Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Criminal Profiling: Part 1 History and Method

Art & Science

The Evil That Men Do
The Evil That Men Do
The basic idea is to acquire a body of information that shows common patterns for a general description of an UNSUB (unknown subject) in terms of habit, possible employment, martial status, mental state, and personality traits. Contrary to popular belief, its not necessary that the offender be a serial criminal. Profiling can be done from a single crime scene (as Robert R. Hazelwood demonstrates in The Evil That Men Do), and since 70 to 75 percent of murders are situational, developing a way to profile without reference to repeated patterns is useful. Profiles have also been devised in product tampering, serial bombing, serial rape, kidnapping, and arson.

Probing for an experiential assessment of a criminal from a crime scene (or series of crime scenes) involves, first and foremost, a detailed victimology. In other words, the profiler must learn significant facts about the victims life, especially in the days and hours leading up to his or her death. A timeline is drawn up to map their movements, and investigators study all of their personal communications for signals to where they may have crossed paths with a viable suspect. Its important to know their state of mind and their mental health assessment and history, as well as their risk level (with a prostitutes risk being much higher, obviously, than a girl in her own home).

Once the victims details are known, the crime scene and offenders methodology are evaluated for how best to categorize him (or her). Based on the idea that people tend to be slaves to their psychology and will inevitably leave clues, profilers can assess whether the person is an organized predator who planned and arranged a crime or instead committed an impulsive crime of opportunity, with little appreciation for what he may have done.

John Douglas
John Douglas
John Douglas and I wrote an article in 1980, The Lust Murderer, recalls Hazelwood, in which we first set forth the distinction between organized and disorganized homicides. I had noticed that in a number of cases, there were some that seemed to be well thought out and others that were highly spontaneous. I went to John and told him my ideas. So we sat down and came up with the characteristics of each type. But then the members of the Behavioral Science Unit told us it would never fly because it was too simple. But what happened? You go anywhere in the world in law enforcement, and among criminologists and mental health workers, and you'll hear that there are two broad categories of killers: organized and disorganized. So it did stick.

Profilers may also observe if the offender used a vehicle, is criminally sophisticated, or appears to be enslaved to a sexual fantasy. They look whether a weapon was brought in or taken out, the state of the crime scene(s), the type of wounds inflicted, the risks an offender took, his or her method of committing the crime and controlling the victim, and evidence that the incident may be staged to look like something else. In addition, there may be indications that the offender did not act alone.