Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Psychological Autopsy for Death Investigation

Historical Mystery

Some investigators have teamed up with documentary makers to use the tools of psychological autopsy as a way to re-examine cases deep inside history once believed to be settled.   While its difficult to determine if they have all the factsand its more than likely they do notnevertheless, some teams have arrived at provocative conclusions.

Such an undertaking was done with regard to the death of Julius Caesar, to try to determine whether a conspiracy of men had taken him by surprise and killed him, as history tells us, or whether a much more subtle manipulation had occurred.   The Discovery Channel aired this program in 2003.

Bust of Julius Caesar
Bust of Julius Caesar

Julius Caesar, a great Roman dictator and military genius, was slain on the Ides of March in 44 BC by a group of his own senators and one-time friends.   He came to the senate that morning without his guards and was quickly overtaken and stabbed to death by an unknown number of men.  

Italian investigator Colonel Luciano Garafano reopened the case to use computer-generated models and crime scene simulations to try to determine what might have actually happened.   He suspected that there was more to the case than history has thus far revealed, and modern methods might yield more.  To his mind, Caesar was too astute and well-informed to have left himself vulnerable to such an attack, and that made the case a special challenge.

He used a team of investigators, forensic psychiatrists, and historians to piece together what had happened, with an emphasis on the means and motivations of everyone involvedincluding Caesar.   The fact that Caesar had dismissed his guards that morning seemed significant.  It was sufficiently strange behavior to look further into Caesars state of mind during the days leading up to his famous assassination, in so far as that could be known.

Garafano first went to the crime scene, where any investigation begins.   He had to reconstruct via computer what it may have looked like.  Then Caesar was taken home and autopsied, and its well-known that a note was found in his hand about the conspiracy.  Of the 23 stab wounds, only one was determined to be fatal.  A computer helped the team to better see the pattern of the wounds and to set up a simulation of the incident.  Then Garafano looked into the motives of the reputed ringleaders, and found one with a personal grudge who might have persuaded the other conspirators to join him.

Yet, even so, Caesar had to be vulnerable to such an attack, so that meant an inquiry into his circumstances.   A few weeks earlier, a deputation of senators had pronounced him a god, and he had insulted them by remaining in his seat.  That gesture bred resentment.  There was some talk that he did not rise to honor them because he was ill with diarrhea, but he may also have been making a public show of his awareness of their whispering behind his back. There was some evidence for this as well.

There was also some talk of epilepsy, and a psychiatrist explained to Garafano how this may have affected Caesars brain.   It could have produced attitude changes and exacerbated psychiatric conditions.  The condition would only have gotten worse.

It appears that Caesar was either losing his mental facilities or had decided to walk into danger.   His health was failing, he was risking public humiliation at some point as he aged, and he could have decided to accept a violent end.  A soothsayer and his wife urged him to be careful on this day.  He even received a note warning him away, which was in his hand when he was stabbed.  The way to understand him seems to hinge on whether or not he read this note.  The psychiatric experts involved, after studying his personality, believe he would have read the note.  He was a man who wanted to be fully prepared for everything.  On this of all days, he would not have been careless.  Either he believed his own press that he was immortal or he decided to let others put an end to things.

No one knows for sure, but Garafanos painstaking work at least brings out the possibility that Caesar exploited the situation to commit suicide. 

Even with the uncertainties of history, another team familiar with criminal profiling has gone back further.