Serial Killer Characteristics

September 2, 2008

The FBI has created a  list of different characteristics to identify serial killers.  In order to be classified a serial killer, murderers  must have 15 out of 21 of the characteristics; they must be methodical with their killings, killing three or more people over a period of time, spanning at least 30 days.  It’s fascinating to peek into the minds of serial killers, who are the most abhorrent examples of human kind.

 

Charles Starkweather and Elmer Wayne Henley represent opposing sides of the serial killer spectrum.

 

Charles grew up being bullied and teased because of a birth defect (bowed legs) and speech impediment. Abuse and alienation are typical precursors to the violent acts of these men and women, however, they are not always present.  Conversely, not all abused or alienated children become killers.  Charles also had a need to control others and be powerful.  According to a high school friend, Bob Von Busch “He could be mean as hell, cruel. If he saw some poor guy on the street who was bigger than he was, better looking, or better dressed, he’d try to take the poor bastard down to his size.”

 

84% of American serial killers are caucasian, 90% are male and 86% are heterosexual. 

 

When Charles was 18 years old, he began dating 14 year old Caril Ann Fugate  He quit school and took a job near Caril.  He was poor worker, considered slow and unintelligent.  The pair proved to be a deadly combination. Starkweather went to visit Caril and while she was out,  he argued with and shot her mother and stepfather. Once Caril arrived home, Starkweather strangled, and stabbed her two-year-old sister. He hid the bodies behind the house. The two stayed in the house for six more days, turning people away with a note taped to the door that read: “Stay a Way Every Body is sick with the Flue.”

 

Caril Ann’s grandmother called the police and the two murderers became fugitives, embarking on a killing spree across Nebraska and into Wyoming.  They were eventually apprehended, but left ten bodies in their wake. It is likely that Charles would have killed no matter what provocation, however, fueled by an ill fated romance, he became a notorious spree killer, classified as a serial killer because of a robbery and murder which occurred weeks earlier.

 

The pair’s story has inspired authors, including Stephen King who incorporated many variations on Starkweather in his work. The character The Kid, who appears in the complete and uncut edition of The Stand, is meant to be a reincarnated Charles Starkweather.  Starkweather also inspired the films The Sadist, Badlands, Starkweather, Murder in the Heartland , The Frighteners and Natural Born Killers.

 

84% of American killers are Caucasian and 89% of their victims are white. 16% of serial killers are black.

 

Unlike Charles,  Dean Corll was methodical and meticulous.  He was killed by an accomplice, Elmer Wayne Henley, aged 17.   Henley confessed to the rape and murder of twenty seven young boys and admits he recruited the victims for Corll.  Henley explained that he and another boy, David Brooks, procured boys for Corll to rape and murder for a finder’s fee of $200.

 

Serial killers tend to be intelligent with IQ’s in the “bright normal” range, however, they often do poorly in school, are unable to hold down jobs and often work as unskilled laborers.

 

Corll did not present many of the characteristics identified by the FBI. He had an unremarkable childhood, marred only by the divorce of his parents. He did well in school and was described as well behaved and polite.  Corll was drafted into the military and  discharged a year later so he could return home to help his mother.  She owned a candy business, which gave Corll access to children (he handed out samples and was known as the Candy Man.)

 

Many serial killers engage in sadistic activity at a young age, torturing animals or abusing younger children.  24% kill their first victim while in their thirties, 44% start in their twenties and 26% start in their teens.

 

Corll’s death left many questions unanswered.  Many families will never know for certain if their son was a victim to Corll or some other predator prowling the streets.  In all likelihood, Henley and Brooks would have branched out on their own given the chance.  Thankfully,  both were found guilty of murder for their participation in the crimes and are serving 99 years in prison.  Brooks was sentenced to 99 years – opposed to the six consecutive 99-year terms Henley received. Henley became eligible for parole in 1983.

 

More Statistics

The USA has 76% of the world’s serial killers. California leads the US with the most Serial Homicide cases, followed by Texas, New York, Illinois and Florida.  Maine has the lowest occurences (none) while Hawaii, Montana, North Dakota, Delaware and Vermont have each had only one case of serial murder.

Europe in second, has 17%.  Of these, 28% are from England, 27% from Germany and 13% from France.

65% of victims are female.

