Even though a number of other animals are known to deliberately kill members of their own species, the reasons for such killings is often attributed to meeting one of a small number of basic needs, such as food and water, territorial gain, or group dominance, which can sometimes provide them with exclusive reproductive rights, as in the case of a dominant male or female. Instances of chimpanzees, lions, lemurs and a number of other animals, attacking and killing other members of their species have been observed, although in most cases, the cause of the assault can generally be ascribed to one of the previously mentioned causes.
However, for a large number of human killers, the reason for their taking another person’s life are often not as straightforward, as the basic need for food, water, shelter, territory, or the need to reproduce, do not apply in many of the individual circumstances. Rather, most human killers are thought to have been driven by a variety of reasons, some that society might deem to be reasonable, such as those who kill in self defence, to those whose motives are regarded as incomprehensible, such as the spree killer who kills a large number of his fellow citizens for no apparent reason. Within human society there are said to be a variety of reasons why individual people kill other members of their species, including fear, jealousy, power, love, rage, intolerance, perversion and greed, in fact the full gamut of human emotion, as well as just plain and simple psychological impairment.
Unlike some other countries, where murder rates remain inherently high, Britain continues to enjoy a relatively low number of murders every year, often only between five and seven hundred annually, the vast majority of which are single incidents that are perpetrated by one family member against another, rather than by a complete stranger. It is also worth noting that of the five, six or seven hundred killings, which do take place in the UK every year, most of them will be solved by the relevant law enforcement agencies within a fairly short time, resulting in the perpetrator being caught, tried and imprisoned for their crime. Until recently, the province of Northern Ireland was reported to have been an exception to these wider British murder rates, although the higher instances of unlawful killings in the province was almost entirely caused by the ongoing sectarian violence which had plagued the territory ever since the 1960’s. The preponderance of illegal guns and explosives in the six counties, most of which were in the hands of the various paramilitary groups that were resident in Northern Ireland, inevitably led to a much higher murder rate in the province, as each side of the argument, deliberately targeted members of the opposing religious communities, leading to a much higher loss of life than might have been usual.
Under English law the criminal act of murder is generally described as “causing the death of another person, the defendant having intended to cause death or serious injury through their actions”. The charge of murder only usually applies to those defendants who are deemed to be of sound mind and of legal age, who are charged with intentionally killing another person without just cause. Historically, a charge of murder could still be brought against an individual, even if the victim did not die immediately, but did so within a year and a day of the offence having been committed by the perpetrator. However, in recent years, this period of criminal accountability has been altered, so that a charge of murder can still be brought many years after the event, although after three years any such charge must be specially approved by the governments Attorney General. For a jury to successfully convict a defendant of murder, the prosecution should be able to prove “beyond reasonable doubt” that the accused carried out the offence and that they intended to cause death or serious injury to the victim, which is often referred to as “Mens Rea”, or “Guilty Mind”, previously known as “malice aforethought”. This intention to kill or cause serious injury can often be proved by both the defendant’s motives for their actions; and also when the victim’s death is proved to be a certain consequence of the accused person’s actions.
For someone accused of murder there are a number of legitimate defences permissible under English law, including a plea of insanity, diminished responsibility, infancy or self defence, any of which may be successful, provided that they are accepted by, or proved to the satisfaction of the court. Prior to the passing of the Abolition of the Death Penalty Act in 1965, a defendant found guilty of murder might well have been sentenced to hang for their crimes, but following the abolition of the death penalty, those found guilty of the charge are generally sentenced to a mandatory life sentence, which should involve serving a minimum of fourteen years in jail. However, ever since a mandatory life term was adopted by the British judicial system, individual judges have been given the duty of announcing in open court a particular defendant’s jail term, ostensibly on the basis of reflecting the seriousness of the crime itself, any remorse shown by the prisoner and whether or not they have chosen to plead guilty to their offence, thereby sparing witnesses the ordeal of having to attend the trial.
