I’m going to talk about basic criminal profiling in this article. Some of the details below may be a little bit upsetting so please only read this is you are interested in criminal profiling, and I will endeavour to write more articles on social body language in the near future.
Criminal profiling is the process of discovering potential identities of criminal offenders based on their crimes and without prior direct knowledge of the criminal themselves. The goal is to discover an identity so that law enforcement can track down a dangerous criminal. Due to the nature of profiling techniques, this is often one of the few ways to track down a serial murderer because the crime-scenes, victims and situations often yield clues as to the identity or general ‘profile’ of the criminal.
Criminal profilers use a variety of techniques and estimations to find an offender who is unknown to them. Often they will refer to this person as the “unknown subject” or “unsub” as opposed to by any names that might be circulated in the media. If the media is calling the unsub “The Route 9 Strangler,” for example, this is actually more likely to prejudice the search team to look for crimes that fit this MO (‘Modus Operandi’ meaning the ‘Method of Operation’) rather than ensuring that they are attributing offences to the right person. If every strangle victim they find on route 9 is attributed to this person they might find that they are missing another killer who is copying this MO (a ‘copycat killer’) or that they may miss other victims from the same unsub that do not fit. The unsub may have tried other methods before or after strangulation, as it isn’t uncommon to find an unsub who alters his/her methods.
Things a Criminal Profiler Needs
A criminal profiler needs evidence to read an unsub. This could be a crime scene, a body or a string of missing persons reports in an area. All of these things, and others, can be used to make educated guesses at the identity or attributes of a criminal offender.
Motivation is often the first point that a criminal profiler will use to discern the identity of an unsub. If a serial killer is always murdering blonde, overweight middle-aged women then you could reasonably assume that this ‘type’ is important to the unsub. Perhaps the victims represent the look of a person who the unsub would like to kill, but doesn’t have the courage or opportunity to. This can be discerned through examining a crime scene or extrapolating from a series of suspicious deaths or missing persons reports.
Dr. Emmanuel Hammer, a leading forensic psychologist, put it like this:
“[a] common denominator is that the victim must be a symbolic representation very vital and important to the killer’s life.”
As an example of this, the serial killer Robert Hanson abducted young, attractive women and took them to Alaska in order to hunt them for sport. He had been rejected frequently by women his whole life and for him, the victims represented the women who rejected him, and as such he could kill them as a kind of vengeance. (Biographical Summary)
A criminal profiler looking for this man might notice several missing girls, young and attractive and fitting a kind of type. They could assess that perhaps an unsub was abducting them, and that his basic profile might be an unattractive man, unable to get a girlfriend. It would be a fair guess to put this man between the ages of 25-50. This is based just on the type of victim.
Most often the serial killers and violent offenders requiring the use of profiling are men. It is estimated that 85% of serial killers (a person who kills three or more people) are men, and that 90% of single murders are performed by men. Often with serial murderers there are strong implications of psychopathy, having very low empathy and emotion. A high proportion of people currently in US jails are psychopaths, up to 500,000 according to an article in Scientific American Mind (link). As suggested earlier, most of these are men.
However this does not mean that there are no female serial killers.
Aileen Wuornos of Rochester, Michigan was found guilty of the murders of six men, five of which she pleaded guilty to, and was put to death in October 2002. (Biographical Summary)
The first victim, Richard Mallory, she murdered with a handgun after he picked her up in his car. She had been working as a prostitute and claimed self-defence for this first murder.
This first murder may well have been self-defence, but the fact that it continued probably shows that Aileen found some kind of pleasure in the killing, and a good criminal profiler could see the difference between a first kill and a subsequent one based on the crime scenes. Richard Mallory was shot 4 times. Subsequent victims, David Spears and Charles Carskaddon were shot 6 and 9 times respectively. This shows a clear escalation. The latter two victims were affiliated with police, also showing a rise in confidence.
Profiling women tends to be more difficult, as their motivations are usually not as clear as men’s.
Criminal profiling is very difficult as many of these points are just possibilities. It is not an exact science and reading behaviours may give multiple, mutually-exclusive leads. It is important to maintain a clear and logical head when using criminal profiling techniques.