"Recognizing Sadism: The Importance of Reconstruction and Wound Pattern Analysis in Criminal Profiling," presented on February 19th, 1999 at the American Academy of Forensic Sciences Annual Meeting in Orlando, Florida


Brent E. Turvey, M.S.
Knowledge Solutions LLC
1271 Washington Ave #274
San Leandro, CA 94577


Learning Objectives: This presentation has three primary objectives. Firstly, to discuss the current definitions of Sadism in the published literature, and subsequent crime scene criteria. Secondly, to give students a brief overview of the criminal profiling process employed by the author. And finally, to stress the importance of crime scene reconstruction and wound pattern analysis by virtue of two case examples where the determination of Sadism was in question.

A Sadist is clinically defined as a person who demonstrates a long-standing maladaptive pattern of cruel, demeaning, and aggressive behavior towards others. Symptoms include the following: Over a period of at least six months, recurrent, intense sexually arousing fantasies, sexual urges, or behaviors involving acts (real, not simulated) in which the psychological or physical suffering (including humiliation) of a victim is sexually exciting to the individual. The fantasies, sexual urges, or behaviors must also cause clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.

In a therapeutic setting, Sadism is a diagnosis given after clinical interviews and an extensive analysis of patient history. In an investigative setting, criminal profiling is the process of inferring offender characteristics from carefully examined crime scene behavior. Criminal profiling has been used in the past to identify patterns of crime scene behavior that are suggestive of a Sadistic aspect. The method used by the author when rendering a criminal profile includes the following general steps:

Forensic analysis: Includes an overall assessment of the physical evidence, crime scene reconstruction and wound pattern analysis when possible. Involves a great deal of teamwork and information management. This phase gives the profiler the behavior that they are going to assess based on the veracity of the physical evidence; without this stage, the entire profile is suspect and potentially flawed.

Victimology: Essentially a complete history of each victim, including a 24 timeline and a risk assessment from both the victim and offender point of view. This should not be confused with a victim blame assessment, as so often has occurred in the past.

Evaluation of Crime Scene Characteristics: Includes an assessment of many crime scene factors, including but not limited to things such as location selection, method of attack, method of approach, nature of materials used, nature and sequence of sexual acts, precautionary acts, Modus Operandi behavior, and Signature behavior.

Offender Characteristics: The criminal profile, deducted from information assessed in the first three stages. It does not involve comparison to other like crimes or like offenders. It includes only those characteristics that can be explained from the convergence of behavioral patterns suggested by the physical evidence, victimology and crime scene characteristics associated with a specific crime or series of crimes.

There are essentially two requirements for the criminal profiler to make an informed inference that Sadism evident in crime scene behavior:

1. Evidence of deliberate mental, physical, or sexual torture to a living, conscious victim;

2. Evidence of a prolonged event (time).

Both require that the crime scene behaviors which evidence torture, and which evidence that the victim was alive and conscious, be adequately reconstructed by qualified individuals. This may be within the training of the criminal profiler, but more than likely it will require a team-oriented approach to the profiling process involving the collaboration of several forensic disciplines.

Two cases illustrate this point.

Case 1: The abduction rape of a 22-year-old female victim. The Sadistic pattern of behavior evidenced by the offender in this case included torturing the victim with vice-grips, screwdrivers, and other tools in an enclosed van for a period of more than two hours.

Case 2: The rape-homicide of two female victims in their residence, a mother and a daughter, both of which suffered post-mortem evisceration and genital mutilation. The behavior in this case was incorrectly interpreted as sadistic, despite the fact that all of the wounds to the victim were post-mortem.

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