Thursday, May 29, 2014

Retrospective John Norman Collins Serial Killer Profile - Part Four of Four

Compiling a criminal profile after an offender has been captured is like forecasting yesterday's weather tomorrow. It takes little skill and runs counter to the purpose of profiling which is the apprehension of a prime suspect. Still, by reversing the process, I hope to develop a convincing profile of serial killer John Norman Collins (JNC).

JNC was charged and convicted of the sex slaying of Karen Sue Beineman in January of 1970. Karen was a freshman at Eastern Michigan University in July of 1969 when she willingly took a motorcycle ride from a handsome stranger who seemed harmless enough. She was never seen alive again.

Convicted of Karen's murder, JNC was believed by the court of public opinion to be responsible for the murders of at least six other women, though he was never formally charged with any of them. Washtenaw County Prosecutor William Delhey held the other cases in abeyance against the day that JNC would try to maneuver his way out of prison. He did not want to take a chance that Collins would ever get released without serving his full life sentence.

Because Collins was charged and convicted of only one murder, he is not officially considered a serial killer in accordance with FBI guidelines. His case has largely escaped public notice outside of Michigan and fallen into obscurity. That does not change the reality that he murdered more than one woman in the Ypsilanti/Ann Arbor area.

In addition to the Washtenaw County murders, JNC was indicted by a Monterey, California grand jury for the murder of seventeen year old Milwaukie, Oregon resident Roxie Ann Phillips. This murder case had hard physical evidence to link Collins to the victim. It was the strongest case against Collins, but Michigan Governor William Milliken denied California Governor Ronald Reagan his extradition request and California dropped the case.

George Bush Sr, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, and William Milliken


Of the four FBI Behavioral Science Unit classifications for serial murderers, the Anger-Retaliatory Rape/Murderer and the Anger-Excitation Rape/Murderer classifications provide the most revealing profiling characteristics relevant to JNC. Each will be handled separately. Serial killers who represent in more than one category are called "mixed." John Norman Collins is one of those.

Anger-Retaliatory Rape/Murderer profile traits:
  • Violent sexual assault with elements of "overkill." (All seven victims.)
  • The fatal hostility may be directed at a mother, wife, or some dominant female who has belittled, humiliated, or rejected the subject. (JNC may have had repressed anger towards his domineering mother, or he felt anger when he was rejected by his high school sweetheart. It was recently learned that Collins' first intimate girlfriend at Eastern Michigan University turned up pregnant by another guy, and she dropped him.)
  • A substitute victim is chosen who usually comes from the general area where the aggressor lives or works. (Four of the seven murdered young women lived within blocks of JNC.)
  • The substitute victim is chosen while the murderer is conducting his daily routine, as when cruising his neighborhood or a public place, the aggressor may find a potential victim who reminds him of his mother or girlfriend. (Five of the seven victims were local.)
  • The scapegoating retaliation does not eliminate the direct source of hate, so it needs to be episodically repeated. (Six of the seven victims.)
  • Often uses a ruse to get the victim inside an enclosed place. Once inside, the victim is isolated and the killer confronts her. (The Karen Sue Beineman murder.)
  • Beating around the face and mouth in response to the victim's rejection. As the assault becomes more combative, weapons of opportunity are used to brutalize the body. (All of the seven murders.)
  • The body is often placed in a submissive position. (Three of the seven victims.)
  • The crime scene tends to be unorganized following the aggressor's intense anger venting. (Three of seven murders.)
  • The perpetrator often takes a small trinket or souvenir. (At least five of the seven but thought to be more.)
  • When the sexual assault and murder is deemed a success, the perpetrator walks away feeling cleansed and refreshed. He has transferred the blame for the murder onto the victim, and he will not experience any sense of guilt or wrongdoing. (Over the forty-seven years since these events took place, JNC has yet to show any feelings of remorse for any of the victims or their families.)

