The other side of me says, ‘I wonder how her head would look on a stick?

— Ed Kemper
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4 Areas in Criminal Profiling

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In reality, investigating violent crimes is difficult, tedious work. Criminal profiling helps the investigators to understand the modus operandi, the motivations and the habits of killers and sex offenders. There are four separate areas of investigation that criminal profiling uses:

  • Antecedent.

    This aspect of criminal profiling is the determination of what caused an offender to act in the first place. Was he triggered by some event that made a murder irresistible, or is he attracted to certain physical characteristics in victims?

  • Method.

    When a violent offender attacks, he frequently uses the same method of violence each time, which allows criminal profiles to establish a pattern. For example, a killer who strangles his victims with piano wire each time will typically continue with that manner until he is caught.

  • Disposal.

    What does the offender do with the victim when he is done committing his crime? In the case of a murder, he might leave the victim in his or her home, or he might transport the victim to a different location (call ‘dumping’). With sex crimes or assault, he might force the victim into a closet or just leave the victim at the scene.

  • Post-Offense.

    Many violent offenders have predictable post-offense behavior that must be observed. For example, he might taunt the media or the investigative team with notes, or he might have a ritual he observes. Whatever the case, criminal profiling is required of both pre- and post-offense behavior.

However, criminal profiling cannot be considered an exact science, as humans are unpredictable by nature. Some investigators assert that murderers have three classifying characteristics that help profilers identify them. The first is modus operandi, which is the method and manner of the offense. This can change from victim to victim, often differing depending on the environment. The second is signature, which is the ‘calling card’ that some criminals leave behind to mark their work. (read more about this in Modus Operandi, an article written by John Douglas). The last aspect of manifestation at a crime scene is known as staging. Staging occurs when someone purposely alters the crime scene prior to the arrival of the police. The offender who usually had some type of relationship with the victim does this. The second reasoning for staging is to protect the victim of the victim’s family. This type of staging usually occurs in the case of rape-murder crimes or autoerotic fatalities.

In many cases, criminal profiling is useful only after the offender is caught, at which time a profiler will interview him or her extensively. Compiling data on the stress responses and mindsets of criminals can assist in future similar cases, and can help investigators to better understand what makes criminals do what they do.