In 2016 FBI Supervisory Special Agent Molly Amman and I completed a study of public figure attackers in the United States between 1995-2015. Our attempt was to update the work of the Exceptional Case Study Project (ECSP) conducted by Dr. Robert Fein and Bryan Vossekuil while with the U.S. Secret Service. We wanted to see what had changed and what had remained the same.

We were able to identify 56 cases of public figure attacks involving 58 perpetrators and 58 victims, and did a deep dive into the publicly available information on each incident. We believe these are likely to be all the cases during this 21-year period of time.

The most striking finding in our study was the virtual absence of a desire for fame or notoriety among the perpetrators.This finding was only suggestive as there were no clinical interviews to probe for such motivation; however, the fact that only one of the 58 offenders—Andrew Cunanan who murdered Gianni Versace in Miami Beach, Florida in 1997­—indicated any such motivation is in stark contrast to the finding in the ECSP study. Fein and Vossekuil found that attention-seeking and notoriety were a motivation in 38 percent of their incidents (n = 74).

Dr. Reid Meloy selected this article to be shared among the Ontic community. He is a board-certified forensic psychologist (ABPP) and consults on criminal and civil cases throughout the U.S. and Europe. It was originally featured in Psychology Today.