Hunting Serial Predators: A Multivariate Classification Approach to Profiling Violent Behavior

Ronald M. Holmes (University of Louisville)

Policing: An International Journal

ISSN: 1363-951X

Article publication date: 1 June 2000



Holmes, R.M. (2000), "Hunting Serial Predators: A Multivariate Classification Approach to Profiling Violent Behavior", Policing: An International Journal, Vol. 23 No. 2, pp. 268-272.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2000, MCB UP Limited

As a profiler I was very interested in examining this new book on profiling violent behavior. I am aware of the author, having had several correspondences with him over the last two years, and awaited the publication. And when I was asked to review the book I was willing to do so.

As I do with the books that I review on the topic of profiling or serial murder (as this book intends to be), my first stop was in the subject and author index. Yes, most of the well‐known names in serial murder and profiling were there, but some were missing (e.g. Douglas, Levin and Fox, Hickey, Ressler, Lewis, and a few others). This became all the more disconcerting when the author spent a great deal of time talking about Hickey’s monumental work, listing him in the bibliography but not in the index so the reader could follow the progression of the work. Perhaps a small point, but one that could have helped the readability of the book.

Then reading the book, I noted several serious content errors. First of all, Bundy was not convicted of killing 13 victims (p. 37), but of three. Also, again concerning Bundy, the author suggests that pornography “drove him to murder repeatedly (p. 77). Bundy made it very clear in the video interview with Dr Dobson that pornography “fueled the flame,” but that he (Bundy) ultimately made the decisions to kill. In another part of the book, he mentions an author by name, a prominent therapist and researcher and mistakenly refers to this woman as a man. A small point again, but again one that detracts from the ultimate creditability of the work.

The author commences with a literature review. This appears to be an endeavor on his part to find criticism with the prior research and researchers. He finds fault with the studies and conclusions of Dietz, Sewell, Holmes, and Hickey. Despite this last criticism, the author spends quite a bit of time dealing with the research of Hickey and Meloy, both excellent representatives of the serial murder and profiling endeavors. Additionally, he uses the work of others including Holmes and Holmes, Sears, Ressler, Levin and Fox, and others in his discussion of crime scene analysis. My thought here is that he was critical of their work (Dietz, Holmes and Holmes, Hickey, Ressler and the FBI) but felt the work was still important to include in the examining of crime scenes for the purpose of profiling.

My most serious criticism of this book lies in the basic premise, profiling is a science. After spending more than half of the book dealing with profiling as art and part science, the author assumes a theoretical position that human behavior can be reduced to a science, particularly a mathematical model (Facet Classification Model). To substantiate his position, the author uses case studies including one that he worked on in North Carolina. In ending, he suggests that this mathematical model when used consistently and with some diligence may be a valuable tool in the investigator’s repertoire.

With a severe reservation about predicting human behavior and profiling a violent offender using a mathematical model, I believe the author has neglected to give human beings their just due, their humanness. If we are simply lab animals and involved in a stimulus‐response situation, then such a model would have a distinct advantage. But human beings are not simple creatures. People have learned through years of experience, to engage in behaviors that benefit them, and refrain from those that do not. It is clear that criminals and even homicide offenders do the same thing. Other researchers like Rossmo, who have tried to predict human behavior, have taught us the benefit of geo‐forensic analysis (a topic touched also in this book but under a different name), and items such as comfort zones, routes of travel, attractiveness of distance, and the distance decay function all play a role in our human behavior. However, these factors cannot predict future behavior and the propensities toward violence better than those who are intimately familiar with the drives, motives and fantasies of serial homicide offenders. We would be hard pressed to channel these hard scientific factors into human behavior, especially if the work of many researchers is true, like the FBI’s organized nonsocial and disorganized asocial personality types. We have indeed come a long way since the ground breaking work of the FBI in the late 1970s. We owe the FBI a debt of gratitude for their work, not a load of undeserved academic criticism. Regardless, I do not believe we have come to a point where humanness can be predicted by a mathematical equation. It is just that simple or that complex.

Would I use this book in class? Definitely not. Will I keep it in my bookshelf? Yes. But there are many books on my shelf that I have not touched in years.

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