Building a Profile
Profilers use information from the crime scene to put together a psychological profile of the offender.
It is important to distinguish organized and disorganizedcharacteristics at the crime scene:
- If the crime scene suggests the murder was carefully planned and executed, then the killer may be a man of average to high intelligence who has a stable social network. He may be married with a family. He may also be employed. Living a “normal” life on the surface requires a degree of self-control, which manifests itself in the way the crime is carried out. Sometimes, though, the organized offender does lose control in the actual attack when the fantasy motivation takes over. In such cases, a violent or frenzied attack may occur, yet there may also be careful attempts to conceal or destroy evidence.
- The disorganized offender leaves a mess at the crime scene. He may use any weapon that is available to strike out and makes little effort to cover his tracks. This lack of planning and control often suggests low intelligence. He is likely to be unemployed and may be a bit of a loner with few friends. The attack may be marked by excessive violence and could also include sexual contact with the victim after death. The disorganized serial killer often turns out to have a history of mental illness.
A number of other factors can be added to the profile. Many serial killers are young adults in their twenties or thirties. Some crimes show a high level of experience and skill, and this could mean the killer is older and has had practice.
It used to be thought that serial killers were mostly white and that serial killers picked victims of their own race. We are currently noticing that more and more often, racial lines are being crossed.
Many start out killing close to their home or work, ie. in their comfort zone, an area they know well. Organized killers are likely to start to move farther away, and may be highly mobile, which can make the logistics of catching them difficult. Disorganized killers are more likely to stay close to home.
Of particular interest to those investigating serial killers is what is taken from the scene or from the victim. In most crimes, the perpetrator will take items of monetary value, like cash or jewelry. They may also take evidence, such as a weapon. The serial killer often takes something known as a trophy or souvenir, of no obvious value except to him in his fantasy world. The item is known as a trophy if it is seen as a symbol of achievement and a souvenir if it is to remind the killer of the crime.
Victimology, the study of the victim, can be crucial in tracking down a serial killer. The investigators need to know what it was about that particular person that attracted the killer. Was the victim truly chosen at random or had the person been stalked previously? The killer may have been searching for the one person who fit his fantasy and, if a common link can be found between the victims, this may be very revealing. For instance, nearly all of the victims of serial killer Ted Bundy had dark hair parted in the center.
The location of the serial killer’s crimes is also of significance. Geographical profiling is based on the premise that the killer will operate in a zone where he feels comfortable. This may be near home or, alternatively, far away from it, depending on his psychological make-up. Location is not just where the crime was committed, but is also where the victim was abducted and where the body was taken and left after the crime. Establishing a geographical profile can be challenging if the victim was a prostitute, for instance, or someone who might not be missed by relatives or co-workers for a while.
Source: World of Forensic Science, ©2006 Gale Cengage
(photo AND don’t even complain to me that Charles Manson is not a serial killer! It is still a cool montage!)