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Home arrow eBook Categories arrow Crime arrow Serial Murder: Multi-Disciplinary Perspectives for Investigators

Serial Murder: Multi-Disciplinary Perspectives for Investigators

eBooks - Crime
July 10 2008

Serial Murder: Multi-Disciplinary Perspectives for InvestigatorsSerial murder is neither a new phenomenon, nor is it uniquely American. Dating back to ancient times, serial murderers have been chronicled around the world. In 19th century Europe, Dr. Richard von Krafft-Ebing conducted some of the first documented research on violent, sexual offenders and the crimes they committed. Best known for his 1886 textbook Psychopathia Sexualis, Dr. Kraft-Ebing described numerous case studies of sexual homicide, serial murder, and other areas of sexual proclivity.

Serial murder is a relatively rare event, estimated to comprise less than one percent of all murders committed in any given year. However, there is a macabre interest in the topic that far exceeds its scope and has generated countless articles, books, and movies. This broad-based public fascination began in the late 1880s, after a series of unsolved prostitute murders occurred in the Whitechapel area of London. These murders were committed by an unknown individual who named himself “Jack the Ripper” and sent letters to the police claiming to be the killer.

Dear Boss
I keep on hearing the police have caught me but they wont fix me just yet. I have laughed when they look so clever and talk about being on the right track. That joke about Leather Apron gave me real fits. I am down on whores and I shant quit ripping them till I do get buckled. Grand work the last job was. I gave the lady no time to squeal. How can they catch me now. I love my work and want to start again. You will soon hear of me with my funny little games. I saved some of the proper red stuff in a ginger beer bottle over the last job to write with but it went thick like glue and I cant use it. Red ink is fit enough I hope ha. ha. The next job I do I shall clip the ladys ears off and send to the police officers just for jolly wouldn’t you. Keep this letter back till I do a bit more work, then give it out straight. My knife’s so nice and sharp I want to get to work right away if I get a chance. Good luck.
Yours truly
Jack the Ripper

These murders and the nom de guerre “Jack the Ripper” have become synonymous with serial murder. This case spawned many legends concerning serial murder and the killers who commit it. In the 1970s and 1980s serial murder cases such as the Green River Killer, Ted Bundy, and BTK sparked a renewed public interest in serial murder, which blossomed in the 1990s after the release of films such as Silence of the Lambs.

Much of the general public’s knowledge concerning serial murder is a product of Hollywood productions. Story lines are created to heighten the interest of audiences, rather than to accurately portray serial murder. By focusing on the atrocities inflicted on victims by “deranged” offenders, the public is captivated by the criminals and their crimes. This only lends more confusion to the true dynamics of serial murder.

Law enforcement professionals are subject to the same misinformation from a different source: the use of anecdotal information. Professionals involved in serial murder cases, such as investigators, prosecutors, and pathologists may have limited exposure to serial murder. Their experience may be based upon a single murder series, and the factors in that case are extrapolated to other serial murders. As a result, certain stereotypes and misconceptions take root regarding the nature of serial murder and the characteristics of serial killers.

A growing trend that compounds the fallacies surrounding serial murder is the talking heads phenomenon. Given creditability by the media, these self-proclaimed authorities profess to have an expertise in serial murder. They appear frequently on television and in the print media and speculate on the motive for the murders and the characteristics of the possible offender, without being privy to the facts of the investigation. Unfortunately, inappropriate comments may perpetuate misperceptions concerning serial murder and impair law enforcement’s investigative efforts. It was decided by a majority of the attendees to issue a formal statement of position regarding the media’s use of these types of individuals. (The position statement is included in Section X of this monograph.)

The relative rarity of serial murder combined with inaccurate, anecdotal information and fictional portrayals of serial killers has resulted in the following common myths and misconceptions regarding serial murder:

Myth: Serial killers are all dysfunctional loners.

The majority of serial killers are not reclusive, social misfits who live alone. They are not monsters and may not appear strange. Many serial killers hide in plain sight within their communities. Serial murderers often have families and homes, are gainfully employed, and appear to be normal members of the community. Because many serial murderers can blend in so effortlessly, they are oftentimes overlooked by law enforcement and the public.

