Typical and atypical homicide: investigative differences and cold case profiling.
Subject: Criminal profiling (Methods)
Homicide (Investigations)
Authors: Moffatt, Gregory K.
Hersey, Nicholas W.
Pub Date: 03/22/2010
Publication: Name: The Forensic Examiner Publisher: American College of Forensic Examiners Audience: Professional Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Health; Law; Science and technology Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2010 American College of Forensic Examiners ISSN: 1084-5569
Issue: Date: Spring, 2010 Source Volume: 19 Source Issue: 1
Topic: Event Code: 980 Legal issues & crime Computer Subject: Company legal issue
Geographic: Geographic Scope: United States Geographic Code: 1USA United States
Accession Number: 219374132
Full Text: This article addresses the difference between typical homicides and atypical homicides. Homicide investigators, even those in large agencies that handle dozens of homicides each year, spend the majority of their careers investigating typical homicides. These include homicides where the perpetrator has a relationship with the victim; the victim is engaged in drug activity; or the victim, is a target, bystander, or participant in another illegal activity. Atypical homicides are those that do not fall into one of these areas; they include serial crimes. This article addresses how the recognition of these two types of homicide, as well as how investigative differences between the two, can assist the college profiler and what profilers need for a cold case profiling.



Veteran investigators spend their careers in agencies like Detroit, Baltimore, New Orleans, and other departments that investigate literally hundreds of homicides each year. For example, Detroit had more than 340 homicides in 2008 (Smith, 2008), Baltimore had 234 in 2008 (Unger, 2009), and New Orleans had just over 200 in 2007 (New Orleans Has Highest U.S. City Crime Rate, 2009). These are highly experienced officers in the field. Routine homicides are to police work what diagnosing and treating the flu is to a physician. General practice physicians can diagnose the flu efficiently and quickly, but most physicians rarely see exotic diseases. For atypical diagnoses, doctors often refer to a specialist. Homicides are similar. Most of the homicides these investigators see are the equivalent of the flu. The typical homicide often involves people with a history of violence and when detectives arrive on the scene, it isn't uncommon for them to know the victim as well as the perpetrator. As an Atlanta homicide detective once told me, "The difference between the dead guy and the perpetrator is that the dead guy was a bad guy who was slower on the draw."

The difference between the homicides investigators are accustomed to seeing and the ones that stump them is the difference between typical and atypical homicides. The methods by which homicides are routinely investigated are missing something that cold case profilers need. Many investigators take shortcuts when investigating typical homicides. These shortcuts help expedite the process and can save money and time. To thoroughly investigate every homicide would be a waste of resources for a seasoned investigator, but shortcuts leave cases lacking when they reach the desk of the cold case profiler.

Typical and atypical homicide. Most homicides are committed primarily by one of three types of perpetrators: (1) the victim has a relationship with the perpetrator--lovers, spouses, children, neighbors, or coworkers; (2) the victim is engaged in the use, purchase, sale, storage, or distribution of illegal drugs; or (3) the victim is either an innocent target (i.e. a convenience store clerk) or is engaged in socially marginal activities (i.e. prostitution, gang behavior). For example, the FBI reports that of 14,000 homicides in 2007, over 6,000 of the murder victims were family members, friends, co-workers, or acquaintances of the killer (Crime in the United States, 2007) and another study reported that between 1976 and 2005, of the 594,276 homicides, over 50% of the victims where killed by someone they knew (U.S. Department of Justice, 2007). These are typical homicides. The cases that faze investigators are those that don't fit into the investigative model by which they have been trained. Once they run out of suspects and follow all leads to their logical ends, they don't know what else to do--their training and experience have not prepared them for investigating homicides that don't fit into a typical category.

Homicides committed by serial killers, psychotic killers, or perpetrators who do not fit into one of the three major types listed above are considered atypical homicides. These homicides make up a minority of the homicides that are committed, but when investigators approach atypical homicides as they would typical homicides, they run into a dead end. By this point their cases have grown cold and it is difficult or impossible to acquire needed evidence--evidence that could have been easily collected from the start.

