Deborah Schurman-Kauflin, Ph.D.

Deborah Schurman-Kauflin Ph.D.


Profiling a Murderer

How to paint a portrait of the most likely perpetrator

Posted Oct 13, 2011

Killers are the most frustrating and disturbing of all violent predators, but their crimes leave much to be profiled. When they kill, they are filling complex psychological needs. Sometimes, they may steal when they kill, but from my experience of profiling serial predators and interviewing over twenty five of them, I can tell you that homicide motivations are in their heads, not their wallets. Because they kill for psychological reasons, many times, they leave a lot of clues for profilers. There is almost always a lot of behavior present at a homicide crime scene. Many offenders want their crime scenes to look a certain way. They want a specific type of victim. And often there is heavy fantasy involvement in how they kill. Thus, much of their personality is left at a crime scene.

The basic tenet of profiling is that behavior reflects personality. With that in mind, there are three questions that a profiler has to ask when faced with a case. They are:

1. What evidence is present at the scene?
2. What is the motive?
3. Who is the suspect?

Though these questions seem simple, if you start to go through them, you will find many elements of forensic science, psychology, sociology, and criminal justice. The first question is what evidence is present? What happened? In order to start, a profiler receives a case file minus any suspect information. I always stress this because you never want to unconsciously make a profile fit a suspect. Personally, I have an assistant that screens my cases to make sure that I never see anything about a suspect before I profile a case. I know others do not do that, but for myself and for the detectives I work with, I want to give them the best possible analysis of the crime scenes. I can only do that if I look at the behavior and forensics at the scene. So once the file is received, I examine the evidence and ask what happened. Did the killer abduct the victim or sneak into her home? Was the victim bound, and if so, what with? How did the perpetrator kill her? Did he leave her out in the open, or did he hide the body? You want to see what the killer did prior to grabbing the victim, while he was with the victim, and after he killed her. Behavioral and forensic evidence will introduce you to who committed the crime.

Once you have established what happened, then you ask why it happened. What is the motive? Why did the offender break into a home in broad daylight? Why did he stab her over one hundred times? Why did he masturbate on her instead of simply raping her? You look at every little thing that was done before, during, and after the crime. Then you determine why it would have been done.

For example, a victim was found at her place of business, fully clothed but stabbed over one hundred times in the back. The murder weapon was one of opportunity. No evidence of forced entry was found. The victim was stabbed primarily in the back. However, she was also stabbed a few times in her chest. There was no evidence of a sexual assault or defensive wounds. The offender had covered her body with a blanket after killing her. There was a partial smudged palm print found at the scene. There was a strand of brown hair mixed in the blood. However, there was no DNA, fingerprints, shoe prints, or fibers.

The victim was the manager of the store who had a strong mind for business. She was in her late twenties and a flirt who enjoyed being treated to expensive gifts from those she dated. Additionally, she was not seeing anyone exclusively at the time of the murder. Drugs and alcohol were a part of her life. She dabbled in cocaine and drank quite a bit on the weekends. However, money was not an issue as she had a lot of savings and few debts.

So you ask, why would someone come into a place of business, seek her out, and do this to her? It appeared that this was an explosive individual who felt the victim had "stabbed him in the back." When you see a victim who primarily has injury to the back without a rape or robbery, it usually points to a revenge murder. This suspect would have had a prior relationship with her which would have been positive at one point. I said this because the killer showed some remorse by covering her, and there was no attempt to rape the victim. The offender would have been in his early to mid twenties due to the victim age and the evidence pointing to a man without prior homicide experience. This means he would be younger rather than older.

You see rage and remorse at this scene. This is an explosive act by someone who feels he was pushed to the brink by the victim. Again, you had no robbery. You had no forced entry. You had no sexual component. What you did have was a weapon of opportunity versus a weapon brought to the scene. The offender grabbed a pair of scissors from her desk to kill her, and he took them with him after the crime. So this points to a man who knew the victim, had a positive relationship with her that had gone bad, was young and inexperienced in crime, and due to the type of murder, would have been someone with anger management issues. Because he would have known the victim and had such a grudge, this is the type of perpetrator who would have had difficulty keeping his feelings secret. Thus, people would know him and know of his anger toward the victim.

It turned out the perpetrator was a man she had recently dated. However, she had broken the relationship off and wanted nothing to do with him. This hurt him terribly because for years they had been close friends prior to dating. People in her office knew him because he kept coming to the office in an attempt to convince her to take him back. He was in his early twenties and had no criminal record. The sad fact was that he was so emotionally invested in the relationship that he felt she stabbed him in the back. In fact he had uttered this phrase to those who were friends to him and her. He had gone to the office after hours when she was working late in an attempt to get her to take him back. She told him to get out and that she wanted nothing to do with him. In a rage, he grabbed her scissors and began stabbing her. After he was done, he covered her body with a blanket she kept in her office. He said he couldn't stand to look at what he'd done. He took the scissors with him and hid them at his home.

So in the basics of profiling, remember to ask the three questions:

What happened?
What was the motive?
Why did it happen?

If you can answer these questions, you will begin to get a portrait of the most likely perpetrator.

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