Michael Eriksson
A Swede in Germany
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A victimless crime

2024 introduction

This text is one of many written in 2012 but published only beginning in 2023. The first published version corresponds to the 2012 text, with some minor improvements and language changes, and the odd addendum.

For parts of the below, the concept of “felony murder” might make a difference—I was not, or only very superficially, aware of the concept at the time, and my memory of the discussed TV episode is far too shallow to say whether this concept was mentioned. However, I have since written negatively about “felony murder” in other contexts, and for reasons somewhat similar to the below. (TODO import Wordpress text(s) and link.) If this was a case of “felony murder”, it might have given a legal justification for the murder charge, but not an ethical justification, because “felony murder” is a flawed concept that should, if at all applied, be limited to those sufficiently actively involved in the matter. Indeed, scenarios like the below are still another argument for why “felony murder”, in most incarnations, is an abomination incompatible with basic principles of Rechtsstaatlichkeit.

Main (2012) text

Episode 8, season 4 of “Monk” contains an interesting example of what would, except for tragically bad luck, have been a victimless crime, bordering on the charitable—yet might have ruined the life of the “criminal”:

A man is paying $20,000 a month to his ex-wife in alimony, with her also taking over his large and expensive house (the word “mansion” likely applies, but I do not recall whether it fell during the episode).

Wanting to stop what he refers to as a “monthly pound of flesh”, he comes up with an ingenious plan to re-unite her with a childhood sweetheart, in the hope that she will re-marry and relieve him of this burden: He hires two men to break into the house and (non-permanently!) deface a painting dear to her. This would result in her taking the painting to be restored by a specialist—who would turn out to be that childhood sweetheart. This worked well: At the end of the episode, they are an item and future developments might well lead to the desired marriage.

Unfortunately, there was a tragic snag: An elderly housekeeper was present in the supposed-to-be-empty house, despite this being her day off. She discovered the break-in, pulled a gun on the two men, and was overpowered and killed. After various twists and turns, the episode ends with the ex-husband under arrest for the murder of the housekeeper.


By 2024, I do not remember the details of who did what and how during the break-in. However, chances are overwhelming that murder or similar charges against one or both of the hired men were perfectly justified. My argument is against murder charges against the ex-husband (who did not participate in even the break-in).

Below, I speak of “manslaughter” as a possibility for the two hired men. Here, too, my memory is too weak to (re-)judge the matter, but, speaking in generalities, I note the great difference between scenarios like (a) the two tying the housekeeper up and then shooting her in cold blood, and (b) the three struggling for the gun, which accidentally fires and kills the housekeeper.

There is quite a lot wrong or disputable here.

Firstly, legally speaking, it is highly dubious that the ex-husband could be considered guilty of murder: He did not commit the killing (or even the break-in) directly, he did not instigate the killing, and his planning implied that the confrontation that lead to the killing should not have happened. Further, the killing was not in his interest and highly unlikely to have been a price that he was willing to pay—had the two men been acting in his best interest, they would have left the housekeeper over-powered, but alive, and then aborted the mission. Further yet, depending on the exact details of events, it is quite possible that even the two were not guilty of murder in the strict sense, but manslaughter. Against the ex-husband even a charge of negligent killing would likely be unfair. Indeed, a justice system that considers him a murderer is in severe need of reform. Should a shop-lifter be considered a murderer, when a pursuing store detective stumbles and falls down a flight of stairs with terminal outcome?


Depending on local legislation concerning self-incrimination (e.g. the U.S. fifth amendment) and reporting of known crimes, the ex-husband could conceivably act criminally through not turning the two men in—possibly, even to the point of being considered an accessory to murder in some jurisdictions. (Note that his situation is principally different from someone who knows about a crime and can report that crime without danger to himself.)

Then again, considering the brief time frame of the episode, it cannot be ruled out that he would have come forward in due time. Further, he must have known that the potential consequences for him, were he to come forward, stood in no proportion to his intents and actual acts (cf. also below)—as proved by his arrest. Further yet, he might have had reason to fear severe retaliation from the two men, had he “snitched”.

Secondly, if the tragedy with the housekeeper had not taken place, the events would border on a non-crime and could be seen as beneficial for all parties:

  1. If things panned out as planned, everyone involved would be better off, with the ex-husband freed from alimony, the ex-wife in a new and hopefully more successful marriage, the childhood sweetheart ditto, and the two men having earned some easy money.

    If they did not, e.g. through sparks failing to materialize, comparatively little harm would have been done—the biggest loser being the ex-husband himself.

    Notably, the ex-wife had the additional opportunity to start a casual relationship and keep the alimony, so such monetary losses for her would be voluntary.

  2. Breaking into the house, per se, was not that big a thing from a legal and monetary view: The ex-husband was still the owner and costs for any minor repairs needed would have been easily covered by the outrageously large alimony—unless he paid for the repairs outright.