Why cases grow cold, Cases grow cold for several reasons, but the major reasons are:

* Inability to identify the victim

* Lack of manpower, funding, or motivation to close the case

* Perpetrators who are known, but insufficient evidence makes conviction unlikely

* Errors by investigators

* Poorly investigated cases make closing the case difficult or impossible

These cases will remain inactive until new evidence comes to light; they might never be closed. But cases also grow cold when investigators simply run out of leads. In typical homicides, investigations are more like the movies. There is a finite set of suspects and the perpetrator is likely to be one of them. Unfortunately, those rules don't work with atypical homicides. There is an infinite number of possible suspects as well as an infinite number of motives. If investigators don't recognize this difference at the beginning of the investigation, they will soon find themselves spinning their wheels.

With typical homicides it would be a waste of manpower and effort to pursue extensive interviews with tangential witnesses or relatives, establish string trajectories, or perform other time-consuming and expensive processes. The pursuit of the case can be focused much more efficiently on a specific, likely suspect. Most investigators don't have the luxuries of time, money, or manpower. They are most likely balancing several homicides or other cases simultaneously. Therefore, shortcuts and heuristics work fairly well and often lead to successful convictions. However, when an atypical homicide is investigated in this manner, by the time investigators realize they have been following the wrong trail, the witnesses have vanished and valuable, irreplaceable evidence is gone. Likewise, neighbors have forgotten what they might have seen or heard and their memories are tainted by media coverage. These are the cases that end up in cold case storage and eventually on the desk of the cold case profiler.

The 48-hour rule. For years there has been a popular belief that the first 48 hours following the discovery of a homicide are critical. It was said that if a homicide wasn't solved within 48 hours, the chances of solving it diminish quickly (Walton, 2006, p. 21). While it is true that witnesses disappear and memories distort and fade as time goes on, I don't believe the rule. For one thing, most homicides are not solved within 48 hours. However, I know how this myth evolved. In typical homicides, the direction the homicide needs to proceed is often clear. Sometimes the perpetrator is even still on the scene. In other cases, there is so much available evidence that the direction the investigator needs to pursue is clear. For example, in one homicide a man was murdered by his ex-wife and her accomplices. The victim had actually recorded his own murder. The estranged couple was in the midst of a custody dispute involving their five-year-old daughter. The man's lawyer had advised him to secretly tape his conversations with his ex-wife. One day when he went to pick up his daughter, his ex-wife was waiting with three cohorts who brutally killed him in her living room with a baseball bat--in front of their daughter. All of it was recorded and the perpetrators could clearly be heard on the tape using each other's names. Months later when his body was found in the trunk of his car, the audiotape was discovered and all four of the killers went to jail.

This audiotape also demonstrated their ineptitude. It took them over an hour to actually kill the man and they could be heard arguing with each other as to why he wasn't dead yet. Most killers aren't very good at murder. They make stupid mistakes that leave a trail of bread crumbs to their homes, offices, or hiding places, as the audiotape in this homicide demonstrated. In another homicide, for example, the perpetrator shot himself while trying to kill the victim. A trail of blood led out of the house and ended where he had parked his vehicle. He was discovered within hours at a local emergency room and arrested. Blood was found in his car and his DNA matched the blood on the scene. He was eventually convicted. In homicides like this, the case may not literally be wrapped up in 48 hours, but it may be clear who the perpetrator is within that period.

Another problem with the 48-hour rule is that it is simply a statistic that gives the wrong impression. By far, typical homicide investigations are usually moving within 48 hours; atypical ones are not. Statistically, more typical homicide cases are solved than atypical cases. Therefore, it appears that the issue is time when in fact the issue is the type of homicide. Likewise, shortcuts in investigations like the cases mentioned helped quickly send these perpetrators to prison. Mistakes that might have been made in processing the crime scene didn't matter because the evidence against them was overwhelming. However, when atypical homicides are investigated poorly, by the time the investigator realizes his or her error, it is too late to fix it. This leads to the impression that the issue was the first 48 hours of the investigation when in fact the problem was the method of the investigation.

Cold Case Profiling

Nearly every department of any size has cold cases. These are robberies, rapes, murders, and other cases that haven't had any movement in months or years and/or for which investigators have exhausted all their options. They don't know what else to do, and cases that are easier to solve take priority. Even though some large agencies have squads that specialize in cold cases, small departments stow their cold cases and once they go cold, most never see the light of day again. Sometimes a new chief will direct detectives to drag out cold cases and see if any new developments exist, but otherwise it isn't in the detective's best interest to pursue them. Detectives prove their value by closing cases. Time spent on lost causes may make the victims' families feel better, but it doesn't help the detective's career and, honestly, most of us probably would prefer that they spend their time on cases they can close. If they invested all of their time and resources on long shots they would be neglecting those cases they could close.

