Category Archives: Serial and mass killing

Bees join hunt for serial killers*

beeYes indeed. The BBC News website today (30 July 2008) reports on some research on the way in which bees seek food which “could help detectives hunt down serial killers, scientists believe”.

Here’s some more from the report:

Just as bees forage some distance away from their hives, so murderers avoid killing near their homes, says the University of London team. This “geographic profiling” works so well in bees, the scientists say future experiments on the animals could now be fed back to improve crime-solving. The team’s work is reported in the Royal Society journal Interface.

“We’re really hopeful that we can improve the model for criminology,” Dr Nigel Raine, from Queen Mary, University of London (QMUL), told BBC News.

Later the report reveals that the research team includes Kim Rossmo, detective-turned-geo-profiler.

Instead of using information about the distribution of flowers visited by bees to explain the insects’ behaviour, criminologists’ models will use details about crime scenes, robbery locations, abandoned cars, even dead bodies, to hone the search for a suspect.

“Bees have much simpler brains and so understanding how bees are recruited to flowers is much easier than understanding the complex thoughts of a serial murderer,” Dr Raine said.

Well the cynics would say that’s one reason why a bee-model might have some limitations when it comes to hunting serial killers.

Here’s the reference:

*In the entertaining headline contest, the BBC lags far behind the Royal Society with “Bees can help detectives to ’sting’ criminals” and the Welcome Trust with “Criminal Bee-haviour“. Is no one going to use “scientists set a honey-trap for murderers”? (I’ll get my coat.)

UPDATE: Thank you to Aaron Jacklin for a link to the pre-publication paper [pdf] on Nigel Raine’s QMUL web pages.

Photo credit: Automania, Creative Commons Licence

Research reports round-up

ex libris gul law reports collectionSome of the criminal justice-related reports that have caught my eye in the last few weeks:

Communities

Crime and Communities Review (UK, published 18 June, Cabinet Office): A major review examining how to better engage communities in the fight against crime and raise public confidence in the Criminal Justice System – link to pdf downloads.

Gangs at the Grassroots: Community solutions to street violence (UK, published 17 July 2008, New Local Government Network) – pdf

Investigations

Witness and victim experience survey: early findings (UK, published 3 July 200, Ministry of Justice) – pdf

Enhancing Law Enforcement Response to Victims: A 21st Century Strategy (US, International Association of Chiefs of Police) – pdf (Hat tip Docuticker)

First Response to Victims of Crime (US, published April 2008, National Sheriffs Association) – pdf (Hat tip Docuticker)

Police Enforcement Strategies to Prevent Crime in Hot Spot Areas (US, Department of Justice) – pdf (Hat tip Docuticker)

Serial Murder: Multi-Disciplinary Perspectives for Investigators (US, FBI Behavioral Analysis Unit) – pdf (Hat tip Docuticker)

Prisons

International profile of women’s prisons (UK, published April 2008, Kings College London for HM Prison Service) – pdf (Hat tip Intute)

Prosecuting Sexual Violence in Correctional Settings: Examining Prosecutors’ Perceptions (US, published May 2008, American University, WCL Research Paper, via SSRN)

Juveniles

Violence by Teenage Girls: Trends and Context (US, published May 2008, US Department of Justice) – pdf (Hat tip Docuticker)

Differential Response to Reports of Child Abuse and Neglect (US, published February 2008, Child Welfare Information Gateway) – pdf (Hat tip Docuticker)

Photo credit: ex_libris_gul, Creative Commons License

Quick links – investigations, courtroom, punishment, profiling and more

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Quick links from around the web and blogosphere:

Investigations and courtroom :

The Sunday Times (25 Nov) reports on a new facial morphing technique called EvoFIT “that transforms the Photofit faces of criminal suspects into animated caricatures up to seven times more likely to be recognised than standard likenesses”. The system was developed by UK psychologists, one of whom commented that using the new system leads to “…a massive jump in the level of recognition [which] is really reliable”. Lots more information including plenty of downloadable papers on the EvoFIT webpages .

The Eyewitness Identification Reform blog highlights scholarly commentary on the effectiveness of cross-examination for getting at the truth of eyewitness evidence.

Following a detailed and extensively researched analysis, Prof. Epstein [the author of the commentary] concludes that the highly revered truth-seeking tool of cross-examination, while perhaps effective at rooting out liars, is utterly ineffective at uncovering the truth when faced with a witness who is confident, but honestly mistaken about what he or she remembers – which accounts for the majority of cases in which mistaken identification has led to wrongful conviction.

