Wikipedia:"Murder of" articles
This is an essay.
It contains the advice or opinions of one or more Wikipedia contributors. This page is not an encyclopedia article, nor is it one of Wikipedia's policies or guidelines, as it has not been thoroughly vetted by the community. Some essays represent widespread norms; others only represent minority viewpoints.
|This page in a nutshell: Articles titled "Murder of [victim]" are a possible solution to the notability guidelines that would bar articles on the perpetrator or victim.|
Tragically, murder is not that unusual. In some countries, including the United States, on average multiple people die by homicide every 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. A homicide is often followed by an investigation that utilizes forensic science and other techniques in an effort to determine how it occurred. If a suspect is identified and evidence is found there may be a trial and, if there is a conviction, a sentencing. Appeals of the conviction may follow. News coverage may be local, but some cases will receive national or even international coverage. In some cases the events may later be described in books or in a television or movie production. The greater the news coverage, the more likely a homicide is to meet Wikipedia's notability guidelines.
Not all homicides or murders are notable events. Many cities experience hundreds of homicides each year, and some experience thousands. Most homicides receive some local coverage. However, for an event to be an appropriate subject of encyclopedic coverage, a lot more than such routine coverage is required. Guidelines on events require continued coverage in order to be notable.
Factors that are relevant to the notability of a murder include there being a large volume of news coverage beyond the local area of its occurrence and the continuation of media attention for a lengthy period of time thereafter, a highly publicized investigation or trial, articles or other media coverage about the case long after the case has been closed, coverage on a TV series, a movie or documentary being made about the case, a law being passed as a result of the crime, or other lasting effects.
If an article is created about a notable murder, the general protocol would be to title the article "Murder of [victim]". 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.
When this applies
Laws that define murder vary by legal jurisdiction, and the classification of a death as a murder should be established through reliable sources. Individual editors should not title an article as a murder based upon their own beliefs or popular theories about what may have happened in a given case. Where reliable sources establish that a murder occurred, an article may be titled "Murder of [Victim]" even if no suspect is identified or prosecuted, for example the Murder of Tupac Shakur.
In some prosecutions there will be no dispute that the death resulted from a murder, with the focus of the prosecution being whether or not a specific person, the defendant, committed the murder. When murder is not in question, even if the defendant is acquitted the article may remain titled as "Murder of [victim]".
In the following cases, the article should be titled in the "Murder of [victim]" format:
Single event, single victim
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.
Single event, single victim, multiple perpetrators
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 committing.
Single event, multiple victims, single perpetrator
If there were two victims, it should still be practical 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 this way unless all victims have a common last name, are part of a group that shares a common name.
It can be expected that such events have been given a concise name in the sources (common name), but it may be necessary to come up with a concise descriptive 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.
In the following cases, the article should not be titled in the "Murder of [victim]" format:
Common name diverges from the conventional descriptive title
When an article is about an event during which a death occurred, the article should be named based upon the single commonly recognized name of the event (e.g. Bloody Sunday), given that it exists.
Most of the time, the editors can expect the common name of the event and the descriptive title suggested under our conventions to coincide. When sources have settled on the common name that diverges from the conventional descriptive title, then that name should normally be used for the title of the article. For example, even though the death was by murder, consistent with the event's commonly recognized name the article about the murder of Abraham Lincoln is titled Assassination of Abraham Lincoln.
"Assassination of" articles
When an article is about an assassination, and the event has a single commonly recognized common name, then the article may be titled as an assassination. Articles titled in that manner include Assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and Assassination of John F. Kennedy. Even if a death appears to be an assassination, the article title should not use the term assassination unless that term is part of the established common name. This is due to "assassination" possibly being a contentious label (depending on the context).
General naming conventions for event articles are more applicable
Some events involving murder are of such nature that the "Murder of [victim]" format simply isn't applicable. In most such cases the title of the article should use a combination of the following three descriptors:
- When the incident happened.
- Where the incident happened.
- What happened.
Single event, multiple victims, multiple perpetrators
When this occurs, the title should be the usual "when", "where" and "what" descriptive title. All the information should be in one article. An example is the 1977 Arizona armored car robbery, a crime committed by two brothers who are not notable for anything else, and two people were murdered by them.
Mass shootings and terrorist attacks
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. John Roll).
