Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Halloween Murder in the Napa Valley

Victimology

Because neither girl had known enemies and there were no obvious leads, investigators had to focus on the victims' backgrounds to try to understand how they had drawn the attention of their killer. Complete research on victims is vital to such work, because some small detail can identify risk factors and potentially dangerous associations. Whether the victim was killed at home, was involved in drugs, was having an affair, had a criminal history, was employed, had domestic problems, or associated with certain social groups are all relevant to developing a hypothesis about how such a crime could have taken place. Even information about associates from the victim's past can be crucial.

Once information is collected, the detectives map out a timeline to understand the victim's movements up until the crime. This may cover the day before or perhaps even several weeks before. The victim might have met the killer at a public place where they were seen together, or she might have purchased something where he worked. Perhaps he was a former boyfriend who'd been stalking her. To get a sense of the possibilities, detectives question witnesses and acquaintances. Diaries, letters, phone messages, emails, or any other communications may help, especially if the victim was apprehensive about someone or had just made a new acquaintance.

A victimology is painstaking, time-consuming work, and the quality of the final product depends to a great extent on how cooperative the victim's family and associates are, and on how much they actually know. Where there are gaps in information, there are possibilities of missing the killer's identity.

Blood on the staircase proved to be the killer's.
Blood on the staircase proved to be the
killer's.

In this case, the detectives were able to collect DNA from the blood at the scene to compare to anyone who might become a suspect. While that, too, can be a painstaking process if the victim has many associates, it can either sift out the perpetrator or spook him into a revelatory mistake. In the very first criminal case in which DNA was used for identification of the perpetrator, the actual perpetrator persuaded a co-worker to take the blood test for him. When police learned this, they knew he was a strong suspect. DNA confirmed that he was the person for whom they were looking. Yet even to begin to eliminate people via DNA meant learning about the victims.

Leslie Ann Mazzara's headshot
Leslie Ann Mazzara's headshot

Leslie, winner of the Miss Williamston beauty pageant in South Carolina, had been raised by a single mother on a farm, with two older half-brothers. She aspired to be many things, but she was continually drawn to the wine country. When her mother moved to Berkley, it seemed the right time to seek opportunities there, so in 2004 she applied for and was hired to a position as a concierge and sales representative at Francis Ford Coppola's wine estate. She enjoyed mingling with celebrities, according to the Los Angeles Times, and hoped she might eventually be discovered and given more glamorous opportunities. At the time of her murder, Leslie was dating two men, and had seen many others during the seven months she'd been in the area. People described her as a "heartbreaker," and a number of men had bought her extravagant gifts and sought her attention.

The group house shared by the three young women.
The group house shared by the three
young women.

Leslie had found a room in the rental house shared by Adriane and Lauren. Adriane, a local, was outgoing and athletic. She worked as a civil engineer at the Napa Sanitation District. Among the plans in her immediate future was a visit to her sister in Australia. She had a boyrfriend with whom she had had a strained relationship, so he was a prime suspect, although police believed that Leslie had been the more likely target. Adriane had lived a quiet life, while Leslie had been more outgoing and had had a wider circle of acquaintances, especially men.

Strange theories were offered, such as the girls owing someone drug money, or even a Mafia hit. Everyone was trying to help, but there were too many directions at once, none of which was solid. Looking into the victims' male acquaintances was the first step, but detectives knew if they struck out there, they faced the lengthy process of checking out men who might have encountered them briefly at a party or in a bar. They started with the most accessible candidate first.

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