Mo over at Neurophilosophy (a great blog that doesn’t often post on forensic issues) discusses research on creating false memories by doctoring photographs. Participants who saw altered images had different memories of the events in the photographs:

For example, those participants shown the doctored photograph of [a] protest in Rome…in which figures placed in the foreground give the impression of violence, rated the event as being significantly more violent and negative than it actually was. In their comments, they also provided false details, such as conflicts, damages, injuries and casualties that did not appear in the photos and were not documented at the event.

The whole issue of Applied Cognitive Psychology is about ‘cognition and the media’ and includes other papers on the fallability of memory, which will be of use to anyone interested in eyewitness memory.

Anne Reed at the fabulous Deliberations blog reports on research into the Grim Power of Grim Evidence. Apparently “jurors presented with gruesome evidence, such as descriptions or images of torture and mutilation, are up to five times more likely to convict a defendant than jurors not privy to such evidence.”

Punishment:

The ever-interesting Karen Franklin comments on juvenile detention, and starts by posing some simple questions with disturbing answers. Did you know, for instance, that only two nations sentence children to life in prison? According to Karen, they are Israel, with 7 child lifers, and the USA, with an astonishing 2,387 child lifers.

Michael Connolly at Corrections Sentencing offers a detailed discussion of an article which “calls for broad application of empirical psychology to the study of the motive behind punishments”. The article is in press and due to appear in 2008.

  • Reference: Carlsmith, K.M., & Darley, J.M. (in press). Psychological aspects of retributive justice. Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, M. Zanna, Ed. (Elsevier, NY, 2008) vol. 41.

Psychopaths:

The criminal psychopath is the topic of a post at Top Two Inches, and over at the Deception Blog, a comment on research on whether psychopathic liars give themselves away through their verbal behaviour.

Profiling:

Crimson Shadows posts (with permission) the full text of ex-FBI profiler John Douglas’s response to Malcolm Gladwell’s article on profiling that appeared in the New Yorker last month. Douglas argues that Gladwell’s article misrepresents the science and practice of profiling.

Miscellany:

Terrific analysis of an fMRI study linking paedophilia to differences in the brain over at the Brain Ethics blog,  critiquing both the method and the interpretation of the results of this study.  In sum “at the least, just because the brain shows a difference, one cannot conclude anything beyond this about causation.”

The BPS Research Digest has also included a couple of forensically relevant posts recently: detecting feigned mental retardation and inter-ethnic violence.

As well as the post on juvenile detention mentioned above, Karen Franklin’s posted a lot of other good stuff recently too, including pointing us towards a Canadian news article on false confessions, commenting on how the UK is considering stricter controls on the use of expert scientific evidence, and a great piece on tracking serial killers in South Africa.

Romeo Vitelli’s Providentia blog reports on an intervention program for young victims of violence, child abuse and brain development, and an usual case of car fetishism.

Photo credit: bigeoino, Creative Commons License

Do criminologists make news? Are there barbarians on the beach? And is the serial killer a gothic double of the serial consumer?

monstersincSome interesting articles in the latest issue of the journal Crime, Media, Culture (vol 3, issue 3), currently free to all courtesy of the latest Sage Publications promotion.

Criminologists making news? Providing factual information on crime and criminal justice through a weekly newspaper column by Martina Yvonne Feilzer (“the key finding from the research was that readership of the column was low… and that the column had no measurable impact on readers”) caught my eye, as did Barbarians on the beach: Media narratives of violence in Rio de Janeiro (“reports on crime came to constitute a neo-racist discourse centred on images of infection”) by Ben Penglase.

But the article I think I’ll read first is Brian Jarvis’s Monsters Inc.: Serial killers and consumer culture. Here’s the abstract:

Serial killing has become big business. Over the past 15 years, popular culture has been flooded by true-life crime stories, biographies, best-selling fiction, video games and television documentaries devoted to this subject. Cinema is the cultural space in which this phenomenon is perhaps most conspicuous. The Internet Movie Database (imdb.com) lists over 1000 films featuring serial killers and most of the contributions to this sub-genre have been made since 1990. This article examines seminal examples of serial killer fiction and film including Thomas Harris’s Hannibal Lecter novels and their cinematic adaptations, Bret Easton Ellis and Mary Harron’s American Psycho (1991 and 2000) and David Fincher’s Se7en (1995). The main contention is that the commodification of violence in popular culture is structurally integrated with the violence of commodification itself. Starting with the rather obvious ways in which violent crime is marketed as a spectacle to be consumed, this article then attempts to uncover less transparent links between the normal desires which circulate within consumer society and monstrous violence. In `Monsters Inc.’, the serial killer is unmasked as a gothic double of the serial consumer.

