To Catch a Killer

The Revamping of Investigative Methods in Law Enforcement A vicious rape/murder has occurred in the community. Citizens are shocked at what they consider an anomaly. It seems as if no one they know could have committed such an unspeakable crime.

Then they read in the paper, some comment by a police officer or a criminal profiler that the murderer could be anybody; your next-door-neighbor, a businessman, a college professor. Paranoia sets in and half of the residents of the community become suspect in someone’s eyes. Or the typical serial killer profile is offered: the offender is most likely a white man in his early thirties, living with his mother, driving an older model car and has an unstable work history. The other half of the community becomes suspect. Meanwhile, the police search their files for ex-offenders with a violent history. The suspect list is in the thousands, yet no particular person seems evil enough to have committed such a terrible crime. Eventually, the community and law enforcement shrug their shoulders and shelve the case. The murderer walks away, still unidentified. He will commit another murder and the process will begin at Ground Zero once again.

It is this lack of ability to narrow the suspect list that causes time and money to be wasted as investigators with blindfolds try to pin the tail on a person, any person in a desperate attempt to come up with a suspect that seems to have left no clues as to his identity. Unbelievable sums of money are frittered away investigation after investigation by well-meaning law enforcement. The results are abysmal. While closure rates for nonserial murders may vary anywhere from the low end of twenty or thirty percent in some jurisdictions up to an almost perfect one hundred percent in other jurisdictions, serial murder closure rates are close to zero except for the times when the murderer is arrested, often for unrelated charges such as a traffic stop, and this leads to a confession that can close a number of cases at one time. This extremely poor success rate should encourage law enforcement to stop and completely rethink its strategy.

The methods employed by police departments and the FBI to identify serial killers simply don’t work. Misconceptions about the personality and behavior of serial murderers by both law enforcement and the community drastically effect the pinpointing of individuals as serious suspect leads. Poor police communications with the press and the citizens and a poor conception of what information should be offered to the public by the investigators leads to erroneous and useless tips or valuable citizen knowledge is often left undiscovered or overlooked. Linkage blindness, the inability to recognize that two or more murders were committed by the same perpetrator, abounds in most jurisdictions. The knowledge that those crimes were committed by the same person can lead to more specific details about the perpetrator than can one crime alone. These areas of weakness in the investigative approach to narrowing the suspect list in serial murder cases can be categorized under three headings: 1) Identifying suspect characteristics 2) eliciting and using Information from the public and professionals and 3) serial murder linkage as a necessary element in suspect identification. Improved techniques in these three areas will greatly aid investigators in identifying serial killers and gathering evidence for their conviction.

Reproduced with permission © Pat Brown : The Sexual Homicide Exchange. Further reproduction prohibited without permission

This article was prepared by the team at Criminal Profiling. This website began way back in 1999 - over 15 years of the latest Criminology news and updates. If you've found this article of interest, please do share and comment! We love all your views and opinions. If you have a story to tell, please do let us know.