How psychological profilers help the police with major investigations – Tina Bexson reports for Midweek magazine

In the course of being de-briefed by the Senior Investigating Officer, Lee Rainbow is shown a series of photographs depicting the body of a woman who has been raped and stabbed. They include close-up evidence of her mutilated body. He glances at them with interest but he knows he will need to see exactly where the attack and subsequent murder took place before he can even attempt to begin the task of providing a psychological insight into the investigation.

As Senior Behaviour Investigative Advisor or Profiler for the National Crime Faculty, Rainbow offers police forces around the country his expertise on their major investigations, including those for rape, murder, stalking and extortion.

Visiting the scene of crime is a priority. “If you rely on photographs then you are only relying on what the police photographer thought was important,” he explains. “Most importantly the police are primarily concerned with evidence, whereas I need to draw up a profile of the type of man who is likely to have committed this crime.”

The woman in question was murdered in a copse at the end of a quiet side street in the Midlands. When he examines the area Rainbow looks for all the ways both the victim and the offender could have entered and left the location. “I need to look at what decisions he made, but you can’t analyse that unless you look at his alternatives, so I will also see if he would have had a better spot if he had carried on walking. Why did he do it where he did it and not elsewhere? What it an impulsive or planned attack? This gives me an idea of his local knowledge and what could have been going through his mind.”

Rainbow requests further information from the investigation team. He wants a statement from the woman’s parents on how she would react to strangers talking to her, etc. He is trying to get an idea of how she would look to the offender and why she was targeted.

Once he has had time to assimilate all the information, he may offer suggestions to the investigation. On a previous case of a man indecently assaulting girls at two spots off a busy road in a city centre, he interpreted from his research that the man was likely to spend many hours wandering around, fantasising and waiting for the right victim. So Lee suggested the police should put a camera on the only bridge that crossed the road. Other suggestions include interviewing the girlfriends of rape suspects for evidence of any unusual sexual activities that were paralleled in the crime.

If a subsequent forensic examination of semen found on the woman provides DNA samples the police are likely to carry out a mass screening of suspects. Profilers can be invaluable in providing some parameters of who to prioritise in that screening. “Criteria is background details such as suspected age, where he lives, details of his type of job, his marital status, but most of all, any previous convictions. Research indicates that 85% of rapists have previous convictions though very few of those are for sexual offences. So we look for other common offences such as forgery and theft.” Using a Serious Crime Analysis Section database, he finds data to support his inferences.

Although profiling, in this sense, is scientifically based, it is only an opinion. Rainbow believes that it should quite rightly not be used as evidence in court. “Its about prioritising the type of person who is likely to have committed the crime, its not about evidence”, he says.

Occasionally profiles can be so revealing that they lead to the police unwittingly identifying the offender.
During a previous case in which a woman was found stabbed and strangled in her own home, Rainbow drew up a profile which stipulated that the offender was in his late twenties, was employed at a high enough standard to allow him time off in the day, and probably lived within five miles of the crime scene.

Most importantly he said he would have known the victim personally. “There were two cups in the sink and you don’t make a cup of tea for an axe wielding murderer who has just broken down the door. I felt he had been shut out of her life for whatever reason and felt disgruntled by that. There was no sign of a struggle until they were in the bedroom. Because of the nature of the murder I also said he was probably more interested in the violent end of pornography. “

After reading the profile, an officer felt it was uncannily similar to an associate of the victim he had just questioned, though not as a suspect. The man was re-interviewed and he has now been convicted for the murder.

Part of Rainbows background reading for cases includes psychiatric, clinical and psychological papers on the personality types of various offenders. But he says he stays away from the “psychobabble” of decisions on motivations “because whether the offender raped a woman because his mother beat him as a child is not going to help you to detect him, he might not even be aware of why he did it anyway. Another misconception is that you call in a profiler because the crime is so weird that it’s assumed its been committed by a madman. It often hasn’t.”

However part-time profilers, who have the clinical experience from working with convicted offenders in their full-time job, are very much concerned with motivations, and especially with those who have been diagnosed with either a mental health problem or a specific personality disorder. Dr Raymond Travers, Consultant Forensic Psychiatrist at Rampton Hospital applies both his academic knowledge and clinical experience to various issues of concern to the police during a major investigation. These range from whether a murder was pre-meditated, to whether an offender could be classified as psychotic, to whether an apparent murder victim could have committed suicide.

He has advised on many rape cases including that of the ‘DJ rapist’, Kevin Baker. On this ‘linked inquiry’, the investigating team wanted some psychological insight into whether the same perpetrator committed a series of rapes, which crossed the geographical boundaries of different police areas.

From the victims’ statements, Travers attempted to clarify patterns of behaviour, which he says, allowed him to think about possible motivating factors for the perpetrator.

“This gives me an indication of what kind of person the rapist could be and what kind of person he is less likely to be, which will help the police decide who they should interview. So I look at whether his approach appears very calculated and planned, or is it an opportunistic attack down a dark alley. How does his initial approach link to his behaviour during the event? What does he say and what emotional impact does this have on the woman?”

“The different ways in which he humiliates his victim is very significant. It can help determine what is making him tick. For example instructing the victim to engage in oral sex, but not to look. Why does he want her to close her eyes? “

Travers also tries to use his own personal reactions in an attempt to understand more about the mind of the offender. “If you are reading hundreds of rape scenarios then there is a vicarious sense of ‘excitement’ generated within you. I have to distinguish between the feelings, which are related to Ray Travers, and then look at whether my feelings are similar to those which could have been evoked in the woman. Or am I getting a hint of what is evoked in the perpetrator from what he is doing to the woman? From that I get a sense of what this means to the rapist. I know from my academic and clinical experience that certain feelings might be in common with a certain type of rapist.”

“Its never clear cut but you do find various traits which cluster in different intensities in different types of rapists whether they are an angry rapist, sadistic rapist or opportunist rapist etc. for example self love, narcissism, self-centredness are characteristics you find in all rapists, but you do not find a hatred of women in all rapists.”

He is keen to point out that the police only come to him if they feel they are struggling and that the insight he provides is taken into consideration as part of a much wider mass of information available to the police in all their various lines of enquiry.

“And It’s a slow process of reflection and consideration”, he adds. “I share with them my clinical judgement but I always remind them that it is only a judgement.”

© Tina Bexson


One thought on “How psychological profilers help the police with major investigations – Tina Bexson reports for Midweek magazine

  1. Pingback: How psychological profilers help the police with major investigations – Tina Bexson reports for Midweek magazine | Tina Bexson

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