Understanding and Apprehending America's Most Dangerous Criminals
Predatory serial killers are not a recent cultural trend; cases of serial killings are documented throughout history. Predator killing has undoubtedly been with us since the beginning of human history.
Crime analysis, mapping software, scientific evidence and signature clues carefully combined with a criminal profile may assist in the timely identification of possible suspects. A significant obstacle to recreational homicide investigation remains police cross-jurisdictional coordination. There is the tendency for investigators to define these crimes as isolated events and not recognize possibly related serial homicides.
The criminal mind of the recreational killer is no longer a mystique. Modern psychology can portray his motivation and incentive to kill. Previous labels included psychopath and sociopath; more recently, the term antisocial personality describes the serial killer's remorseless personality. This perverse criminal mind operates without a conscience and seeks immediate gratification. Anyone who frustrates the psychopath is subject to his charm first but if that fails, murder is always a possible solution.
In addition to anti-social personality disorder, serial killers have a sadistic personality disorder, which escalates terror along with the violence. This synergistic combination adds one more trigger to the serial killer's poor impulse control and pursuit of sadistic behaviors. The combination of being an antisocial personality, sadist and obsessive-compulsive personality is a recipe for repeated perverse fantasies and violent behavior.
The overlapping nature and complexity of human behavior makes absolute classification of human behaviors complicated. The common denominator is the antisocial and sadistic personality disorders. For a detailed discussion on these disorders, consult the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSMIV). Defining the recreational killer's personality establishes the foundation for a criminal profile.
Recreational, hedonistic or lust serial killers can be grouped because of similar attributes. All of these traits have been used to describe one who hunts and kills human prey for personal enjoyment. They kill for the pleasure of seeing the victim suffer and die. According to Holmes and Holmes, in Criminal Profiling, a recreational serial killer who is "processoriented" engages in sexual or extreme physical trauma, torture, evisceration, dismemberment, lust mutilation, necrophilia or cannibalism. This kind of murderer feels that his gratification is of highest importance: he is selfcentered and his victims exist merely to satisfy perverted needs.
A recreational killer participates in lead-up activities that include the killing or torturing of animals and sadistic rape. The ultimate form of pleasure is to kill; sexual acts with power and sexual control themes are performed before or after the victim's death. Mental and physical torture is an essential component of a repetitive ritual for those who are "process oriented." While this all seems abnormal to well-adjusted individuals, recreational killers find killing the ultimate ecstasy and emotional release from built-up tension.
In his book, Sexual Homicide, Ressler contends that most serial murderers engage in core behaviors that they must participate in to fulfill their fantasies including compulsive physical and sexual rituals. For this reason, they seek their identity and sense of fulfillment in sadistic fantasies by killing. The repeated signature and related trademark behaviors identify the psychological profile and connect the serial offenders' killings.
According to Ressler, the term "serial" means something beyond a string of killings, more like an incomplete motion picture serial. Searching for the perfect dramatic ending, the recreational killer is not able to achieve the perfect fantasy and serial film ending. The serial killer's motivation is to improve the unfulfilled fantasy. He repeatedly kills strangers for recreation, hoping to improve the drama between episodes and finally achieve the perfect fantasy.
He never achieves perfection, leaving the serial murderer looking for a mechanism for the release of recurring and escalating tension. The serial killer's obsession compels him to participate in repeated rehearsals, searching for new victims and afterwards feeling disappointed in unfulfilled fantasies. If not apprehended, the serial murderer will kill repeatedly.
Disorganized v. Organized
The FBI classifies serial killers into two basic categories: organized and disorganized typologies. A third category, mixed typology, is less helpful to investigators when profiling the offender and his crime scene.
The disorganized killer generally has a mental disorder and commits a delusional-related homicide. This offender's crime scenes are spontaneous, chaotic and unplanned. Disorganized killers have a higher probability of detection, rapid solution and arrest rate.
A disorganized killer leaves significant evidence at the crime scene: the victim's body is discovered in a relatively short time at the same crime site location. This offender lives near the scene of the crime and stands out in the community because of his eccentric or bizarre behaviors. He has limited intelligence, operates within a limited geographical area, and is therefore vulnerable to planned surveillance.
A recreational or lust killer motivated by his hedonistic needs falls into the organized typology. Intelligent planning, cunning and stealth characterize this category of homicide. This offender is educated, may hold a middle class job, and is generally a respected member of the community. He will have a neat appearance and be compulsive- neatness and order are part of an everyday ritual. The organized killer may have a family and by all appearances travel about his neighborhood as a law-abiding citizen.
