• serial homicides

A review of the literature on murder,the motivational basis for sexual homicide; the FBI's National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime;a law enforcement typology of organized and disorganized murderers

Sexual Homicide: Patterns and Motives

John Douglas, ‎ Ann Burgess, ‎ Robert Ressler



This book is about sexual killers—many of whom have repeated their murderous acts multiple times. The book examines two aspects of sexual murderers: (1) characteristics of this group and of the subgroups within it, and (2) responses to sexual killers by the factions of society affected by them—law enforcement investigators, forensic pathologists, mental health clinicians, the legal system, surviving victims and their families.

A New Perspective

During the early 1970s, Special Agents of the FBI's Behavioral Science Unit (BSU) began profiling criminals on an informal basis by using crime scene information to deduce certain offender characteristics. Because these characteristics proved useful in identifying offenders, local authorities requested such assistance in increasing numbers. As a result, the FBI's criminal profiling service became available to all law enforcement agencies.

The agents involved in criminal profiling were able to classify murderers as either organized or disorganized in their commission of the crimes. Generally, an organized murderer is one who appears to plan his murders in a conscious manner and who displays control of the victim at the crime scene. The disorganized murderer is less consciously aware of a plan, and his crime scenes display haphazard behavior. Sometimes an offender has elements from both categories and can be called mixed.

The organized/disorganized distinction, which may also prove applicable to other types of crime, is especially practical for several reasons. It provides an immediate mental picture of the differences between the two classifications, and it is objective in its connotations. In addition, it avoids the technical psychological terminology that is often confusing to investigators.

Because this method of identifying offenders was based largely on a combination of experience and intuition, it had its failures as well as its successes. Nevertheless, a 1981 FBI evaluation questionnaire sent to field offices regarding the profiling service revealed that the criminal personality assessment had helped focus the investigation in 77 percent of those cases in which the suspects were subsequently identified.

The FBI Study

With the development of the criminal profiling project, a study of crime scene analysis was proposed by involved FBI agents. Using case record review, direct observation, and firsthand investigative interviews, the study would fill the gap left by earlier research that was not law—enforcement—oriented and would examine convicted, incarcerated offenders from a law enforcement perspective. In addition, it would be the first project to analyze the overall crime, paying particular attention to the crime scene. After completion of a pilot phase, the study was formalized in 1982 with a grant from the National Institute of Justice.

The study had both quantitative and qualitative approaches to data collection and analysis. Qualitative objectives were to describe the characteristics of the study population of murderers, the manner in which they committed their crimes, and the crime scenes. The descriptive data obtained would make an important contribution to the documentation of the sexual killer.

Quantitative objectives were somewhat more complex. Because the organized/disorganized classification was the only law-enforcement-developed classification to aid in the apprehension of sexual killers, its viability and potential for expanded use in criminal profiling was important to determine. Thus, the study had two quantitative objectives. First, it would test, using statistical procedures, whether there are significant behavioral differences at the crime scene between crimes committed by organized sexual murderers and those committed by disorganized sexual murderers. Second, it would identify variables, or specific characteristics, that may be useful in profiling sexual murderers and for which organized and disorganized sexual murderers differ statistically.

Study Sample

To meet these objectives, the study examined thirty-six convicted, incarcerated sexual murderers. To our knowledge, this is the largest compiled sample of sexual killers interviewed for research purposes. All of the murderers were males most were white. Prior to interview, these men had exhausted their initial appeals and had consented to participate in the project. All cases were available for record review. Seven of these men had been convicted of killing one person, while the remainder had been convicted of killing multiple victims.

At the time of data collection, these thirty-six men represented a group of sexually oriented murderers who were available for research purposes. They do not represent a random sample, but we believe these thirty-six offenders, who came from geographic areas throughout the United States, can be used to indicate general characteristics of sexual murderers. Although some murderers in the study have been extensively written about elsewhere, our study is the first to examine them collectively as a subpopulation of murderers and from the law enforcement perspective.

Data were collected for a total of 118 victims, primarily women, of these 36 murderers. Nine victims survived and were treated as attempted-murder victims. For each killer, data were collected for each victim that the offender was convicted of killing. However, several offenders in the study are suspected of additional murders for which they were never brought to trial.

