In 1991 Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins starred in a movie, based on the 1988 book of the same name by Thomas Harris, called Silence of the Lambs that would go onto win several academy awards. In the movie Foster plays Clarice Starling an FBI agent in training and Anthony Hopkins plays Dr. Hannibal “The Cannibal” Lecter as serial killing psychiatrist. The plot of the movie centers on Clarice enlisting the help of Dr. Lecter to catch another serial killer known as Buffalo Bill.
While fictional on many fronts this movie gave much of the world its first glimpse of a new practice being used in criminal investigation. This new tactic is known as personality or criminal profiling. According to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) Criminal Investigative Analysis Program (CIAP), or criminal profiling is an investigative tool used within the law enforcement community to help solve violent crimes. The analysis is based on a review of evidence from the crime scene and from witnesses and victims. This analysis is done from both an investigative and a behavioral perspective.
Development of a Criminal Profile
According to Bartol (2004), The criminal profiling process attempts to predict who the offender(s) may be, where the crime was committed and how the next crime may occur, while attempting to predict the demographic, geographic, and psychological features of the offender; simultaneously, it strives to achieve the most important purpose, which is to eliminate large segments of the population from further investigation in order to focus specifically on those who fit the profile. Certain details and characteristics of the victim are also gathered and incorporated into the profile in order to obtain a more accurate picture of the probable offender. There are several considerations to be undertaken when assembling a criminal profile.
The first consideration is to determine what type of individual is likely to be a serial killer. The typical perpetrator is usually a Caucasian male, between the age of 25 and 35 years old. According to Zonderman (1990),”serial killers usually start getting into trouble with the law when they are 15 or 16, and are about as good as they are going to get by age 25″ (146).
The sexuality of serial killers span a wide range: from heterosexual, to bisexual, to homosexual; for example, Ted Bundy was supposedly heterosexual, Charles Manson bisexual, and Wayne Williams and John Wayne Gacy allegedly were homosexuals. The disorganized serial killer usually has a low I.Q and may be socially and sexually inept, living in his parent’s home past the legal definition of adulthood with a violent father who is a substance abuser with a weak personality and a very dominant mother; whereas, the organized serial killer is usually more intelligent and portray social and sexual competence; he likely had a stable home life but lacked sufficient discipline (Zonderman 1990).
The profiling process also necessitates that information about victims be considered as well. Zonderman (1990) contends that the victim’s age, race, gender, occupation, marital status, and physical description are vital to the process; the information is used to determine if there are common characteristics in otherwise seemingly random murders.
Next, there are the demographic and geographic components of the criminal profiling process. Geographical profiling is conducted using a tool called Criminal Geographic Targeting (CGT) to track the movements of a suspected offender. The objective of this tool is to try and determine where the offender resides and/or where he committed the crime. For this tool to be effective, it must take all of the 4 possible hunting patterns of violent offenders into consideration.
According to Bartol (2004), the 4 patterns that a violent offender may follow are: The Hunter, who sets out to find a victim in a particular setting or environment near the offender’s residence, the Poacher who usually travels some distance from their residence in search of victims, the Troller typically encounters his victims during the course of performing some other activity and the Trapper, who create situations to draw victims to themselves such as placing want ads. The location of the crimes scenes are compiled to “create a topographical map that assigns different statistical probabilities to various areas that seem to fall into the offender’s “territory” (80).
The third consideration is to investigate how the killer achieved the gruesome task of murder. Usually, the main objective is to determine the Modus operandi or MO. The MO is the method of operation of the offender and delineates the typical details and chain of events that an offender uses to commit a crime. When law enforcement officials evaluate a crime scene, they can classify it as disorganized or organized. Bartol (2004) suggests that disorganized crime scenes are typically in a state of disarray.
It may suggest that the killer was out of control and most likely killed the victim in a sudden fit of rage and blind fury which sometimes results in overkill, with the weapon being one of convenience; whereas, organized crime scenes indicates the killer planned the murder and mostly likely stalked his victim and usually have the weapon of choice in his possession and takes it with him after disposing of the body at a site other than that in which the murder took place. The organized killer is usually a sociopath and is far more dangerous than a disorganized killer.
Finally, the motive is considered. The issue of evil versus mental illness seems to be the logical choices to consider when figuring out why someone would commit such horrible acts. Evil could be manifested as simply as the victim reminds the perpetrator of someone that he hates or hated; for example, the offender’s mother. When the crime scene seems to have no obvious motive, then the psychological history of the perpetrator must be examined when looking at the crime scene because according to Campbell (2004), “A Psychopath cannot conceal his illness…it will show in the details of the crime.” (114). A total lack of remorse is often seen and the killer may see murder as some sort of game between him and law enforcement.
1. Bartol, A.M. & Bartol, C.R. (2004). Introduction to Forensic
Psychology. London: Sage Publications.
2. Campbell, A. (2000). Forensic Science: Evidence, Clues, and
Investigation. Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publishers
5. Zonderman, J. (1990). Beyond The Crime Lab: The New Science of
Investigation. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.