Using a Cold Homicide Case to Teach Criminal Profiling Stan Crowder, Kennesaw State University, Georgia, UNITED STATES

Using a Cold Homicide Case to Teach Criminal Profiling Stan Crowder, Kennesaw State University, Georgia, UNITED STATES

Abstract: This paper provides an introduction to the techniques used to teach Criminal Profiling and Analysis utilizing a unsolved sexual homicide case from the files of a local police department. The application of the ACETS model developed by Abaidoo andWachniak is reviewed with the development of the course. The challenges of creating the collaborative effort with law enforcement and linking academic learning outcomes to a cold homicide case is revealed. Success and frustration experienced by students is noted as the critical thinking learning curve is rooted in a “real world” problem.

Keywords: Criminal Profiling, Course Development, ACETS Model


THE SUCCESS OF American televisionprograms such as Criminal Minds byColumbia Broadcasting System, Profiler by National Broadcasting Company, FOX’s

Crime Scene Investigator and the UK television seriesWire in the Blood and Cracker have captured the interests of students in criminal justice classes. They want to gain more insight into the behaviours of criminals. How does a professor harness the ex- citement and interest in such television and cinema projects and use it in the criminal justice classroom? Students want to learn through the application of

information they have discovered in the classroom. It is important to coach or mentor learners while helping them develop critical thinking skills and the ability to solve problems. This is best accomplished by engaging themwith a question that gives purpose and direction to their work. Problems are naturally motivating. Using a cold, or unsolved, homicide case in teaching criminal profiling has proven to be a successful methodology. Examples are the shortest bridge between theory and reality (Hodnett, 1955). The application of the ACETS model developed

by Abaidoo and Wachniak (2007) that addresses academic knowledge, collaborative learning, experi- ential learning, and technological savvy, results in students gaining practical understanding of crimino- logical theory, research methods and academic knowledge applied to the real world problem of the unsolved homicide. The synergy of group learning is garnered in dialogic exchange outside the classroom that involves small group interaction and discussion. This article reflects how critical thinking rooted

in problems may evoke students’ natural curiosity and stimulates both learning and critical thought (Bean, 2001). Creating a course that challenges stu- dents to question assumptions and explore logic and

the scientific method may require creating a collab- orative effort. By linking academic learning out- comes to a problem may create surprising erudition. The significance of this article shows presenting students with a challenging and complex problem may tap into the innate desire for learning.

Creating the Course The pedagogical transition from topic-centered as- signments to problem-centered assignments began with the course Profile of the Serial Offender, the precursor course toCriminal Profiling and Analysis. In the course, Profile of the Serial Offender, the stu- dent is introduced to learning that will test and rein- force previous learning from theCriminal Investiga- tions course. The students gain exposure to the nature of violent serial offenders through the most up-to- date theories and research on victimology; typolo- gies, characteristics and statistical data about perpet- rators; and investigation through profiling. Students are taught the inductive method of criminal profiling which is the statistical and correlational analysis of serial offenders (Turvey, 1999). The Criminal Profiling and Analysis course was

developed to build on previous learning in Profile of the Serial Offender. The assessment and under- standing, and the resolution of real homicide invest- igative challenges, had never been attempted in the major program. Academic knowledge, step one of the ACETS model, evolved after a search of the lit- erature on profiling as a process while concurrently applying criminological theory. A “cold” or unre- solved homicide case analysis component of the class was developed to improve students’ critical thinking skills. These skills include generating data for ana- lysis and decision making. Step two of the model, collaborative learning, was accomplished by utilizing the assigned cold case detective as a guest lecturer about the known facts of the case and mentor for

THE INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF LEARNING, VOLUME 15, NUMBER 5, 2008, ISSN 1447-9494 © Common Ground, Stan Crowder, All Rights Reserved, Permissions:

student understanding of the task, conditions, and standards of homicide investigations. The reasoning derived from diverse backgrounds, interests, and understanding led to a critical examination in all phases of the cold case analysis. Step three of the ACETSmodel, experiential learning, emerged as the students attempted to solve the cold case. The “technological savvy” aspect of the course is linked to the introduction of the geographical profiling model of serial offenders as developed by Rossmo (1999). The Criminal Profiling and Analysis course clari-

fies the deductive criminal profiling method which involves the analytical process of forensic evidence and the development of offender characteristics. “A deductive criminal profile is a set of offender

characteristics that are reasoned from the conver- gence of physical and behavioural-evidence patterns within a crime or series of related crimes,” (Turvey, 1999, p. 28). “The general purpose of the deductive method of criminal profiling is to use behavioural- evidence analysis to assist in an investigation, at any phase, in moving from that universal set of suspect characteristics to a more discrete set of suspect characteristics,” (Turvey, 1999, p. 34). Specific course objectives include identifying the

relationship between physical evidence, behavioural evidence, and criminal profiling; inspecting crime scene photographs; recognizing offender behaviour; performing wound pattern analysis; and matching behaviours of serial rape or homicide to a crime scene. Students perform a case assessment and write a threshold assessment of the cold homicide case.