Data Collection

Data collection, which took place between 1979 and 1983, was performed both by agents from the FBI's Behavioral Science Unit and by Special Agents trained by the BSU. The data set for each murderer consisted of the best available data from two types of sources: official records (psychiatric and criminal records, pretrial records, court transcripts, interviews with correctional staff, and/or prison records) and interviews with the offenders. Thus, the information collected mainly reflects events as recalled by the murderers. Information was requested about the offender and his background, about the offense, about the victim, and about the crime scene. For some variables, data were not available because of incomplete records, conflicting responses, and offender unwillingness to respond to certain questions. The majority of offenders consented to be interviewed. Interviews were all conducted in prisons with the cooperation of officials at the various correctional institutions.

The participating offenders agreed to the interviews for several different reasons. Some of the murderers who admitted their crimes believed the interviews provided them with an opportunity to contribute to increased understanding or to clarify other people's conclusions about them. Offenders who would not admit to their crimes cooperated in order to point out why it was impossible for them to have committed the murders. Yet other murderers consented in order to "teach" police how the crimes were committed and motivated. Those who refused interviews had reasons ranging from the advice of an attorney to their own psychotic states.

The type of room used by the agents for the interviews was dependent upon the "status" of the offender. For example, one offender was the chief plumber for the prison and had his own office; other offenders were teachers to inmates and had an office attached to a classroom. Not all locations were so comfortable. Interviewing inmates living on death row, the most secure area in a prison, required that the agents walk through cell blocks. Requests, threats, and complaints were commonly made to the agents on such visits. Conducting interviews with offenders who are serving multiple life sentences in maximum security penitentiaries and who have committed violent and brutal homicides was not accomplished without tense moments. Often the murderers were not allowed to leave the more secure areas of the prison to be interviewed in the traditional interview room commonly used by family visitors, defense attorneys, and medical and psychological practitioners. Thus, some of the interviews were conducted on death row. As a general security rule, even special agents of the FBI are not allowed to possess firearms inside the walls of a prison. In the early stages of the interview program, some offenders were interviewed by one agent alone when additional agents were not available. In addition, after an initial interview by two agents, one agent alone would occasionally conduct follow-up interviews. However, one particular incident involving an agent conducting a solo interview resulted in a change in interviewing procedure.

On returning for a third session with a particularly violent serial murderer who had killed nearly one dozen victims, a veteran FBI interviewer was about to conclude a final, four-hour visit. As previously instructed by the attending guard, the agent pushed a button to alert the guard outside the room that the interview was over. The agent pressed the buzzer to summon the guard three times over a period of fifteen minutes; it became apparent that the guard was not responding. The offender, six feet nine inches in height and weighing 295 pounds, told the agent to "relax" because it was shift change time and also because the guards were feeding the inmates in the secure areas nearby. The murderer further indicated, with a note of intimidation in his voice and with a facial grimace, that it might be fifteen to twenty-five minutes before any guard would respond.

Noting the discomfort of the agent, the offender mused, "If I went ape-shit [berserk] in here, you d be in a lot of trouble, wouldn't you? I could screw your head off and place it on the table to greet the guard." (The man's crime patterns included the dismemberment and beheading of most victims.)

The agent stated that such actions would cause him difficulty by landing him in more trouble. The inmate was then serving a sentence for seven counts of first-degree murder. The offender indicated that the status he would gain by killing an FBI agent would more than offset the punishment. The agent responded, "Surely you don't think we come in here without some method of defending ourselves!"

The inmate, in obvious disbelief, said, "You know as well as I weapons are not authorized in here!"

The agent then focused on self-defense and martial arts as a topic of conversation designed to stall for time, a method he had learned from his hostage negotiation training. The stalling technique worked, and the guard appeared at the door. As agent and inmate left the small interview room, the offender placed his arm on the agent's shoulder and said, "You know I was just kidding don't you?" He winked.

"Sure," the agent replied and let out a deep breath.

