Victim Profiling, Part One

Sean Mactire’s book, Malicious Intent: A Writer’s Guide to How Murderers, Robbers, Rapists, and Other Criminal Think, contains useful information for creating more believable antagonists and victims. In previous posts, I talked about the FBI’s profile of a violent criminal. Today I want to discuss the victim’s profile and how it can help you create a more believable victim and offer great plot twists.

Mactire says “a psychological profile or psychiatric autopsy of the victim can be the most important intelligence data in finding the criminal.” Because it’s time consuming, it’s often ignored by real-life investigators on small crimes (as opposed to huge crimes that include FBI involvement). Mactire says it could also be a factor in many questionable deaths being mis-labeled as suicides. But a great novelist can use this information to offer clues, suggest motives, even provide new suspects when an investigation slows down or comes to a complete stop. So have your hero complete a thorough profile on the victim. It should include:

1. Physical traits. What the victim looks like can help determine factors like motive, MO, and pattern. What brand of fingernail polish did she wear? Did she wear earrings? When’s her birthday? New York’s Zodiac Killer killed people with specific birthdays. 

2. Occupation (include past five years and any special training). Stalkers and murderers are often fellow employees acquainted with the victims.  A counselor, nurse, or doctor can be a handy target for a patient. A nutritionist who overdoses on Vitamin A might raise red flags. 

3. Medical, dental, and psychiatric history. The presence of diabetes, sexually transmitted diseases, tumors/cancers, or other life-threatening diseases can provide motive and help investigators understand the victim’s state-of-mind at the time of death.

4. Activities prior to the crime, at least last fourteen to twenty-eight days. How the vic spent the last days of their life can sometimes lead to their killer as it could identify a significant event that may have been motive. If the victim was raped and/or murdered, a pattern of stalking may show up. A pattern of vulnerability and availability may show up as well.

5. Histories of marital life and bachelor life.  If the victim was single, a history of all relationships is vital. Since murder is usually a family affair, the spouse, ex-spouse, or boy/girlfriend could be excellent suspects. 

There’s more to discuss, but not enough room in this post. Stay tuned for the conclusion.


One thought on “Victim Profiling, Part One

  1. Victimology is often the most overlooked aspect of criminal investigations. Criminals need victims, what determines their suitability can range from the victim just being in the wrong place at the wrong time (victim of opportunity), to lifestyle choices (prostitution or other high risk behavior), to fitting a specific "type" that the criminal desires (e.g. Ted Bundy’s quest for women with long, straight, dark hair parted in the middle). Criminals are nothing without victims and understanding that can help reveal serial crimes and criminals, uncover "hunting grounds", and in the end, expose the offender.

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