Anger-Excitation Rape/Murderer profile traits:
  • The sexual assault and homicide are designed to inflict pain and terror on the victim for psychological gratification. (At least six of the seven known murders.)
  • Unlike other types of murderers, the luxury of sadism is found in the process of killing, not the death. Prolonged torture satisfies a lust for power and control. (At least five of the seven murders.)
  • The homicide pattern is characterized by a prolonged, bizarre, ritualistic assault on the victim. (At least four of the seven murders.)
  • The killer may be attracted to victims who meet certain criteria. (JNC's victims were brunette with shoulder length hair, they were small of stature, all but one had pierced ears, most lived near him, they were all young - thirteen to twenty-three years old, and all students but one.)
  • When encountering a victim, these organized offenders can invoke a disarmingly charming manner that dispels the immediate fears of the victim. (Most if not all of Collins' victims appeared to go willingly with him.)
  • The perpetrator uses a con or a ruse to dupe the victim from the time of contact until the victim is isolated. (The Joan Schell and Karen Sue Beineman murders for certain, the others likely.)
  • Bondage and domination play a significant role in the killing process. (Four of the six murders.)
  • The body may be left in a bizarre state of undress after possibly cutting the clothing off the victim. (Four of the seven victims.)
  • Takes clothing items as souvenirs. (One souvenir box was destroyed by JNC and one was found under his bed. The Michigan State Police have these items in evidence boxes.)
  • This type of serial killer leaves few if any signs or clues at the crime scene. (It was the fourth murder victim before a crime scene was found.)
  • The murderer often moves the dead body to a different location from the crime scene and dumps it in a familiar location within his comfort zone to conceal or reveal his work. (All but one of the bodies was dumped within a ten mile radius in the sparsely populated farm country of Washtenaw County.)
  • To avoid detection, this organized offender tends to commit his offenses distant from his usual activities. (JNC chose his victims from people not in his circle of known acquaintances for five of the seven murders.)
  • For added stimulation, the murderer may attempt to interject himself into the criminal investigation. (JNC was known to have breakfast and/or lunch at the Bomber restaurant in Ypsilanti across the street from the Michigan State Police Post. Because he was the clean cut nephew of State Trooper David Leik, Collins traded on his uncle's name and often sat in with the local police and listened to their conversations about local police matters.)
  • The subject derives great satisfaction by avoiding and taunting police creating a phantom scenario where the police are publicly criticized by the press and the public. (Leaving five of the seven bodies where they could easily be found, and dumping Karen Sue Beineman's body less than a mile from police Task Force headquarters were defiant acts.)
  • In his daily habits, he is often compulsive and structurally organized. Educationally, he may have two years of college and/or have graduated. (JNC was about to begin his last year of college to earn a teaching degree.)
  • These murderers can successfully segment their criminal interest into a private world of protected ritualism. (Collins still publicly denies killing anyone while smugly guarding his closely protected secrets.)
  • The killer's souvenirs are often contained in a private chamber of horrors. This specialty place may be a dark closet, room, basement, or a hole in the ground. He may also use an abandoned barn, cabin, or garage. (It is known that JNC collected crime scene souvenirs in a BOLD detergent box that he disposed of, and he kept another box under his bed which Michigan State Police have in their custody.)
  • Generally, the timing between murders lessens with experience. The anger-excitation rape/murderer is a predatory jackal who refines his skills at hunting and learns from his mistakes. When the satisfaction from the killing becomes brief and situational, the killing rate increases. (JNC's murder chart indicates this phenomenon which statisticians call The Devil's Staircase.)

Without a hardcore confession from John Norman Collins himself, the full truth of these matters will never be known. With JNC securely locked away, it is unlikely that he will ever be charged with any of the other six murders his name is associated with. But once what is known about these other cases is revealed, the court of public opinion will have little trouble deciding on Collins' guilt or innocence in the murders he was never charged with.


If you missed this four part series on profiling serial killers, here is the link to part one. 

Friday, May 23, 2014

What Serial Killers Look Like On Paper - Part Three of Four

After special agents from the FBI's Behavioral Science Unit (BSU) took the data from their Victim Criminal Apprehension Program (VICAP) study of serial killers, they were able to adapt it to an existing framework for rape cases by adding provisions for rape/murder cases. It became readily apparent from the data that serial killers fall into two large categories, either organized or disorganized.

Organized murderers tend to plan and display control of the victim at the scene. Disorganized murderers may have a vague plan but generally react in a haphazard manner. This distinction does little to help investigators narrow down the field of suspects in an investigation.