Creating the Collaborative Effort Having students research to solve a real cold hom- icide engages them in answering the legendary question: “Who did it?” However, obtaining support from a law enforcement agency to provide the case can prove challenging. The author, having been a police officer for seven years, returned to his previ- ous law enforcement agency with a proposal to provide a case for examination by students that would lead to eighty new examinations of the evid- ence. Obtaining “buy-in” from a police department is not without objections. Law enforcement agencies are not proud there are

unsolved cases remaining in their files. The vision by the public of an incompetent or inefficient agency may be quickly denoted from the term “unsolved case.” The idea of providing casematerials, including crime scene photographs and autopsy photographs of a sexual homicide, made the trek for approval similar to navigating aminefield. The Chief of Police envisioned possible over-zealous students contacting

witnesses, subjects, a suspect, or the family of the victim. Providing the students with over one-hundred and

fifty pages of incident reports unnerved the Chief of Police. The answer was students receive redacted copies. The reports were redacted so students could only use the first names of witnesses, subjects, or suspects. All addresses, phone numbers, and other personal identifying information were also withheld from the files. Only the first names of previous in- vestigators were included in order to protect their identities. The victim in the case selected for review has liv-

ing relatives, so obtaining consent from the family was required. The cold case detective contacted the oldest sibling of the victim and explained the course objectives, methodology, and use of the cold case. The sibling, representing the family, provided an enthusiastic approval. The family opined that as long as eighty students per year were examining the case, the victim would not be forgotten and the case may one day be solved. Motivating the assigned cold case detective was

surprisingly easy; he wants to solve the case. The cold case detective inherited the case in 1990 after it remained unsolved since the homicide discovery in 1984. Having numerous active homicide cases to work, the detective understood having unbiased and motivated students examine this case might uncover something missed over the years.

Course Development: LinkingAcademic Learning Outcomes to a Cold Homicide Case The bridge to a path of learning was built by Brent Turvey’s seminal work, Criminal Profiling: An In- troduction to Behavioral Evidence Analysis (1999) which became the backbone for the development of the course. Turvey’s work, now in the third edition, centers on the deductive criminal profiling methodo- logy and “fact finding in a criminal investigation for the purpose of servicing justice” (Turvey, 1999, p. 28). Turvey’s work offers an in-depth examination of other areas important to cold case analysis includ- ing case assessment- determining and organizing case information, equivocal forensic analysis- a critical examination of all assumptions, conclusions, and evidence, victimology- a detailed history of the victim, crime-scene characteristics- the location, type, and indicators, behavioural motivational typo- logies- the needs and behaviour classifications of criminals, and understanding modus operandi- method of operation and signature- distinctive evid- ence that reveals and satisfies emotional or psycho- logical needs of offenders.


Upon initial examination of case materials, a stu- dent’s perplexity motivates his or her interest. Stu- dents become aware of the problem they face: someone is dead and the offender is unknown. As students conduct the analysis and clarification of offender and victim actions, different solutions or working hypotheses begin to develop. As the class and learning proceeds, the verification or rejection of each student’s chosen solution develops (Hodnett). This reflects the critical thinking learning curve. The cold case examined is the 1984 sexual hom-

icide of Jane Doe (pseudonym), a flight attendant for a regional airline. The body was discovered in the master bedroom of her condominium after super- visors where the victim worked became concerned about her absence. The victim had suffered from battery and died of ligature strangulation. Students are provided over one-hundred and fifty

pages of incident reports ranging from the first re- sponding officer to the currently assigned cold case detective. Students receive a compact disc with over one-hundred and fifty photographs: half of the photos are from the crime scene and half of the photos are from the autopsy of the victim. Additional document- ation provided includes a copy of the victim’s activ- ity calendar, the victim’s job application packet, the law enforcement agency sketch of a possible suspect, various newspaper articles, medical examiner’s re- port, death certificate, two distinct and different profiles developed by Federal Bureau of Investiga- tion agents, the Violent Criminal Apprehension Program (VICAP) analysis report (prepared six years after the death of the victim), and supplemental re- ports from law enforcement and the security team from the victim’s employer. “Real world” investigative frustration begins when

students learn that all physical evidence in the case was lost when the supporting crime laboratorymoved from one location to another. Students soon realize that large problems are settled by solving the smaller problems of which they are composed. The logical flow of using the cold homicide case

as a learning tool was to introduce the student to the case as they study the chapters of the text. When Turvey (1999) explains case assessment in chapter five the students begin their assessment of the cold homicide case. The realization that they (the stu- dents) must become “all-knowing” in a real unsolved homicide case can be overwhelming; yet, the meth- odical process of read, discuss, learn, apply, and write soon evolves.When Turvey’s chapter on crime reconstruction is reviewed, the students reconstruct the actions, as they believe they occurred, between the victim and offender.When the chapter on wound pattern analysis is reviewed, autopsy photographs of the victim are discussed in small group learning circles to determine how and why the wound oc-

