Below are excerpts From Katherine Ramsland’s Writers’ Police Academy Online presentation – “Sleuthing the Clues in Staged Homicides.”

Pettler’s Staging Typology

The Cleaner: This is more alteration than staging, because this person cleans the scene to remove evidence

The Concealer: Hides or destroys items related to the incident to prevent discovery

The Creator: Adds items to the scene, or rearranges for a specific effect

The Fabricator: Relies on ability to verbally deceive as a means of deflection

The Inflictor: Might include self in incident, with self-wounding, or might claim self-defense

The Planner: spends considerable time preparing the incident to appear as something else instead of reacting, post-incident.

*Laura Pettler, PhD, CSCSA (Certified Senior Crime Scene Analyst) is the owner of Carolina Forensics, vice president of the American Investigative Society of Cold Cases, and was co-founder/director of North Carolina Prosecutorial District 20-A’s 2006-2010 Crime Scene Reconstruction and Behavioral Analysis Program, its Cold Case Task Force, and its 2009 International Forensic Institute. Pettler is a scholar-practitioner focusing on cold case homicide, crime scene staging, intimate partner homicide, and crime reconstruction. ~ bio, Evidence Technology Magazine.

Tips from The Psychology of Death Investigations, by Katherine Ramsland

 

Tips for Investigators to Evaluate for Staging

  • Beware of personal assumptions, especially those that attract investigative shortcuts.
  • Remember that the majority of stagers (except for suicides) had a relationship with the decedent.
  • The relationship is most likely intimate, past or present.
  • Stagers often discover the body or report the person missing.
  • The reason a body discoverer is at the scene should be legitimate.
  • Stagers might inject themselves into an investigation to “be helpful.”
  • Stagers often “find” a suicide note or other evidence they want police to see.
  • 911 calls from stagers will have unique elements common to “guilty” vs. “innocent” callers.
  • Besides manipulating the scene, stagers will reinforce it with verbal manipulation.
  • Their efforts to deflect might include an explanation for the incident.
  • The staging will probably feature mistaken notions about how such incidents occur, such as suicide notes that have more non-genuine indicators than genuine.
  • Learn the items that characterize genuine notes, rather than make assumptions.
  • Look for items that copy media reports or narratives.
  • Look for scene behavior uncharacteristic of decedent.
  • If a suicide note mentions a close associate, consider them a person of interest.
  • Stagers are most likely to be male.
  • Staging a suicide most often involves firearms.
  • Suspicious indicators are weapons positioned too perfectly, or positions do not match where blood spatter or shell casings are found.
  • Staged scenes are most often in a place familiar to the decedent, such as their home.
  • Watch for unexpected behaviors during interviews.
  • Match narratives about the incident against evidence.
  • Develop competing hypothesis to help highlight issues of concern.

Resources:

Ellis, T. M. (2008, July 18). CSI-like suicide ruled in death of Red Lobster exec Thomas Hickman. Dallas Morning News.

Ferguson, C. E. (2014). Staged crime scenes: Literature and types. In W. Petherick (Ed.), Serial crime: Theoretical and Practical Issues in Behavioural Profiling, 3rd ed., (pp. 141-164). Boston, MA: Andersen.

Ferguson, C. E., & Petherick, W. (2016). Getting away with murder: An examination of detected homicides stages as suicides. Homicide Studies, 20(1), 3-24.

Geberth, V. (1996). The staged crime scene. Law and Order Magazine, 44(2), 45-49.

Geberth, V. Practical Homicide Investigation. CRC Press.

Geberth, V. Sex-related Homicide and Death Investigations. CRC Press.

Greenwood, E. (2016). Playing dead: A journey through the world of death fraud. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster.

Harpster, T., & Adams, S. (2016). Analyzing 911 homicide calls: Practical aspects and applications. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press.

Harpster, T., Adams, S., & Jarvis, J. P. (2009). Analyzing 911 homicide calls for indicators of guilt or innocence: An exploratory analysis. Homicide Studies, 13(1), 69-93.

Pettler, L. (2016). Crime Scene Staging Dynamics in Homicide Cases. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press.

Schlesinger, L., Gardenier, A., Jarvis, J., & Sheehan-Cook, J. (2014). Crime scene staging in homicide. Journal of Police and Criminal Psychology, 29(1), 44-51.


Katherine Ramsland teaches forensic psychology at DeSales University, where she is the Assistant Provost. She has appeared on more than 200 crime documentaries and magazine shows, is an executive producer of Murder House Flip, and has consulted for CSI, Bones, and The Alienist. The author of more than 1,000 articles and 68 books, including How to Catch a Killer, The Psychology of Death Investigations, and The Mind of a Murderer, she spent five years working with Dennis Rader on his autobiography, Confession of a Serial Killer: The Untold Story of Dennis Rader, The BTK Killer. Dr. Ramsland currently pens the “Shadow-boxing” blog at Psychology Today and teaches seminars to law enforcement.

Criminal Minds: Where It Began

The FBI’s first profiles were basically shots in the dark that hit the target.