• Robert Yates killed seventeen prostitutes in the Spokane, Washington area, during the 1990s. He was married with five children, lived in a middle class neighborhood, and was a decorated U.S. Army National Guard helicopter pilot. During the time period of the murders, Yates routinely patronized prostitutes, and several of his victims knew each other. Yates buried one of his victims in his yard, beneath his bedroom window. Yates was eventually arrested and pled guilty to thirteen of the murders.

• The Green River Killer, Gary Ridgeway, confessed to killing 48 women over a twenty-year time period in the Seattle, Washington area. He had been married three times and was still married at the time of his arrest. He was employed as a truck painter for thirty-two years. He attended church regularly, read the Bible at home and at work, and talked about religion with co-workers. Ridgeway also frequently picked up prostitutes and had sex with them throughout the time period in which he was killing.

• The BTK killer, Dennis Rader, killed ten victims in and around Wichita, Kansas. He sent sixteen written communications to the news media over a thirty-year period, taunting the police and the public. He was married with two children, was a Boy Scout leader, served honorably in the U.S. Air Force, was employed as a local government official, and was president of his church.

Myth: Serial killers are all white males.

Contrary to popular belief, serial killers span all racial groups. There are white, African-American, Hispanic, and Asian serial killers. The racial diversification of serial killers generally mirrors that of the overall U.S. population.

• Charles Ng, a native of Hong Kong, China, killed numerous victims in Northern California, in concert with Robert Lake.

• Derrick Todd Lee, an African-American, killed at least six women in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

• Coral Eugene Watts, an African-American, killed five victims in Michigan, fled the state to avoid detection, and murdered another 12 victims in Texas, before being apprehended.

• Rafael Resendez-Ramirez, a native of Mexico, murdered nine people in Kentucky, Texas, and Illinois, before turning himself in.

• Rory Conde, a Colombian native, was responsible for six prostitute homicides in the Miami, Florida area.

Myth: Serial killers are only motivated by sex.

All serial murders are not sexually-based. There are many other motivations for serial murders including anger, thrill, financial gain, and attention seeking.

• In the Washington, D.C. area serial sniper case, John Allen Muhammad, a former U.S. Army Staff Sergeant, and Lee Boyd Malvo killed primarily for anger and thrill motivations. They were able to terrorize the greater Washington, D.C. metro area for three weeks, shooting 13 victims, killing 10 of them. They communicated with the police by leaving notes, and they attempted to extort money to stop the shootings. They are suspected in a number of other shootings in seven other states.

• Dr. Michael Swango, a former U.S. Marine, ambulance worker, and physician, was a health care employee. He was convicted of only four murders in New York and Ohio, although he is suspected of having poisoned and killed 35 to 50 people throughout the United States and on the continent of Africa. Swango’s motivation for the killings was intrinsic and never fully identified. Interestingly, Swango kept a scrap book filled with newspaper and magazine clippings about natural disasters, in which many people were killed.

• Paul Reid killed at least seven people during fast food restaurant robberies in Tennessee. After gaining control of the victims, he either stabbed or shot them. The motivation for the murders was primarily witness elimination. Reid’s purpose in committing the robberies was financial gain, and some of the ill-gotten gains were used to purchase a car.

Myth: All serial murderers travel and operate interstate.

Most serial killers have very defined geographic areas of operation. They conduct their killings within comfort zones that are often defined by an anchor point (e.g. place of residence, employment, or residence of a relative). Serial murderers will, at times, spiral their activities outside of their comfort zone, when their confidence has grown through experience or to avoid detection. Very few serial murderers travel interstate to kill.

The few serial killers who do travel interstate to kill fall into a few categories:

  • Itinerant individuals who move from place to place.
  • Homeless individuals who are transients.
  • Individuals whose employment lends itself to interstate or transnational travel, such as truck drivers or those in military service.

The difference between these types of offenders and other serial murderers is the nature of their traveling lifestyle, which provides them with many zones of comfort in which to operate.

Myth: Serial killers cannot stop killing.

It has been widely believed that once serial killers start killing, they cannot stop. There are, however, some serial killers who stop murdering altogether before being caught. In these instances, there are events or circumstances in offenders’ lives that inhibit them from pursuing more victims. These can include increased participation in family activities, sexual substitution, and other diversions.

• BTK killer, Dennis Rader, murdered ten victims from 1974 to 1991. He did not kill any other victims prior to being captured in 2005. During interviews conducted by law enforcement, Rader admitted to engaging in auto-erotic activities as a substitute for his killings.