Fortunately, serial killers, or multiple murderers, which form the basis of this book project, are comparatively rare in Britain, unlike countries such as the United States, which is reported to harbour the largest number of and some of the most prolific serial offenders of all time. Whether or not this particularly unwanted accolade is due to American society itself, or the widespread availability of lethal weapons is unclear, but no doubt a number of various factors, including poverty, mental illness, geographical area and ready supply of available weapons all help to play a part in creating the country’s high homicide rates. However, even though the UK has some of the most stringent gun laws in the world, caused in part by the extremely rare modern day massacres at Hungerford, Dunblane and in Cumbria, which were committed by Michael Ryan, Thomas Hamilton and Derrick Bird respectively. It is because incidents such as this are so rare in Britain that they are so much more shocking to a general public that has sadly become accustomed to terrorist outrages perpetrated by the likes of the Republican IRA, or the new threat of Al Quaeda.
Such notable atrocities aside though, the vast majority of murders committed within the UK are carried out by single individuals, who tend to kill people that are either related or close to them, such as an unfaithful or abusive spouse, a relative or family friend, with the likelihood of a complete stranger committing such a crime being highly unusual. In fact, such is the probability that a murder has been perpetrated by a member of the immediate or extended family that in many cases they are the first people to be investigated by the Police. Assuming that their enquiries do not reveal a suspect within the victim’s family group, then detectives will often move on to scrutinise their wider circle of friends and it is often within these familiar groups of people that the perpetrator will be found. However, where a victim has a less than conventional lifestyle, possibly being a prostitute, drug user or involved with some form of criminal activity, then investigators can find it increasingly difficult to narrow down a potential list of suspects, unless of course they have access to easily identifiable forensic evidence, such as fingerprints or DNA. Generally speaking though, most of the serial killers featured in this project were comparative strangers to their victims, having chosen them for their looks, way of life, or simply their availability, rather than any sort of previous relationship that they might have had. Although the likes of Jeremy Bamber was convicted of the murder of five members of his immediate family, the likes of Fred and Rosemary West were known to have murdered both relatives and stranger alike, whilst serial killers like Peter Sutcliffe, the Yorkshire Ripper, was said to have murdered comparative strangers, some of whom were prostitutes; and others that were not.
The methods, motivations and mindsets of society’s serial killers has inevitably evolved to understand, explain and where possible to identify those who are driven to kill, leading to the emergence of the forensic psychologist and criminal profiler, who are both dedicated to finding, understanding and if possible treating, the very worst offenders. Law enforcement agencies, such as the FBI, have spent millions of dollars trying to get into the minds of such serial killers, ostensibly in the hope that such investigations might provide them with new insights into the psychology of such multiple murderers. Where once America was content to rid itself of its worst offenders through the electric chair, gas chamber or lethal injection, today much more time is taken to interview, record and understand the workings of the criminal mind, regardless of whether they are executed or not. It is generally on the basis of these investigations that law enforcement agencies throughout the world, along with the mental health experts who advise them, are able to better understand the killer that they are pursuing, helping to narrow the scope of their enquiries and making it more likely that the perpetrator will be caught, sooner rather than later.
It is thought to be as a result of such investigations, studies and interviews that the FBI was first able to create a general profile for serial killers, one that has been developed, amended and improved over the past decades. Initially describing a typical subject as a Caucasian male, aged between eighteen and thirty-two years of age, from a lower to middle class background and with a previous history of sexual abuse, animal cruelty and possibly arson, clearly not all serial offenders fitted this profile, although many were found to fit a number of the specified attributes. It was also as part of these same observations and studies that psychologists, psychiatrists and profilers began to categorise several kinds of serial killer, dividing them down into visionary, mission orientated, hedonistic or sexually motivated, all of whom had their own personal motivations, methods and justifications for their actions, but at the same time sharing many of the negative personality traits of their fellow killers. Visionary killers were reportedly driven to murder their victims, having been instructed to do so by either God or the Devil, ostensibly to gain some reward, or to prevent some catastrophe from occurring. Mission orientated killers were thought to have deliberately targeted their victims, often choosing those involved in the sex industry, or people whose sexuality or lifestyles was deemed to be different.