Cold-case profilers get cases that everyone in the department has already tried to solve. These cases have often gone through the hands of a half-dozen different investigators over the years. During that time, material gets lost or important information gets overlooked. For example, I was doing a profile on a cold case involving several homicides that appeared to be the work of a serial killer. In the process of studying the file I found out we had DNA on the perpetrator in one of the homicides and nobody, including the DA and the lead detective, knew about it. Material gets lost because not everything fits nicely into a single box, such as carpet samples, axes, baseball bats, and other irregular objects. These pieces of evidence may literally be placed in a corner somewhere. The investigator knows where they are, but when he or she leaves, is transferred, or the case is reassigned, sometimes those items get misplaced. Even when all the information is there, sometimes it is inadequate. It is nearly impossible to profile a crime 10 years after the fact with only a handful of crime scene photos and poorly written reports.

What Profilers Need For Cold Cases

To profile a cold case, one needs at least cursory skills in several areas of investigation--blood spatter patterns, basic detective work, anatomy, ballistics, psychology, sociology, and even culture. These are the tools that help piece the chain of events together. Each piece of data I have is like a piece of a jigsaw puzzle; the more pieces I have, the better I am at constructing a coherent story. Like a puzzle, each piece of evidence not only has to make sense, but it also has to fit with the other pieces of evidence. A well-prepared case file provides the profiler with the data needed to do the job. A good investigation for a cold-case profiler is thorough. It should include photographs, diagrams, measurements, reports, interviews, and all other information from the medical examiner. When I work a cold case, I want everything available. While many of the following sections are important for both typical and atypical homicides, they are critical for profiling atypical homicides and cold cases.

On the scene. Nothing in the crime scene should be moved before the crime scene has been thoroughly photographed and measured. I want to know what was on the ground around the victim. Little things might mean nothing, but I won't know that until I recreate the scene. I want to know the time of day the victim died, the weather conditions the day of and the day before the homicide, and how long the victim lay in place before being found. If emergency responders moved the body, don't try to move the body back to where you think it was. The case record should note anything that was moved or altered. My rule is MLR--Move it, Leave it, Report it.

It is important to also include in the case file a list of everyone working the scene, such as EMTs, law enforcement, firefighters, and other relevant personnel (Geberth, 1997, p. 6). I might have to find them if I need help sometime down the road. In his homicide investigator's field guide, Geberth also recommends secretly photographing and/or videotaping bystanders at the scene (1997, p. 19). In atypical homicides, perpetrators are known to stand by and watch the chaos they have caused. Identify as many bystanders as possible and include their names and information in the case file.

Digital and photographic record. The first thing I look at when I profile a cold case is the photographs of the crime scene including the body and surrounding area. If the crime scene is inside, photographs of every room as well as a floor plan are needed. The photos need to show the room(s) from every angle as well as include close-up shots of windows and doors. I want to be able to see if there is dust on the windowsill or scrapes on the door casing. If the crime scene is outside, I need photographs coming to and from the scene and views away from the body. I want to know what the victim would have seen.

Close-ups of footprints and impressions are imperative. Castings get lost and I often have to make my best judgment from a photograph. I want close-ups of blood, weapons, clothing, wounds, broken furniture, shell casings, or anything else that might be related to the crime but hard to see in wide-angle photographs. Evidence can get lost from evidence lockers and if it does, I want to at least have pictures of it.

Photograph the outside of the structure from every angle as well as the surrounding neighborhood. Again, I may get the case 10 or 15 years after it happens. Trees grow taller, new houses are built, sidewalks are added, and streets are widened. Even if I visit the crime scene it may not look as it did when the homicide occurred. I need the crime scene photographs to help me see how it appeared. Seeing the street and the neighborhood is an important part of my profile.