The organized killer's crime scene is pristine; investigators find a few trace evidence clues. The crime scene is often,complicated because the killer may move the body to a secluded dumpsite. Decomposition of the body and the destruction of evidence continue with the passing of each week, month and year. Time erases valuable clues and is the perpetual enemy of criminal investigators.
A recreational killer murders for psychological or sexual gratification, not financial reward. The FBI describes this kind of killer as nonsocial, because he defines others as not worthy of his presence. However, he has social skills, is sexually competent and lives with significant others. Generally, he is married, white, between the ages of 25 and 35 and kills within his own race.
Ressler, Holmes and others discuss the serial killer's cycle of violence. The findings suggest the killer moves through the following phases: fantasy phase: the killer spends considerable time fantasizing about his obsession; compulsion phase: the killer decides to act out his compulsive sexual ritual and fantasy; planning phase: the killer plans how he will capture his ideal victim; prowling phase: the killer lurks near a potential crime site; victim luring/capture phase: the killer implements his strategy to gain the victim's confidence; killing phase: the killer locates and incapacitates his victim, transports and isolates the victim, then proceeds to a prearranged safe location. After fulfilling the rituals and fantasies the killer takes his victim to a predetermined dumpsite; and cooling-off phase: tension subsides and the killing stops. The killer will murder again when the tension and the fantasy phase reemerge, initiating a new cycle of violence.
The violence generally escalates and the killing intervals get shorter; the serial killer makes mistakes leaving crime clues for investigators. If the serial killer dies or becomes incarcerated, the killing may stop as suddenly as it started. Snaring the serial killer requires an understanding of his motive, and anticipating and interrupting the killing cycle before he strikes again.
Theodore Bundy's serial killings provided the ideal opportunity to engage in his core "power and control" killing behaviors. Outwardly, Bundy appeared normal. The horror lies in his appearance of normality; he murdered without remorse. Bundy enjoyed the emotions aroused when killing, as well as the aftermath of media attention, fame and instilling fear in the community. Interestingly, serial killers enjoy a perverse celebrity status, just the attention they desire and "worked" so hard to achieve.
The media's reports of serial killers have focused the public's attention on personalities including: Theodore Bundy (The Sorority House Killer), Kenneth Bianchi, Angelo Buono (The Hillside Strangler) and the Green River serial killer. Bianchi and Buono hunted prey in their communities, posing as police officers, abducting young women, then torturing, raping and murdering their victims for recreational purposes. The killings had power/control and sadistic elements designed to instill fear in their victims and the public.
Some recreational killers like to display their "work" to make a statement, because it pronounces their power. Other serial recreational murderers thrive on the fame through their waves of terror inflicted on the community. The killer arranges the victim in a grotesque symbolic scene. This kind of recreational killer seeks to gain credit for the "power and control" over ordinary mortals.
The recreational killer may personally contact the press and police. Some become friendly with police officers, asking questions about the case and interjecting themselves into the investigation. Their contact with the police affirms their feelings of superiority and need to be in control. The ability to stay ahead of their hunters while taunting and humiliating the police empowers the serial killer. However, these needs may lead to the killer's eventual demise like the proverbial "moth to the flame."
The serial killer's objective is to relive the ritualistic incident by terrorizing the community, reading about his horrific crimes in the newspapers and enjoying the notoriety in national television coverage. Many serial killers of this typology collect their press clippings as totems or memorabilia items. The media continues to focus on the sadistic elements and a crescendo of fear rises to a point of panic in the community.
The majority of recreational murderers fit into community life; they have sufficient social skills to go unnoticed by most members of the community. Contrary to popular belief, most serial murderers are not psychotic. Many of them have enough insight into their behavior to restrict their murderous impulses to a specific set of opportunities.
Serial killers do not necessarily appear threatening at first- they use charm and trickery to deceive their victims. The modus operandi involves overpowering and killing the victim in an isolated area, away from possible eyewitnesses. According to Holmes, Ressler and others, organized serial murderers select victims within a "zone of comfort" that gives the killers a feeling of safety. They may prowl certain preferred locations like isolated beaches, lakes, parks or prostitution districts.
"Comfort zones" allow a killer to blend into the community and maintain low visibility, making apprehension difficult. The organized killer may initially search for targets close to familiar settings. The serial killer's travel patterns are fixed or mobile. Recreational killers generally commit their first homicides close to their residence or work site, and then become mobile and increasingly elusive. Later, they branch out and their travel distance may span several states.
