Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Buddhist Temple Massacre

The Crime Scene

Buddhist Temple victims
Bodies arranged at the crime scene

In the living room, near a couch, lay all nine temple residents in their saffron robes.  The carpet around them was soaked in blood, as was their clothing.  They lay on their faces in a circle, arranged like the spokes of a wagon wheel. Their legs, bare from the knees down, and bare feet were frighteningly still.

The Maricopa County Sheriff's Office responded to the call.  It sent out officers to protect the scene and detectives to start looking for leads.  It was possible that this shocking massacre would become an international incident, so they also called the FBI for help, requesting profilers.  Two were soon on their way, Special Agents Gregg McCrary and Tom Selp.

Buddhist Temple victims
Bodies from a different view at the
crime scene

The lead investigator, Tom Agnos, had never seen anything like it.  Not only was this an unspeakable act of brutality against seemingly gentle people, but nothing about the crime scene made sense. Why here? Why these people? Why so many deaths at once? No one in the county, or even the state, had ever had to process such a horrific scene.

Experts on aggression, such as Gregory Moffatt, say that mass murders most typically occur in the workplace.  This scene did not look like some disgruntled worker had come and shot his associates.  It appeared to be an outright execution.  All of them had been shot in the back of the head, at close range, more than once. Some were shot three times. And with the exception of one, who appeared to be somewhat out of alignment with the others as though he may have resisted or tried to escape, they all seemed to have accepted their fate without a fight.

Some had fallen over in such a way as to be partially on top of another body and it soon became clear that while they had been killed with one type of weapon, a few had wounds on their arms from a different type of weapon.  It looked as if some had died while praying. 

The fingers of the victims were laced together behind their necks and each was shot two or three times.  Even as they accepted their deaths, each must have witnessed the others being shot before the killers got to the last one.

All of them had died quickly from their wounds.

Looking for evidence, investigators spotted an ash-filled ashtray in the middle of the circle of death, two fire extinguishers that had been sprayed randomly around the interior or the home as an apparent act of vandalism, a pile of keys on a kitchen table, and the word "bloods" carved crudely into one wall. On the floor around the bodies were three shell casings from a 20-gauge shotgun, and nearby were more casings from a .22-caliber weapon, but some of the casings were .22 shorts, some .22 longs and some long rifle rounds.  The shotgun load had been birdshot. These were not professional-grade weapons.

Footprint at the crime scene, police

Within hours, the profilers arrived.  They worked with the behavioral evidence, and they had little to go on, but some things stood out. Next, they had to narrow the leads and identify the most likely scenario and motive. 

Since the victims were from Thailand, there was a chance that one of them had been connected to illegal drug imports as there was a brisk heroin trade via Asia. Maybe goods had been delivered and the account had not been paid up. However, no illegal drugs were found on the premises.

There was always the possibility of an organized hit. 

Revenge was also proposed, as there was a rumor that one of the monks was having an affair with someone else's wife, and a red-and-white late model Ford Bronco II was seen leaving the premises around 7:00 a.m. that day.

The word "bloods" was clearly an imitation of the way Charles Manson's group and other gangs "signed" their crimes. 

A hate crime was possible, since these monks had settled into a conservative area.  While a number of valuable items remained untouched, including money, it turned out that items such as cameras were missing from the monks' austere bedrooms. They also shared a communal van, and their keys had been piled up on a table, as if the killer was looking for a key to something, perhaps a safe.  The ashes in the ashtray (associated with the offenders, not the monks, who did not smoke) indicated that it could have been an extended incident, done for a thrill.  Two guns were used, indicating that it was likely that there was more than one perpetrator.

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