Hedonistic killers were said to have been driven by any one of a number of causes, including lust, thrill or simply by profit and is thought to include the likes of baby farmers, black widows and other killers who are motivated purely by financial gain. The final category of serial killer is perhaps the most commonly thought of and the most feared, the Power or Control killer, which often includes some of the most dangerous sexual predators. According to some sources, these murderers are entirely different to rapists who kill, simply because they are completely driven by the feeling of power they experience by having their victim under their control, rather than the sexual act itself. Often, where rapists do kill their victim, it is as a result of poor planning and blind panic, having suddenly realised that their victim can and probably will identify them to the authorities. In the case of the Power or Control killer, most have little consideration for their victim, as they have little intention of leaving them alive in the first place and the act of killing the victim is often used as the release for their own sexual climax.
In addition to classifying the various types of serial killer, law enforcement agencies, psychologists and profilers also collaborated to identify some of the main characteristics of actual and potential murderers, some of which were based on real killers and their individual life histories. Accordingly, it is generally believed that most serial killers are of above average intelligence, a vitally important trait for anyone who intends to evade the law for any period of time, although the fact that murderer Denis Nilsen was caught because he chose to dispose of some of his victims down the toilet, thereby blocking the local drains, suggests that many killers are not out and out geniuses by any means. Yet another factor that may help to form a potential serial killer is the absence of a father, or father figure in the young person’s life, a necessary person for setting boundaries and who can be used as a role-model for most young male children, assuming of course that the father is an ideal model to begin with. Unfortunately, as has been noted in a number of cases, the presence of a brutalising and damaging father can often be more destructive to a child, than not having a father to begin with, as can having an over domineering or over protective mother on her own.
Such untypical role models, both male and female, can very easily distort the psychological development of a young child through words or deeds, helping to create an unbalanced young adult, who’s emotional and psychological characteristics are completely at odds with the wider world, which can then often isolate them from their peers and regular society. Likewise, a young child, girl or boy can suffer catastrophic emotional damage, as a result of being physically or sexually abused, events that can quite easily rob a child of its natural innocence, self confidence and sense of security, whilst at the same time filling them with self loathing, hatred and a completely misplaced sense of right and wrong. Some experts believe that childhood traumas such as brutalisation or exploitation by an adult can quite easily cause child victims to reproduce such behaviour in their own lives, committing violent acts that they believe will give them the respect, power and security, which they lack and crave so badly.
Occasional characteristics of an abused child can often include incidents of attempted suicide, as well as bed-wetting beyond the age of twelve, although neither are entirely exclusive to an abused individual, but may simply be caused by other factors, including low self esteem, or some other highly emotional event within the family, such as bereavement or divorce. Other more worrying practices, which may or may not be allied to self abuse and bed-wetting are said to include an intense interest in voyeurism, fetishism and viewing extreme forms of pornography, typically involving sadomasochism or bondage. Other childhood habits that might indicate a potential for future wrongdoing are thought to include instances of fire-starting, animal cruelty, as well as appearing to be isolated from their peers, often resulting in the child being bullied or taunted on a fairly regular basis. It has also been found that in many cases, people who have gone on to become serial killers have had a long history of law breaking, often on a petty level, ranging from stealing, to setting fires, to bullying younger children, as well as bringing themselves to the attention of the local authorities by their irresponsible, inappropriate or reckless behaviour.
Significantly, a number of these same personality traits are thought to form the basis for a diagnosis for a person suffering from an Antisocial Personality Disorder, which is only generally carried out once a person has reached adulthood. Typically, people found to be suffering from such a disorder is described as having a “a pervasive pattern of disregard for; and violation of, the rights of others, which begins in childhood and continues through to adulthood”. Specifically, sufferers are said to display a failure to conform to accepted social norms, with regard to legal behaviour, typically by carrying out acts that would make them liable to arrest. Also, deception appears to be a regular part of their behaviour, with sufferers habitually lying or using deceitful methods in order to con people out of their money or possessions. Those suffering from ASPD are often found to be highly impulsive individuals, who regularly fail to plan ahead, but simply make things up as they go along. Irritability and aggression are also reported to be a common characteristic, with sufferers flying into a rage, often for the most minor reasons, if for any reason at all, whilst at the same time displaying a highly reckless nature, which may put themselves or others in danger for their lives. Finally, constant irresponsibility tends to cause a sufferer to fail to maintain their employment on an ongoing basis, honour their debts, whilst always finding excuses to blame somebody else for their situation, rather than accepting responsibility for their own actions. However, the most notable character trait generally displayed by sufferers was their lack of empathy, the ability to share compassion, solidarity and emotion with those around them, the lack of which could sometimes indicate an inherent sadistic nature within the individual sufferer.
