An Introduction to Crime Scene Reconstruction for the Criminal Profiler

Steps in Reconstruction

  1. Recognition of evidence.
  2. Documentation of evidence.
  3. Collection of evidence.
  4. Evaluation of evidence.
  5. Hypothesis.
  6. Testing.
  7. Reconstruction. 33,34

Step 1, recognition of evidence, is arguably the most important, as Lee points out “Unless the potential evidence can be recognized, no further reconstruction can be carried out.” 35

Steps 1-3, recognition, documentation and collection of evidence, are the heart of any successful scene investigation, and form the basis for the reconstruction.

Step 4, evaluation of evidence, examines the evidence (possibly following laboratory analysis) and looks at what information the evidence provides, and how reliable it is. At this time any witness statements should be compared to the evidence to see which parts of the statements can be supported or refuted by the evidence.

Step 5, hypothesis, is the formulation of an idea of how the event(or portions of it) occurred. This is not merely conjecture and should be firmly supported by the evidence.

Step 6, testing, looks to see how the hypothesis developed in 5 can be validated. This is accomplished by checking the evidence against known physical laws or devising a test to attempt to replicate the event(or the relevant segment).

Step 7, reconstruction, is the reporting of the results of the analysis. The results are reported as a range, where the event(or portions of it):

  1. Can be shown to have occurred in a given manner.
  2. Can be shown to be likely to have occurred in a given manner.
  3. Can be shown to be unlikely to have occurred in a given manner.
  4. Can be shown not to have occurred in a given manner.

Application to Profiling

The reconstruction forms the foundation from which the profiler can begin. The reconstruction provides answers about what happened and how it happened. From there the profiler can begin asking “Why?” questions. Questions of “Why?” are not answered by the reconstruction. Neither are questions of Intent and Motive. Attempts to answer these questions may be investigatively useful, but lack the firm support of evidence required of reconstruction36,37. Authors on both reconstruction and profiling speak of mentally re-enacting the events of the crime; again, this can be investigatively useful, but is not reconstruction. 38,39

As profiling is intended as an investigative tool, it attempts to go beyond the reconstruction, and answer questions of intent and motivation. From these admittedly subjective answers it can provide a clearer picture of the offender.

As an example, take a scene where the reconstruction shows as Event 1- “Subject breaks into residence through rear window. Window lock was previously secured and was jimmied with a thin, wide, black metal pry bar.” Based on this information the profiler can begin to look at “Why?”. Why did the offender choose this window? Why did he use this method of entry? Has it worked for him in the past? Where did he get the pry bar? Did he bring it with him or acquire it at the scene? The profiler can continue in this fashion through the scene, looking at the known facts, and then attempting to address the motivations behind the known actions. Working through the scene in this manner will also serve to highlight both the Modus Operandi and Signature aspects of the crime.

  • Modus Operandi is the “method of operation”, those things that the offender does which are necessary for the completion of the crime (method of entry, use of a weapon to control the victim, etc.).
  • Signature is defined as those things done by the offender which are not necessary for the completion of the crime, but which the offender must do to satisfy himself (use of complex ligature, sadism, etc.).40

The reconstruction may show a sequence of events or actions that are unnecessary in the commission of the crime. In serial cases the recurrence of the same sequence at multiple scenes, or the modification of parts of it, may also assist in this determination.