Violent Crime Scene Analysis: Modus Operandi, Signature, and Staging

Shelton’s M.O. consisted of entering the victim’s dwelling through a window
or patio entrance that faced a wooded area or bushes offering concealment.
He wore a ski mask, stocking, or scarf. He convinced the victims that he
was not there to rape but to rob them. However, when he had the victim under
control, he would return to the rape mode. The victim would comply because
she had seen his propensity for violence by his earlier actions, such as
throwing her on the floor or holding a knife to her throat. In addition,
Shelton would say to the victims, “Keep your eyes down,” “Cover your eyes,”
or “Don’t look at me and I won’t kill you (hurt your kids).” Before he left,
he would verbally intimidate them with such warnings as “Don’t call the police
or I’ll come back and kill you.” These characteristics served as Shelton’s
M.O., whereas his former actions were his signature that linked him to 28
sexual assaults.

Nathaniel Code: Serial Killer

Nathaniel Code, Jr., killed eight times on three separate occasions. The
first homicide, a 25-year-old black female, occurred on August 8, 1984. Code
stabbed her nine times in the chest and slashed her throat.

Approximately a year later, on July 19, 1985, Code killed four people–a
15-year-old girl, her mother, and two of their male friends. Code nearly
severed the girl’s head from her body. He asphyxiated the mother and draped
her body over the side of the bath tub. Code then shot one of the males in
the head, leaving him in a middle bedroom; the other male, who was found
in the front bedroom, was shot twice and had his throat slit.

The last killing took place on August 5, 1987. The victims were Code’s
grandfather and his 8-year-old and 12-year-old nephews. The boys died of
ligature strangulation. Code stabbed his grandfather five times in the chest
and seven times in the back.

The changes in Code’s M.O., exhibited from case to case, show how the M.O.
is refined. For example, in the first murder, Code gagged the victim with
material found at the scene; the next time, he brought duct tape.

Code also kept his victims under surveillance to obtain information on them,
especially with the second killings. In that case, he brought a gun to the
scene to dispose of the males, who posed the greatest threat to him. Since
the last victims, an elderly man and two children, posed little threat to
him, Code did not use a gun on them. All eight killings occurred in single
family dwellings. In each dwelling, the air conditioners and/or televisions
were on, which drowned out the noise as he entered through a door or window.
Code quickly gained and maintained control of the victims by separating them
in different rooms.

Nathaniel Code had a very distinctive “calling card,” one aspect of which
were the injuries inflicted on the victims. Code employed a very bloody method
of attack and overkill. He could have simply murdered each victim with a
single gunshot wound–a clean kill involving very little “mess.” Instead,
Code slaughtered his victims by slashing their throats with a sawing motion
that resulted in deep wounds. Although brutal, the attack didn’t satisfy
his ritual; all victims sustained additional injuries, with the exception
of the 15-year-old girl. One male victim suffered gunshot wounds to the chest,
while another received multiple stab wounds to the chest. Code wounded nearly
all the victims far beyond what was necessary to cause death (overkill).

The physical violence and bloody overkill satisfied Code’s need for domination,
control, and manipulation. He positioned each victim face down, which supports
this theory. Code even forced the mother to witness her daughter’s death
as part of this ritual of control, which was formed from his rage. In fact,
forensic tests found the daughter’s blood on the mother’s dress. If the victim’s
response threatened his sense of domination, Code reacted with anger and
the excessive violence that led to overkill.

The last signature aspect of Code’s crimes probably best illustrates his
unique “calling card”–the ligatures. Code used both an unusual configuration
and material. In all three cases, he bound the victims with electrical appliance
or telephone cords acquired at the scene. Code could have brought rope or
used his duct tape, but the use of these cords satisfied some personal need.
Using a handcuff-style configuration, he looped the cord around each wrist
and then the ankles, connecting them to the wrists by a lead going through
the legs.

The dissimilarities of these cases involves the M.O., not the signature aspect.
The use of a gun with threatening males present reveals an adaptive offender.
At the time of the grandfather’s homicide, additional financial stressors
affected Code, evidenced by the theft of money from his grandfather’s residence.
These financial stressors influenced Code’s M.O., not his “calling card.”