Work undertaken by the likes of the Canadian psychologist Dr Robert Hare, has helped to extend and clarify the identification, assessment and treatment of those suffering from severe Antisocial Personality Disorder’s, creating a widely used checklist, which is often used by law enforcement and medical authorities around the world. Indicators that form part of the Hare list include traits such as glibness, pomposity, pathological lying, manipulation, lack of remorse or guilt, feeling little or no emotion, lack of empathy, failure to accept personal responsibility for their actions, constant need for stimulation, a parasitic lifestyle, lack of behavioural controls, having no long term goals, impulsive or reckless nature, a history of juvenile delinquency, early behavioural issues, promiscuous sexual behaviour, significant numbers of short term personal relationships and the everyday use of deceit and trickery in their dealings with other people. However, it is important to note that many of these personal traits might well be applied to large numbers of everyday people, including those who are highly successful individuals in their career of choice, such as salesmen. That said, the Hare checklist is commonly used to assess those who have already come to the attention of the authorities, through instances of violent or unusual behaviour, rather than searching through the population at large, which would be virtually impossible.
According to most international authorities, the definition of a serial killer is someone who murders three or more people, with a sufficient period elapsing between each crime, which is typically referred to as a cooling off period. This is unlike a spree killer, who generally kills a number of people in one continuous period, as was the case in Hungerford, Dunblane and Cumbria, where single gunmen shot, killed and wounded large numbers of people for no apparent reason. In the USA such killings have become known as “going postal”, largely because a relatively high profile incident was carried out by a Postal Worker, who shot a killed a number of his work colleagues, although postal workers are not thought to be any more likely to kill, than any other kind of worker. Another British murderer who might fit into the spree killer category is Jeremy Bamber, who was convicted of killing five members of his adopted family all at one time, ostensibly so that he could inherit his family’s wealthy estate.
According to some studies, men are three times more likely to become serial killers than women, although in reality this figure is probably much higher, as most calculations are based on assessments rather than actual cases. There is also a marked difference between the two sexes in respect to the types of killings that each gender carries out, with males typically accounting for more violent crimes, whilst women typically kill their victims by stealth, including the use of poisons, through smothering or by overdosing with medicines. The motives of both male and female are often entirely different too, with men killing for sexual domination, anger, resentment or intolerance, whilst women kill for jealousy, madness, but more often than not for money, with many of the most prolific female serial killers being driven almost entirely by the pursuit of financial gain, either as baby farmers, or as insurance claimants. However, not all serial killers fit so easily with the confines of the usual criminal category, with the likes of Myra Hindley and Rosemary West both being convicted of what were deemed to be sexually motivated murders, albeit as part of a killing team. Numerous instances exist throughout the world of couples that kill, where the woman is usually the submissive partner in the relationship, who then uses her femininity to lure often previously known and totally unsuspecting victims to a location where they can be raped, tortured and killed by the much more dominant male half of the murder team.
In most cases though, female serial killers tend to fall into one of several categories, including the Black Widow, the Angel of Death or the Profit Killer, two of which are entirely driven by money, whilst the third is reportedly driven by the attention they receive as a result of their murderous actions, with almost all of them being found within the medical or caring professions. Although the most deadly medical practitioner in British judicial history is undoubtedly Doctor Harold Shipman, who was convicted of murdering fifteen of his elderly patients largely because he was in a position to do so. Opinions continue to differ as to Shipman’s actual motives for his murderous actions, which are suggested to have led to the killings of well over two hundred people throughout his medical career, but some mental health experts believe that he simply enjoyed having the power of life or death over his generally elderly patients, whilst other believe he saw them as an inconvenience who needed to be done away with. However, in the context of the more usually accepted Angel of Death, those medical carers who deliberately murder their patients, then Nurse Beverley Allitt is probably Britain’s most infamous killer, having attempted to murder an estimated thirteen children in her care, but only succeeding on four occasions, using either potassium chloride or insulin to end the lives of her young charges.