 

How to Write

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 How Serial Killers Work

 

 


Forensic Botanists Discover Clues to the Crime

February 25, 2008

Fiction writers need to be aware of the advances in forensic science and techniques for gathering and analyzing evidence so their stories are relevant in today’s market.  The following true crime story was featured on a show called Forensic Files which airs on TRU TV. I thought it was interesting because police investigations are becoming more sophisticated.  Shows like CSI dramatize the facts, but there are still elements of truth.   Fourteen year old Genna disappeared from her home and no one witnessed anything suspicious in the neighborhood.  The next day, her nude body was found in a ditch 20 miles outside of town.  The coroner determined cause of death was strangulation, however there were other injuries, including blunt force injuries to the head and post mortem pressure marks. These marks would normally fade quickly, but when the blood doesn’t circulate away from the pressure spot the color remains.  Police checked the Genna’s home, but found no signs of struggle.  Police began to check into alibis of Genna’s family, her mother, her older brother and her step father Doug.   Doug said he was at work in the morning, however, the security cameras were off that day.  He provided a second alibi, a fast food restaurant.  Amazingly, the fast food restaurant’s cameras weren’t working either, so police could not verify Doug’s alibi.  They searched his car and didn’t find any blood or signs the vehicle had been recently cleaned.  They did find plant material under the car.   Forensic Botanists examined the material and found yellow star thistle which was present at the crime scene and on the body.  Diagnostic characteristics are unique aspects of the plant which differentiate it from other plants of the same species, such as developmental life cycles of each plant.  The plant was too common to tie Doug to the crime scene. Police investigators returned to the marks on Genna’s body to find more evidence.  Photographs of the marks were sent to a Photogrammatrist, who was able to create a 3 dimensional image of the skin pattern and precise measurements of the object which created the marks.   Acting on a hunch, investigators placed a model, similar is size and weight to Genna, in a vehicle similar to Doug’s and found the pressure marks were made by a seat belt buckle and an edge of carpeting.  He was convicted, but maintains his innocence to date.


Spree Killers

January 23, 2008

Spree killers target innocent bystanders, thrilling in the destruction of the public’s well being. Their acts of violence are motivated by revenge or a misguided need to be noticed.

On April 28, 1996, Martin Bryant opened fire at a popular café.  He killed 35 people and wounded 19 others in a single day.  Bryant was a troubled and tormented youth, lashing out in anger.   He lashed out in defense against bullying and was diagnosed with schizophrenia and mild retardation.  As a young adult he became isolated and desperate sought companionship, striking up conversations with random women.  His attempts were thwarted and he became angry at society in general and planned revenge.    After the shootings, Bryant fled to a nearby inn and was surrounded by police.  He set the inn on fire and was badly burned.  He recovered from his injuries and was sentenced to 35 life sentences after pleading guilty to murder.  

Martin Bryant

Social exclusion seems to be a common indicator in spree killers. Test subjects were tested to see the impact of social isolation and rejection.   After being rejected, subjects were asked to fill in blanks on several words.  Rejected subjects repeatedly choose violent words. 

On August 1st 1966, Charles Whitman killed his wife and mother, then packed a footlocker full of weapons and drove to the University of Austin.  From a clock tower on the college’s campus Whitman killed 15 people and wounded 31 others.  Whitman was raised in a physically abusive home. He left home at 15, joining the Army and was sent to the University of Texas on scholarship.  He married but struggled to overcome the violence of this past.   He was court martialed after a violent public outburst and his scholarship revoked.  He is ashamed of his behavior, but unable to control them. He wrote about his struggles in his journal and confessed his desire to kill bystanders from the clock tower to a psychiatrist.  After the attack, an autopsy was performed and a tumor was discovered.  

Charles Whitman

Borderline personality disorder is a mental illness that can cause impulsive behaviors, fits of rage or inappropriate emotions.  The amygdala is the part of the brain that regulates fear and anger.  Those with borderline personality disorder have heightened activity in the amygdala, which may inhibit an individual’s ability to control their rage.

  

19 year old Charles Starkweather and his 14 year old accomplice, Carol Fugate embarked on a killing spree after Starkweather killed Carol’s parents.  They claimed 10 victims, lashing out at any one who crossed their path.  Starkweather was an outcast at school, bullied and teased, he fantasized about revenge. Carol and Charles had a passionate affair and planned to marry, but her family stood in their way, so they were eliminated.  Starkweather shot Carol’s mother, stepfather and 2 year old sister then took their blood lust on the road.   They killed seven more people before they were apprehended. Carol Fugate claimed she was a hostage but both were convicted.

Charles Starkweather and Carol Fugate

Spree killers are becoming more deadly and methodical, attacking at schools, malls or other crowded public places.  Understanding the motives and traits will hopefully help law enforcement prevent tragic blood shed in the future.  


Traces in Blood

January 3, 2008

Con men are able to insinuate themselves into the lives of their marks by catering to individual’s needs, hopes and desires. Consider the following true crime story highlighted in an recent episode of Notorious, December 2007. 