• Jeffrey Gorton killed his first victim in 1986 and his next victim in 1991. He did not kill another victim and was captured in 2002. Gorton engaged in cross-dressing and masturbatory activities, as well as consensual sex with his wife in the interim.

Myth: All Serial killers are insane or are evil geniuses.

Another myth that exists is that serial killers have either a debilitating mental condition, or they are extremely clever and intelligent.

As a group, serial killers suffer from a variety of personality disorders, including psychopathy, anti-social personality, and others. Most, however, are not adjudicated as insane under the law.

The media has created a number of fictional serial killer “geniuses”, who outsmart law enforcement at every turn. Like other populations, however, serial killers range in intelligence from borderline to above average levels.

Myth: Serial killers want to get caught.

Offenders committing a crime for the first time are inexperienced. They gain experience and confidence with each new offense, eventually succeeding with few mistakes or problems.

While most serial killers plan their offenses more thoroughly than other criminals, the learning curve is still very steep. They must select, target, approach, control, and dispose of their victims. The logistics involved in committing a murder and disposing of the body can become very complex, especially when there are multiple sites involved.

As serial killers continue to offend without being captured, they can become empowered, feeling they will never be identified. As the series continues, the killers may begin to take shortcuts when committing their crimes. This often causes the killers to take more chances, leading to identification by law enforcement. It is not that serial killers want to get caught; they feel that they can’t get caught.

Read Serial Murder: Multi-Disciplinary Perspectives for Investigators Online

Behavioral Analysis Unit-2
National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime
Critical Incident Response Group
Federal Bureau of Investigation

Editor:
Robert J. Morton
Supervisory Special Agent
Behavioral Analysis Unit-2
Federal Bureau of Investigation

Co-Editor:
Mark A. Hilts
Unit Chief
Behavioral Analysis Unit-2
Federal Bureau of Investigation

Download Serial Murder: Multi-Disciplinary Perspectives for Investigators

PDF format, 2.3MB, 71Pages.

Table of Contents:
Message from the Director
Acknowledgments
Foreword........
National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime
I. Introduction
II. Definition of Serial Murder
III. Causality and the Serial Murderer
IV. Psychopathy and Serial Murder
V. Motivations and Types of Serial Murder: The Symposium Model
VI. Investigative Issues and Best Practices
VII. Forensic Issues in Serial Murder Cases
VIII. Prosecution of Serial Murder Cases
IX. Media Issues in Serial Murder Investigations
X. Issues Regarding Talking Heads in the Media
Epilogue.
Appendix A: Symposium Agenda
Appendix B: Serial Murder Symposium Working Group
Appendix C: Symposium Attendees

Definition of Serial Murder

In the past thirty years, multiple definitions of serial murder have been used by law enforcement, clinicians, academia, and researchers. While these definitions do share several common themes, they differ on specific requirements, such as the number of murders involved, the types of motivation, and the temporal aspects of the murders. To address these discrepancies, attendees at the Serial Murder Symposium examined the variations in order to develop a single definition for serial murder.

Previous definitions of serial murder specified a certain number of murders, varying from two to ten victims. This quantitative requirement distinguished a serial murder from other categories of murder (i.e. single, double, or triple murder).

Most of the definitions also required a period of time between the murders. This break-in-time was necessary to distinguish between a mass murder and a serial murder. Serial murder required a temporal separation between the different murders, which was described as: separate occasions, cooling-off period, and emotional cooling-off period.

Generally, mass murder was described as a number of murders (four or more) occurring during the same incident, with no distinctive time period between the murders. These events typically involved a single location, where the killer murdered a number of victims in an ongoing incident (e.g. the 1984 San Ysidro McDonalds incident in San Diego, California; the 1991 Luby’s Restaurant massacre in Killeen, Texas; and the 2007 Virginia Tech murders in Blacksburg, Virginia).

There has been at least one attempt to formalize a definition of serial murder through legislation. In 1998, a federal law was passed by the United States Congress, titled: Protection of Children from Sexual Predator Act of 1998 (Title 18, United States Code, Chapter 51, and Section 1111). This law includes a definition of serial killings:

The term ‘serial killings’ means a series of three or more killings, not less than one of which was committed within the United States, having common characteristics such as to suggest the reasonable possibility that the crimes were committed by the same actor or actors.