By Dr. Katherine Ramsland

They didn’t have computers when Howard Teten founded the initial efforts of what would eventually become the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit. They didn’t have much in the way of a database. They faced resistance from colleagues who viewed psychology as silliness and muddle. But they had good instincts.

Howard Teten and Patrick Mullany are credited with making the earliest behavioral analyses for difficult cases.

“By about 1960,” Teten says, “I had developed a hypothesis that you’d be able to determine the kind of person you were looking for by what you could see at the crime scene.”

To compile a collection for analysis and comparison, Teten had reviewed unusual homicides from several police agencies, as well as from the California Identification Officers Association. To test himself and develop his approach, he’d set up an experiment.

“When I received the information,” he said, “I would examine all the data and prepare a tentative description of the perpetrator. Then I would look at the individual found to have committed the crime and compare the perpetrator to my description.” To check himself on the details of psychological disorders, he consulted with two psychiatrists.

In 1970, Teten offered his own first profile. The stabbing murder of a woman in her home had stymied local law enforcement. Teten considered the circumstances, looked at their documents, and said that it was the work of an adolescent who lived close to the victim. This boy would feel guilty and ashamed. When confronted, he’d immediately confess. To find him, they should just go knock on doors in the immediate neighborhood. This prediction turned out to be right.

Teten soon teamed up with Patrick Mullany, who specialized in abnormal psychology. Together, they initiated the criminal psychology program, a 40-hour course. They presented behavioral analysis as one among many investigative tools. As they acquired cases for demonstration, they were asked for assistance with a stalled investigation of a kidnapping.

Mullany describes the abduction of Susan Jaeger as their first real challenge. Despite how the TV shows and movies make this look easy, it was anything but.

Susan had disappeared during a family camping trip in Montana in June 1973. Someone had sliced through the tent fabric and grabbed the seven-year-old before she could cry out. It had been a bold abduction and the family was devastated, but the site had yielded no physical evidence to help with leads. When no ransom demand had arrived, local investigators had feared the worst. They’d called in the FBI. About 10 months later, Special Agent Pete Dunbar attended the psychology training and asked Teten and Mullany to take a look.

Mullany believed that the perpetrator was a local resident, a Caucasian male who’d spotted an opportunity. He would have an impaired history of relationships and would tend to stay to himself. He had military experience and he’d killed before, and possibly since. It was likely he’d taken Susan to kill her. He’d also collect trophies, i.e. body parts.

They looked at other murders and missing persons cases in the general area, but none was similar.

An anonymous caller had suggested David Meirhofer, a 23-year-old Vietnam veteran, but when questioned, Meirhofer had been polite, articulate, well-dressed, and helpful. He seemed an unlikely candidate to local investigators. Under the influence of truth serum, he’d taken a polygraph and passed.

Still, he had many of the traits and behaviors that the agents had described. Mullany and Teten were convinced Meirhofer was a cold-hearted psychopath who could lie easily.

“Pat and I discussed his profile,” Teten recalls, “and then advised the Montana agent that this type of personality can pass a polygraph. For this reason, he should still be considered a suspect.”

Their belief in Meirhofer’s guilt failed to find support, even with Dunbar, who’d invited them into the case. Still, they were determined to see it through.

They urged the Jaegers to keep a tape recorder by their phone, and this hunch was solid. On the first anniversary of the abduction, a man called the Jaegers to say that Susan was with him. Mrs. Jaeger surprised him when she forgave him, provoking tears. The trace failed and voice analysis indicated that this caller could have been Meirhofer, but it was not definitive.

A 19-year-old woman, Sandra Dyckman, disappeared in 1974 and Meirhofer was again named as a suspect. (She had refused a date with him.) Human bone fragments discovered on an abandoned ranch near where Meirhofer had worked launched a more thorough investigation.

In an attempt to throw him off balance, Mullany urged Mrs. Jaeger to travel to Montana and confront him.

She did so. Although Meirhofer still denied involvement, he called her again, pretending to be someone else. She recognized his voice and called him David. This greatly upset him. But the FBI had traced the call and was able to arrest him.

They now had enough evidence for a warrant to search his home, where police discovered human remains wrapped in packages labeled “Deerburger.” One contained a hand that was identified as Sandra’s.

The day before Meirhofer committed suicide, he admitted to four murders, including Susan’s. Teten and Mullany believed that his motive had been the thrill of killing for sport. They thought he’d had a comorbid condition, schizopathy – a mix of psychopathy and simple schizophrenia.

Despite doubts about Teten and Mullany’s behavioral profile, their approach was vindicated.

*     *     *

Dr. Katherine Ramsland has published 44 books and over 1,000 articles, and recently had a #1 bestseller on the Wall Street Journal’s nonfiction list. She teaches forensic psychology and criminal justice at DeSales University in Pennsylvania and offers trainings on psychological aspects of investigations. She writes a blog, “Shadow Boxing” for Psychology Today, speaks widely on serial killers and psychopaths, and is a frequent commentator on crime documentaries. She has appeared on 20/20, 48 Hours, Larry King Live, and numerous cable programs.

Stand by me

 

Stand by Me: Kids and Killers

If your buddy shows you a body, what would YOU do?

