Ah geography, it can tell you so much; the history of a continent, the political and religious undertones of a country, social growth and expansion of a society…if there’s a serial criminal in your neighborhood. One frequently used method in law enforcement is geographical profiling – basically studying the crimes as they relate to, well, geography – which can help to connect crimes and victims thus narrow down a suspect pool.
Connecting the Dots
A series of couples are killed – some shot, some stabbed – in their cars and it is determined that there is, in fact, a serial killer on the loose. During this time, in the same general area, a lone cab driver is shot, his wallet and keys taken, and his shirt ripped. At first glance these two crimes are totally unrelated. Then…”This is the Zodiac speaking…” and what would’ve been thrown aside as a possible robbery of the cabbie gone violent suddenly becomes another victim of that ever elusive serial killer that’s been terrorizing lower California. Now this is a rather extreme case in which geographical profiling would’ve at least encouraged a stronger look at the cabbie murder (after all, the shooting was in the same area Zodiac had been hunting) but that’s what makes it a good example of how important examining the geography of crimes can help to connect apparent unrelated crimes. Naturally not ever crime committed in a five mile radius will be the doing of a single person, but certain crimes (burglaries and arsons especially) that occur close together do tend to be.
No Place Like Home
Aside from the lucky few with the money or profession to travel most killers stay local, close to home and work, while killing. It is appropriately called their comfort zone. This comfort zone offers a bunch of pluses for the killer, not in the least because they know the area – which means they know the best spots to snatch people from, places that they would be able to discreetly kill, and places to hide the bodies after they’re done. There’s also the fact that it’s an area that the killer is fairly confident he won’t be suspected. Who’s going to think good ol’ Hank from the bank is capable of multiple rape and homicide even if all those women just happened to be his bank’s customers? Not many…at least not right off the bat anyway. Still, when n a bunch of folks go missing from the same bar, 10 block radius, or people start getting attacked in the same apartment buildings there’s a good bet the same person may be responsible. A likelihood that increases if the crimes are the same or at least involve similar circumstances (i.e. all disappeared walking out to their car, getting off the bus to walk home, or on a jog).
Respect the Boundaries
Everyone has boundaries, even the criminal, and they can stick within them just like anyone else in the world…even when it doesn’t appear so. From 1991-1999 (though 1997-1999 at it’s high point) a killer crosses not just city and county lines but multiple state lines as well in order to kill his victims; of which there were somewhere between 15 and 24. At first glance it appears this killer is without boundaries at all, that he could strike anywhere because nothing holds him to any kind of set location, and his crossing all these jurisdiction lines is his clever way of making things more difficult for law enforcement – which, offhand, would make most consider him pretty darn clever. The sad, and slightly more disturbing, truth was that the man, Angel Maturino Resendez (aka The Railway/Railroad Killer), was just following the railroad tracks he illegally rode around the United States. In this case the boundaries by which the killer was held was how far he could get from the train tracks to find his victims (which he robbed and sometimes even stayed in the homes of after the kill) but still be able to easily hop back on the train out of town before he was caught…no wonder virtually all the crimes took place very close to the railroad tracks – 100 yards is the farthest I could find documented – any farther and he’d loose his ride!
With a good geographic profile law enforcement can link crimes and significantly narrow the search for a suspect. How the victims are being targeted and where the killer feels all comfy and cozy enough to do what he does can be revealed. While this alone isn’t going to catch a suspect it certainly makes things one heck of a lot easier than the generalized panicked statement, “he could be anywhere!” that could otherwise be thrown around.