Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Arthur Shawcross, the Genessee River Strangler

A Profile

McCrary and Grant arrived on December 13, a couple of weeks after the discovery of June Stott, and asked to see the various crime scenes.  Starting with Lyell Avenue, the presumed pick-up point for most of the victims, and then going out to the YMCA area and the canyon, they observed anything that might provide a means for better analysis.  Then they went to the "war room" where the files of every murder of women in the area were piled on a conference table.  To establish a series of linked crimes, they would have to go through the autopsy reports, crime scene photos, witness statements and everything else the police had gathered on each and every case.

"The goal of the first day," McCrary writes, "was to get a preliminary determination of a pattern we didn't yet know.  For any case like this, it's a filtering process.  We look at it in phases of refinement.  We'd read a case and then keep going back to cases we'd already been through to compare details and do more analysis based on what we were learning."

They placed the files in the order in which the women had been killed and established three rings, based on their manner of death and their lifestyle when alive.  One ring was for those cases clearly in the series—asphyxiated prostitutes dumped in or around the Gorge.  Then there was a ring for those that appeared to have some similarities, and finally, those cases that seemed unrelated, which were put aside.  They saw a definite pattern emerging for seven of the cases, with a few remaining unclear. 

The victim who most bothered them was June Stott.  She'd been asphyxiated, but she had also suffered from postmortem mutilation in a way that none of the other women had.  "It could mean she did not belong to the series and had not been killed by the same man as the others," McCrary explains, "or it could mean a change in the killer's behavior.   Perhaps he was getting used to bodies and coming back to abuse them."

It was clear to the profilers that the killer had not taken the victims far, only a few miles from Lyell Avenue.  They saw that as a clue to the areas with which he was most familiar and most comfortable.  It also meant he had a vehicle of some kind to transport them, because the dumpsites had all been too far to walk to.  If he was familiar with the place, he either jogged there, or he fished or hunted.

It was also clear that he was someone with whom the women were comfortable.  They appeared to have gotten into the car with him, without being afraid, despite the fact that a killer was in the area picking up prostitutes.  It was likely that he was a known customer, and since most of the victims had been white—perhaps all of them—he was probably white as well.

"They were looking right through him," says McCrary, "because they believed the killer had to be someone else."

The fact that no overt sexual assault had occurred with any of the women indicated that this man might have trouble completing the sexual act.  It could be that those women who had ended up brutalized and killed had ridiculed his impotence.

When they decided to include June Stott in the series, they took a closer look. The fact that she had been cut open indicated to them that the killer was experienced, probably with killing and cutting up game.  He was comfortable with bodies.  They believed that he would continue to visit his victims, as long as he was sure he could do so without getting caught, and he would continue to mutilate them.

Grant and McCrary then presented the results of their analysis to the task force.

From the behavioral evidence available from the crime scene, they told the task force that the killer was most likely a white male in his late twenties or early thirties.  They cautioned everyone not to eliminate a suspect from any detail in a profile, since this was an art and they could easily be wrong.  The task force should use this merely as a guide.  They did believe that guy had criminal experience, especially sexual offenses, and would have a record somewhere, even though every effort had been made to find one.  In addition, he worked alone, he was probably a sportsman, and he was likely personable.  There was nothing noticeable about him, and he probably worked right under everyone's nose.  He'd look normal, drive a basic car, and dress in functional clothing.

"The killer was extraordinarily ordinary, probably someone they knew," McCrary writes.

It was likely that he worked, but at a menial job, and he was probably married or had a girlfriend.  His economic level was similar to that of the victims, he lived and worked in the city, and he was streetwise, which again indicated experience.  They thought he worked or lived near the Lyell Avenue area, and concealing the victims from helicopter searches overhead showed a certain degree of cunning.

Based on this set of details, they offered some strategies.  They believed that the cops knew him in some capacity and that he might be hanging out in coffee shops or bars.  They could look around and get some names.  They might also put surveillance on any body found in the future, since the killer had started to return to his kills. 

McCrary says that the cops persuaded the owner of Mark's Texas Red Hot, an all-night bar, to raffle off a television set.  From that "contest," they were able to collect a good list of names of people who frequented the place. 

At the same time, from a computer search with the criteria, a suspect was developed, according to Olsen---a 38-year-old sex offender who drove a gray van, was known for kinky practices, and was seen on Lyell Avenue several times.  Everyone on the task force believed they had their man, but a check with his employer turned up alibis for the times of most of the murders, so they were back to square one.

Then in the weeks before New Year's, several more women turned up missing, and one of them was someone everyone had felt certain would never fall victim to a killer.

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