Yesterday, in connection with a discussion of the Alex Murdaugh case, I saw a reference to “red collar” crime. If, like me, you hadn’t seen that phrase before, it refers to instances of “white collar” crime–that is, crimes of a financial nature, like embezzlement, Ponzi schemes, or fraud–when the criminals turn to murder in an attempt to cover up their conduct. White and red collar crime are distinguished from “blue collar” crime, which always involve some act of violence against person or property.
Red collar crime isn’t as unusual as you might think. The article linked above notes that Frank Perri, a criminal psychologist, studied 50 reported cases of red collar crime and found that there were some common behavioral elements in the criminals involved that made them resort to violence, either by pursuing murder themselves or, more commonly, by hiring a “hit man” to kill people who the criminal feared might alert the authorities to the underlying financial crime.
Analysts believe that true extent of red collar crime might be vastly underreported, because a random murder occurs and police and prosecutors might never make the connection between the murder and an unsuspected financial crime. That’s not surprising, since many financial crimes go undetected. (The murder of the Patrick Swayze character in Ghost, for example, was a red collar crime that would never have been connected to underlying financial crimes if it hadn’t been for the help of a determined ghost and a psychic.)
I’m not sure it’s all that helpful to draw clear lines between types of crimes, because financial crimes are just as criminal as other crimes. They can be devastating, too–as anyone who has been cheated out of their life savings by a fraudulent scheme or identity theft can attest. Perpetrators who have a criminal impulse probably aren’t very good about respecting clear boundaries when they feel cornered and at risk of their misdeeds being discovered.