Photographs should be taken before any crime scene processing begins. It doesn't help me create a profile if a body has evidence bags over its hands. Bagging the hands is an important part of standard procedure, but the scene needs to be photographed before the hands are bagged. It is also a problem if evidence bags, investigators, or other unrelated things are in the crime scene photos. One homicide I profiled showed a table full of evidence bags the responding agency had collected--several pieces of key evidence had been moved. Ten years later, how am I supposed to distinguish between items the perpetrator moved or left and items that were moved by investigators?

Not everything at a crime scene matters, but everything might matter. In an earlier age when crime scene photographs were shot with 35mm film, developed, and blown up into 8xl0s, it was expensive to take photographs you didn't need. However, with digital photography, taking 100 or more photographs of a crime scene costs next to nothing. With digital imaging, a homicide case file should easily have 100 photographs. Storing 10 photos costs exactly the same as storing 100 photographs. You have to walk the scene anyway. It doesn't take much more time to shoot, shoot, shoot.

Geberth suggests taking "two full-body shots" (1997, p. 20) and in their death investigation guide, The U.S. Department of Justice suggests taking multiple shots "if possible." (1999). Why wouldn't it be possible? I want a dozen shots of the body. Duplicates cost nothing so I'll ignore the ones I don't need. The photographer should shoot pictures of everything on the way in and everything on the way out. These photographs should be copied onto a CD or DVD and labeled. In that form, they will last forever and even if I get the case 20 years later, the photographs will look like they were taken yesterday.

Videotape the crime scene when possible. Having video available in my homicides been exceedingly helpful to me as I created my profiles. As digital technology improves, it is easier and cheaper to take video of a scene and it is also easier and cheaper to store that video. What you cannot photograph or video, describe in detail in the case file. Anything that isn't obvious in the photographs or video should also be explained in the case file. I want to hear audiotapes of anything that might have been taped and if the case has been profiled on TV shows, I look at those, too. Include a printed record of all digital and cyber communications of the victim. This includes Twitter, Facebook, answering machines, text messages, voice mail, and e-mail.

When a homicide is suspected to be atypical, investigate it like you know it will be 10 years before someone sees the material. Ten years later when I have to put it all together for my profile, digital records are one of my best tools.

Diagrams. I need diagrams of the crime scene including distances and location of shell casings and juxtaposition of the body. While this is also a part of typical homicide investigation, many details that are important to me as a profiler are often left out of diagrams. One homicide I profiled contained more than 50 excellent photographs including great close-up shots of the shell casings. However, in no place in the photographs or the reports was there any indication as to where the casings were found. The murder was in a wooded area and small objects like shell casings were invisible unless photographed up close. The location of these casings was an exceedingly important piece of information when I tried to determine handedness of the perpetrator. This is something I was unable to do because of this one missing detail.

Include general distances to neighboring structures, public areas (i.e. shopping centers or parks), or traffic areas (interstates or busy highways). Online resources like Google Earth are also useful. I often use such tools when I profile a case in order to obtain an aerial view of the murder's location. With an aerial view, I can see the accessibility of the neighborhood. What might look like a remote area from the ground might actually abut an apartment complex, shopping center, or industrial area. Someone with knowledge of the location could easily walk a path through the woods. Aerial photographs make that kind of option obvious to me. Likewise, neighborhoods change; buildings disappear. An entire subdivision, shopping center, or school complex might have been constructed in the time between the crime and when I get the case. I need to know that the area around the crime was distressed, wooded, or developed. If the case notes don't tell me that, all I have to go on is what I see when I walk the neighborhood. A concrete visual of how the area looked at the time of the crime is very helpful. When a case is determined to be atypical, include something like a Google Earth aerial view in the case record.

Reports and interviews. As discussed earlier, with typical homicides, incomplete interviews and poorly written reports are not always critical in closing the case. For profiling atypical homicides, incomplete interviews are a major problem. Many times I've discovered notes in cold case files about witnesses who claimed to have seen or heard something, but no follow-up was ever made. Likewise, I have regularly found suspects who fell through the cracks and even though their names and information existed in the case file, investigators never knew of them or failed to follow through with the leads. I suspect this happens most often when atypical homicides are investigated as typical homicides. The investigator thinks he knows who committed the crime and in his eagerness to close the case, he doesn't want to be distracted by leads he sees as red herrings. By the time the case grows cold, it may have been passed on to other investigators and incomplete interviews get overlooked--an easy mistake to make in a case file that may contain 1,000 pages.