Apprehending serial killers who move from local to regional and interstate jurisdictions creates additional problems for law enforcement officials. Their behaviors are deliberate, hoping to lose the police in a jurisdictional maze and destroy evidence. The secondary benefit is to leave as few scientific clues as possible that may link them to the crime, leaving the police without suspects.
Innovative investigative techniques help law enforcement officials apprehend suspects. For example, suspects who encounter a victim along with items at the scene frequently leave behind traces, as well as take with them traces, of the things they have come in contact with at the scene. This exchange and transfer of trace evidence has significant implications for hunting serial murderers.
Especially useful is the development of DNA profiling as a means of identification. Through "genetic profiling," it is now possible to match the DNA taken from a sample of semen taken from the victim and make a match comparison of the suspect's blood sample. Laboratories conduct DNA testing on minute traces of blood, semen, and skin tissue or hair root; test results lead to positive identification. Scientists can analyze traces of saliva from a cigarette or postage stamp for DNA.
The National Institute of Justice, in its publication The Future of Forensic DNA Testing, makes a number of interesting predictions. By 2005, the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) electronic database should contain over one million convicted felon profiles; interstate comparisons will be ordinary and international comparisons feasible in the future.
The DNA profiles that identify suspects are comparable to the Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS) database system. By 2010, portable instrumentation will provide crime scene testing with computer-linked remote analysis. This technology should provide for the swift identification and elimination of suspects.
Detective Inspector Kim Rossmo, Vancouver Police Department, has developed Criminal Geographic Targeting (CGT) software for hunting serial killers. The Geographic Profiling: Target Patterns of Serial Murders is gaining international attention from law enforcement leaders and investigators. The software assists in developing probabilities on where a criminal would most likely strike, live and work.
The FBI formed NCAVC (National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime) to coordinate investigations of potentially linked, unsolved violent crimes between federal, state and local law enforcement agencies. The NCAVC Program combines law enforcement techniques, behavioral science principles and computer support to help law enforcement agencies investigate unusual, vicious or repetitive crimes. NCAVC, under the Violent Criminal Apprehension Program (VICAP), provides this information clearinghouse to state and local law enforcement agencies.
According to the FBI, VICAP's mission is to facilitate cooperation, coordination and communication between law enforcement agencies and provide support in their efforts to investigate, identify, track, apprehend and prosecute violent serial killers. Criminal analysis of recreational killer cases can provide a signal that one killer is responsible for a series of crimes. Sharing investigative information can supply the additional pieces of the puzzle necessary to strengthen the investigative process and expedite the identification and apprehension of a suspect.
The NCAVC's Profiling and Consultation Program provides consultation and opinions of experienced criminal personality profiling investigators. It conducts a careful and detailed analysis of violent crimes to construct profiles of the unknown offenders. Profiling focuses the scope of the investigation, eliminates and identifies the most likely suspects. In addition, police investigators can receive assistance concerning victim profiling.
There is a special relationship between predator and victim that must embody prescribed requirements. The recreational killer targets and stalks his prey. Extensive reconnaissance is part of the stalking pattern to find the precise victim to fit a recurring fantasy.
The serial predator will vary from the preferred victim, only when the ideal victim is not available. For example, blond hair, blue eyes, young and slim figured adolescent girls might be the recreational killer's preferred targets. However, this predator may have to settle on a dark-haired prostitute because of her accessibility.
Victim profiling allows police investigators to anticipate the recreational killer's next move, warn potential victims and seek their cooperation. The best investigative strategy is to focus on where the recreational killer abducted his victim, rather than exclusively on the dumpsite. Determining the original crime site where the killer kidnapped the victim will provide the best opportunity to locate potential witnesses. Organized serial killers follow a particular modus operandi and victim abduction strategies. Police covert surveillance and additional patrols target potential crime sites.
Crime analysis and criminal profiling is not an exact science; one cannot precisely predict human behavior. However, past behavior is a strong indicator of future behavior; violent criminals are creatures of habit and ritualistic behaviors. There is no enigma or mystique about recreational killers, just the mask of normality used to disguise the anti-social personality and sadistic personality, driven by obsessive-compulsive violent fantasies.
The recreational killer will repeat his crimes in the future, unless resources are coordinated to prevent reoccurring offenses. The key to the successful investigations is anticipating the criminal mind of the predator, the killer's cycle of violence and a thorough application of investigative tools. Successful recreational killer investigations require coordinated agency information, criminal profiling and scientific evidence.
Thomas E. Baker is an associate professor of criminal justice, former police officer, USAR military police lieutenant colonel and has authored a book entitled Effective Police Leadership. He can be reached at TjBaker404@ aol.com.…