Psychological Profiling: Investigative Implications from Crime Scene Analysis

Article excerpt

Psychological profiling-often referred to as behavioral, criminal or investigative profiling-began informally in the late 1940s when members of law enforcement were unable to make an arrest involving serial crime. This presentation describes the six stages of profiling, as well as other important aspects such as victim and offender characteristics, escalation, time and location factors, modus operandi and signature, and staging. The organized vs. disorganized dichotomy is discussed as well as how personality is an intervening variable and how crime scene analysis reveals aspects of personality. But for profiling to gain general scientific acceptability, a higher level of empirical validation and general scientific acceptance of this technique will be necessary.

Psychological profiling- often referred to as behavioral, criminal, or investigative profiling - began informally in the late 1940s when members of law enforcement were unable to make an arrest involving serial crime. Since most serial crimes are sexually motivated, the authorities often consulted mental health professionals (MHPs) who were affiliated with sex offender programs and had experience with repetitive offenders who often targeted strangers, especially women and children. The MHP's typical profile was usually couched in psychological terms and unhelpful to investigators. For example, the MHP would often say the sex offender they are looking for probably has low self-esteem, social introversion, and conflicts with members of the opposite sex, all of which may have been true but of little practical help in an investigation.

In the mid 1950s, New York City was shaken by an individual who set bombs at various landmarks such as Grand Central Station, Radio City Music Hall, as well as theaters and libraries. The Mad Bomber - as he was called by the media - planned his offenses with such a high degree of detail that he went undetected for about 16 years. Out of frustration, the New York Police Department consulted psychiatrist James Brüssel, who reviewed all of the information available, including letters the unknown offender had sent to the police, photographs of the crime scenes, and descriptions of the home-made bombs. After analyzing this information, Brussel concluded that the individual they were looking for was of Eastern European descent, over 40 years old, lived with an aunt or sister, had a serious illness such as paranoia, attended church regularly, was soft spoken, polite, and exceptionally neat in appearance. A profile written by Brussel was published in the New York Times on Christmas day, 1956, the following being an excerpt:

Look for a heavy man. Middle age. Foreign born. Roman Catholic. Single. Lives with a brother or sister. When you find him, chances are he'll be wearing a double-breasted suit. Buttoned (Brussel, 1968).

As a result of Brussel's profile, the police narrowed their investigation to George Metesky, a disgruntled former Con Edison employee. When they went to arrest Metesky, they found he fit Brussel's profile in amazing detail. Not only did he have all the characteristics that Brussel described, but he wore a double-breasted suit that was buttoned!

The uncanny accuracy of this profile caught the attention of the FBI, which was eager to learn how Brussel arrived at his findings. The psychiatrist described his thought processes as a series of deductions. He noted that MHPs typically evaluate people and offer predictions regarding how such individuals might behave in the future. For example, after an evaluation an MHP might conclude that the patient is likely to experience depression, make unsuccessful suicide attempts, have difficulties with authority figures, and problems at work. In fact, these types of predictions are rather ordinary in mental health practice. But in drawing a profile of an unidentified offender, Brussel explained that he simply reversed the process. Instead of offering predictions about a person he examined, Brussel offered deductions about the kind of person who would have carried out a crime in a particular way. …