Thursday, May 1, 2008

Profiler Roy Hazelwood, the organized killer, and "high praise"

Murder scenes are hard to miss. Unless they've been staged by a clever killer. Those who aren't going to visit them in person can look at Vernon Geberth's Homicide Investigation book, but not before dinner. It was Roy Hazelwood, then at the FBI's famed (and controversial) Behavioral Science Unit who first proposed a fundamental distinction between types of homicide scenes--those which were disorganized versus the organized scenes. The disorganized murder scenes showed unmistakable signs of spontaneous violence, uncontrolled attack, often including breakage, overturned objects, perhaps a prolonged struggle. Most murder scenes are like that. Organized scenes show signs of planning and extended premeditation. Usually far less of a mess, because the killer had the great advantage of the planned, "sneak attack." But what Hazelwood did was to propose that there were two basic types of killers one can postulate based on the crime scenes they leave behind as their "signatures"--and that the crime scene would usually indicate either a "disorganized killer" or an "organized one," that is, one who planned his actions carefully.

This distinction turned out to be critical when I reviewed crime scenes in domestic homicide cases. The group I later termed "eraser killers" matched many characteristics of Hazelwood's "organized crime scene" and mentally "organized killer."

I was pleased then when after finishing the book, Hazelwood wrote me with high praise--especially because I am an investigative reporter not a profiler. Hazelwood said:

"Finally! An exceptional writer brings a new perspective to the ancient crime of domestic homicide. Once many years ago, Jeffrey MacDonald, a highly intelligent and physically attractive physician, was convicted of killing his pregnant wife and two small children. When asked why he committed such a heinous crime, I answered 'Because he didn't need them anymore.' This is a very powerful book and Ms. Strong deserves high praise indeed!"

Hazelwood is also author of The Evil that Men Do and Dark Dreams