Of course the most feared category of killer is thought to be the sexual predator, especially those who target the young and the very vulnerable within our society, including murderers such as Brady and Hindley, Fred and Rosemary West, Robert Black, Ronald Jebson and several other notorious killers. Sometimes acting alone, or as part of a team, according to some sources, such predatory murderers, simply start off as fantasists, whose dreams escalate from unhealthy obsession, to inappropriate behaviour, to sexual assault and finally to rape then murder. Regarded by society and most conventional criminals as unspeakably vile, rapists, paedophiles and child killers often exhibit the very worst traits of the human condition and seem to lack any sort of compassion for their victims, regardless of their age or vulnerability. On average, around eighty children a year are killed in the UK, although of these, an estimated 80% are reportedly murdered by their parents, either as a result of ongoing child abuse, or as part of a murder-suicide incident. Where children are murdered by someone other than their parents, their death is usually the result of the perpetrator trying to hide evidence of their crime, rather than being the principal motive behind it, although that can indeed happen occasionally. An example of such a deliberate child murder was reported to have occurred in Britain a decade or so ago, when the decapitated body of a child was recovered from the River Thames. Called “Adam” by the detectives leading the investigation, there is a suggestion that the young boy had been killed as part of an African ritual known as “Muti”, although subsequent enquiries by the authorities thus far have failed to identify the child, or prove conclusively that his death resulted from this foreign practice.
Although the general public regard the label “paedophile” as being someone that actively engages in sexual activity with or against children, mental health experts do not apply the condition quite as liberally. Defined as someone having a sexual interest in prepubescent children under the age of thirteen years of age, even youngsters themselves can be diagnosed as being paedophilic, provided that they have a sexual interest in children at least five years younger than themselves. Therefore, although the paedophilic stereotype might commonly be referred to as simply a “dirty old man” that is not always the case; neither are they always dangerous to young children specifically. According to some experts, paedophilia is a well recognised symptom of an underlying psychiatric disorder, one that has existed throughout history, but as yet has no clearly defined cure. However, based on a number of studies, it has also been reported that not all of those diagnosed as paedophiles actually present any sort of danger to young children, as they continue to retain the moral and ethical standards to understand that such feelings and sexual inclinations are unacceptable within a civilised society.
Even though they might derive sexual satisfaction from viewing child pornography, or fantasising about imaginary situations, in reality, the vast majority of those that we term as paedophiles, would never actually put themselves in such a real life situation, let alone hurt or kill a child. As a result, in recent years, a number of mental health and law enforcement agencies have come to reclassify those that actually harm children as predatory paedophiles, which include the likes of Robert Black and Sidney Cook, both of whom have been convicted of causing various children’s death’s as a result of their perverted and unlawful behaviour. However, as horrific as such child murders are, at the hands of people such as Black, Cooke and Huntley, it should be remembered that “stranger” killings are extremely rare and that the vast majority of child killings are in fact carried out by family members, or those who were previously known to the victim. High profile cases such as Maria Colwell, Victoria Climbie’ and Baby Peter Connelly, are just three examples of notorious child cruelty deaths, which have occurred in the UK over past few decades, adding to the numbers of innocent children who are regularly killed by parents that were suffering from underlying mental health issues, or in the midst of ongoing marital problems. According to a number of newspaper reports, between 2004 and 2008 alone, an estimated one hundred and eighty children were killed by a parent or guardian, two-thirds of them either being beaten, stabbed, smothered or strangled to death by their family member.
Even though advances in modern day forensics, routine post mortems and mandatory inquests have all helped to reduce the incidence of profit killings, for insurance payouts, etc; and reduced the likelihood of an individual getting away with murder, it is probably advances in DNA identification and analysis that have provided the greatest benefit to the world’s law enforcement agencies. The fact that each individual person has their own DNA fingerprint, something that is almost unique to them alone, has helped to ensure that any genetic materials left by a killer can be attributed to them alone, assuming that a potential perpetrators DNA can be obtained by forensic scientists for comparison. In fact, advances in criminal forensics have developed markedly since 1784, when the first scientific comparison of a pistols paper wadding was used to help identify an assailant; followed in 1834 by Henry Goddard’s expert analysis of the mould used to create a musket ball used in a deadly assault, marking the first ballistic comparison had been used to convict a felon. Nearly thirty years later scientists were first able to prove the presence of human blood at a suspected crime scene, after they discovered that haemoglobin reacted with hydrogen peroxide to produce an easily identifiable foaming, often despite the suspect’s best efforts to wash the blood evidence away.
