Every crime betrays something of the personality of the criminal committing it, according to a prominent Ottawa crime profiler.
“An offender walks into a crime scene and behaves in a certain way,” says Glenn Woods, a former RCMP investigator who now operates an investigation consulting firm, Behavioural Analysis Investigation Training. “Everything an offender does or doesn’t do tells you something about the offender.”
Woods’s comments were made Tuesday in the context of an Ottawa police investigation of a violent home invasion of a Second World War war veteran, Ernest Côté, in December that investigators subsequently linked to the 2007 killings of retired tax court judge Alban Garon, his wife Raymonde, and their neighbour Marie-Claire Beniskos.
The three were found dead in the Garons’ gated condominium in June 2007. They had been bound and gagged, and their heads were covered with plastic bags.
DNA evidence at the scene of the December crime has since been linked to similar material found at the Garons’ home. As well, the two crimes show a similar modus operandi in which the perpetrator used ruses to gain access to his victims’ homes.
Speaking in general terms, Woods explained that criminals almost always “leave a piece of their personality” at the crime scene. “Even if they take every precaution they can, that reveals something about their personality. Even if they don’t do something, that tells us about their experience level.”
For instance, someone who stages a home invasion on an elderly person is likely seeking a target he can more readily dominate and control, says Woods, who, in his 35 years with the RCMP, acquired extensive experience in a variety of criminal investigations, including homicides, violent assaults and sexual assaults. And in most cases, says Woods, the motivation for a home invasion is financial.
“Offenders who target the elderly, the young, the disadvantaged or the handicapped, are generally people who feel more comfortable dealing with someone who is vulnerable.”
But that alone, Woods suggests, betrays something of their psychological make up.
“Most offenders take the path of least resistance,” he says, explaining that in the case of attacks on someone much older, the attacker might well be “less confident” around those his own age.
On the other hand, the criminal might rely on a con — pretending to be a delivery man, for instance — because that gives him more confidence to carry out his crime, says Woods. Such ruses not only help the criminal gain access to the victim’s home but also provide a perpetrator with a semblance of control over the situation. He takes every precaution to ensure he can dominate the situation.
The nature of a crime scene — how much or how little violence was used — also says something about the criminal’s personality.
“The manner of (the victim’s) death and the type of weapons an offender brings or uses is really a matter of what the offender is comfortable with,” says Woods. “Some offenders might not like the idea of a messy, bloody scene and will see suffocation as a cleaner method of perpetrating the crime.”
Binding and gagging victims raises the question of how much planning the offender put into his actions. Did he bring his own restraints to use? Or did he find them at the scene? Either choice not only reveals the kind of planning (or lack of planning) but also the level of control he thought necessary to get away with the crime.
“Generally speaking, we look at behaviours,” Woods says, explaining the task of a criminal profiler. “What did the offender say? What did he do physically? Then we try dissect the behaviour … figure out why those things were done.”
The cautious criminals are the one that do more planning, says Woods. They are likely to case a would-be crime scene and watch the residents come and go — all “to protect themselves against getting caught.”
The criminals who get away with their crimes, at least for a while, are generally those who’ve spent some time in jail, says Woods. “Most criminals who get good at it are caught a few times before they get good. The circumstances that got them caught in the first place are reflected in how they carry out a subsequent crime because their modus operandi evolves as they gain more experience.”
Yet, in Woods’s experience, even the most intelligent criminal makes mistakes. “Sometimes you see good planning strategies, but then they do something stupid (in the course of the offence), like walk in front of a video camera and not hide themselves.”
Source: Ottawa Citizen