Friday, January 30, 2015

Rise In Sex-Slayings--in the 1960s and 1970s--Prompts Creation of FBI's VICAP Data Base

Beyond our instinct for survival and self-defense, most humans in modern society do not become killers. If we did, there would soon be none of us left. In fact, most cultures have provisions against murder in their written canons. “Thou Shall Not Kill” is a common moral precept found in one form or another in most of the world’s cultures and religions--that said--murder has been a part of civilization since before the beginning of human history.

The oldest known written story of murder is the five thousand year old tale Gilgamesh. In this Babylonian work based on even more ancient Sumerian fables, King Gilgamesh and his half-brother Enkidu conspire to murder the Guardian of the Forest--the giant Humbaba. Their goal was to help establish Gilgamesh’s fame throughout the world. The reality of this story probably owes much to the struggles of these ancient people to import the cedars of Lebanon for their ambitious building programs in the flat, treeless desert plains of the Fertile Crescent.

Cain and Abel

Over twenty-five hundred years later, The Old Testament of the ancient Hebrews tells the story of Cain and his brother Abel. Cain wanted the land and its water to raise cattle. Abel wanted the land and its water to raise crops. For this reason, Cain slew his brother Abel. As the biblical story goes, the human race has had the Mark of Cain upon it ever since. The sacrament of baptism in the Catholic religion symbolically washes away this original sin.

In our modern world, the question of why people murder one another has been a topic of much study and debate. Despite psychologists and criminologists having new tools and techniques available to them, there is still much to learn about why some humans are compelled to kill. The tide of violent killers has not abated and society feels more fearful than ever. Understanding what motivates a person to commit an act of murder is one thing, to prevent it from happening in the first place is another. Murder increases as the population increases; it is the grim logic of statistics.

Sexual homicide has long been studied by various professional disciplines. Sociologists want to study 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 studying sexual homicide from the standpoint of identifying and apprehending suspects quickly and protecting the public from further senseless carnage.

Although serial killing and sexual homicide are not new phenomenon, FBI statistics revealed a sharp upward turn for this type of murder in the 1960s and 1970s. Serial killing gained widespread exposure from intense media coverage of cases like Richard Speck, the Chicago nurse murderer; the San Francisco Bay area Zodiac Killer; John Wayne Gacy, the killer clown; the Charles Manson family, Tate/LaBianca Helter Skelter slayings; Albert DeSalvo, the Boston Strangler; and David Berkowitz, the Son of Sam killings, just to name a few.

In their study, Sexual Homicide: Patterns and Motives, written by FBI Special Agents Robert Ressler, John E. Douglas, and Dr. Ann W. Burgess, Professor of Psychiatric Mental Health, they give the rationale for their work. “In the 1960s and 1970s, FBI researchers noticed a rise in serial killer cases across the nation. During the 1970s, Special Agents of the FBI’s Behavioral Science Unit (BSK) began profiling serial killers on an informal basis by studying crime scene information to deduce certain offender characteristics and behaviors.” After the 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. 

This initial FBI study was the first to examine sexual murderers collectively as a sub-population. The data was collected from 1979 through 1983 on thirty-six offenders responsible for a minimum of one-hundred and eighteen victims, mostly women. All of the interviews were conducted within the Michigan Department of Corrections prison system, from willing participants of the project.  
The first data for the Violent Criminal Apprehension Program (VICAP) crime report was entered into the FBI’s mainframe computer at the FBI Building in Washington D.C. on May 29, 1985. It marked the pioneering use of artificial intelligence technology in crime scene analysis and criminal personality profiling. Today, the VICAP database is massive and linked to other crime fighting organizations throughout North America and databases worldwide.

The criminal profiling project paid particular attention to physical evidence found at crime scenes that may reveal behavioral traits of serial murderers and profile characteristics that are variables which identify the offenders as individuals. Together, they help to form a composite picture of a suspect. Over the life of the study--1976-1986--homicide data was placed in the database in one of five categories: felony murders, suspected felony murders, argument-motivated murders, other identifiable motive (circumstance) murders, and unknown motives for murders.

What investigators discovered was that for every category of murder except unknown motives, there was no more than a 1.5 % increase within that ten year period.  Unknown motives--that comprise both serial murders and sexual murders--had a disturbing 14 % increase over the same decade. That is a tenfold increase over the other categories of murders.

According to the late FBI profiler, Robert Ressler, “Apprehension of the sexual murderer is one of law enforcement’s most difficult challenges…. Sexual homicide particularly causes a heightened fear for the community because of its apparent random and motiveless nature. This places public pressure on law enforcement officials to make an arrest in these cases as early as possible.”