I want to see every scrap of paper that goes with the case--I read everything. This includes every note written on a napkin or post-it note. I never know when something was overlooked as the case passed from one hand to the next. This is how I found the DNA link in the homicide mentioned earlier.

Reading police reports, interview transcriptions, and the like helps me not only to profile the perpetrator, but also to get an accurate picture of the victim. My profiles all include a profile of the victim as well as the perpetrator. I need as much information as is available on the victim--their friends, lovers, former lovers, work habits, hobbies, hopes, and dreams. Knowing something about the victim helps me form an idea of what the person was like and who could have had access to him or her, how he or she would have responded to various situations, and so forth. The more thorough the case record with regard to the victim, the better it is for a profiler. I can't easily acquire this information 20 years later. In typical homicides it is not necessary to invest any energy in creating a profile of the victim, but in atypical homicides it is critical.

Ballistics and trajectories. Profilers need any information available on ballistics and trajectories in cold cases. I use this information to determine the order in which any shots or other injuries occurred. This helps me figure out exactly what happened, who was standing where; it sometimes helps me reconstruct the murder. I need to know how every drop of blood fell where it did and how the victim's body acquired every wound. I develop this information from the crime scene reports, photographs, and from the medical examiner's reports. String trajectories are very helpful, but very time consuming. String trajectories are not often necessary in typical homicides, but they can be very helpful to me as a cold case profiler of atypical homicides.

Type of weapon. Women almost never kill with ligatures. Men use knives, their bare hands, guns, ligatures, and blunt objects. Sometimes they bring their weapon with them and sometimes they use a weapon found at the scene. Sometimes they take their weapon when they leave and sometimes they don't. The selection of weapon tells me something about the person and what he or she was thinking. I need this information in a report. In typical homicides, something obvious like "weapon was acquired at the scene" might easily be omitted from a report. Everyone knows the perpetrator will be arrested before the day is over and that detail won't be forgotten. However, in atypical homicides, that detail will be very important to me as a cold case profiler, but I won't have the luxury of exploring the original investigator's memory. All information regarding weapons needs to be in the report.

Medical Examiner's report. When I profile a cold case, I look very carefully at each of the victim's wounds. Therefore, I need all of the autopsy photographs. ME reports are fairly uniform and for most cases I've worked, the reports have been thorough, but these reports often omit information that would be helpful. I need to know what injuries would be fatal by themselves and which injuries would not. I need to know if an injury would have incapacitated the victim, but not killed him or her. It would also be helpful to know how long the victim would have lived from the onset of the attack. Medical examiners are reluctant to speculate in formal reports about these things and they rarely note the order of injury. Even when they think they know they don't put it in a report because they have to defend their statements in court. Therefore, informal conversations with the ME about such things could help me later as a cold case profiler. These conversations and any speculations need to be in the case file.

I want to know if the victim was sexually assaulted and I definitely want to know if sperm and/or seminal fluid are present. A sexual assault with no ejaculation is different than one where the perpetrator ejaculates into the victim's vagina, anus, or mouth. It is very common in a sexual assault/homicide for the victim to be penetrated, but no seminal fluid to be found inside the body. For this reason I need to know if there is evidence of penetration even when seminal fluid is absent. Also, in atypical homicides, perpetrators may masturbate on the victim's clothing, on the ground, or on the victim's body after the murder. Any such evidence needs to be in the case notes.


CODIS is the Combined DNA Database Index System. It is basically a large national DNA database. Any criminal from approximately 1985 and onward who was arrested for certain crimes (i.e. rape, murder) or who was convicted and sentenced to prison (almost any crime) is in the database. Even if a case is 50 years old, if there is blood or other viable DNA material available, it can be scanned today and run through CODIS. A CODIS hit results in an almost certain conviction. The Atlanta Cold Case Squad has a 100% conviction rate and many of those cases hinge on CODIS hits. If a perpetrator gets arrested and convicted of almost any crime (forgery, prostitution, or minor possession of a controlled substance), once he goes to prison he is swabbed and his DNA goes into the CODIS database. It was through CODIS that investigators were able to finally catch Gary Ridgway, also known as the Green River Killer. This was once thought to be a crime that would never be solved and that the 48 homicide cases attributed to him would never be closed. After running samples through CODIS, Ridgway was arrested and charged for the Green River murders. He has since been convicted.