By Dr. Katherine Ramsland

Tyler Hadley’s sentencing hearing has been running for over a week. When he was 17, he bludgeoned his parents to death with a framing hammer. His father took 39 deadly blows, his mother 36. This wasn’t on impulse. It was planned. So was the party he threw afterward. With his parents’ bloodied, battered corpses locked in the bedroom, he invited dozens of kids to his home to party like there was no tomorrow.

During the party, Hadley confessed to his best friend, Michael, what he’d done. Although Hadley could be weird, this was a stunner. Michael didn’t believe him until Tyler showed him that his parents’ cars were both parked in the driveway. Michael still didn’t believe him.

Tyler showed him the bedroom, with blood spatters and gore everywhere one looked. A white leg sticking out from under bloody sheets convinced Michael that Tyler had done it. He’d slaughtered his parents. Brutally, with malice aforethought.

According to Nathaniel Rich for Rolling Stone magazine, Michael rushed from the room. But he didn’t leave the house. He didn’t immediately call the police. He said later that Tyler had asked him to stay there until the others left. He didn’t want to, but he complied. He remained at the party for another 45 minutes. He even took a selfie on his phone with Hadley, out in the garage.

Ultimately Michael turned on his friend, but he stood by for a while, aware of a terrible crime and doing nothing.

When another party-goer learned about these events later, his comment was, “Wow. I just went to the party of a lifetime…Twenty years from now, I’ll be able to say I was there… that’s kind of cool.”

Journalist Nathaniel Rich noticed this attitude. In another article, he said, “I was amazed to learn how many kids at the party seemed to have known that Tyler’s parents were dead—and kept partying anyway.”

What is it with these kids? Are they callous? Confused?

This incident and the ones below remind me of a movie, The River’s Edge, which was based on a murder in California in 1981. Anthony Broussard, 16, raped and strangled Marcy Conrad, 14. He took her body in his truck and dumped it down a ravine. Then he bragged to his high school buddies about what he’d done. He even took people to his body dumpsite.

At least ten kids saw it, possibly more. One person tossed a stone at the corpse, according to an article later published in Time. Yet the crime went unreported for two days. When students who knew of the murder were asked why they hadn’t come forward, they said they hadn’t wanted to get into trouble.

Other kids have stood by like this, too. In 2009 in New Hampshire, four teenagers planned a home invasion. The goal was theft. They chose the home of Kimberly Cates. Group leader Steve Spader decided they should eliminate whoever was there. Christopher Gribble followed him to a bedroom while William Marks and Quinn Glover looked for things to steal.

Spader used a machete to hack Mrs. Cates to death and Gribble repeatedly stabbed her eleven-year-old daughter, Jamie. Marks stood in the doorway and watched. He did nothing to stop it. Glover put his hands over his ears to block out the thud of the machete and the victims’ screams. He, too, did nothing.

Jamie played dead, which allowed her to survive and get help. The boys were arrested the following day.

The prosecutor said that Marks initially had lied about his involvement. Just a few weeks after the crime, he talked with his father about contacting media outlets to sell his story. He’d wanted to profit from it.

A fifth co-conspirator, Autumn Savoy, helped conceal evidence and had an alibi for Gribble and Spader. In court, he apologized, admitting he had a chance to do the right thing, but hadn’t.

At his own proceeding, Glover told the judge, “Every moment that I close my eyes I see what I could have done and how I could have prevented this horror that I helped set in motion.” He recognized that he’d been a coward.

In Philadelphia in 2003, three boys and a girl participated in the fatal bludgeoning of Jason Sweeney. The girl lured him into the woods while the boys—including his best friend—attacked him with a hammer, hatchet, and rock. As he lay dying, they stood over him in a group hug. Then they took his money and went to the home of a friend.

This person, unnamed in the press, would later tell the police that he’d overheard their plans and had helped to wash out their bloody clothing. He knew what they’d done and he did nothing to report them.

As I watch The River’s Edge, and now read stories like these, I wonder what I would have done as a teenager had I been shown an unreported murder victim. My first instinct is to judge these kids harshly for their cowardice and indifference. But I’d rather try to understand what goes on in the mind of an adolescent who knows about or watches a friend commit murder.

We know about compliant accomplices—people who reluctantly participate on killing teams. The traits generally associated with them are youth, low IQ, deficient education, insecurity, and mental instability. Many have a background of abuse. Sometimes they’ve already crossed a line by committing petty crimes. They compartmentalize easily and yield to moral compromise if they need something their partner can supply.

Perhaps some of these factors figure into the reasons why some kids who know about murder just stand by. Those who’ve admitted to cowardice were not apathetic. In retrospect, they were horrified (or said they were). Some were embarrassed. A few didn’t quite know how to betray a friend.

It’s possible that the neurophysiological immaturity of the adolescent brain plays a role, although this is generally more relevant to stupidity during risk-taking behavior. Maybe it’s that adolescents tend to be self-absorbed so they’re buffered from full comprehension of what should be done.