In 1880 fingerprint identification was reportedly used for the first time to not only exonerate an entirely innocent suspect, but also to correctly identify the guilty party for the local law enforcement agencies. And in a related advance, in 1892, the first official classification of fingerprints was published, helping to establish a new branch of criminal investigation that would eventually be used by most countries throughout the globe. In 1901 the first formal classification of different human blood groups was published and in 1918 the world’s first dedicated crime laboratory was founded in France, something that was quickly copied by most the leading western nations. Finally, in 1986 the first legal conviction using an individual’s DNA profile was achieved, when killer Colin Pitchfork was successfully convicted of the murders of 15-year-old Lynda Mann in 1983 and 15-year-old Dawn Ashworth in 1986, for which he was sentenced to a life term. Employing the services of Professor Sir Alec Jeffrey’s, one of the world’s leading experts in DNA profiling, Leicestershire Police and the Forensic Science Services were reported to have undertaken a large scale screening of several thousand men in the local area, as a result of which the perpetrator Colin Pitchfork was identified through semen stain that he had left at both crime scenes.
Where once criminal conviction was almost completely reliant on eye witness reports or confessions by the supposed perpetrator, both of which could be highly suspect, depending on the individual case, in today’s modern forensically armed world, the human factor often plays a generally secondary role in helping to convict the likely suspect. Instead, forensic evidence such as fingerprints, hairs and fibres are much more likely to provide definitive proof of a perpetrator’s guilt, although occasionally even these unmistakable markers can prove to be insufficient to prove a person’s guilt conclusively. However, despite the best efforts of offenders to hide their identity through wearing gloves, overalls or even condoms; or their barristers best efforts to dismiss evidence as tainted, any sort of personal attack, be it assault, rape or murder will require both parties to be in some sort of close proximity to one another, allowing the opportunity for each to come into contact with the other, so that skin cells, hair, fibres or DNA are transferred and can then be collected. It is undoubtedly advances in such forensic techniques that has not only led to the widespread demise of poison as a potential murder weapon, but has also allowed law enforcers to attribute seemingly unconnected crimes to the same single offender, although without the actual perpetrator’s genetic profile being held on file, then their actual identity still remains unknown to the authorities. However, apart from undertaking a mass screening of a country’s entire population, which has been suggested, but rejected on cost and privacy grounds, the fact that the DNA of a close relative, taken for a relatively minor offence, might actually help to point investigators in the guilty person’s direction, or indeed help to exonerate a suspect completely.
At the same time that scientific advances have been developed to help convict wrongdoers, so new techniques and treatments have been introduced, to not only help those criminals with psychological disorders, but also to help identify and track habitual offenders, most notably those suffering from sort of serious psychopathic illness. The most modern and best known of these new disciplines is that of the criminal profiler, whose task is to help law enforcement agencies to gain a social and psychological assessment of the offender and his environment, whether the offender is actually known to them or not. Using the nature of the offence, as well as any unusual methodology employed by the perpetrator, before, during and after the event has been committed, should help the profiler to build up a picture of the offender, from a mental, emotional and personality point of view.
According to some sources, although some fairly rudimentary profiling had been attempted throughout history, beliefs and prevailing investigation techniques, including the likes of torture and dissection, largely made such conclusions and observations largely worthless. It was only during the 19th and 20th centuries that a much more serious and professional approach to psychological analysis of law breakers began to be undertaken, with individual psychoanalysts, doctors and mental health experts either being asked for, or offering their insights into the minds of particular offenders. As the country most affected by serial killers, America was reported to have employed some of the world’s earliest and foremost psychologists to help profile some of the nation’s most infamous killers, including the likes of the New York City Bomber, George Metesky and the Boston Strangler, Albert De Salvo, both of whom were profiled by psychiatrist, James Brussel. However, although such techniques became increasing popular during the middle of the 20th century, it was only in 1972 that a nationally dedicated bureau was brought into being by the FBI, when their Behavioural Science Unit was established in Quantico in that same year. Employing the skills and experience of psychologists, investigators and seasoned homicide detectives, the FBI unit very quickly began to develop new techniques and strategies for helping to identify potential suspects in a number of high profile serial killings, at the same time using such cases to improve their own knowledge and understanding of each type of offender.