Photo credit: veni markovski, Creative Commons License

New issue: Behavioral Sciences & the Law

journals

The July / August 2007 issue of Behavioral Sciences & the Law 25(4) is now online. Follow the link to the publisher’s website for abstracts and access to full text articles.

Contents include:

  • The function of punishment in the civil commitment of sexually violent predators – Kevin M. Carlsmith, John Monahan, Alison Evans
  • Constructing insanity: jurors’ prototypes, attitudes, and legal decision-making – Jennifer Eno Louden, Jennifer L Skeem
  • Facets of psychopathy, Axis II traits, and behavioral dysregulation among jail detainees – Richard Rogers, Mandy J. Jordan, Kimberly S. Harrison
  • Improving forensic tribunal decisions: the role of the clinician – Shari A. McKee, Grant T. Harris, Marnie E. Rice
  • Determining dangerousness in sexually violent predator evaluations: cognitive-experiential self-theory and juror judgments of expert testimony – Joel D. Lieberman, Daniel A. Krauss, Mariel Kyger, Maribeth Lehoux
  • An examination of behavioral consistency using individual behaviors or groups of behaviors in serial homicide – Alicia L. Bateman, C. Gabrielle Salfati
  • Can defendants with mental retardation successfully fake their performance on a test of competence to stand trial? – Caroline Everington, Heidi Notario-Smull, Mel L. Horton
  • The role of death qualification and need for cognition in venirepersons’ evaluations of expert scientific testimony in capital trials – Brooke Butler, Gary Moran
  • Plea bargaining recommendations by criminal defense attorneys: evidence strength, potential sentence, and defendant preference – Greg M. Kramer, Melinda Wolbransky, Kirk Heilbrun
  • Megan’s law and its impact on community re-entry for sex offenders – Jill S. Levenson, David A. D’Amora, Andrea L. Hern
  • Criminality and continued DUI offense: criminal typologies and recidivism among repeat offenders – Richard A. LaBrie, Rachel C. Kidman, Mark Albanese, Allyson J. Peller, Howard J. Shaffer

New issue: Behavioral Sciences & the Law 25(4)

journals

Behavioral Sciences & the Law 25(4) , July/Aug 2007 is now online. Follow the link to the publisher’s website for abstracts and access to full text articles.

Contents include:

  • The function of punishment in the ‘civil’ commitment of sexually violent predators – Kevin M. Carlsmith, John Monahan, Alison Evans
  • Constructing insanity: jurors’ prototypes, attitudes, and legal decision-making – Jennifer Eno Louden, Jennifer L Skeem
  • Facets of psychopathy, Axis II traits, and behavioral dysregulation among jail detainees – Richard Rogers, Mandy J. Jordan, Kimberly S. Harrison
  • Improving forensic tribunal decisions: the role of the clinician – Shari A. McKee, Grant T. Harris, Marnie E. Rice
  • Determining dangerousness in sexually violent predator evaluations: cognitive-experiential self-theory and juror judgments of expert testimony – Joel D. Lieberman, Daniel A. Krauss, Mariel Kyger, Maribeth Lehoux
  • An examination of behavioral consistency using individual behaviors or groups of behaviors in serial homicide – Alicia L. Bateman, C. Gabrielle Salfati
  • Can defendants with mental retardation successfully fake their performance on a test of competence to stand trial? – Caroline Everington, Heidi Notario-Smull, Mel L. Horton
  • The role of death qualification and need for cognition in venirepersons’ evaluations of expert scientific testimony in capital trials – Brooke Butler, Gary Moran
  • Plea bargaining recommendations by criminal defense attorneys: evidence strength, potential sentence, and defendant preference – Greg M. Kramer, Melinda Wolbransky, Kirk Heilbrun
  • Megan’s law and its impact on community re-entry for sex offenders – Jill S. Levenson, David A. D’Amora, Andrea L. Hern
  • Criminality and continued DUI offense: criminal typologies and recidivism among repeat offenders – Richard A. LaBrie, Rachel C. Kidman, Mark Albanese, Allyson J. Peller, Howard J. Shaffer

