Apparently, serial murder for money isn’t as “sexy” as other motives because we rarely hear about it. And, yet, nearly one-quarter of serial murders are motivated by one of the most mundane motives of all criminal activity: money.
This statistic is closer to 50% when we focus on female serial killers.
A family in Russia apparently turned serial murder into a business. Former nursery teacher Inessa Tarvdrdiyeva, dentist husband Roman Podkopaev, and two daughters ages 25 and 13, allegedly murdered at least 30 people over a six year period. Victims ranged from strangers to police officers to Tarvdrdiyeva’s goddaughter.
The Methods behind the Motive
The family’s crime sprees were well organized and designed to evade capture. They often broke into private homes from the rear, using walkie talkies to communicate and carefully planning their escape route.
Although they lived in a comfortable home in Stavropol, they traveled to a different region to commit their crimes. Using camping trips as an explanation for their frequent absences, they stole jewelry, guns, money, and other saleable items from their victims and resold them to make a living. When they couldn’t find valuable items to resale, they settled for food and alcohol.
Who Serial Kills for Cash?
Profit is considered to be a motive when a serial killer systematically kills for money or repeatedly murders her victims during the commission of a profit-related crime (like fraud or burglary). Although there have been other serial killing families, most profit-oriented serial killers work alone. Unlike other serial killers, they tend to murder people they know (friends, coworkers, families).
Infamous examples include “black widows” like Blanche Taylor Moore (women who murdered their spouses for insurance money) and Dr. H.H. Holmes, who took out insurance policies on many of his hotel guests before killing them.
Is It Just About the Money?
Here’s where motives get murky, though. First of all, few profit serial killers, if any, made any substantial cash from their misdeeds. Like the recently arrested Russian family, many of the murderers were qualified to make more than enough money through legitimate means and, instead, chose a criminal lifestyle.
In addition, the way many of their victims were killed suggests that profit may have been one motive—but not the only one. Police who arrested the Russian family described horrific acts of violence in the course of their crimes; two teenage girls had their eyes gouged out and an 11 year old girl was stabbed 37 times. If money was the sole motive for murder, why did Inessa Tarvdrdiyeva and her clan often used unnecessarily sadistic means to kill their victims?
Other profit serial killers also seemed to have mixed motives. H.H. Holmes trapped his innocent victims in a torture chamber and liked to watch them writhe to death. Black widows often seem to get off on playing the nurturing spouse while they’re slowly poisoning their significant other to death.
The Bottom Line
Serial killers murder for sex, for thrills, for revenge, for money. On the one hand, looking at a serial killer’s motive can give us insight into who s/he is likely to kill and how s/he is likely to do it. On the other, the obvious reason isn’t always the only one. Serial killers for profit may start out with money in mind but may wind up addicted to the psychological payoff.
Joni E. Johnston, Psy.D, is a clinical/forensic psychologist, licensed private investigator, and CEO of WorkRelationships, an employee relations consulting firm. She is the author of numerous books and articles, including The Complete Idiot's Guide to Psychology, 4th Edition.