Monday, June 3, 2013

3.1 Crime Evaluation: Modus Operandi

(based partly on "Criminal Profiling: International Theory, Research and Practice" written by Richard N. Kocsis)

Modus Operandi, or MO, refers to those behaviors committed during an offense that serve to ensure its completion while also protecting the perpetrator's identity and facilitating escaping following the offense. MO accounts for how an offender commits his crimes. It is what the offender does and has to do to commit his crimes. The criminal's MO follows a certain number of principles:
- It is believed to be dynamic in nature, wherein learned behaviors develop and evolve as the perpetrator gains expertise in his offending career. But it is possible that some facts appear repeatedly in the chronology of the crimes, especially during the crime. Some variation might still occur though at one point in time as they are inherent to the criminal's evolution.
- Some events in the offender's life might bring him to change his scenario (death, breakup, loss of employment, wedding, birth...). But sometimes, the offender might also change his MO on purpose to avoid detection. The most sadist offenders enjoy doing that to play cat and mouse with the media and the police and keep an upper hand on them.
- As highlighted by Geberth, an offender's MO may devolve, with a perpetrator becoming less competent and/or skillful overtime. Such decompensation often coincides with a deteriorating mental state, increased use of drugs/alcohol, or an offender's growing confidence in their ability to avoid apprehension.
- Moreover, the influence of extraneous variables (witnesses, victim resistance), means that the criminal activity does not always go to plan, resulting in the need for improvisation or offender retreat.
- Sexual fantasy plays an important role in the development and maintenance of MO behavior, as it provides a stage on which the perpetrator can rehearse and plan anticipated offenses. Also, after the commission of a crime, sexual fantasy provides a means by which to reenact specific aspects of an offense, with a view to correcting any perceived flaws, thereby refining the offense script. But sexual fantasy can contribute to the understanding of a devolving MO: as an offender's fantasy becomes more complex, the successful completion of an offense becomes more difficult too.
- The core sexual fantasy shapes various aspects of an offender's MO including the context of the offense, victim selection, method of approach, grooming processes, control and organizing the type of resources needed to complete the offense. This is why it is essential to divide the MO analysis in 3 parts:
          * before the offense: this is the planning and preparation stage.
          * during the offense: from the moment he comes in contact with the victim to the moment before 
             disposing the body.
          * after the offense: when he disposes the body and after until he starts preparing the next attack.

The MO represents the killers' habits, techniques and other peculiarities of behavior. Sometimes, it is somewhat consistent, but often it grows and changes over time as the offender becomes more skillful, or according to his plan (the Zodiac was using a gun when attacking couples in medium to high risk environments, and was also using a knife when he had more time with them). If the offender is geographically mobile, his MO can change in accordance to the changes in his social and lifestyle environment. The MO also shows the choices an offender makes and the acts he further commits to further accomplish the crime.

There are basically 3 methods of approach used by serial killers:
- Surprise attack: the offender is lying in wait for a moment of vulnerability and attacks when the victim does not expect it.
- Con approach: the offender uses deception or subterfuge to gain the victim's trust.
- Blitz approach/attack: the offender delivers an immediate application of overpowering force. The offender's intent here is to deprive the victim of any reaction time and give the offender immediate control of the situation.

Precautionary acts are behaviors that an offender commits before, during and after an offense that are consciously intended to confuse, tamper or defeat investigative or forensic efforts for the purposes of concealing the offender's identity, connection to the crime, or the crime itself. These may include:
- clothing/disguise
- alteration of the voice
- blindfolds
- time of day
- location selection
- victim selection
- use of gloves
- use of condoms
- use of fire
- collecting victim's identity card
- disposing of the victim's clothing

MO also includes departure strategies, that is to say how an offender chooses to leave behind living victims after an attack is concluded gives insight into the motive and intent of the offender's offense behavior.

Finally, some aspects of the disposal/dump sites. How the offender chooses to leave behind deceased victims in the disposal site also gives insight into the motive and intent of the individual offense behavior (whether or not, where, when and whom an offender intended for the victim's body to be found).
- Convenience aspects refer to a disposal site that an offender chooses by virtue of the fact that it is available or less difficult than any other location.
- Remorse aspects refer to a disposal site where there is evidence that the offender felt some regret over the victim's death. This can be seen in behaviors that attempt to "undo" the homicide, including washing the blood off a victim, dressing a victim in clean clothes, and placing the victim in a natural state such as sleeping, sitting in a chair, or in the seat of a vehicle.
- Preselected aspects refer to a disposal site that an offender chooses before actually committing the offense.
- Precautionary aspects refer to a disposal site where an offender has gone to some effort to destroy evidence or otherwise hamper the investigative effort. This can be done in form of mutilating the body to prevent identification, disposing of it in water to wash away evidence, disposing of it in a remote or hard to reach location or burying it very deep to forestall/prevent its recovery.
- Staged aspects refer to a disposal site that an offender has contrived so as to purposefully mislead the investigation.
- Arranged aspects refer to a disposal site where an offender has arranged the body and the items within the crime scene in such manner as to serve ritual or fantasy purposes.

Staging is part of the MO. The offender voluntarily modifies the crime scene to mislead the investigation.
- Staging belongs completely to the criminal scenario. The offender has to include it into his preparation to commit the crime. For example when a murder is changed to look like a suicide or a theft that went wrong.
- It is the key of murders inside the family: the closer the killer is to the victim, the more he will try to mislead the investigation and the suspicions.
- The main question is to know if there are personal elements in the crime: the victim was found in her home, manual strangulation, blunt force trauma in the face, body hidden on the crime scene (to avoid the body to be discovered by a child living in the house), a witness testifying that the robber did not neutralize the biggest threat first, traces left that could point to a sexual crime but no sexual act was committed (pull up the bra or pull down the panties), rolled the body to make sure it is protected...
- Staging enables to get to know the killers personality more in details, by telling what the killer does not want to do or who he does not want to be. His motivations are often one of the two following:
          * he wants to manipulate the investigators (then he is rather organized, someone close)
          * he wants to lead them in a different direction (rather disorganized, loner who was just passing by)

However, posing is part of the signature: the offender poses the body and thus ritualizes the crime scene. (see signature)

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