The History Of Forensic Psychology Criminology Essay

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Fiona Marsh was a 20 year old woman that lived in Wilmslow, Lancashire. She left her mothers home since the age of 17. She had also attempts of living with her boyfriend and later with some of her girlfriends, but then she decided to live on her own from the age of 19. Her mother stated that she saw more of her daughter once she stopped living at home.

On the evening of Saturday night (18th of August), Fiona was last seen leaving a party on her own at about 11:30 pm. Next day (19th of August), a tourist found the body of Fiona. Her body has been tossed down a roadside embankment. The autopsy report indicated that she was raped, sodomized and then suffocated. She also had a dose of cocaine in her blood system. This is obviously an incomplete account of the information available. Nevertheless, there is enough, perhaps, to form an impression of the sequence of events and offender's motives to commit the crime also to develop a psychological profile of the murderer.

Background information of the crime:

The time of crime: the night between 18th and 19th of August 2000.

Reported: by a tourist who stopped to admire the countryside, at noon.

Victimology is important in the overall investigative process because it not only tells us who the victims were, details about their history, habits or personality but also provides general ideas as to why they were chosen by victims (Turvey, 1999).


Age: the victim is 20 years old.

The occupation of the victim: not known, possibly unemployed, living on benefits.

Last seen: on the night of 18th of August 2000 at 11:30; she was leaving a party on her own.

Habits: possibly taking drugs (cocaine)

Background information of the victim: caring young woman; she ran away many times from home; single; she lived alone for the past year.

Family structure and dynamic of the victim: possibly issues with her mother, possibly dead father or divorced parents as her father is not mentioned at all as being part of her life.

In many situations, as in this case the offender has chosen the victim who meets his needs, possibly allowing him to fulfill some fantasy or desire he has - maybe a sadistic fantasy as he sodomized the victim (Holmes and Holmes 1996). Closely related to victimology are the concepts of method of approach and also method of attack (Douglas et al. 1992). In the above case, there is a high possibility that offender had pre selected his victim. He might have used the 'surprise' approach, which is usually characterized by an offender laying in wait for his victim (she was alone when she left the party), and then quickly subduing that person (Ressler and Shachtman, 1992). He could possibly be caring about presence of eyewitnesses as her body was found in a very unpopulated countryside area.

Forensic information of the crime:

The cause of death: suffocation.

Pre and post mortem activity: rape, sodomy, suffocation; her body had been tossed down a roadside embankment.

Post mortem report: on Sunday 19th of August, at noon, a tourist has reported the dead body.

Forensic test reports: cocaine intake, rape and sodomy.

Signs of violence: no wounds were found on the body.

As no weapons were found at the crime scene and the method he used to commit the crime was suffocation, the offender knew what he is capable of. It can be suggested that he was comfortable with doing it in a given environment (Masters, 1993) and that is why he chose the specific geographical location where he committed the crime. Also the absence of wounds or any signs of violence suggests that the victim possibly complied with the situation.

Initial opinion of the offender/ Offender's psychological and behavioral profile:

The psychological profile developed included the following major features:

A white man

Aged between 20 to 25 years - quite similar to the victim

The offender might know the victim

Difficulties in developing relationships with women

Any dates would be younger so that they could be more easily dominated and controlled

Sexual fantasies have been harboured by the offender for a long time and he possibly uses and collects sadistic pornography

Never married

Possibly unemployed

Average intelligence but dropped out of education

He might live within few miles of the crime place

Alcohol and drugs were not material factors in the crime

Organised offender, as no forensic evidence was left at the crime scene

The offender might have a history conviction for deceptions.

The information presented earlier about the crime scene and the victim leaded to the above profile of the offender. Some explanations about the profile can be understood in the light of the following considerations:

Murderers tend to be similar in terms of race and age to their victim (Ault and Reese, 1980). There is high evidence that the crime was prepared for. The crime scene was organised. The offender has not used any weapons and also he has not left any forensic evidence at the crime scene or signs of violence over the body. As the offender was comfortable with the environment and the degree of familiarity with the crime location was quite high it can be suggested that the offender might live in neighbourhood. FBI (2001) found that 82% of solved rapes, the offender and victim lived in the same neighbourhood. The majority of offenders are local or familiar with the area in which crime occurred.

The sadistic nature of this crime is indicative of the contents of the offender's sadistic fantasy. "Sadistic rapists, compared to other types of rapists, tend to offend more frequently against victims who are close friends, intimates of family (Prentky et al. 1986). Also the sadistic rapists tend to be low on convictions for property crime and they were least likely to have convictions for violence (FBI, 2002). The sadistic groups were the most likely to have convictions for deception (Canter and Larkin, 1993). The relationship between victimization and offence is substantial, robust, and reciprocal and that the victim-offender overlap is likely the result of a similar social process (Conway and McCord, 2002).

How effective is offender profiling for police investigations?

There is a substantial quantity of research into profiling as a mean of exploring, usually the relationship between offender characteristics and crime scene characteristics. Such research might contribute to more effective profiling, on a long term period of time. Short term, the problem is that the issue of the effectiveness of psychological profiling has been much neglected.

Criminal profiling describes a process, usually applied to serial murder, arson and sexual assault, which attempts to identify aspects and characteristics of an unknown offender, through a detailed examination of victim and crime scene characteristics, informed by material of prior similar cases. According to Farrington (2007), "the basic idea of profiling is very simple. Its aim is to predict characteristics of the undetected offender from characteristics of the offence and the victim. However, this simple aim leads to many complex and unanswered questions."

