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Behavioral Profiling

Notes on

                    There is a scene in The Silence of the Lambs when Dr. Lecter says to
Clarise Starling, "Read Marcus Aurelius: of each individual thing what is
it's nature?"

That's actually fairly useful advice. It's speaks to behavior as it relates to motive and that's an important concept to reconcile. We behave a specific way because we expect specific results, because we have a specific motive, conscious or not. And because we have things that we want to protect with our behavior.

  • Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, Meditations, II-9
    "What is the nature of the whole, and what is my nature, and how is this related to that, and what kind of part if of what kind of whole."
  Here's another important concept:

There's no such thing as a motiveless crime. That's our interpretation of offender behavior that we don't understand. But just because we don't understand the motive doesn't make it less viable. The viability as a motive is subordinate only to the offender, not us investigators or mental health experts or law enforcement. The offender is the one who is motivated. The offender's perspective, therefore, is something we must try to ascertain, barring our own feelings.

This is the only way to know what the offender is doing, why he's doing it, and how he will make it happen the next time.

  The trained investigator will use physical evidence from the crime scene, victim testimony, and victimology when profiling these cases. The trained investigator will reconstruct the offenders' behavior at the scene, with the scene, and with the victim, and make psychological evaluations of that behavior.

These are just a few examples of the types of questions that will need to be answered.

Was the body left where it was killed or was it moved?

Why did the offender choose that particular place to leave the body?

What did the offender do at that scene with that victim? Sexual behavior? Was there anger?

How would the victim be reacting in that scene? Would the victim be afraid; comfortable?

How much physical evidence was left behind? Was there covering behavior by the offender?

In serial cases, if there was newspaper coverage, did the MO change?

What was the amount of victim damage? Was it necessary to complete the attack?

What need in the offender does his behavior serve?

How far from where the victim was last seen was the attack/body deposited?

How did the victim get chosen? Time? Day? Location?

What are the geoforensic considerations such as scene entry and exit routes?

These are just a very few examples of the kinds of questions that the profiler begins to ask. From these things and many, many other hyper-variable behavioral clues, the fantasy of the offender can be reconstructed with accuracy, and a motive theory generated. Fantasy, remember, is an individual thing. It's told by the behavior. Grounded in the actions of the offender and in the responses of the victim.

Investigatively significant assertions can also be made by the profiler after a complete behavioral analysis has been done. Examples are assertions about unsub employment, unsub residence in relationship to the crime scene or scenes, and possible vehicle types. There are many others, but each case is different. An important question to ask of any of those types of crimes is: What did the offender do at that scene that he did not have to do? What did he go out of his way to accomplish that was not necessary for the completion of the sexual assault/ rape/ or homicide? This is defined in the literature as the offender's signature, and it will remain fairly constant between incidents. This and other behavioral indicators will help link crimes along with any strong physical evidence.

Signature can take the form of complex ligature, positioning of the body, constellation of injuries to the victim, post-mortem mutilation of a specific, directed nature. Anything that the offender did not have to do.

Profiling lets the motive be determined by the individual offenders' behavior. Traditional investigative techniques generally involve approaching a case with a known motive and trying to find ways a known suspect fits that motive.

If you want to know more about those areas of profiling, write me and ask some specific questions. I'll try to point you to the right source of information.Or if you need a consultation, I generally do a case assessment for free so please don't hesitate to ask.

Burgeoning areas of behavioral profiling include serial arsonist and fugitive profiling. There is a lack of published material on these topics. To that end I include the following:



In March if 1995, this author was fortunate enough to attend the Arnold Markle Symposium held at The University of New Haven. An excellent lecture was given by SSA Gus Gary of the ATF, from Mobile, AL, on the topic of serial arsonists. (The scheduled topic for SSA Gus Gary, according the Arnold Markle bulletin, was the Branch Davidian Case in Waco, TX, but whoever wrote up the bulletin was misinformed.)

Almost the first words out of good old Gus Gary's Mouth were "Pyromania is a diagnosis looking for a disorder! Do not use this term!" So we do not.

SSA Gary offered his learned opinion of the profile of a serial arsonist;

Serial arsonist: Has started 3 or more fires, with a cooling down period in-between. There is also an escalation in the behavior of the serial arsonist-- from dumpsters to occupied buildings. Bigger fires. More frequent fires. More risk of life from the fires.

Disorganized serial arsonist-Crime scene(90%):

Random target

Open flame used

Use of available material

Severity of burn unplanned

Scene indicates limited mobility of offender

Disorganized serial arsonist-Offender(90%):

Limited mobility


Feel rejected

Few friends

Set fires near home


Alcohol abuse

Organized serial arsonist-Crime scene

Device used to set fire

Preparation made

Ignition/severity of burn planned

Effort required for access to crime scene

Scene location indicates unlimited mobility of offender

Organized serial arsonist-Offender

Indifference to society



Cunning/ methodical

Lives some distance from crime scene

Chameleon personality

The motive in these cases is power. Making things burn makes the offender feel strong and in control. In the disorganized cases, look for suspects in the local volunteer fire services. These individuals like to have their lives connected to fire in some legitimate way , but they are generally not adequate enough individuals to be full-time firefighters.



Typically, profiling is used on unknown offenders when motive is not clear, and fantasy must be reconstructed at a crime scene through behavior. It is a complex and demanding psychological process. With average, known criminals, where motive and an offender history are a matter of record, profiling is far less complex.

The FBI now has the ability to issue and enforce a federal fugitive flight warrant on an individual fleeing the custody of law enforcement. The goal of profiling in these instances is locating the individual and bring them into custody.

The offender/fugitive has a life of some kind, generally speaking. They have connections with people and places and things. Through interviewing and criminal records, that information is easily available.

What important to that fugitive/ places/ activities?

What kind of person are they/ armed/ violent?

Who is important to them/ friends/ relatives/ children?

How will they try to re-enter their life?

How will they try to re-connect with those things that they identify themselves with?

Those are the kinds of questions asked in fugitive profiling.


Don't hesitate to mail me
with any questions or comments.

Updated 04/07/97
Knowledge Solutions, LLC 1997