After this episode, policy was changed to require that two agents be present during interviews. The incident also demonstrated why in-depth research involving convicted murderers has not been conducted in the past. The lack of secure facilities for interviews and the nature of violent offenders are not conducive to the exchange of information. In fact, many penal institutions insist that FBI agents sign waivers stating that they will not be negotiated for in the event of a hostage-taking incident and that the state is not liable for injuries or death that may occur as a result of allowing agents to enter the prison beyond routinely used interview areas. As a matter of routine security procedure, most penitentiaries allow only law enforcement officers beyond the traditional interview rooms.


For purposes of this book, sexual homicide describes murders with evidence or observations that indicate that the murder was sexual in nature. These include: victim attire or lack of attire; exposure of the sexual parts of the victim's body; sexual positioning of the victim's body; insertion of foreign objects into the victim's body cavities; evidence of sexual intercourse (oral, anal, vaginal); and evidence of substitute sexual activity, interest, or sadistic fantasy.

Crime scene characteristics are those elements of physical evidence found at the crime scene that may reveal behavioral traits of the murderer. The crime scene can include the point of abduction, locations where the victim was held, the murder scene, and the final body location. Examples of crime scene characteristics may include the use of restraints, manner of death, depersonalization of the victim, possible staging of the crime, and the amount of physical evidence at the crime scene.

Profile characteristics are those variables that identify the offender as an individual and together form a composite picture of the suspect. Profile characteristics are usually determined as a result of analysis of the crime scene characteristics and can include sex, age, occupation, intelligence, acquaintance with the victim, residence, and mode of transportation.

Organization of the Book

This book includes fifteen chapters. The first six chapters present a review of the literature on murder and a conceptual framework for the book—that is, the motivational basis for sexual homicide. Within the framework, various aspects of the murderer himself are described: his childhood and family background, his preoccupation with murder and development of deviant fantasies for murder, his decision to kill, his commission of the murder, and his escalation to increased or repeated violence. A case illustration is included. Chapter 7 describes the FBI's National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime. Chapter 8 reports the research results of a law enforcement typology of organized and disorganized murderers. Chapter 9 describes criminal profiling, and in Chapter 10, Dr. James L. Luke outlines the role of forensic pathology in criminal profiling. Chapter 11 includes interviewing convicted murderers, and in Chapter 12, Unit Chief Horace J. Heafner discusses the police artist and composite drawings. Chapters 13 and 14 discuss the victim's perspective and implications for defensive strategies in confronting sexual assault. The final chapter reports on the murderers' prison status and presents implications from the study.

Our results have implications not only for law enforcement personnel who are responsible for the investigation and prevention of sexual homicide, but also for professionals in other disciplines addressing this problem. These groups include criminal justice professionals directly involved with the legal aspects of sexual homicide; correction institution administrators and staff personnel, who not only have custody of sexual killers but also are responsible for decisions regarding these individuals' return to society; for mental health professionals, both those involved with offender treatment and those assisting victims and families affected by these crimes; for social services personnel working with juveniles, as they detect the early signs and characteristics of violent individuals and seek to divert these individuals from criminal activity; for criminologists who study the problem of violent crime; and for public policy makers who attempt to address the problem through their decisions. It is our hope that this book will advance the knowledge base of these professionals as they seek increased understanding of the nature of sexual homicide and of the individuals who commit this shocking crime.


Who are the men committing the rising number of serial homicides in the U.S. -- and why do they kill? The increase in these violent crimes over the past decade has created an urgent need for more and better information about these men: their crime scene patterns, violent acts, and above all, their motivations for committing these shocking and repetitive murders.

This authoritative book represents the data, findings, and implications of a long-term F.B.I.-sponsored study of serial sex killers. Specially trained F.B.I. agents examined thirty-six convicted, incarcerated sexual murderers to build a valuable new bank of information which reveals the world of the serial sexual killer in both quantitative and qualitative detail. Data was obtained from official psychiatric and criminal records, court transcripts, and prison reports, as well as from extensive interviews with the offenders themselves.

Featured in this book is detailed information on the F.B.I.'s recently developed Violent Criminal Apprehension Program (VICAP) and a sample of an actual VICAP Crime Analysis Report Form.

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Crime scene patterns, violent acts, motivations for committing the shocking and repetitive murders

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