A friend of mine, who is the mother of three sons, said to me that parents step in so often these days to decide for their kids that perhaps these kids expect someone else to make the right move. Maybe they just don’t know how to make tough decisions.

So kids, I realize that it can be difficult to break a bond, but your friend, the killer who asks for your allegiance, has already betrayed YOU. Think about it.

*     *     *

Dr. Katherine Ramsland has published 44 books and over 1,000 articles, and recently had a #1 bestseller on the Wall Street Journal’s nonfiction list. She teaches forensic psychology and criminal justice at DeSales University in Pennsylvania and offers trainings on psychological aspects of investigations. She writes a blog, “Shadow Boxing” for Psychology Today, speaks widely on serial killers and psychopaths, and is a frequent commentator on crime documentaries. She has appeared on 20/20, 48 Hours, Larry King Live, and numerous cable programs.

Confessions of a female serial killer

 

Confessions of a Female Serial Killer

With sudden dramatic confessors, it’s best to verify before you buy

by Katherine Ramsland

I wrote about Miranda Barbour last week, here, concerning the murder that she and her new husband, Elytte, had committed together last November. For kicks, they’d lured a man to his death with a Craigslist ad. I used their case to describe how two (or more) people can develop a sixth sense about each other for violence. They have a “mur-dar” radar.

Troy LeFerrara, 42, responded to the ad. They picked him up and Elytte used a cord to incapacitate him while Miranda repeatedly stabbed him. They dumped him, cleaned the van and went to a strip club to celebrate Elytte’s birthday. Their phone call to the victim led police to them, and they’ve been awaiting trial.

Over the past weekend, Miranda, 19, said that not only was she guilty of the LeFarrara murder but she’d been killing with a satanic group since she was 13. Supposedly, she’s “lost count after 22.” If let out, she would kill again. Needless to say, this confession has created a flurry of media reports about this “female serial killer.”

But let’s keep in mind that, at this time, Barbour has admitted guilt for one murder for which there is evidence. She’s not yet a confirmed serial killer. Given the brutality of it, we can accept that she’s killed before and perhaps her stories will be validated soon, as law enforcement works with whatever she gives them. However, until then, we should remember the lessons from past cases.

Robert Charles Browne made headlines in 2006 when he claimed he’d murdered forty-nine people, becoming America’s most prolific known serial killer. But when he beat by one the record set by “Green River Killer” Gary Ridgway, his confession triggered skepticism. Was he just grabbing for notoriety?

In 1995, Browne had pled guilty to the 1991 murder of thirteen-year-old Heather Dawn Church. Five years later, he sent cryptic notes to Texas prosecutors that suggested more victims: “The score is you 1, the other team, 48.”  (Now he sounds like the Zodiac.) He admitted he’d been killing since 1970, in nine different states. Yet he provided specific information in less than half of the cases, and often his leads failed to turn up a body.

It defies reason to confess to something you did not do, especially murder, but some ambitions override reason: notoriety, for example, gamesmanship, and even self-aggrandizing. 

H. H. Holmes went on trial in Philadelphia in 1896 for a fatal insurance fraud. He insisted he was innocent but for $10,000 proclaimed himself the world’s most notorious killer, claiming 100 victims before reducing that number to twenty-seven. “The newspaper wanted a sensation,” he whined, and before stepping into the post-conviction noose, he admitted to only two. The truth was probably much worse, but he left us without answers.

The most infamous confessor was Henry Lee Lucas, arrested in 1983. He estimated he’d killed 100 people, but after much attention he raised that number to over 350 in twenty-seven states. Dozens of lawmen came to Texas to close their open cases, providing Lucas with outings and meals, but suddenly he recanted. Then he insisted he’d been forced to recant, confusing everyone.

“I set out to break and corrupt any law enforcement officer I could get,” Lucas said. “I think I did a pretty good job.”  When he died in 2001, the full truth went with him.

Dr. Steven Egger, Professor of Criminology at the University of Houston–Clear Lake and author of The Killers among Us, had interviewed Lucas.

“It was difficult to tell when Lucas was lying,” Egger admits. “In some cases I might ask him to talk about an average killing and it seemed to me that what he said came from his imagination; he’d just thought it up. He was convicted of eleven homicides, so he was a serial killer, but he did blow a lot of what I call ‘smoke and mirrors’ and played a lot of games.”

Egger advocates verifying whatever serial killers say, one case at a time. “Most of them are psychopaths and they’re good at lying. I don’t place a lot of stock in my interviews with them.”

It’s hazardous to be gullible, especially for investigators hoping to close open cases. They might inadvertently reveal details, allowing offenders to play them for fools. As well, they could waste limited resources.

However, there are also hazards in dismissing these offenders, notably that they might stop providing details.

The bottom line is this: Even skilled investigators may not spot a clever liar with a selfish agenda. Sorting out truth takes time, patience, sleuthing, and the corroboration of facts. Above all, it requires the ability to avoid a rush to judgment that might trigger mistakes.

Whether Miranda Barbour is a unique new satanic female serial thrill-killer remains to be seen. She could easily set some records of her own, but it’s too soon to say.