Elsewhere in the United States, professional police investigators such as Robert Keppel and psychologist Richard Walter were undertaking their own work in helping to identify and understand serial killers, including the likes of Ted Bundy and Gary Ridgeway, who gained notoriety as the Green River Killer, having killed anything up to seventy-one women during the 1980’s and 1990’s. In Britain, where serial killers are comparatively rare, far less study of such offenders were thought to have taken place, although a small number of mental health experts, including Dr David Canter were beginning to take an interest in the relatively new field of criminal profiling. Beginning his career as an architectural psychologist, Canter developed his skills into the area of human reaction in emergencies and eventually became one of Britain’s leading experts in offender profiling.
His first successful involvement with British law enforcement was reported to have occurred in 1985, when he was asked to produce a profile on the infamous Railway Rapists, John Duffy and David Mulcahy, team killers who initially began as sexual predators, but whose need for gratification inevitably led to the murders of three women, Alison Day, Maartje Tamboezer and Anne Locke. Dr Canter was also thought to have created a profile for the serial killer later identified as John William Cooper, who in May 2011 was sentenced to life for the murders of Richard and Helen Thomas in December 1985, as well as the double murder of Peter and Gwenda Dixon in 1989. The offender profile created by Dr Canter was found to fit Cooper to some degree, although as is often the case with such psychological profiles, much of the information provided by the report could quite easily have been attributed to any one of the one hundred and seventy potential suspects that the police had tentatively identified as the possible culprit.
For many within law enforcement, this is perhaps the greatest weakness of offender profiling as an effective means of correctly identifying a guilty party, in that many of the criminal’s attributes can only be fully proved once they have actually been apprehended by the Police and therefore providing little concrete proof, which might lead to an arrest, never mind a successful prosecution. Unlike ballistic, fingerprint or genetic evidence, which is by its very nature specific to a particular weapon, person or even place, a profile is often very general and can contain indicators or references that might just as easily apply to a group of people, as opposed to a specific individual, thereby making it useless to the course of a specific criminal investigation. However, it is generally accepted that in some cases, behavioural scientists can help to draw comparisons that might not be immediately obvious to the police officers involved with a particular case, or help to link seemingly separate cases by carefully studying the methodology of each and the psychology of the perpetrator. It is also reported that in most cases, criminal profilers are only used in the most serious types of cases and after the police have exhausted all of their conventional methods of investigation, which given the advanced levels of forensic identification, means that profilers are usually only called in to help with the most difficult and almost unsolvable cases.
The vast majority of information relating to the psychological behaviour of serial killers has reportedly been drawn from in-depth interviews and studies of such offenders in the USA, which according to some experts in mental health can often prove to a flawed method of investigation, as reliance on a perpetrators memory or honesty, can be extremely difficult to test in any sort of independent way. However, such methodology and their resulting conclusions are largely accepted by most modern law enforcement agencies, albeit with the proviso that such conclusions only represent the basis for individual cases, rather than any sort of conclusive proof. British profilers, such as David Canter, are reported to take a slightly different approach to criminal cases, in that he believes that the crime scenes themselves should tell investigators a good deal more about the offender than might at first be supposed, rather than just relying on a standardised model for a particular type of perpetrator, which previous case notes might first imply.
Rather than simply relying on previous cases, behaviours and practices to inform his opinion, Canter is thought to believe that the crime scene itself can often tell investigators much more about the individual offender than a previous case history, offering information about the person’s character, their personal traits and perhaps even helping to indicate some of the ways they operate in their everyday lives. In the two most notable cases where David Canter has been involved with building an offender profile, he is reported to have been generally accurate regarding the perpetrators, although in both cases this has only been proved to be the case after the offenders were brought to justice by more conventional means.
