Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Murder of Daniel Williams

The Last 24 Hours

Most people who get murdered get murdered for a reason. They make somebody mad, they get into a fight, they get robbed, they go to the wrong place at the wrong time. To solve a murder, a homicide investigator has to get to know the victim. In most cases, it's the only way to figure out why the murder happened; and an investigator who figures out the why, can usually figure out the who.

There are many things an investigator needs to know about a victim but the answers to four important questions stand out:

Who was the victim? What kind of person was he or she? What was the victim involved in? Did he or she have enemies willing to kill?

The obvious difficulty in getting to know a murder victim is that the victim is dead. Still, detectives have to find answers somewhere. Friends, family, co-workers, acquaintances, even enemies — all can give investigators valuable information about a murder victim. Detectives then plug that information into a timeline.

In the majority of murder investigations, the most important stretch of time, at least from a homicide investigator's perspective, is the last 24 hours of the victim's life. In most cases, something happened within those last 24 hours that directly led to the murder.

Homicide is a tale told in reverse. Detectives already know the ending. They just have to figure out the beginning. To do that, they need to find out what the victim was doing, when he or she was doing it, and with whom.

The initial step in meeting someone — whether dead or alive — is usually to get the person's name. In the case of the dead man on South Compton Avenue, wearing women's clothing with a wig cocked sideways on his head, the detectives had no idea who he was.

"Until you can find out who the victim is," Baitx says, "where they live, and where they hung out, you're at a standstill."

 

The first thing the detectives needed from the victim was a name.

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