*     *     *

Dr. Katherine Ramsland has published 44 books and over 1,000 articles, and recently had a #1 bestseller on the Wall Street Journal’s nonfiction list. She teaches forensic psychology and criminal justice at DeSales University in Pennsylvania and offers trainings on psychological aspects of investigations. She writes a blog, “Shadow Boxing” for Psychology Today, speaks widely on serial killers and psychopaths, and is a frequent commentator on crime documentaries. She has appeared on 20/20, 48 Hours, Larry King Live, and numerous cable programs.

Dr. Katherine Ramsland

 

When Psychopaths Find Love

Apparently, there’s someone for everyone, even maniacs…
by Dr. Katherine Ramsland

 

“Natalya” told reporters it was “love at first sight” when she saw “Bittsa Maniac” Alexander Pichushkin on TV. Arrested in 2006, Pichushkin, 32, was close to his goal of committing one murder for each of the 64 squares on a chessboard. He was convicted of 49, which enraged him, because he claimed 62 and he’d wanted to make history. The courts had spoiled his game.

Pichushkin often targeted the elderly. He’d invite his victim to drink with him in a secluded area. Once they were drunk, he’d bash in their heads with a hammer. Often he’d dump them into a sewer pit. In an interview, he stated, “A life without murder is a life without food” and had described his killing career as a “perpetual orgasm.”

This is the creep that Natalya intends to marry. “I go to bed thinking about him,” she said in a TV interview in Russia, “I wake up thinking about him.”

It’s no surprise to learn that she’s survived an abusive first marriage, which had led to substance abuse. This is common to significant perceentage of women who get involved with incarcerated killers. Then she saw Pichushkin and began to correspond with him. “He became my ray of sunshine.”

And it wasn’t like he admitted remorse. “He told me in detail about the murders he committed, and how it was ‘interesting for him to turn the living into the dead.’”

For some reason, she doesn’t grasp that she’s one of these “living” that he’d probably like to kill.

So, what’s with a person like Natalya who can dismiss such egregious behavior? Can love produce that much of a cognitive distortion? You can name almost any infamous killer – Ramirez, Bundy, Gacy, Bianchi – and you’ll find a groupie bound to him, possibly in lawfully wedded bliss.

Well, maybe it’s the danger. Some women find violence exciting. With their lover safely locked up, they’re free to fantasize. Psychologist Michael Apter suggests that once something is labeled “dangerous,” it can exert a magical attraction that makes us feel alive. “Protective frames” diminish the anxiety, so we develop narratives about evildoers that include buffers of safety. Thus, we can enjoy danger and allow ourselves close. Some of the groupies have clearly spun a “protective narrative.”

For example, the Beauty and the Beast syndrome. Some women who love killers imagine getting close to a dangerous alpha-male who will probably not hurt them – but there’s always the slight chance. In fact, for women who’ve been abused, this scenario can feel so familiar they confuse it with finding a soul mate.

However, many serial killer groupies are educated and attractive. Some have money and careers, and some are already married. Quite a few are mothers, and many have worked in some field related to law enforcement or rehabilitation. Clearly, there’s something else going on than desperation, delusion, or insecurity.

Many of these women devote themselves entirely to the inmate and make significant sacrifices, sometimes sitting for hours every week to await a brief face-to-face visit in prison. They may give up jobs or families to be near their true love. A few even go deep into debt. Some have lied about the offender to try to get him a new trial or early release.

Experts who’ve taken the time to learn about women like Natalya have offered a variety of reasons why they get involved with men who kill.

Some women have “rescue fantasies,” in which they believe they can reform someone as cruel and powerful as a serial killer. They view their love for him as the magical ingredient he was lacking. Or they might find a maternal need to nurture met, as they “see” the little boy the killer once was.

Some women seek celebrity status and media exposure – even if there’s a dubious quality to it. Natalya went on TV and even dressed as a bride for photos.

In addition, some women believe they cannot find a man and since men in prison are desperately lonely, it’s an easy way to get romantically hooked up. They align themselves against the world in defense of their beloved. Thus, they gain purpose and feel loved. (Also, they don’t have to do his laundry or answer to him. There’s that.)

Whether the Bittsa Maniac can actually love anyone, Natalya included, is unclear. News reports suggest that she hasn’t actually met him. Still, this relationship has improved her outlook on life. So, for Valentine’s Day, when romantic fantasies flourish, we’ll give her the benefit of the doubt.

*     *     *

Dr. Katherine Ramsland has published 44 books and over 1,000 articles, and recently had a #1 bestseller on the Wall Street Journal’s nonfiction list. She teaches forensic psychology and criminal justice at DeSales University in Pennsylvania and offers trainings on psychological aspects of investigations. She writes a blog, “Shadow Boxing” for Psychology Today, speaks widely on serial killers and psychopaths, and is a frequent commentator on crime documentaries. She has appeared on 20/20, 48 Hours, Larry King Live, and numerous cable programs.

Dr. Katherine Ramsland

 

Lost Boys: Exposure to violence plus adolescent turmoil becomes formula for tragedy.

