15 Killers Who Just 'Snapped'

It's a phrase heard often in murder cases, in reference to people who suddenly lost control and committed awful crimes: "They just snapped." Although these incidents are generally the culmination of a long descent into insanity, for loved ones of the killers and victims alike, it often seems that they just spontaneously "snapped." Accounts of normal people who went crazy seemingly out of the blue have cropped up in the news for decades, and in every case, the shocked reaction of those who knew these individuals is the same.  

There are patterns evident in many of these cases; however, in some circumstances, no history of mental illness or violence had been established in the killers prior to their murders. These 15 stories of people who snapped and killed people cover both ends of the spectrum, where a clear path can be seen leading up to the "snapping," and where there is no path at all.


  • Man Stabs Homeless Veteran 70 Times

    Man Stabs Homeless Veteran 70 Times
    Photo: Bucks County District Attorney's Office / Fair Use

    In July 2013, Doylestown, PA, resident Dale Wakefield had been out celebrating his 21st birthday when a 71-year-old homeless veteran, George Mohr, asked him for some spare change outside a train station. After being denied, Mohr allegedly muttered an insult at Wakefield, who, according to his sister, "just snapped" and stabbed Mohr more than 70 times with a pocket knife. He had no prior criminal record.

  • Connecticut Man Assaults And Kills Woman, Daughters

    Connecticut Man Assaults And Kills Woman, Daughters
    Photo: Cheshire Police Department / Fair Use

    In July 2007, Steven Hayes and an accomplice, Joshua Komisarjevsky, invaded the Cheshire, CT, home of William Petit; Jennifer Hawke-Petit; and their daughters Michaela, 11, and Hayley, 17. Hawke-Petit was battered and tied up in the basement. Hayes then forced Hawke-Petit to extract a large sum of money from an ATM before leading her back into her home. When Hayes returned, he and Komisarjevsky sexually assaulted Hawke-Petit and Michaela and strangled Hawke-Petit to death.   

    The men then set fire to the house and fled. Michaela and Hayley were burned alive. Hawke-Petit, however, managed to escape the fire, and helped to put Hayes and Komisarjevsky away. Hayes claimed he had no memory of the incident until a year later and says he "just snapped' and became someone else when committing the crimes.

  • Man Kills His Ex-Fiancee For Meeting Another Man

    Man Kills His Ex-Fiancee For Meeting Another Man
    Video: YouTube

    Robert Cromwell of Springfield, OR, had planned a romantic evening with his then ex-fiancée Casey Lynn Wright, hoping to rekindle their relationship. However, Wright admitted that she had already met someone else and things took a disturbing turn. According to a report by Josephine Woolington of The Register-Guard:

    "Cromwell... searched her cellphone after she fell asleep and found text messages from the man referenced by Wright as well as from another man. Cromwell then told Detective Don Myers in the video that he struck Wright four times in the head using an aluminum baseball bat while she was sleeping in the Springfield home that the two previously had shared. 

    Cromwell told Myers in the video that he didn’t want to wake Wright up. 'I didn’t want her to see me doing it,' Cromwell said."  

    Cromwell had a history of mental instability, including a previous suicide attempt, and had been on antidepressants and had nightmares and a drinking problem prior to the incident.

  • Troubled Man Kills His Grandparents

    Troubled Man Kills His Grandparents
    Photo: Missouri State Police / Fair Use

    In 1996, Glendale, MO, resident David Barnett murdered his grandparents, Clifford Barnett, 82, and Leona Barnett, 75, stealing their car and $120. He collectively stabbed them 21 times, using five different kitchen knives for the grisly task. 

    Barnett confessed to the crime the next day, telling police he had not planned the murders, but that he felt a "rage" well up within him, which caused him to snap. After an initial death sentence, a judge commuted Barnett's sentence to life in prison, after facts about Barnett's horrendous childhood came to light.

  • Woman Kills Co-Worker After Being Fired

    Woman Kills Co-Worker After Being Fired
    Video: YouTube

    On March 10, 2010, Tarpon, FL, resident Arunya Rouch had breakfast with her husband, and seemed to be in a good mood. But, that was before she arrived at the Tarpon Springs Publix, a grocery store where Rouch worked, to discover she was being terminated for making threats against a co-worker who had reportedly been antagonizing her for several months.  

    After pleading with her manager for a second chance to no avail, Rouch left the store, but returned several hours later with a gun, killing her co-worker in the parking lot as he ate his lunch in his car. She then attempted to murder her manager, but couldn't find him in the store. Police arrived at the scene, a gunfight ensued, and Rouch was wounded. She was then arrested, and later found guilty of murder in 2012.

  • Rape Suspect Snaps, Kills Four Inside Courthouse

    Rape Suspect Snaps, Kills Four Inside Courthouse
    Video: YouTube

    Atlanta man Brian Nichols went on a rampage in 2005, during a court appearance in a rape case. He managed to steal a gun from a deputy sheriff, killing four people before he escaped - Judge Rowland Barnes, court reporter Julie Brandau, federal agent David Wilhelm and Sergeant Hoyt Teasley. His mother stated that Nichols felt demons were possessing him before his killing spree began. 

    Nichols was eventually talked into turning himself in by his hostage, Ashley Smith.