When the data was compiled and analyzed within the four classifications of rape/murderers, profiling characteristics began to appear which described serial killer behavior that investigators could understand and utilize in their field work.
  1. The Power-Assertive rape/murderer plans the rape but not the murder. He has a need for power and control that may escalate into violence and increasing aggression. The rape is an expression of his virility, mastery, and dominance over a vulnerable victim. The killing eliminates the threat of identification. The killer will brandish weapons of symbolic importance to him, a knife, handgun, rope, or anything easily concealed.
  2. The Power-Reassurance rape/murderer plans the rape but not the murder. These killers want to act out some fantasy and seek reassurance from the victim. They are motivated by an idealized seduction and conquest fantasy. Perpetrators need reassurance of their sexual adequacy. When the victim doesn't yield to the killer's planned seduction, his failure and anger drives him to a murderous assault.
  3. The Anger-Retaliatory rape/murderer plans the rape and the murder which involves overkill. This offender is usually in his mid-to-late twenties and he has an explosive personality that is impulsive, quick tempered, and self-centered. In dealing with other people, he is not reclusive but a loner in the midst of a crowd. Generally, his social relations are superficial and limited to drinking buddies. Although a sportsman, he prefers playing contact sports. The murder is an anger-venting act that expresses symbolic revenge on a substitute victim.
  4. The Anger-Excitation rape/murderer is usually an organized killer and a normal-appearing person who is bright and socially facile with others when he chooses to be. Based on his ability to appear conventional and law abiding, he can cunningly deceive others because he has the ability to separate his general lifestyle from his criminal interest. The sexual assault and homicide are designed to inflict pain and terror on the victim for psychological gratification. Victims show evidence of prolonged torture and ritualistic carnage.
John Norman Collins
Each of the four areas of the rape/murderer classification above is much more detailed than my thumbnail summary indicates. Of special interest to me are #3 and #4. These are the most relevant to my study of John Norman Collins, the Washtenaw County coed killer. In the last entry of this four post series, I will detail more specific behaviors in those categories and relate them to the Collins' cases.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

FBI Behaviorial Science Unit's Serial Killer Characteristics - Part Two of Four

Profiling serial killers is as much art as science. The complex psychological factors that make up the motivation, justification, and rationalization within the minds of disturbed individuals is difficult for a sane person to fathom. That said, recognizing those psychological behaviors helps law enforcement apprehend these predators and limit the damage they do to families, the communities where the murders occur, and the general well-being of society at large.

Before the FBI's VICAP (Violent Criminal Apprehension Program) study on profiling serial killers in the 1980s, previous violent crime models categorized these multiple murders cases generally in groups like sexually orientated killings, power and control killings, greed or gain killings, nuisance killings, cult killings, and revenge killings. 

The basic problem with grouping these murders by type is that it doesn't address the crime scene details or the signature characteristics of the assailant. These murder taxonomies are of limited value to law enforcement when trying to learn the motivation or the identity of an unknown serial killer.

These categories of murders are general indicators that may have some descriptive value, but they fail to provide homicide investigators with the necessary tools to evaluate a crime scene effectively and to capture the perpetrator quickly. These static descriptions do not address the issues of the offender's identity and do not affect his or her apprehension.

To learn how serial killers think and to study their behavior, FBI Special Agents conducted exhaustive interviews and collected data on thirty-six incarcerated multiple murderers from their prison confines. The logic behind the study was self-evident, interview convicted serial killers to learn how they think and what motivates them. After all, they are the experts in what they do.

FBI researchers had a captive audience but studied only willing participants. Serial killers who did participate in the study did so for several reasons:
  1. Some confessed killers wanted the opportunity to clarify other people's conclusions about them.
  2. Some wanted to point out why it was impossible for them to have committed the murders.
  3. Others wanted to teach the police how the crimes were committed and motivated.
With these men serving life sentences in maximum security portions of various prisons, they look forward to opportunities to get out of their cells and maybe get a warm cup of coffee and a stale doughnut out of it. As for the prisoners' candor, most had nothing left to lose and they answered freely. Other prisoners took longer to establish a rapport with investigators before they were comfortable talking about their crimes to FBI researchers.

Once this new data was entered into the Bureau's computer system, some common characteristics of these sexual predators began to take shape:
  • Their motivation is usually psychological gratification of some sort (sex, anger, thrill, gain, or simply attention).
  • They often suffer from mental illness with psychotic breaks.
  • They lack remorse or guilt and project blame on their victims.
  • They have a compulsive need for power and control.
  • They exhibit impulsivity and predatory behavior.
  • They often wear a mask of sanity in public for protective coloration.
  • Their boundaries between fantasy and reality are lost.
  • Their fantasies turn to dominance, control, sexual conquest, violence, and finally murder.
Researchers found that serial killers suffer from antisocial personality disorder, a pervasive pattern of disregard for the rights of others. They have an impoverished moral sense (conscience) and usually a history of petty crime. These killers seamlessly make the leap from sociopaths to psychopaths when the predatory urge overcomes them.