On Monday morning, T. J. Lane allegedly took a gun into Chardon High School in Ohio. He saw a table in the cafeteria where students sat talking and took aim. Three have died and two others were wounded. He claimed, according to the press, that he did not know why he picked them. He has not yet offered a motive, but there is speculation that one victim was dating a former girlfriend.

Stories have emerged about Lane’s troubled past. His mother and father have both been arrested for domestic violence. His older brother has had substance abuse issues. Several relatives have had physical altercations. However, Lane himself was not a violent person, at least not on any open record. Some say he was bullied and teased, others insist he had friends. We don’t know how he viewed himself within this cauldron, but he apparently thought that shooting other kids was a viable means to an end.

We might search for a reason we can grasp, but motives for these incidents are generally complex. Each person processes experience in his or her own unique way. Some are resilient and can absorb life’s hurdles, but others cannot. One kid might perceive slights or disappointments as far more jarring than another would.

A few children grow angry and bent on power, revenge, or punishment. In France in 1995, Eric Borel, a fan of Adolf Hitler, used a hammer and baseball bat to fatally bludgeon his mother, stepfather and brother. Then he took a hunting rifle and walked six miles into town. Within half an hour, he had killed nine strangers and wounded seven before shooting himself in the head.

Some researchers say this kind of rampage violence arises from a brain disorder, and much work in neuroscience has been devoted to impulse control issues of the adolescent brain. Others cite attachment disorders from neglect or rejection. One study said that boys who had experienced maternal rejection were twice as likely to get involved in a violent incident as boys who had not.

Neuroscientist Adrian Raine studied children on a small island. Those who had slower heart rates and reduced skin responses when exposed to a challenge or loud noise got into more trouble than other children. However, nutrition and improved education helped to reduce criminality later in life. It was thought that because they did not experience normal fear or distress, they did not learn from risky behavior. They also did not learn empathy. Improved circumstances diminished the negative influences.

Still, some school shooters seek fame or notoriety. For years after the 1999 school shooting at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, several would-be shooters had hoped to “out-Columbine Columbine.” And they weren’t always boys. Soon after the Columbine incident, a thirteen-year-old girl met with friends in a small Florida town to reveal a map of their school’s surveillance system. She showed them a hit list that included nine students and school personnel, but someone turned her in before she could do anything.

Many of these children have been angry about being bullied or rejected. They let their frustration build into rage. It turns out that children who expect to be rejected tend to perceive more hostility in ambiguous comments than those who are not so sensitive. Such children then behave aggressively in a pre-emptive strike, which adds to their interpersonal difficulties. So they get rejected and become further distressed. It’s a self-defeating cycle.

However, it takes more than just anger to form a plan to kill—particularly if one has a number of human targets in mind.

Back in the 1970s, psychologists Derek Miller and John Looney studied adolescent killers and noted that they showed a capacity to dehumanize. Those at high risk to kill saw others as objects that thwarted them. The psychologists found that these kids had become cold and detached from the way someone had dehumanized them. In fact, the extent to which they’d been treated this way was directly proportionate to how they viewed and treated others.

Family strife and bullying by peers may never be eradicated, but identifying kids who process such circumstances in disturbed ways might be the only way to develop effective interventions. This problem must be treated on the inside—the perceptual level—rather than through external controls, because kids who feel resentful and angry, and who devise violent resolutions, will find some way to act out.

*Article previously published in Psychology Today.

*     *     *

Dr. Katherine Ramsland is a professor of forensic psychology at DeSales University in Pennsylvania, where she also teaches criminal justice. She holds a master’s in forensic psychology from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, a master’s in clinical psychology from Duquesne University, a master’s in criminal justice from DeSales University, and a Ph.D. in philosophy from Rutgers. She has been a therapist and a consultant. Dr. Ramsland has published over 1,000 articles and 46 books, including:

Snap! Seizing Your Aha Moments

Paranormal Forensics

The Mind of Murder a Murderer: Privileged Access to the Demons that Drive Extreme Violence

Inside the Minds of Serial Killers

The Forensic Psychology of Criminal Minds

The Forensic Science of CSI

The Criminal Mind: A Writer’s Guide to Forensic Psychology

True Stories of CSI

Beating the Devil’s Game: A History of Forensic Science and Criminal Investigation

Inside the Minds of Healthcare Serial Killers

Inside the Minds of Mass Murderers

The Human Predator: A Historical Chronology of Serial Murder and Forensic Investigation

Psychopath

The Vampire Trap

The Ivy-League Killer

Piercing the Darkness: Undercover with Vampires in America Today

Dr. Ramsland’s background in forensics positioned her to assist former FBI profiler John Douglas on his book, The Cases that Haunt Us, to co-write a book with former FBI profiler, Gregg McCrary, The Unknown Darkness, to collaborate on A Voice for the Dead with attorney James E. Starrs on his exhumation projects, and to co-write a forensic textbook with renowned criminalist Henry C. Lee, The Real World of a Forensic Scientist.

