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

The second reason for staging, to protect the victim or the victim’s family,
occurs for the most part in rape-murder crimes or autoerotic fatalities.
This type of staging is performed by the family member or person who finds
the body. Since perpetrators of such crimes leave their victims in degrading
positions, those who find the bodies attempt to restore some dignity to the
victim. For example, a husband may redress or cover his wife’s body, or in
the case of an autoerotic fatality,3 a wife may cut the noose
or the device suspending the body of her husband.

Basically, these people are trying to prevent future shock that may be brought
about by the position, dress, or condition of the victim. In addition, they
will often stage an autoerotic fatality to look like a suicide, perhaps even
writing a suicide note. They may even go so far as to the make it appear
to be a homicide.

For both types of crime scene investigations, rape-murders and autoerotic
fatalities, investigators need to obtain an accurate description of the body’s
condition when found and to determine exactly what the person who found the
body did to alter the crime scene. Scrutiny of forensic findings, crime scene
dynamics, and victimology will probably reveal the true circumstances surrounding
the deaths.

Finally, at some crime scenes, investigators must discern if the scene is
truly disorganized or if the offender staged it to appear careless and haphazard.
This determination not only helps to direct the analysis to the underlying
motive but also helps to shape the offender profile. However, recognition
of staging, especially with a shrewd offender, can be difficult. Investigators
must examine all factors of the crime if they suspect it has been staged.
This is when forensics, victimology, and minute crime scene details become
critical to determine if staging occurred.

“Red Flags”

Offenders who stage crime scenes usually make mistakes because they arrange
the scene to resemble what they believe it should look like. In so doing,
offenders experience a great deal of stress and do not have the time to fit
all the pieces together logically. As a result, inconsistencies in forensic
findings and in the overall “big picture” of the crime scene will begin to
appear. These inconsistencies can serve as the “red flags” of staging, which
serve to prevent investigations from becoming misguided.

To ensure this doesn’t happen, investigators should scrutinize all crime
scene indicators individually, then view them in context with the total picture.
Crime scene indicators include all evidence of offender activity, e.g., method
of entry, offender-victim interaction, and body disposition.

When exploring these issues, investigators should consider several factors.
For example, if burglary appears to be the motive, did the offender take
inappropriate items from the crime scene? In one case submitted to the National
Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime (NCAVC), a man returning home from
work interrupted a burglary in progress. The startled burglars killed him
as he attempted to flee. But, an inventory of the crime scene determined
that the offenders did not steal anything, although it did appear that they
started to disassemble a large stereo and TV unit.

Further examination of the crime scene revealed that they left smaller, and
easily transported, items of far greater value (jewelry, coin collection,
etc.). The police subsequently determined that the victim’s wife paid the
burglars to stage the crime and kill her husband. She, in fact, was having
an affair with one of the suspects.

Another factor to consider is the point of entry. Did the point of entry
make sense? For example, did the offender enter the house through a second-story
window, even though there was an easier, less conspicuous entrance that could
have been used? Why did the offender increase his chance of being seen by
potential witnesses who might alert authorities?

Investigators should also consider whether the offender put himself at high
risk by committing the crime during the daylight hours, in a populated area.
If the crime scene is a place of residence, they should also evaluate any
obvious signs of occupancy, such as lights on in the house, vehicles in the
driveway, etc.