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

By John E. Douglas, Ed.D. Special Agent
Chief of the Investigative Support Unit FBI Academy

and

Corinne Munn
Served as Honors Intern FBI Academy

This Article Originally Appeared in the FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, February 1992.

Most crime scenes tell a story. And like most stories, crime scenes have
characters, a plot, a beginning, a middle, and hopefully, a conclusion. However,
in contrast to authors who lead their readers to a predetermined ending,
the final disposition of a crime scene depends on the investigators assigned
to the case. The investigators’ abilities to analyze the crime scene and
to determine the who, what, how, and why govern how the crime scene story
unfolds.

To ensure a satisfactory ending, that is, the apprehension and prosecution
of the violent crime offender, investigators must realize that the outcome
depends on their insight into the dynamics of human behavior. Speech patterns,
writing styles, verbal and nonverbal gestures, and other traits and patterns
give shape to human behavior. These individual characteristics work in concert
to cause each person to act, react, function, or perform in a unique and
specific way. This individualistic behavior usually remains consistent,
regardless of the activity being performed. Continue reading