curred to the victim.When the chapter on understand- ing offender signature is discussed, crime scene photographs are reviewed to determine the actions between the victim and offender. Students apply the knowledge gained in each text chapter to the case and provide their analysis and direction to the cold case detective in the form of a threshold assessment. “A threshold assessment is an investigative document that reviews the initial physical evidence of beha- viour, victimology, and crime-scene characteristics for a particular case, or series of related cases, in or- der to provide immediate direction. It makes assess- ments of what is currently understood to be fact,” (Turvey, 1999, p. 42). To ensure a wide lens for case examination and

understanding, another case is concurrently reviewed. A solved homicide of three children is utilized to indicate other challenges that develop in solving crimes. The case, popularly known as the West Memphis Three, is scrutinized in two documentary films that reveal the evidence or lack thereof, sub- jects, suspects, the convicted criminals, and law en- forcement officials. Lecture in the scientific method, solvability factors and erotophonophilia supplement the case examination. The case was selected because it highlights the lack of a detailed forensic analysis, wound pattern analysis, and basic investigator prac- tices such as securing the evidence and therefore scrutinizes the errors to avoid in homicide cases.

Outcomes The prospect of making inferences about a crime and defence of the analysis alerts students that one day they may have to testify about their investigative analysis in front of a judge and jury. Thus, the task of writing a threshold assessment can be stressful for the student. This is the opportunity for the student to analyse the case and provide investigative direc- tion to the assigned cold case detective. Essentially the student reveals his or her critical thinking skills by linking concepts to case analysis, inferences, and problems or puzzles encountered. Students do not form absolute conclusions, but they do offer opinions based on critical analysis. This threshold assessment includes an equivocal forensic analysis of the case, a detailed victimology, a 24-hour timeline of the victim’s actions before death, an analysis of the crime scene characteristics, inferences on offender charac- teristics, and an investigative strategy. Unexpected opportunities for learning often occur

during an investigation. Several years ago students were discussing the case in the student center during an informal small learning circle. Being careful not to use the victim’s name and referring to her only as “our victim,” the group members were overheard by an older student. The student approached the group


and asked if the victim the group was discussing was Jane Doe, an airline flight attendant murdered in 1984. “Yes!” was the immediate answer of the group. The student informed the group that she worked with the victim at the airline for many years. The student, desiring to help solve the murder mystery, agreed to be a part of the class investigation and to be inter- viewed by the professor and/or the cold case detect- ive. The interview notes are used as a part of the case analysis today. Linking the cold homicide case to other similar

transaction murders has also produced learning op- portunities. One student remembered a murder of an airline flight attendant in her hometown of Romulus, Michigan. She contacted an old high school friend employed by the Romulus Police Department. The student soon made a victimology link from the Ro- mulus murder to the cold case. Another student later made a victimology link to another murdered flight attendant in Austin, Texas.

Conclusion The application of theACETS framework of teaching required an innovative approach to instructCriminal Profiling and Analysis.The analysis of a “cold case” became the experiential learning path to success in teaching criminal profiling. The technique has proven to be a sterling motivational method that taps into themulti-media exploitation of criminal investigative curiosity. Students learn much more than investigative

technique, challenges, and mistakes because they soon realize that the most common errors for failing

see the real problem are those noted by Hodnett (1955) including emotional bias, prejudice, fear, conceit, and preconceived notions or partisan loyalty. The course, Criminal Profiling and Analysis, has

been amazingly successful. Each spring eighty new learners dive into the murky waters of criminal pro- filing and analysis. Is this cold case solved? No. Is the case solvable? Yes. But students realize that with all the physical evidence lost, solvability depends on the confession of the offender…if that person is still alive. The critical and ongoing analysis provided by students may lead to a clue that was overlooked and assist in determining investigative direction. The local police department receives a copy of each threshold assessment written and has over five-hun- dred assessments. Learning through the mistakes of the original investigators and the elucidation of how homicides should be examined, neophyte investigat- ors leave the university a little more prepared for the challenging task of homicide investigations. The challenges of using a cold homicide case to

teach criminal profiling and analysis are numerous. Creating support from a law enforcement agency, peers, and administrators may appear daunting; however, the excitement created by students’ learning is well worth the effort to overcome critical chal- lenges. The link betweenwriting and critical thinking is established as a crucial step in preparing criminal investigators. Misconceptions about crime solving verses a forty minute television show are clarified. The process and purpose of critical thinking provides the students meaning when a real problem is in the scale of justice.

References Abaidoo, S. & Wachniak, L. (2007). Re-Thinking Graduate Education: An Imperative for a Changing World. The Interna-

tional Journal of Learning. 14(5). Bean, J.C. (2001). Engaging Ideas: The Professor’s Guide to Integrating Writing, Critical Thinking, and Active Learning

in the Classroom. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley and Sons. Hodnett, E. (1955). The Art of Problem Solving: How to Improve Your Methods. New York: Harper and Row. Rossmo, K. (1999). Geographic Profiling. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press. Turvey, B.E. (1999). Criminal Profiling: An Introduction to Behavioral Evidence Analysis. San Diego, CA: Academic


About the Author Dr. Stan Crowder Stan Crowder is a retired US ArmyMilitary Police Colonel. He served as an adjunct professor for several years before retirement and has served as an assistant professor of criminal justice since 2006. His interest areas are: serial offenders and criminal justice ethics.


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