Quick links

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Quick links from around the web and blogosphere:

Mind Hacks (12 July) discusses recent commentary by Bruce Schneier on why terrorism fails, who in turn is commenting on a paper [pdf] by Max Abrahms (abstract over at the Terrorism Blog)

Also thanks to Mind Hacks, a pointer to an article in the Journal of Forensic Sciences outlining the case histories of two serial killers, which, the authors say “illustrate the wide spectrum of variations in the backgrounds, demographics, motivations, and actions witnessed among serial murderers, and highlight the limitations and dangers of profiling based on generalities”.

Wray Herbert on the Association of Psychological Science blog We’re Only Human (10 July) explores the links between alcohol and aggression, the subject of an article in the latest issue of Psychological Science. Herbert concludes:

It appears that alcohol has the potential to both increase and decrease aggression, depending on where’s one’s attention is focused.

The Situationist (10 July) discuss what happens When Thieves See Situation: apparently con artists are exploiting information collected via the market research of major corporations, using it to target elderly victims:

Publicly held companies… compile and sell lists of consumers. Con artists purchase the lists from the companies’ websites, then pose as telemarketers in order to obtain senior citizens’ bank account numbers. Finally, the thieves use unsigned checks to steal money from the accounts.

What caused the drop in crime in the late 1990s? Stephen Levitt on the Freakonomics Blog, Johan Lehrer at The Frontal Cortex, and Steve Sailer on iSteve evaluate a theory put forward by Rick Nevin, an economist, as described in a recent Washington Post article (8 July):

The theory offered … is that lead poisoning accounts for much of the variation in violent crime in the United States. It offers a unifying new neurochemical theory for fluctuations in the crime rate, and it is based on studies linking children’s exposure to lead with violent behavior later in their lives.

Providentia (15 July) ponders the phenomenon of copycat suicides in When Dying Becomes Fashionable.

Carnival Against Sexual Violence 27 (15 July) is up over at Abyss2Hope

Update on a previous story: Anne Reed at the Deliberations jury blog carefully takes apart Bruce Spencer’s “juries get it wrong” study (pdf) to examine whether the conclusions are warranted, and lawyer Mark Bennett adds some further explanation.

Photo credit: bigeoino, Creative Commons License

A personal construct theory approach to understanding extreme violence

violencebangbangThe latest issue of the Journal of Constructivist Psychology includes an article by David Winter from the University of Hertfordshire (UK) and Barnet, Enfield and Haringey Mental Health Trust (UK) setting out a personal construct theory approach to understanding how serial killers and other violent offenders perceive their crimes.

Here’s the abstract:

This article presents a categorization of pathways to violence and homicide, including serial killing, in terms of personal construct theory. Violent offenders’ reactions to their offences are considered in relation to the degree of consistency between their actions and their construing of the self and the world. Implications for the assessment and treatment of people who have committed acts of homicide or violence are discussed; and the extent to which it is possible and desirable to adopt a credulous approach with such individuals is explored, including consideration of the truth of offenders’ accounts, the therapeutic relationship, and moral relativism.

Read on for more discussion of the paper.

Continue reading A personal construct theory approach to understanding extreme violence

The Stocking Stranglings and Southern Justice

I’ve been enjoying the Leonard Lopate Show podcasts recently. Here’s one that might appeal to readers of this blog:

In the 1970s, a serial rapist and murderer strangled seven elderly white women in Columbus, Georgia. In The Big Eddy Club, Vanity Fair’s David Rose explains why he suspects the wrong man is on death row for the crimes.

Link to MP3.

Previous podcast segments of interest this month include:

Mass murder: What causes it? Can it be stopped?

Via Docuticker, a readable and thought-provoking piece on mass murder from the American Sociological Association:

We asked several experts to discuss various forms of mass murder, their causes, and possible means of prevention. The panelists were Katherine S. Newman, coauthor of Rampage: The Social Roots of School Shootings; Michael Mann, author of The Dark Side of Democracy: Explaining Ethnic Cleansing; Randall Collins, author of the forthcoming study, Violence: A Micro- Sociological Theory of Antagonistic Confrontations; and James Ron, author of Frontiers and Ghettos: State Violence in Serbia and Israel and coauthor of “what shapes the west’s human rights focus?”

Download the article (PDF) here.