Buccal swabs of every possible suspect are imperative. Technologies that don't exist today may be available by the time your case becomes a cold case. In fact, in 1987 Ridgway had been a suspect in the Green River Killings, but there was insufficient evidence to convict him. Fifteen years later, improved DNA testing methods led to his arrest and conviction.

The Violent Crime Apprehension Program (ViCAP) is also a powerful tool available to Cold Case Squads. Serial offenders (rapists, sexual killers, arsonists, etc.) can increase their probability of escaping detection simply by staying on the move. A single homicide or rape in one jurisdiction is far more difficult to identify as a serial crime (although it is by no means impossible) than several crimes with a similar signature. When agencies do not communicate, as they often do not, a serial killer could commit a homicide in one city and then move 60 miles away and do the same thing again using the same M.O. and signature. Without communication between agencies, it would be next to impossible to connect the crimes. ViCAP provides that needed communication.

Completing the ViCAP Crime Analysis Report is tedious and time consuming, but it is invaluable. While it may not help a given agency solve the majority of its homicides or rapes, the most prolific offenders run the highest risk of being caught when their crimes are in the ViCAP database. Nearly everything that I want to know for a profile is contained in the 90-plus questions on the ViCAP Report. Atypical homicides should always be submitted to ViCAP and that report should be in the case record. Other databases such as the Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System (IAFIS), the National Integrated Ballistics Information Network (NIBIN), and RUVIS can also be helpful.

Collecting The Cold Case Record

The homicide record should include all of the previous in a single file if possible, and it should use dividers and folder tabs for organization. Separate witness statements from initial crime scene reports. Section tabs are also needed for M.E. reports, photographs, investigative leads, suspects interviewed, and CODIS reports. Include a section for ongoing leads and new information. Keep everything. For evidence items that are too large to put in a file, either include a description of the item or a photograph. If a case goes cold, put everything in a digital format and put it on a CD/DVD. This is an inexpensive and easy way to keep track of cases. It helps me a great deal when I can pick up an entire cold case and put it in my coat pocket as opposed to carrying boxes of paper and photographs out of the office.


One case I profiled included a single file folder with only about 40 pages. In the file were five or six 5x7 photographs, the M.E. report, and the attending officer's handwritten report. The photographs were in horrible condition, out of focus, and not one close-up existed in the entire file. There was a photograph of a substantial amount of blood in a bathroom on the wall and sink. But from no place in the report could I determine where the bathroom was in relationship to the body or whose blood it was. It almost certainly was the perpetrator's. However, if the perpetrator were injured and bleeding as profusely as it appeared from the bathroom scene, he or she almost certainly would have bled on the floor, carpet, and walls. Yet no such photographs existed and no mention was made of any such blood trail. The case file was useless to me in my profile. The M.E. report was complete, but the dates and times in it didn't match the dates and time on the officer's reports. Some of the information in this case had been lost over time and consequently there was very little I could do. In my profile I noted that it was unlikely the case would ever be solved with so much crucial information missing from the file; much of my profile was mere speculation. I wasn't any help because I wasn't given anything to work with.

Investigators should determine if the homicide is typical or atypical at the scene. The beginning of recognizing the possibility of an atypical homicide is asking the questions, "Are there obvious suspects or not?" "Does the staging of the scene indicate the potential for a serial crime?" and "Is there anything about the type of weapon, location, time of day, access, or potential connection to similar crimes that make it possible that the homicide is atypical?" If so, process the case as if it is atypical.


Profiling a cold case is difficult work, but it can be made easier if the case file is complete and if it has been thoroughly investigated. Early profilers often said they could tell everything they needed to know from the crime scene photographs. I disagree with this. That is like trying to talk with someone via video phone with the sound off, trying to guess what they are saying instead of simply turning the sound up and listening. I see no reason to speculate when there is other information to confirm or refute one's hypotheses. A complete case file helps create a complete picture for the cold case profiler.

