Friday, September 23, 2011

Problems with Profiling …

Profiling is the double edged sword of criminal investigation. On the one hand it can be beneficial in building a strategy for interrogation and investigation of suspects but on the other hand it can create false leads and throw off investigations. John Douglas, one of the FBI detectives who helped create the discipline of criminal profiling, has stated that profiling is just one tool an investigator can use to apprehend a killer. It is through hard and tireless work of detectives that crimes are solved. Historic crime hobbyists, me included, often reach for modern concepts to gain insight into crimes of the past. This can be both fun and yield some new avenues of investigation. The problem comes when people watch TV shows like CSI and Criminal Minds which tend to portray psychological profilers as some kind of warlock looking through layers of time to see the murderer. Can modern profiling be useful in historic crimes? Yes but I think there are problems when context isn’t considered.

Warlocks (and a witch) with dramatic Sunglasses of Omniscience!

Context can be a major problem when profiling a historic crime. Robert Ressler offers a profile of the killer based on the Villisca crime scene in the excellent documentary Villisca: Living with a Mystery. In his opinion the killer was a “mixed typology.” Okay, Inspector, so what? You say the same thing. Well to answer my own hypothetical (and slightly schizophrenic) question I have to point out a couple of those elements which make the crime scene disorganized.

1) Weapon left at the crime scene

2) Lots of forensic evidence (fingerprints as far as I know) left at crime scene

First of all, you have to understand the difference between criminal investigation in 1911 and criminal investigation in the 1970’s (when these typologies were proposed). Aside from the awesome soundtrack of a 1970’s investigation, there also needs to be consideration for what tools were available to an investigator at the time. The organized killer plans out the crime in large part to conceal his/her involvement. By 1970 fingerprint, fiber and blood analysis were common ways a crime was investigated. By the time the typologies of Organized, Disorganized and Mixed entered into investigations (1992) forensics had advanced geometrically in ways that a serial killer in 1911 would never have imagined. An Organized offender today would take steps to ensure no finger prints, hairs or blood (or other body fluids) was left behind at the crime scene because these are all things which modern forensics can trace back to the killer.

In 1911 the organized offender didn’t have to worry about these things at all. Investigators could barely tell if blood found at the scene was human, let alone a blood type. Fingerprint analysis was in its very early stage and it had not been used to solve a crime in the United States yet (with the exception of Bertillon anthropometry). A killer in 1911 could wipe his forehead with a handkerchief, throw it on the floor then spit and there wasn’t anything an investigator could glean from, what today would be, very damning evidence.

This leads me into the weapon being left at the scene of the crime. Organized offenders tend to not do this because often the murder weapon rolls into the fantasy being played out and also the whole forensics argument again. In 1911 discarding the weapon would have been the most effective means of concealing involvement in the crime. And it wasn’t like the killer was disposing of something relatively valuable, like a gun, it was just something he’d stolen (untraceable to him) and had no value to him at all because the next time he felt the urge to kill he could just steal another. Discarding the weapon in another spot would have also been riskier then leaving it at the crime scene. The killer wasn’t throwing the weapon into the trunk of his car and driving away, he was walking (running) to make his getaway. Carrying an axe, lead pipe or pick while doing so would slow him down and if he was stopped and questioned, that was it. He was sure to swing. One could argue that leaving the weapon at the scene was a trait of the Organized killer in 1911.

P.S. ~ The Halloween season is upon us. For those of you who found this place Googling “axe murder” or “serial killers,” welcome. Look around and leave a comment.

No comments: