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Differentiating stranger murders: Profiling offender characteristics from behavioral styles

by C. Gabrielle Salfati, David V. Canter
Behavioral Sciences and the Law ()

Abstract

The literature on "offender profiling" suggests that different "styles" of homicide will reflect differences in the background characteristics of the offender. To test this suggestion, hypotheses were drawn from studies of aggression to propose that murder crime scenes would reveal stylistic distinctions in the role of the aggression in the offense. It was further hypothesized that these distinctions would be clearest for those crime scene indicators that reflect the instrument (cognitive) actions that shape the offense rather than the more expressive (impulsive and emotional) components. Hypotheses about associated offender characteristics were also deduced on the assumption that the murder scene theme revealed the killers' typical styles of interpersonal transaction. To test these hypotheses MDS analyses were carried out on the crime scene and offender characteristics derived from 82 single offender, single victim stranger homicides. A multivariate structure resulted, including all three hypothesized styles, allowing 65% of the cases to be assigned to unique styles and a further 36% to be assigned to appropriate hybrids. Offender characteristics related in the anticipated way to the different crime scene styles, providing a basis for law enforcement inferences about offenders in stranger murders.

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