time of the crime or crimes.

Torture murderers

Torture murder victims

See also


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