Deceptiveness of Serial Homicide

In 1984, following the second largest wave of serial homicide in the history of the United States, the FBI launched a study of sexual serial homicide. The idea was simple, analyze crime scene photos, connect the victims’ characteristics that drew the violence in the first place, and conduct interviews with the men included in the study.

Interviews are a classic psychological testing tool. It is far from a flawless one and far from being a testing tool that will lead to indisputable results. Furthermore, these interviews, no matter how sophisticated the techniques, were facing experts of deception. Interviewers were faced with men who had, for years, deceived family, friends and coworkers, and so telling the truth from the lies was an arduous task. Further investigation was required and so, trained investigators pulled and analyzed crime scene photos, witness’ interviews and early psychological profiles.

But there was more to crime scene picture analysis than what meets the eye. The science of psychological profiling, that is inferring an individual’s personality from the characteristics of a crime scene, is comparable to many personality test administered today, but from a different perspective. Rather than asking direct question, the examiner is required to find the answer themselves in a massive gruesome game of hide and seek. The crime scenes reveal not only the modus operandi, but also the individual’s signature. A signature is perhaps the most telling feature of a criminal personality as it unveils what is necessary for an individual to reach a sense of completeness and fullness of self.

And it so appears that the men who escaped justice, the men who prowled on their victims and convinced them to accompany them, the men who lied to their closest friends and even fooled their wives and children, these men were unable to lie when they entered their most primitive states. Their personality bleed through the lies they purposely set up and, even those who attempted staging their crime as the work of someone else, their deception faded.

Perhaps there is an inherent factor to our personality that goes beyond testing. Perhaps, it is something that cannot be picked on by traditional testing. Is it because tests are easily cheated on? Maybe it relates to the incapability of tests to visit the depth of the mind, the core of the personality. The fact remains that careful, close behavioral analysis, an analysis that encompasses not only personality characteristics but also an inference of causes of certain traits, finds itself yielding results that would not have otherwise been found through classic personality assessments.

Should profiling be incorporated in classical personality assessment since it has proven itself to be valuable with the most deceptive of all? Should we encourage the profiling of young children who show early signs of the psychopathological triad? Profiling is far from an exact science, requires extensive knowledge of psychological concepts and is not a common practice as computer algorithm have now been developed. Perhaps it is time to increase the prevalence of behavioral profiling among youngsters. This may lead to earlier detection of learning disabilities and even prevent future delinquency.

For more information check out:

Ressler, R., Burgess, A. & Douglas, J. Sexual Homicide: Patterns & Motives. United States: First Free Press, 1995