For seven years, she contributed regularly to Court TV’s Crime Library, and now writes a column on investigative forensics for The Forensic Examiner and a column on character psychology for Sisters in Crime; offers trainings for law enforcement and attorneys; and speaks internationally about forensic psychology, forensic science, and serial murder. She has appeared on numerous cable network documentaries, as well as such programs as The Today Show, 20/20, Montel Williams, NPR, Larry King Live and E! True Hollywood. For ID, she spoke as a recurring expert on the series, American Occult and Wicked Attractions.

Cookie monster and serial killer

 

Cookie Monster and the Serial Killer:

A killer’s strange insanity defense involved the beloved puppet

Harrison “Marty” Graham was evicted from his apartment on a sweltering August day in 1987, due to obnoxious odors. Inside, the police found the remains of seven women. Graham, 28, first stated that the bodies had been there when he moved in, but then he confessed to having strangled them all … accidentally.

The first officer to arrive bent down to a keyhole and saw a black woman’s naked legs. He knocked and announced himself. With an investigator from the Medical Examiner’s Office, he forced the door and entered the fetid room.

The nude female, on a mattress, was deceased. She’d been dead for some time. Next to mattress, on a pile of trash, was another female corpse.

A homicide detective joined the search team. Around 3:45 PM, they turned up a third set of remains, wrapped in two sheets and buried under the debris beneath the second body. These were nearly skeletal, but had shreds of clothing. Less than two hours later, the searchers turned up a fourth set of mummified remains inside some sheets.

The fifth body was found around 5:30, pulled out of another area of debris, but the peculiar detail about this one was that he or she (they couldn’t tell) had been sandwiched between two mattresses. The searchers wondered if the evicted tenant had actually slept on the top mattress with the victim underneath, like a dried flower smashed between pages of a book.

It appeared as though the tenant had resided in one room and had kept the adjoining room as his own private mausoleum. Another two hours went by before a sixth body was located crammed inside a tiny six-inch deep closet, sitting up, wrapped in a sheet and tied with white electrical cord. Another decomposed body was found outside the window, on the roof.

The search was on for the evicted tenant. When he left, Graham had taken a water bottle, some items of clothing and his raggedy blue Cookie Monster.

Investigators learned that Graham was known to take long walks and play basketball with local kids. He liked to entertain them with his Cookie Monster. Other neighbors said he was a loner, but when he got drunk he’d act a “little crazy.” He talked to his puppet all the time.

Graham was arrested on the streets. He finally confessed to killing the women found in his apartment, but was hazy on the details. He’d accidentally killed them during sex, he admitted, under the influence of drugs. He was full of remorse.

Eventually, he went to trial. Among the seized evidence was his Cookie Monster puppet, which he asked to have back. “I sleep with that,” he said. But the puppet remained in evidence.

Defense attorney Joel Moldovsky had prepared well for his client: it wasn’t just insanity, he said, these acts had been due to Graham’s multiple personality disorder. Harrison Frank Graham, Jr. was presented as having three distinct personalities. “Frank” was a foul-mouthed drug addict and murderer; “Junior” was an unmanageable two-year-old who adored the Cookie Monster, and “Marty” was the likeable handyman who had complied with the police.

Graham chose to have the judge decide his case. Apparently his attorney and his mother had convinced him that the graphic evidence would strongly offend a jury.

The prosecutor offered some powerful witnesses. Two women said they’d lived with Graham and survived, but just barely. One testified that during sex he would place his hands around her throat and squeeze. Several times she’d thought he was killing her. He’d told her, she said, that he’d killed one of his former girlfriends in anger.

The second witness confirmed that Graham had confessed to this killing. He’d also threatened her with a machete.

Moldovsky asked this witness to pull the crusty Cookie Monster puppet out of a bag of items. She did not want to touch it, but she did admit that he’d chatted with it every day that she’d lived with him

A psychiatrist for the defense said that since Graham had said he could not recall the first five murders, it was not possible to judge his mental state at the time of those crimes. However, during the last two incidents, he’d hallucinated the voices of both God and the devil. Thus, he had been psychotic.

Nevertheless, the judge found Graham guilty on all counts of first-degree murder and abuse of a corpse. Graham just blinked and shook his head. Moldovsky later told reporters, “I assume he knows he was found guilty, but I’m not sure.” Graham asked to have his Cookie Monster back.

The sentences were a mix of both life without parole and death. In an unusual move, the judge decided that Graham should not to be executed until after he’d served the life sentence. Moldovsky found this ruling to be “Solomonic” and compassionate. It meant that Graham had received a life sentence without the possibility of parole.

However, his sentence went through a round of unusual challenges until the death sentences were vacated in 2003, due to his low IQ and indicators of early-onset mental illness. He was considered not competent to be executed.

Behind bars, he became an ordained minister.