Investigators can sometimes get away with sloppy or incomplete work on typical homicides. Convictions are sometimes handed to you on a silver platter. For example, one of my first homicides involved a man who walked into a trucking company and shot his former boss and three other people as frightened employees fled the building and frantically dialed 911 for help. When the police arrived, the perpetrator was sitting on the curb outside the building waiting to be arrested. After being Mirandized, he readily confessed to the arresting officers and later talked to investigators for several hours without an attorney. Needless to say, this perpetrator went to prison. But atypical homicides never are this easy to close.

This article has provided suggestions regarding the differences between typical and atypical homicide and what profilers need to better work a cold case. When possible, investigators should investigate every crime scene so someone could recreate the case a decade after their retirement. However, the use of heuristics and shortcuts can be an effective approach with typical homicides, especially when both manpower and budget are limited. Regardless, thorough investigation in atypical cases is crucial.


This article is approved by the foxing for continuing education credit: (ACFEI) The American College of Forensic Examiners International provides this continuing education credit for Diplomates and certified members.

After studying this article, participants should be better able to do the following:

1. Identify the distinction between typical and atypical homicide.

2. Identify the different methods of homicide investigation between typical and atypical homicide.

3. Identify the needs of a profiler for cold case investigation.

KEY WORDS: profiling, atypical homicide, typical homicide, investigation, cold case

TARGET AUDIENCE: Investigators


DISCLOSURE: The author has nothing to disclose.


POST CE TEST QUESTIONS (Answer the following questions after reading the article)

1. The three major groups of homicides victims include all of the following except:

a. Mafia/organized crime professional "hits."

b. Drug related homicides,

c. Homicides where the victim has a relationship (work, family, lover) with the perpetrator.

d. All of the above were discussed by the authors

2. The importance of the difference between a typical and typical homicide is:

a. Typical homicides involve crimes of passion while atypical crimes do not.

b. Atypical homicides should be investigated differently than typical homicides.

c. ViCAP requires this distinction.

d. All of the above were important distinctions mentioned by the authors

3. According to the authors, cases grow cold for all of the following reasons except:

a. Lack of motivation, funding, or manpower to close the case.

b. Poorly investigated cases.

c. Political involvement where investigators are pulled from the case.

d. The perpetrator is known, but there is a lack of enough evidence for a conviction.

4. When photographing a scene, investigators should:

a. Take numerous photographs of the scene, body, and environment from many angles

b. Wait until the crime scene has been processed and then photograph what you can.

c. Move a body back into its original position before EMT's worked on before photographing it.

d. Take only a few pictures of the scene. Too many pictures can be confusing.

5. The authors suggest that a profiler needs all of the following except:

a. An aerial view of the scene, such as is available on Google maps.

b. Facebook, Twitter, and other electronic records of the victim.

c. String trajectories.

d. All of the above.

6. A good case file for a cold case profiler should include;

a. Photographs of the victim, scene, surrounding area, and numerous close-ups of evidence

b. Detailed information on the victims so that the victim can be profiled as well as the perpetrator

c. ViCap data and the Medical Examiners reports/photographs.

d. All of the above should be included.

7. The authors suggest that atypical homicides should be investigated:

a. In a way chat the scene can be recreated ten years after the investigator retires.

b. In complete detail regardless of typical or atypical homicide.

c. Without regard to type (atypical or typical homicide).

d. None of the above are reasonable summaries.


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By Gregory K. Moffatt, PhD, DABPS, LPC; and Nicholas W. Hersey

Gregory K. Moffatt, PhD, is a college professor, author of numerous books and articles on violent behavior, newspaper columnist, and public speaker. He has been a licensed counselor for more than 20 years, specializing in children, abuse, and neglect. He is also nationally board certified in child sexual abuse. Dr. Moffatt has served as a regular lecturer at the FBI Academy, a profiler with the Atlanta Cold Case Squad, and a consultant to numerous airlines, businesses, and schools. He has appeared on ABC, NBC, CBS, and FOX news, as well as America's Most Wanted, and he has lectured in countries on four continents.

Nicholas W. Hersey, a dedicated husband and father, has devoted his greatest effort to discovering ways to better the lives of children. His passion is to give children who have endured traumatizing experiences a sense of healing by equipping them with tools they can utilize in their days to come. Over the past several years, Mr. Hersey has focused his research and experience working within various refugee populations to find common themes amongst children that are universally applicable.
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