Event is not the primary subject (but may be the parent topic)
This section does not exclusively deal with the article about the murder, but also with a potential other standalone page. Here apply the usual considerations of when to split and whether to create standalone pages.
Articles titled with the perpetrator's name
A perpetrator of a murder may be notable enough for their own article if:
- They killed multiple victims in a single event, and that event received ongoing, widespread coverage.
- They committed multiple murders in separate events (since this is more than one event).
- They have committed one or more other crimes that have become notable.
- They are already notable for some reason other than the murder.
- They themselves are covered so extensively, due to the case being so heavily reported, that extended encyclopedic (non-trivial and non-recentist) treatment of them is merited, which may lead to the creation of a standalone page (e.g. Scott Peterson, convicted of the Murder of Laci Peterson).
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. The article about the murders committed by serial killer pair, Kenneth Bianchi and Angelo Buono Jr., is titled based upon their being commonly recognized as the Hillside Stranglers.
Mass murderers will generally qualify for their own articles, regardless of whether their homicides occurred in a single event or multiple events, and regardless of whether or not they were sentenced to be executed. The Federal Bureau of Investigation defines a "mass murderer" as one who has killed four or more people.
People who have committed familicides may be labeled as mass murderers (e.g. John List).
Articles titled with the victim's name
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 when there is a high-profile murder case, a great deal of information about the victim may be published in mass media. Often this previously unreported information only became known to the general public as a result of news coverage of the murder. Therefore, extensive coverage does not automatically qualify the victim for an article minus "murder of". Conversely, if the information reveals that the person had other notable accomplishments that would otherwise qualify them for an article, the nature of the coverage being posthumous should not rule out the possibility of a stand-alone article. For example, the article on Halyna Hutchins (victim in an accidental shooting) was kept despite her career accomplishments only receiving significant coverage after her death, in light of publicity stemming from the incident.
Famous trials and capital cases
Some legal cases are exceptionally covered as such, due to the people involved, or for a legal precedent that they set. Even if the (alleged) crime, could be seen as notable here, the preponderant notability of the legal aftermath shifts the focus of encyclopedic coverage onto the latter, i.e. the core subject is the trial, and the crime figures as essentially background information. In this way the murder/killing is still covered (in an appropriate section, usually in that same article), and there is no need for a separate article. Such articles are titled using their common name, usually in the form of "[Perpetrator] murder case" (e.g. O. J. Simpson murder case, not "Killings of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman"), etc. or by a conventional legal citation (e.g. R v Dudley and Stephens, not "Murder of Richard Parker"). Some cases have so much coverage, that articles on both the trial and the base event justifiably exist, such as with Killing of Trayvon Martin and Trial of George Zimmerman.
In the United States, most modern capital murder cases (those resulting in a death sentence) are notable in and of themselves. 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, and the case does not set a legal precedent. Capital cases that do create significant case law may be titled by the legal citation (e.g. Atkins v. Virginia, not "Murder of Eric Nesbitt").
When murder is uncertain or a homicide is not unlawful
Within the context of this discussion the word "homicide" means "the killing of one person by another, whether premeditated or unintentional". The description of a death as a homicide does not of itself imply legal culpability. For example, a homicide that is determined to have been a lawful exercise of self-defense is a killing of one person by another but without legal culpability.
The determination of whether a homicide was a killing or a murder should be made based upon reliably sourced information. The finding that a death was the result of homicide is not sufficient to support an article title that describes the death as a murder. If there is doubt that a death by homicide was a murder, the article should be titled "Killing of [victim]".
The legal definition of murder differs between legal jurisdictions. A simple definition of murder is an unlawful homicide that is committed with malice aforethought. Malice aforethought includes premeditation but also describes a state of mind for deaths that are not intended by the killer, such as where a defendant causes the a death through intentional conduct that shows conscious disregard for the lives and safety of others. The determination of whether a homicide was a murder is not one that should be made by an editor, and an article should not be titled "Murder of [victim]" in the absence of reliably sourced information sufficient to support that title.
Do not mix murder being uncertain with there being an element of the unknown in a murder case. In many certain murders, there are some things that remain uncertain or completely mysterious. This has been clarified earlier in the essay (see the grey box).
"Death of" articles
If the cause of a death is unknown, may be the result of an accident or may be attributable to natural causes, the article should be titled "Death of [person]" instead of "Killing of [victim]" or "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 such an article must not be labeled as a murder.