    Ethically and psychologically speaking, things are worse, the break-in being a breach of “tenant’s rights”, an invasion of privacy, and potentially psychologically scaring for the ex-wife. This must be put against the potential benefits discussed above. However, depending on the exact developments leading up the house and alimony situation, it is conceivable that a just study of the situation would have removed these counter-arguments.

    The events must also be seen in the light of their comparatively low intrusiveness: As far as I can tell, the original plans merely consisted of moving straight to the painting, “graffiti” it, and then move out again—actions which would have left more private areas (e.g. bed rooms) of the large house unviolated and caused minimal other damage. Removal of property did not appear to be foreseen. (However, the housekeeper’s intervention might have changed their other plans.)

    In contrast, using the same plan with a small apartment would have been unconscionably invasive.


    Again, my 2024 memories are quite vague, but I note that houses with servants, even size aside, are often naturally somewhat “de-privatized”. Moreover, that such houses often have a formal or informal division into private and public areas, where the presence of an uninvited stranger (without hostile intentions) in a public area moves on a very different level from his presence in a private area and on a very different level from his presence in a regular apartment. (For instance, a stereotypical fictional situation might see a butler meet someone unknown and uninvited at the door and give him free access to a waiting area, while bringing his visiting card to the master of the house.)

  3. The defacing of the painting is very similar, but with the critical exception that it unambiguously was the rightful property of the ex-wife. It should be born in mind, however, that there was no permanent damage to the painting (it appears as good as new at the end of the episode). Doing such permanent damage (e.g. through slicing it up with a knife) would have put the situation in a very different light.

  4. There is a high probability, bordering on certainty, that the ex-husband had been unfairly treated in the divorce proceedings and was merely trying to right a wrong in a highly constructive manner. The ex-wife married up considerably and ended in an economic situation to which (as far as can be told from the episode) she had not contributed. The $20.000 monthly alimony payment was definitely something that the ex-husband was opposed to—and an amount that even very hard-working, highly intelligent, and well educated professionals usually can only dream of earning. Indeed, it likely exceeds what my own mother, with two children to take care of, earned in the first year after her divorce—even when summing own work, child support, and whatnot. (I doubt that there was alimony involved.)

    The situation around the house is less clear from the episode (going back to an “agreement”), and might have been something that the ex-husband voluntarily agreed to, something that was forced upon him as the lesser of two evils, or something in between. Similar statements might or might not apply to other factors not discussed on the show, e.g. whether she got a car that he had once bought, how bank balances were divided, etc.—not to mention the likely many and expensive gifts that she received during the marriage or in the preceding courtship. In any case, the marriage and divorce were highly advantageous to her, and likely resulted in a considerable net-loss (even when factoring in non-monetary aspects) for him.

    In effect, by the alimony alone, the ex-husband was merely trying to undo an injustice done onto him by a legal system with an outdated, woman-centric, and unjust view on divorces. Indeed, had the ex-wife been content with a gifted two-room apartment and $2,000 (!) a month, he is unlikely to have taken any counter-actions whatsoever—and she would still be living a comfortable life as a woman of leisure. The actual situation depicted is one of extreme and (as far as can be told) undeserved luxury.


    I have since written on similar topics in other contexts. (TODO import Wordpress text(s) and link.)


What about bringing the childhood sweethearts together in a different manner?

Well, Monk explicitly ruled out the possibility of the ex-husband introducing them directly or informing the ex-wife where her childhood sweetheart could be found: They were at too poor speaking terms for him to do so. (Further, knowing something of female psychology, I would not be surprised, had the ex-wife deliberately held out for more alimony, rather than re-marrying, if she saw her ex-husband as being involved—if not out of greed, then out of spite. Neither would I be surprised, if she held some, understandable, suspicions against her childhood sweetheart in that situation, e.g. that he might have been paid by the ex-husband to be romantic, which would have reduced the chances of success considerably.)

Other, less direct, ways might still have been found; however, the one chosen does have one major advantage: The childhood sweetheart receives a chance both to be a hero (saving a painting of high sentimental value) and to display a rare skill—two things that could significantly better his romantic chances.

Further, we might consider some of the other options that the ex-husband had to stop alimony payments—but which he did not take. Most notably:

Simply having the ex-wife murdered... This would not only have stopped the alimony drain, but would likely have brought benefits in other areas too, e.g. through giving him back access to his house. Of course, a murder carries a far higher risk, in particular with an eye at cui bono, but the fact that he did not choose this path is highly pertinent when contemplating the murder charge that actually was raised against him (cf. above).

Other alternatives exist, e.g. giving an unusually handsome young man a year’s worth of alimony to romance and marry the (well past her prime) ex-wife. This would have been far worse from an ethical point of view—and with the new husband likely leaving her at his first convenience, she would have been much worse off.