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Kayla Dover

Professor Brendan Hawkins

ENC 2135

October 16th, 2017

Modus Operandi in Criminal Profiling

There are many different tools used in law enforcement that are used by investigators to

assist them in a case and help apprehend criminals. Many are science based and computer

based. There are tools such as DNA testing, facial recognition software, and fingerprint

identification. Many law enforcement agencies such as the FBI, CIA, and others have technical

analysts that can trace a suspects entire life based on paper trails. These are all tools that are

science based and computer based. Another tool that is incredibly helpful is a criminal profile.

This can help narrow down the suspect pool so that investigators know what kind of person

theyre looking for. The modus operandi is a way that investigators can start building the

criminal profile. It helps them to more easily identify and compose a list of possible suspects.

Modus operandi is how criminals act during a crime, and how that behavior presents itself

through the crime scene. This proposes a question of how the modus operandi helps the

investigators of a case build a criminal profile. Sometimes criminal profiling is looked down upon

and scoffed at since it is not an exact science and is based more on how criminals typically

behave. Although criminal profiling is not an exact science like DNA testing or fingerprint

identification, it is still very effective and useful tool. Identifying the modus operandi of a

criminal is extremely important in helping to create an accurate criminal profile. By looking at

how the criminal behaved in committing the crime, they can learn a lot about the offender.
Modus Operandi, (Latin: operating method) abbreviation Mo. In criminology, [is a]

distinct pattern or manner of working that comes to be associated with a particular criminal.

Criminologists have observed that, whatever his specialtythe professional criminal is very

likely to adhere to his particular way of operating. (Britannica). The modus operandi is the way

that criminals act in the crime itself. It is shown through the behavior seen at the crime. Most

criminals, especially serial criminals, tend to be habitual and stick to what they are comfortable

with. Criminals tend to not deviate from the way the commit a crime or choose their victims or

change their area of comfort. This is all included in the M.O. The M.O. is comprised of many

different things, including victimology, location of the crime, and the method in which the victim

was victimized. For instance, if a man was murdering 55 blonde girls in their teens by

strangulation, there are many things that you could infer from this. Since they were strangled, it

shows that the criminal was personally motivated by the crimes. Strangulation is considered to

be deeply personal because the offender is close to them and can quite literally feel the life

leaving their body. Since they are all similar looking and around the same age, it tells us that

these girls are most likely surrogates for the real person that the offenders rage is directed

towards. He likely cannot act on his desires on the true object of his rage for a reason, so

instead he uses the victims as substitutes. If their bodies were covered or dressed up in some

way rather than just dumped, it could be a sign of remorse from the offender. If the bodies were

just either left how they were killed or dumped somewhere, it would show lack of remorse.

Furthermore, if they were dumped somewhere and it was the same spot for each victim,

chances are the location has significance for the offender since commuting to and from this spot

with bodies is risky and wouldnt be done without a reason. This can help the investigators
figure out who the actual target is, and then in turn find out who the likely suspect is based on

who might have a personal vendetta against her or who the possible dump site might have

significance to.

When investigating crime scenes, it is important to ask questions like who committed

the crimes, why they committed the crimes, and also how they committed the crimes. Studying

the behavior of crimes can greatly assist in figuring out the answers to these questions. There

are three possible manifestations of offender behavior at a crime scene modus operandi,

personation or signature, and staging. (Douglas and Munn). These authors, writing for the FBI

Law Enforcement Bulletin, review modus operandi in a case from 1989. The offender, Nathaniel

Code, Jr., was convicted of murdering 8 people in three different crime scenes. His M.O. seemed

to be all over the place in this case. He killed people of different ages and genders, which shows

shifts in victimology. He also used different weapons to carry out the murders. This was unusual

and at first glance made it seem like it was possible that there was more than one offender, and

that the different crime scenes may not even be connected. The M.O., however, can be

comprised of different things. For Code, it was rooted deeper than the victims and the method

of killing. In this case, the consistency in his M.O. was found in his need for control and

domination of his victims and was also influenced by financial stressors (Douglas and Munn).

This case shows that it is important that investigators do not limit themselves to thinking that

the M.O. is only comprised of certain elements like location, victimology and what weapon they

used, if any. The M.O. can consist of many different elements.

Criminal profiling is sometimes under scrutiny and looked down upon because it is not

an exact science. While these are valid concerns, it is important to note that criminal profiles are
not meant to be used as solid evidence like DNA analysis and fingerprint testing it. It is created

solely as a tool for investigators to assist them in apprehending the offender. However, just

because it is not an exact science does not mean that it should be discounted. Supreme Court

Case United v. Cortez (1981) suggests profiling is an acceptable tool of deductive reasoning to

determine innocence. (University). As the writers of this article from Regis University and the

Supreme Court in 1981 claim, profiling is a tool that investigators use. It is not meant to be a

definite answer to who is innocent and who is guilty, and it is not meant to be used as absolute

evidence. It is merely something that investigators use to help their case and narrow down the

suspect pool in order to find the offender more quickly. According to the FBI, criminal profiling

can have advantageous implications for multiple aspects of an investigation. The initial profile

can give investigators a starting point into the lifestyle, motivations and future behaviors of the

suspect. (University). It is very beneficial to an investigation to be able to produce an accurate

criminal profile. With an accurate criminal profile as a solid starting point, it can help the

investigation go much more smoothly and quickly. It points to likely suspects, which is often very

accurate. It is not meant to give a final, definite answer, but rather to give investigators a base

with which to work off of.

The modus operandi, or M.O., is the method of operation and habits that a criminal has.

They are telling to what kind of psyche and personality the offender might have. This can be

found through victimology, specified location of a crime or of a dump site, choice of weapon.

Sometimes it can be found rooted deeper than that, as seen in the Nathaniel Code, Jr. case,

where the consistency in his M.O. was how he dominated the victims and was triggered to kill

the victims by financial stressors. Criminals can and will put their own spin on a crime, their own
brush of identity. Criminals tend to be habitual in their crimes, and that can help shape the

criminal profile through the modus operandi. However, it is important to not limit these

criminals solely to their habits, but rather to take them into account and build from there.

Recognizing and using the modus operandi is very beneficial to building an accurate criminal

profile. It allows investigators to get a glimpse of the person they are looking for, to see what

kind of personality this person has. It also allows them to be able to get a list of possible

suspects based on how the offender acted and what the investigators were able to deduce from

the crime scene. The criminal profile would be severely lacking without the modus operandi to

help build it. Without knowing how the criminal behaved at the crime scenes and how that

behavior shaped the crimes, the criminal profile would not be nearly as accurate as it could be.

Anniss, Matt. Criminal Profiling. New York: Gareth Stevens Publishing, 2014.
Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopedia. Modus operandi. 10 July 1998. 16 October 2017.
Douglas, John E. and Corinne Munn. "Modus Operandi, Signature, and Staging." February 1992.
Violent Crime Scene Analysis. 1 October 2017.
Ebisike, Norbert. "Golden Gate University School of Law." 2 November 2007. The Use of
Offender Profiling Evidence in Criminal Cases. 1 October 2017.
Fosdick, Raymond B. "Modus Operandi System in the Detection of Criminals." May 1916.
Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology. 1 October 2017.
Petherick, Wayne. Profiling and Serial Crime: Theoretical and Practical Issues. Anderson
Publishing, 2014.
University, Regis. Criminal Profiling. n.d. 17 October 2017.