"Killing of" articles
If the cause of death has been determined to be a homicide but has not been determined to be a murder, the article should be titled "Killing of [person]" instead of "Murder of [victim]". "Homicide of [person]" is not expected to form a natural name. If there is doubt that a death resulted from homicide, the article should be titled "Death of [person]".
"Shooting of" / "Stabbing of" (etc.) articles
Sometimes, the manner in which the victim was killed will figure prominently in media coverage, leading to the adoption of a single common name for the event being established for the killing based on a more specific descriptor, such as "shooting" (e.g. Shooting of Michael Brown), "stabbing" etc. It is possible that the single common name will later change, for example, following a defendant's conviction for murder, in which case the article title should be updated to reflect the new common name.
"Execution of" articles
Articles dealing with notable executions should be titled "Execution of [executee]" (Execution of Clayton Lockett). However, some people became notable due to their (allegedly) wrongful execution, and are themselves subjects of articles (Cameron Todd Willingham).
Official findings and proceedings
Although official determinations of the cause of death will not always be available, when those determinations are available they should be considered when titling an article. Information should be derived from published, reliable sources, not original research.
Determination of homicide
When a death certificate includes a finding that the death resulted from the act of another person, such as by describing the cause of death as a homicide, or the death has been determined to be a homicide after an official inquiry such as a coroner's inquest, the article may be titled in a manner consistent with that determination. A finding of homicide supports a title, "Killing of [name]". Such a finding in association with other reliably sourced information, or a more detailed finding that the death resulted from murder, will support a title, "Murder of [victim]".
Later legal proceedings may justify or require that the title of an article be revisited. For example, a later inquest or trial may result in the determination that no homicide occurred, in which case the article should be titled as "Death of [name]". Conversely, a death that was initially determined to be a natural or accidental death may upon further review be determined to have been a homicide, in which case it may be appropriate to title the article as "Killing of [victim]" or, when appropriate, "Murder of [victim]".
Criminal prosecution and verdict
The prosecution of a suspect or suspects in a homicide case and the resulting verdict may be relevant to how an article should be titled.
Admission of homicide
In some prosecutions a defendant will admit the death was a homicide and that they committed the homicide, but will defend on the basis that the homicide was not a murder. For example, a defendant may be acquitted of murder but convicted of involuntary manslaughter. Following such a verdict, an article about the victim's death may be titled "Killing of [victim]", but should not be titled "Murder of [victim]".
Similarly, a defendant may admit to the homicide but be found not guilty on the basis that the homicide was legally justifiable, for example as the result of the defendant's being found to have acted in lawful self-defense. Due to the admission of homicide the article may be described as "Killing of [victim], but should not be described as "Murder of [victim]". For example, the Killing of Trayvon Martin.
On occasion a defendant may admit to the facts of a prosecution, but be found not guilty of murder by reason of insanity. As that verdict involves a finding that the defendant did not have the necessary criminal intent to be found guilty of murder, the article should be titled "Killing of [victim]".
Denial of involvement
If a defendant denies involvement in a murder, the defendant's acquittal is not relevant to the title of the article. A finding that the defendant was not involved does not make it any more or less likely that a death was by murder, whether committed by another known suspect or an unknown person.
The verdict excludes homicide
In some cases the defendant will be the only possible suspect. For example, a defendant accused of delivering a lethal drug overdose to another person may admit that no other person was in a position to deliver a lethal overdose. A verdict of acquittal reflects the conclusion of the jury that no homicide occurred, and the article should be titled "Death of [person]".
When death is uncertain or did not occur
If a death is not documented in reliable sources, no matter how strong the suspicion may be that the subject of the article is deceased, the title of the article should not indicate that the person is deceased, or that the person was killed or murdered.
Victim did not die
Titles formatted as "Shooting / Stabbing (etc.) of [victim]", as well as "Assault of [victim]" are also used for cases of assault or attempted murder. "Attempted murder of [victim]" is generally not a natural name.
"Disappearance of" articles
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.
When Wikipedia includes a "Murder of [victim]" 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. A person may become a suspect in a murder cases through no fault of their own, perhaps because they are related to or know the victim, were in the vicinity of the crime scene, look similar to the witness descriptions of a possible perpetrator, have a vehicle similar to one used by the perpetrator, or for many other other reasons. But being a suspect is not the same thing as being guilty of murder.
Only if someone is actually charged with the crime of murder 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
- 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.