Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods


Crime Classification

Using the Crime Classification Manual [i], this crime is best classified as a staged domestic homicide 122.02.


As noted above, staging can be defined as the purposeful alteration of the crime and crime scene by the offender in order to mislead authorities and redirect the investigation. Staging is a conscious criminal action on the part of an offender to thwart an investigation. [ii]

When a crime scene is staged the responsible person is not someone who just happens upon the victim. It is almost always someone who had some kind of association or relationship with the victim. This offender will further attempt to steer the investigation away from him by his conduct when in contact with law enforcement. Thus, investigators should never eliminate a suspect solely on the grounds of that person's overly cooperative or distraught behavior. An offender who stages a crime scene usually makes mistakes because he stages it to look the way he thinks a crime scene should look. While doing this, the offender experiences a great deal of stress and does not have time to fit all the pieces together logically. Inconsistencies will begin appearing at the crime scene, with forensics, and with the overall picture of the offense. These contradictions will often serve as the "red flags" of staging and prevent misguidance of the investigation. The crime scene often will contain these red flags in the form of crime scene inconsistencies. First, did the subject take inappropriate items from the crime scene if burglary appears to be the motive? Second, did the point of entry make sense; and third, did the perpetration of this crime pose a high risk to the offender? [iii]

Forensic red flags indicating staging include excessive trauma beyond that necessary to cause death (overkill). The victim (not money or goods) is the primary focus of the offender. This type of offender may attempt to stage a sexual or domestic homicide to appear motivated by criminal enterprise. This does not imply that personal-type assaults never happen during the commission of a property crime, but usually the criminal enterprise offender prefers a quick clean kill that reduces his time at the scene. Any forensic red flags, after careful analysis, should be placed in context with victimology and crime scene information. When an offender stages a domestic homicide, he frequently plans and maneuvers a third-party discovery of the victim. The offender often will manipulate the victim's discovery by a neighbor or family member or will be conveniently elsewhere when the victim is discovered. [iv]

Red Flags Indicating Staging

Crime Classification Manual

Sheppard Crime Scene

Inappropriate items taken from the crime scene if burglary appeared to be the motive.

The crime scene was staged to appear as though burglary was a motive (drawers pulled out, contents dumped, etc.) but nothing of value was taken from the scene.  Ms. Sheppards watch was apparently taken from her wrist, but left downstairs and Dr. Sheppards watch was allegedly taken from his wrist but recovered in a green bag along with other personal articles outside the house. Dr. Sheppard alleged that a small sum of money was taken from his wallet. In effect, nothing of value was taken from the crime scene.

Did the point of entry make sense?

No point of entry was determined. Dr. Sheppard indicated that the doors remained unlocked when he was home and if an intruder entered it is most logical that the point of entry was through an unlocked door. There is some speculation that the point of entry may have been a basement door as fresh tool marks were found on that door two weeks after the homicide. This is not a logical point of entry, as it would make no sense to break in a basement door when the ground floor doors were unlocked.

Did the perpetration of this crime pose a high risk to the offender?

If an intruder perpetrated this crime, he did so at high risk for detection. If one believes that the intent was to sexually assault the victim, the intruder would have been attempting to do so with both the victims husband and son in close proximity. This high-risk approach is very uncommon for rapists, who are usually cowardly by nature. If an alleged intruder was in the house to burglarize or rape, he was doing so at great risk for detection.

Excessive trauma beyond that necessary to cause death (Overkill)

35 injuries were noted on the autopsy report. The cause of death was listed as multiple impacts to the head and face with comminuted fractures of skull and separation of frontal suture, bilateral subdural hemorrhages, diffuse bilateral subarachnoid hemorrhages and contusions of the brain. The number and severity of these injuries can reasonably be considered overkill.

The offender will often manipulate the victims discovery by a neighbor or family member.

Dr. Sheppard called his neighbors, Mr. and Mrs. Houk, and asked them to come to the house stating, I think theyve killed Marilyn. Once Mr. and Mrs. Houk arrived, Dr. Sheppard remained downstairs and they went upstairs where they discovered her body. Although Dr. Sheppard testified that he had discovered his wifes body on two separate occasions he never called the police. Instead he called his neighbors who, once they discovered the body, called the police.


[i] John E. Douglas, Ann W. Burgess, Allen G. Burgess and Robert K. Ressler Crime Classification Manual (New York. Lexington Books 1992)

[ii] Vernon J. Geberth, Practical Homicide Investigation (New York CRC Press, 1996). Pg. 359

[iii] John E. Douglas, et al, Crime Classification Manual (New York. Lexington Books 1992) Pg. 252-253

[iv] Ibid Pg. 254-255


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