There are two main styles of offender profiling: FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigations) style and the more actuarial or statistical style, which is associated with the British psychologist David Canter. The origins of offender profiling date back to the 19th century of Jack the Ripper, although its modern basis are in the research and work of the Behavioral Science Unit of FBI located in Virginia in the 1970s (Howitt, 2009). The main idea is that all sorts of offender profiling are based on the work of the police in gathering information, especially from the crime scene. However, offender profiling is only used where the police have issues in identifying suspects and organizing the information collected (Douglas and Olshaker, 1995).

To begin with, FBI style in offender profiling is mainly based on the information gathered by the police. Usually, this information is used to classify the crime scene into organised (where there is evidence that the crime has been rigorously planned) or disorganised (where there is little evidence that the crime was carefully prepared and it looks chaotic). Identifying whether the crime scene was organised or disorganised, some broad characteristics of the offender can be formed. In profiling work there is a marked disparity of opinion between two extremes. FBI sustains that one extreme holds that profiling is related to clinical judgment - informed by research, but there is also a subjective matter dependent on the skill and insight of the profiler. The other extreme regards that profiling must be led by researcher and aspire to objectivity (Canter, 2004).

In strict social scientific terms, when developing ideas about serial killing, the methodology employed by FBI was not the most rigorous. Their methodology used not only the Unit's collective experience but also involved the collation of research findings in developing offender profiling (Douglas and Olshaker, 1997). This form of criminal profiling is still used nowadays - 'crime scene profiling'. Canter (2004) affirms that "FBI style of profiling is presented more as a special art, rather than a scientific endeavour".

There are both strengths and weaknesses of FBI profiling, but some of the most important features are: there is a willingness to gain experience and a good intuition as a component of profiling; it also tends to develop a very close contact with the investigative team of the police at all level of investigations, rather than just simply creating a profile (Ressler and Shachtman, 1997). However, there is a relatively weak empirical database which is small in comparison to the extent to which the method is used (Britton, 1997).

Nevertheless, in terms of the practical application of criminal profiling to policing work, the above statements would seem to apply (Holmes and Holmes, 2002). Studies have also investigated that the nature of FBI profiles revealed a number of problems. Usually, the profiles have lack justification for the assertions and claims made about the offender based on the profile's analysis (Canter, 2008). In order to adjust this issue, the Association of Chief Police Officers in UK, has required that the profiler must explain the thinking behind their claims about the offender (Alison et al. 2003). However, the most important aspect of FBI profiling, at least in minds of general public, is that they bring massive contribution to the work of police (Keppel, 2004).

There is another approach developed in criminal profiling which is called the statistical or actuarial approach and is mainly associated with the work of David Canter (Salfati and Canter, 1999). The main idea about Canter's approach emerged in his earliest work of offender profiling. The basic characteristic of Canter's criminal profiling is that it uses statistical techniques, in order to identify the connections between crime scene characteristics and offenders, on a diagram or plot (Bartol and Bartol, 2008). The most common characteristics of the offence represent the centre of the plot, while the ones that are relatively uncommon in crime scenes are at the periphery of the diagram. In other words, the crime scene patterns that tend to co - occur the most are physically close on the plot. The researcher then identifies the major segments of the plot and establishes their linking characteristics (Canter and Fritzon, 1998).

Before his work on investigative psychology, the social psychologist David Canter firstly tried to understand the interaction between people and the environments in which they live. Some of the basic principles from environmental psychology were then implemented into a distinct approach to offender profiling, which he developed. Very important is that Canter recognised how little was known about the behaviours of offenders in their real - life environments. Therefore he turned his attention to "systematically studying the behavioural characteristics of offences" (Canter, 1994). As with FBI profiling, he believes that features of crime scene can indicate some of the main aspects of the offender while caring out the crime. This might help the police investigators to develop both a profile of the offender and also to create a typology of the criminal, so they will easily predict and analyse future crime cases. The essential difference between Canter's statistical profiling and FBI profiling is that "the former concentrates on establishing the relationships empirically using statistical techniques, which identify patterns in large data sets, while FBI profiling style lacks this empirical core" (Canter and Youngs, 2007). Canter's profiling style is much more empirical and is nowhere near so reliant on clinical insight or intuition.

By developing Canter's profiling style, the research also identified three major groups of crime. These were classified as being instrumental cognitive, expressive impulsive and instrumental opportunistic. It was said that two thirds of the offences could be classified into one of three categories and each theme has different typical offender characteristics (Canter, 2007).

It is concluded that most of statistical profiling, including Canter's profiling style, remains research based and it has no direct influence into the conduct of police investigations. In other words, it is not known that such profiling could enhance police work. Importantly is that Canter's statistical profiling is recognised better than FBI profiling in which the relationships and the assumptions established between offender characteristics and the crime scene are only intuitions and not certainties (Bartol, 1996). There is evidence that FBI profiling is less accurate than statistical profiling in cases in which it is possible to assess the validity of elements of the profile; however it is important to understand how these methods are used nowadays. There is a great deal of work to be done if the statistical approach is to inform police investigations in ways as influential as those of the FBI profilers (Ainsworth, 2002).