The FBI study further discovered that most serial killers share many of the same formative experiences growing up:
  • They had a history of being bullied or socially isolated as children and adolescents.
  • They often engaged in petty crimes like theft, fraud, or vandalism.
  • They are compulsive and practiced liars.
  • Many come from unstable families and have experienced a serious family disruption like divorce, separation, or a breach in the child/parent relationship.
  • Many serial killers have a history of being abused emotionally, physically, and/or sexually in their youth.
  • They frequently manifest attachment disorder due to early childhood trauma like violence, neglect, rejection, or pervasive alcohol or drug use in the home.
  • They suffer from low self-esteem and retreat into a fantasy world where they are safe and in control.
  • They show a fascination with fire starting.
  • They show cruelty to younger children and/or small animals.
The above listed traits form a composite picture of common characteristics of many serial killers and their crimes, but they are only useful after the capture of the perpetrators. They are of little or no use in capturing them. 

Sexual homicide has long been studied by various professional disciplines and perspectives. Law enforcement came late to the party. Sociologists want to examine sexual homicide as a social phenomenon that occurs within the context of the greater society. Psychologists are most interested in the psychiatric diagnosis of these murderers and developing techniques for treating sex offenders. 

Law enforcement is interested in the study of sexual homicide from the standpoint of how best to investigate these crimes, how to identify suspects quickly, how to apprehend and convict suspects, and how to protect the public from further senseless carnage.

The FBI's Behavioral Science Unit (BSU) was able to expand on the work of researchers, Robert D. Keppel and Richard Walter, previous developers of rapist categories for the FBI. The BSU entered their research data on rape murderers into that database and revised the dynamic characteristics of the four existing classifications to provide a more discerning and functional view of serial killers.

In my next two posts, I'll review the FBI's four rape/murder classifications and go into more detail on how they form a composite profile of Washtenaw County serial killer John Norman Collins.

Monday, May 12, 2014

The FBI's Violent Criminal Apprehension Program and Serial Killer Profiling - Part One of Four

In the 1960s and into the early 1980s, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) noticed a rise in serial killing cases across the country. Special agents of their Behavioral Science Unit (BSU) began profiling criminals informally using crime scene information to deduce common characteristics and behaviors of serial killers.

After this informal criminal profiling program began to show promise, the study was formalized during the Reagan administration in 1982 with a grant from the National Institute of Justice. The Violent Criminal Apprehension Program (VICAP) studied thirty-six convicted and incarcerated sex slayers from a law enforcement perspective. Extensive data was collected from 1979-1983 of one-hundred and eighteen crime scenes and victims (mostly women) from these thirty-six serial killers.

In 1985, the first data was entered into the VICAP computer system, and it was operational on June 1, 1985. It marked the pioneering use of artificial intelligence technology in crime scene analysis and criminal personality profiling. Today, the FBI's VICAP database is massive and linked to other crime fighting database institutions worldwide like the International Police (INTERPOL) in Europe and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Linkage Analysis System in Canada.

The data in the VICAP study focused on characteristics consisting of physical evidence found at the crime scenes that may reveal behavioral traits of the serial murderer and profile characteristics which are variables that identify the offender as an individual. Together, they help to form a composite picture of the suspect.

A VICAP Crime Analysis Report runs for ten pages of detailed law enforcement reporting. Factors such as age, gender, occupation, intelligence, acquaintance w/victim, residence, mode of transportation, modus operandi, ritualistic behavior, characteristics of the victim, and crime scene signature of the offender are noted and entered into their database. Criminal profiling gives investigative agencies the ability to connect details, recognize patterns of offender behavior, and review national fingerprint and DNA databases which makes manageable the work of narrowing down suspects.

When two or more murders have been committed over time by the same person(s), a dynamic synergistic comparison can give investigators a systematic look at the presence or absence of evidence, the crime scene signature, the comfort zone of the killer, and the possible motives for the murder. Other indicators such as emotional intensity, the rationale for the murder, and any number of factors that stand out to investigators can help make connections.

The intent of crime scene investigation and psychological profiling is to identify the key elements of the scene and the behavioral factors related to the killer, enabling homicide investigators to prioritize leads and apprehend serial killers before they can kill again.
More detailed information on the BSU's groundbreaking study can be found in Sexual Homicide: Patterns and Motives co-written by Robert K. Ressler, former FBI Profiler and late director of Forensic Behavioral Sciences; John E. Douglas, former Unit Chief of the FBI's investigative support group; and Ann W. Burgess, Professor of Psychiatric Mental Health at the University of Pennsylvania.