In the case of the Railway Rapists, Duffy and Mulcahy, although it became increasingly evident that two attackers were involved in the multiple rapes of women in the region, with no obvious suspects to investigate and following the murders of Alison Day, Maartje Tamboezer and Anne Locke, Surrey Police invited Dr Canter to produce a profile for the perpetrators, which would help the police in their search for potential suspects. As it turned out however, in addition to his crime partnership with Mulcahy, Duffy was also carrying rapes on his own and it was as a result of these actions that he was arrested and interviewed by the authorities. Under questioning by Surrey detectives, who were being advised by Canter, Duffy eventually admitted his part in the earlier rapes and murders of the women on the railway and was subsequently charged, tried and found guilty of four rapes and two murders, for which he was sentenced to life imprisonment. Both Surrey Police and Dr Canter knew that Duffy had had an accomplice for the crimes and under careful questioning, finally he agreed to name his partner in crime, Mulcahy, who was then arrested and charged with the rapes and murders, with Duffy testifying against his former accomplice, ensuring that he too was found guilty and sentenced to a life term.
According to some reports, Dr Canter’s involvement with the case represented the first time that a criminal profiler had been asked to help an ongoing police investigation, a practice that has become more commonplace in the years following his involvement. Interestingly, it has been stated that of the seventeen observations made by Canter in relation to Duffy’s habits and lifestyle, thirteen of them were later proved to be correct, which was clearly much more than just lucky guesswork on Canter’s part. The psychologist was later asked to create a profile for an offender who was thought to have committed two double murders in West Wales during the mid 1980’s. The killer’s first two victims were brother and sister, Richard and Helen Thomas were killed in December 1985, with their farmhouse being set alight in an attempt to hide any evidence of the crime. In 1989, holidaymakers Peter and Gwenda Dixon were killed as they walked along a coastal path in Pembrokeshire; and their bodies were deliberately hidden in undergrowth to hide any evidence of the murder.
All four murders completely baffled the police and in the years before DNA evidence and offender profiling, there was very little direct evidence that could help point the police in the direction of the offender, or indeed to link the two apparently random killings. Having undertaken extensive enquiries in both cases and built up a comprehensive list of possible suspects, eventually the police invited David Canter to build a profile for the killer, which he was able to do having visited the crime scenes for himself. Although the culprit, John William Cooper, would only be brought to justice some twenty years after he had committed the murders, it later emerged that a significant number of the observations made by Canter fitted Cooper perfectly, including the fact that he was a local man, was a habitual criminal, had access to and a working knowledge of guns, as well as being interested in field craft and survival techniques. Unfortunately, at the time that the police first received Canter’s offender profile, they were thought to have had several dozen potential suspects, many of whom came from the local rural area and fitted the profile in a number of ways.
The breakthrough in the case was only finally brought about by developments in DNA analysis and the fact that Cooper had continued with his lawless lifestyle, being sentenced to prison in 1998 for a range of robberies and assaults, which resulted in his DNA being taken as a matter of routine. Whilst Cooper was in prison, the police in Pembrokeshire undertook a cold case review of the two double murders, which resulted in existing crime scene evidence being subjected to new scientific scrutiny, during which previously overlooked genetic materials were missed. It was also around the same time that Cooper’s DNA was compared to crime scene material and found to match, giving the police grounds to search his home, as a result of which further materials were found, adding strength to the case being made against him.
In addition to the four counts of murder, Cooper was also subsequently charged with rape against a 16-year-old girl and the sexual assault of a 15-year-old girl, who along with some young male friends were held up at gunpoint by Cooper, who discharged the weapon as a warning the group of youngsters not to tell anyone about the assault. It was largely on the basis of this physical evidence that on the 26th May 2011 John William Cooper was found guilty of all of the charges laid against him and was sentenced to four life sentences, as well as terms of imprisonment for the rape and sexual assault, with very little likelihood that he will ever leave jail alive. In both cases however, Dr Canter’s offender profile, despite proving to be generally accurate, were only proved to be so, once the perpetrator had been caught by other means. However, there is a suggestion that subsequent questioning of the subjects directed by an experienced psychologist like Dr Canter, did play an important role in helping to persuade at least one offender to disclose information about his accomplice that might not have been offered in more usual circumstances.