Albuquerque NM, a land rich with legends of the supernatural, including UFOs.  Linda Henning had a passing interest in UFO until she met Diazien Hossencofft, and her casual interest turned to obsession.  Hossencofft convinced Henning that he was an alien, and somehow manipulated her to murder his wife.   In 1999, 36 year old Girly Chew Hossencofft failed to show up for work. Her boss and coworkers were immediately concerned for Girly’s safety, because Girly had told them of repeated threats she received from her estranged husband, Diazien.  

Detective Michael Fox checked her home for any evidence of wrong doing and noticed the overwhelming smell of bleach, often used to cover up blood.  Investigators used Luminal, which emits a glowing light when it comes in contact with blood. The results were frightening obvious; stains on the floor lit up “like a Christmas tree.” 

Diazien had disappeared, but police were able to question Henning, who showed up as personal reference on papers belonging to Diazien. Henning claimed she didn’t know him well, and she believed he was a doctor, suffering from leukemia.  Days later, a hundred miles from Albuquerque, a road worker found bloody clothes and a tarp. 

Diazien Hossencofft was born Armand Chavez in Houston Texas. He graduated college in California and doctored his transcripts to attend medical school. When his deception was discovered, he was expelled from school.  He changed his name and told people he was a geneticist and sold fake cancer treatments. He also claimed he had suffered from cancer to gain sympathy.  He married Girly Chew in 1993.  Girly didn’t know that Hossencofft was a fraud.  Police tracked Hossencofft down, but were unable to charge him with murder, because no body had been found.  They were able to arrest him for making threatening phone calls to potential witnesses.   

diazien-hossencofft.jpg

The police removed the carpet from Girly’s apartment so forensic investigators combed the fibers for DNA evidence.  Miniscule samples were used to create a DNA profile which was compared to known samples taken from Girly and Linda Henning.  The carpet also had a large number of cat hairs, which were also linked back to Henning, who owned several cats.  Police believed Henning was covering for Diazien.  Trace evidence found on the bloody clothing yielded DNA from both Girly and Diazien. Henning was arrested and both she and Diazien were charged with murder, though police still weren’t sure of Henning’s full involvement. They believed she was an accomplice, brainwashed to act with Diazien. Friends noticed a change in Henning’s manner: she was hostile, threatening and unpleasant, where once she had been kind, sensitive and friendly. 

Bill Miller was also arrested when he was linked to Henning, Hossencofft and Girly’s apartment.  Blood evidence indicates a fight occurred between Girly and Linda. At some point Miller entered the scene, subdued Girly and took her to another location to kill her.  Hossencofft pled guilty in exchange for life in prison.  Prosecutors made the deal because a body still hadn’t been found.  Hossencofft admitted he masterminded the plan and blamed Miller for the murder, but said Henning had no involvement.  He claimed he planted Henning’s blood on the scene.

Despite Hossencofft’s denials, prosecutors moved forward with Henning’s trial.  Witnesses testified that Henning was acting strangely and forensic investigators presented their evidence. The defense called Diazien to contradict the testimony of prosecution witnesses.  Hossencofft’s testimony was violent, callous and psychopathic.  The jurors disregarded Hossencofft’s testimony entirely because his behavior was so bizarre. Based on forensic evidence and witness testimony, Henning was found guilty and sentenced to 73 years in prison.  She continues to maintain she is innocent. Bill Miller was not charged with murder, but was charged with tampering with evidence. He received one year of probation.  

Girly Chew has still not been found.


Herb Baumeister

December 29, 2007

In 1993, a number of missing person cases involving young men went unsolved. Roger Allan Goodlet disappeared on July 22, 1994.  Goodlet’s mother contacted the police, but unsatisfied with their response, she hired a private investigator.  Soon Goodlet’s face appeared on flyers throughout the area.  Finally, the community and media began to ask questions about the young men who frequented the gay night clubs in the area and their disappearances. Days after Goodlet’s disappearance, Stephen Hale was the eighth man to vanish.  Police turned to the FBI Behavioral Science Unit for help.  The profile indicated the perpetrator was a white male, mid 30s, bisexual with a mid to high level IQ.  The profile would only be useful if the received information on a possible suspect.   

One potential witness came forward. Mark Goodyear told police about an odd encounter he had with a man who was a regular patron of the bars in the area.  When Goodyear and the man discussed the missing person flyer, the man seemed to feign concern. Despite Goodyear’s suspicions, he agreed to accompany the man home, where they engaged in erotic asphyxiation foreplay.  Goodyear was shaken by the encounter and reported the incident to police, but he was unable to pinpoint the location.   The man continued to contact Goodyear. During their phone conversations, the man admitted to accidents or bad nights, but he never confessed to murder.  By August 1995, ten men had vanished.   Goodyear spotted the man in a bar and took down his license plate number, which belonged to Herb Baumeister.   