Although the federal law provides a definition of serial murder, it is limited in its application. The purpose of this definition was to set forth criteria establishing when the FBI could assist local law enforcement agencies with their investigation of serial murder cases. It was not intended to be a generic definition for serial murder.

The Symposium attendees reviewed the previous definitions and extensively discussed the pros and cons of the numerous variations. The consensus of the Symposium attendees was to create a simple but broad definition, designed for use primarily by law enforcement.

One discussion topic focused on the determination of the number of murders that constituted a serial murder. Academicians and researchers were interested in establishing a specific number of murders, to allow clear inclusion criteria for their research on serial killers. However, since the definition was to be utilized by law enforcement, a lower number of victims would allow law enforcement more flexibility in committing resources to a potential serial murder investigation.

Motivation was another central element discussed in various definitions; however, attendees felt motivation did not belong in a general definition, as it would make the definition overly complex.

The validity of spree murder as a separate category was discussed at great length. The general definition of spree murder is two or more murders committed by an offender or offenders, without a cooling-off period. According to the definition, the lack of a cooling-off period marks the difference between a spree murder and a serial murder. Central to the discussion was the definitional problems relating to the concept of a cooling-off period. Because it creates arbitrary guidelines, the confusion surrounding this concept led the majority of attendees to advocate disregarding the use of spree murder as a separate category. The designation does not provide any real benefit for use by law enforcement.

The different discussion groups at the Symposium agreed on a number of similar factors to be included in a definition. These included:

  • one or more offenders
  • two or more murdered victims
  • incidents should be occurring in separate events, at different times
  • the time period between murders separates serial murder from mass murder

In combining the various ideas put forth at the Symposium, the following definition was crafted:

Serial Murder: The unlawful killing of two or more victims by the same offender(s), in separate events.

Comments (5)add comment

Edward Blackwelder said:

After having studied and taught crime related subjects at the community college level I can honestly say that crime and the Holy Bible go hand in hand. Many individuals question the act of a particular person, however, it is easily seen that such conduct would come about and documentation is more than adequate in the Bible.

Dr. Edward Blackwelder
Liberty Chaplain Ministries
518 South Center Avenue
Piedmont, Alabama 36272
www.libertychaplainministries.org
January 30, 2010

Edward Blackwelder said:

I will be most happy to share my criminology research. Just, email me at the site's address.
June 23, 2009

Edward Blackwelder said:

I will have my new web-site "up" by the end of this month, hopefully. It's Internet address is criminologyresearch.org. It covers over 40 years of research into mass, spree and serial murder. All of this information will be available to anyone wanting or needing it.

Criminology Research Project, Inc., has been established to make academic research in the social sciences available to undergraduate, graduate and post-graduate students as well as professors and in-field professionals.

Crime buffs will, no doubt, visit the site. This is great! Everyone needs to study this most unique type killer.

See you online soon!

Edward Blackwelder, B.A., M.P.A.
Executive Director
Criminology Research Project, Inc.
518 Souith Center Avenue
Piedmont, Alabama 36272
June 09, 2009

Edward Blackwelder, B.A., M.P.A. said:

I am a retired college professor, having taught in and Chaired an academic program in Criminal Justice and Paralegal Studies. Throughout my academic, and on into retirement, I have continued my research into "Serial Murder."

I have written extensively on the subject, presented my research findings to various academic and civic organizations and have appeared on a number of television programs.

I have interviewed a large number of serial murderers and continue to do so. In fact, I receive telephone calls form many of these individuals each and every week.

Am I an expert? Lets say I have done the research, constantly, since 1964, even before the term was coined.

I have the materials to back my conclusions but, understand, that definitions and results vary. The qualifications for being an "expert" are not exact. However, time spent in research over an extended period would go far toward this designation.

Theodore Robert Bundy became a "friend" of mine over the years. While I do not agree with his trail of murder, I have come to understand Ted and other serial killers.

I will be happy to share my research with serious minded students of crime.
May 06, 2009

monica said:

I really would like to here more about any new books or recordings of these types of subjects,im so into true crime storys & ive read some of the older ones so wanting to here from you thaks!monicaMR2.
April 30, 2009

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