Tuesday, February 12, 2008


Back in 2005, when I first started studying these crimes, I thought about how novel it would be if you could profile the Unsub the way they do in the movies. Since I couldn’t afford to hire John Douglas as a consultant I decided to learn how to do it myself. “How hard can it be really?” I thought to myself. “It’s just matching crime scene elements with statistical data right?” Ah to be young and na├»ve again. There are no step by step instructions or a list of “if this, then this” psychological markers and the section on profiling in Forensics for Dummies is sparse at best. So I read everything I could find on the subject. If John Douglas or Robert Ressler wrote it, I read it. I watched Silence of the Lambs like a hundred times and read it once. I read criminology papers and sociology papers and psychology reports and…The result? I profiled everything I came across. From the guy at the bus stop that always shouts at the new billboards to the neighbor’s cat that poops in my yard. One morning as I was contemplating the psyche of the bread I was toasting I decided to write down my thoughts about the Colorado Springs Axe Murderer. Then I watched Villisca: Living with a Mystery and saw the one and only Robert Ressler, former FBI profiler and the man given credit for introducing the term “serial killer” to the world, giving a profile of the Unsub at Villisca. Oh well…here’s my take (note: I’m not even going to touch on the psyche of the killer).

Crime Scenes: Entry was gained into the Burnham cottage through a side window by cutting open the screen. While closing the window used to enter the Burnham cottage, the Unsub knocked over a bottle of black ink or shoe polish and attempted to wipe it up which transferred the substance to his fingers and facilitated the transfer of his fingerprints to various items in the house and on the murder weapon. (Note: I’m adding the following based on new info I have received) According to witness testimony, Mrs. Burnham was in the habit of leaving windows up and doors open with only the screen door latched (end addition). A make-shift torch in the form of a twisted, burnt newspaper was found on the floor of the Burnham crime scene and a pile of ash was found in front of the stove in the kitchen. A washbowl containing bloody water was found in the kitchen as well indicating the Unsub washed up after the crime was committed. That factored with the attempt made at wiping up the ink/shoe polish means the Unsub spent a considerable amount of time on scene after the murders.

The Wayne cottage was entered through the back door after the offender cut the screen, lifted the hook and picked the lock with the wire. The wire had been bent indicating it had been used as a lock pick. No significant evidence has been noted in the Wayne cottage with exception to that of a kerosene lamp that was believed to have been handled by the Unsub. The murder weapon was found resting against the back of the Wayne cottage, possibly in the same position it was found before the murders. No attempt had been made to wipe off blood or fingerprints.

State of Victims: (Note: Due to new info, the original text of this section has been lifted entirely and replaced) The doctor who examined the bodies testified that Mrs. Burnham’s head had received more sever blows than the other victims. He counted four distinct blows to her head. The two John Burnham had been hit twice in the front of the head and Nellie Burnham had been hit once on the back of her skull. Nellie’s body was found face down across her mother’s legs in such a way as to indicate she had been crawling over her mother when she was struck. Both children were dressed in their underwear and Mrs. Burnham was dressed in a nightgown. Henry Wayne had been struck repeatedly in the face and the facial bones were smashed in. Blanch Wayne had been hit on the side of the head, near the temple “with some sharp instrument” then hit with the blunt edge of the axe. News reports stated the Wayne’s were “half nude” when found but could mean both were in their nightclothes.

General Crime Scene Characteristics: The murder weapon was acquired by the Unsub moments before the murders and was left at the crime scene. The attack was blitz style with the victims being asleep at the time. One of the crime scenes was sloppy with evidence in the form of fingerprints left all over the scene but while sloppy, neither crime scene was chaotic. The Unsub brought a burglary kit with him in the form of a knife used to cut screens and a wire used to pick locks. The knife was not found but the wire was left at the back door of one of the crime scenes. The bodies in at least one of the crime scenes had been covered and the windows in both cottages were found closed and covered by shutters and/or curtains. All entry doors into the cottages were closed but not all were locked. By closing up the cottages, the Unsub was able to delay discovery of the crime for two days. These elements all point to a mixed offender leaning more towards organized than disorganized.

Physical Characteristics: Both crime scenes were contained inside one room of small, two-room cottages with limited space available for movement. The type of weapon used was a heavy instrument with a long handle which would be difficult to wield inside of such confined spaces efficiently. For this reason I believe the Unsub was shorter than six feet tall. The average height for males in 1910 was about 5’ 8” which is around an inch smaller than the modern average, so I would say the Unsub was probably about 5’ 7” or 5’ 8”. While of average height he was probably powerfully built due to the strength necessary to dispatch two adults sleeping in the same bed before either had time to wake up. Also due to the cramped confines of the rooms, the Unsub was pretty adept at wielding an axe.  Since Jack Lalanne was 25 years away from opening his first gym the power probably came naturally or from the type of work he was in. The main lines of work which would have both required him to swing a heavy, blunt object every day and be in Colorado Springs were mining or railroad work.

According to a witness, a man with a mustache and wearing a light colored soft hat was seen near the crime scene around the time the attacks were estimated to have begun. So what I have, exactly, is a man of average height, powerful build with a mustache and wearing a style of hat that nearly every man in the country owned at the time. Jeeze, I might as well accuse Captain Kangaroo.

You can flame me if you like.


Anonymous said...

Something that has bothered me as I read about the axe murders on this blog and other sites is the assumption that the killer must have had a stenuous job that required a lot of physical activity.

"Also due to the cramped confines of the rooms, the Unsub was pretty adept at wielding an axe. Since Jack Lalanne was 25 years away from opening his first gym the power probably came naturally or from the type of work he was in. The main lines of work which would have both required him to swing a heavy, blunt object every day and be in Colorado Springs were mining or railroad work."

I think what is being overlooked is the time the murders were committed. I grew up in the 1980s and lived in a house with a wood stove. I saw my 15 year old brother weild an ax like a pro, and that was when he was cutting wood. It seems to me that any able bodied man who grew up in the late 1800/early 1900s would know how to use an axe expertly, plus probably most women. And that's to chop wood, I imagine using an axe on something softer like flesh would be an easier task. I think assuming that the killer was someone powerful who did a labor type job may mean looking over other types of people.

Just my thoughts after reading a few different pages assuming the killer was a railroad worker or the like. I think your page is great and am slowly working my through everything. Thanks for all your insight.

Inspector Winship said...

You make a perfectly valid point. I make a similar argument in my "Problems with Profiling" post. Indeed most every able bodied working male (and some females) would be able to handle an axe. But the probability is the killer was a bit more adept with an axe then a man who splits wood for a couple hours a day. Remember, the killer had to be quick and accurate enough to split two pieces of "wood" in quick succession. He had to be able to hit the first victim in a double bed then have the axe raised and swinging down at the next victim before said victim had a chance to know what was happening, which is what the crime scenes suggest (excepting one). In day to day wood splitting, this is never the case. But for lumbermen, miners and railroad men, quickness and accuracy meant better pay. That's my reasoning anyway. Thanks for the comment!