Unlike most characters in true crime stories, Herb and Julie Baumeister lived a seemingly idyllic life. The meet while attending Indiana University and married after Julie’s graduation in 1971.  They founded a prosperous business, the Sav-A-Lot Thrift Stores, their children attended private schools and to all appearances they had achieved the American dream. 

Herb Baumeister serial killer 

Police didn’t have any evidence to tie Beaumeister to the crimes, so they questioned him and asked to search his home. Unable to obtain a search warrant, Police conducted a search from the air using an infrared camera in the hopes of locating graves. The search was unsuccessful. Julie couldn’t believe Herb was involved; however, the stress of financial hardship and the accusations damaged the couple’s marriage. Julie filed for divorce and feared Herb would flee with her children.  She decided to give police permission to search the property. 

The police found a burial ground behind the house. Bones, teeth and skulls were strewn on the ground.  Some of the bones were burned and broken; others were whole, large pieces. There were seven left metacarpal bones discovered, indicating at least seven victims. Despite the gruesome discovery, Herb Baumeister was not taken into custody.  Herb Baumeister committed suicide on July 4th, 1996.  He left a suicide note but made no mention of his crimes.  Witnesses came forward and confirmed Baumeister’s habit of bringing men home for sexual encounters.  Police speculated that Baumeister may have killed 50-60 people, beginning as earlier as 1980.  The I-70 murders were eerily similar. 

It seems inconceivable that Julie would not know about Herb’s activities. She did know that in 1972, Herb spent two months in a psychiatric hospital and was diagnosed with compulsive personality disorder.  Police did not consider Julie an accomplice because she was gone each night a victim was taken to the home. 


Rosemary and Frederick West – Murder on Cromwell Street

December 29, 2007

Infamous serial killers, Rosemary and Frederick West, were married in 1972 and bought a house on Cromwell Street.  They saw in each other a reflection of their own damaged soul.  Frederick had a history of sexually molesting young girls and many believed Rosemary had incestuous relationships with her father.  

Frederick was married before meeting Rosemary and he maintained custody of a step daughter, Charmaine.  After the birth of their first child, Heather, Frederick was sent to jail for robbery and Rosemary was left to care for the children. 

 

 

 

 

Charmaine, Heather and Ann Marie West 

 Charmaine, Heather and Ann Marie 

 In a fit of rage, Rosemary killed Charmaine. Authorities believe Frederick then killed Rena, his first wife and Anna McFall, a babysitter, to cover up Charmaine’s disappearance There are no true crime stories more tragic than those involving innocent children.

The murder of Frederick’s step daughter cemented the couple’s willingness to go to any lengths to pleasure or protect one another.  One of their first victims was a nanny for the couple, who was repeatedly raped.  She reported the crime, but decided to not go through a lengthy trail.  Over the next 15 years, the Wests would kill 9 girls.

 

Fred and Rose West 

Frederick and Maryann West  

Two of the couple’s children, Stephen and Mae West, were interviewed for a documentary, Notorious: Deadly Secrets of Cromwell Street (December 2007). They claimed they never knew their parents were bringing girls home and killing them. The children knew their home life was abnormal and they endured physical and sexual abuse.  The couple was very open about sex.  Fredrick considered his daughters property and at his disposal for sexual gratification.   Rosemary advertised as a prostitute to keep a regular stream of men coming in and out of the house.  Frederick eavesdropped on his wife having sex with other men through hidden microphones in the ceilings.    Stephen did remember his father “finding” jewelry and purses which he brought home and gifted to Rosemary and the children.   

The couple’s final victim was their 16-year-old daughter, Heather.  Heather was desperate to escape the abuse of home and threatened to run away. One day she disappeared from the home, and Frederick told the children she had gone for a job.

 

 

 

 

Heather West

Heather West

In1992, Frederick was arrested for raping a minor.  At the time, five of the eight West children were taken into custody by the state.  Case workers overheard the children discussing the murder of their eldest sister.    On February 24, 1994, police searched the West property and found implements of torture and decapitated bodies.  Once Fred was confronted with the evidence of his crimes, he admitted to murdering Heather and several other girls.

According to Janet Leach, a volunteer who was appointed to witness police interviews,  “Fred said that there were two other bodies in shallow graves in the woods but there was no way they would ever be found.  He said there were 20 other bodies not in one place but spread around and he would give police one a year.  He told me the truth about the girls in the cellar and what happened to them so I don’t see why he would lie about other bodies.”

 

Frederick West committed suicide while awaiting trail. Rosemary faced justice alone and was found guilty of 10 counts of murder and sentenced to life in prison.