Dr. Katherine Ramsland is a professor of forensic psychology at DeSales University in Pennsylvania, where she also teaches criminal justice. She holds a master’s in forensic psychology from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, a master’s in clinical psychology from Duquesne University, a master’s in criminal justice from DeSales University, and a Ph.D. in philosophy from Rutgers. She has been a therapist and a consultant. Dr. Ramsland has published over 1,000 articles and 46 books, including:

Snap! Seizing Your Aha Moments

Paranormal Forensics

The Mind of Murder a Murderer: Privileged Access to the Demons that Drive Extreme Violence

Inside the Minds of Serial Killers

The Forensic Psychology of Criminal Minds

The Forensic Science of CSI

The Criminal Mind: A Writer’s Guide to Forensic Psychology

True Stories of CSI

Beating the Devil’s Game: A History of Forensic Science and Criminal Investigation

Inside the Minds of Healthcare Serial Killers

Inside the Minds of Mass Murderers

The Human Predator: A Historical Chronology of Serial Murder and Forensic Investigation

Psychopath

The Vampire Trap

The Ivy-League Killer

Piercing the Darkness: Undercover with Vampires in America Today

Dr. Ramsland’s background in forensics positioned her to assist former FBI profiler John Douglas on his book, The Cases that Haunt Us, to co-write a book with former FBI profiler, Gregg McCrary, The Unknown Darkness, to collaborate on A Voice for the Dead with attorney James E. Starrs on his exhumation projects, and to co-write a forensic textbook with renowned criminalist Henry C. Lee, The Real World of a Forensic Scientist.

For seven years, she contributed regularly to Court TV’s Crime Library, and now writes a column on investigative forensics for The Forensic Examiner and a column on character psychology for Sisters in Crime; offers trainings for law enforcement and attorneys; and speaks internationally about forensic psychology, forensic science, and serial murder. She has appeared on numerous cable network documentaries, as well as such programs as The Today Show, 20/20, Montel Williams, NPR, Larry King Live and E! True Hollywood. For ID, she spoke as a recurring expert on the series, American Occult and Wicked Attractions.

Postmortem maze

Israel Keyes, a 34-year-old Anchorage construction worker, was picked up for the kidnapping and murder of Samantha Koenig in Alaska. During his interrogation, he confessed to this murder along with a double homicide in Vermont, and added that he had killed as many as eight people. He hinted that it could be more.

The FBI suspects that he began his killing spree more than a decade earlier and that his victim toll is at least 11. He had named New York and Washington State as places where he’d killed, but he’d traveled in many more states.

However, Keyes committed suicide this past fall before he provided victim names or clearly identifying details, leaving investigators to piece together his puzzle. This has been difficult.

Keyes was a careful predator. He scouted locations and buried his murder kit (knives, ropes, guns, chemicals, zip ties) in various isolated places. When he got in the mood to kill, he would find victims near his stash. He’d partially funded his attacks with bank robberies, but was caught when he tried to get ransom money.

Keyes told investigators that he’d looked for victims in remote locations, such as parks, campgrounds, trailheads, cemeteries and boating areas. He’d also broken into many houses and robbed a number of banks. After his suicide, officials offered some details in the hope that the public might have seen Keyes or have some information about missing people who match the partial descriptions.

On Monday, the Anchorage Daily News and other media outlets ran a feature on a 4-page report that the FBI just released. This might help to jog some memories, so I’m using my blog space to provide this public service appeal:

The following details were in this report:

– Keyes is thought to have traveled internationally and, while living in upstate New York for a time, he might have entered Canada, particularly Montreal.

– During the summer of 1997 or 1998, Keyes grabbed a girl floating the Deschutes River in Oregon on an inflatable tube. He lived in Maupin, Ore. at the time, and the abduction is thought to have occurred near there. It was late afternoon or early evening and the girl, between 14 and 18, was with friends. He sexually assaulted her and let her go.

– Keyes joined the Army in 1998 and was discharged in 2001, when he began living in Washington State. He said he’d killed a couple in Washington some time between 2001 and 2005. He might have moved the couple’s car to a distant location and he alluded to having buried them near a valley. They might have been residents or tourists.

– In either 2005 or 2006, during the summer or fall, Keyes killed in two separate encounters. He tied anchors to at least one of the bodies, which he dumped in Washington’s Crescent Lake, leaving it in more than 100 feet of water.

– Keyes moved to Alaska in 2007, driving north on the Alaska-Canada Highway. He flew to Seattle on Oct. 31, 2008 and traveled to multiple other states. He rented a 2008 PT Cruiser in Seattle, then flew to Boston on Nov. 2.

– Keyes admitted to killing a girl or woman in an East Coast state on April 9, 2009, and robbing a bank the next day. He told investigators he’d crossed multiple state lines to bury the body in upstate New York, then robbed Community Bank in Tupper Lake, N.Y., on April 10. After the bank robbery, he parked for several hours in a nearby campground.

– From July 9 to July 12, 2010, Keyes went on a trip from Anchorage to Sacramento and Auburn, CA, renting a black Ford Focus. He drove about 280 miles in those three days.

– Keyes flew to Chicago on June 2, 2011, and drove to Essex, Vermont, where he abducted and killed Bill and Lorraine Currier on June 8. Afterward, he drove around the East Coast before returning to Chicago. He then flew to San Francisco on June 15, stayed the night there, and returned to Anchorage the next day.

– On Feb. 1, 2012, Keyes abducted Samantha Koenig, raped, and strangled her and dumped her dismembered remains in Matanuska Lake near Palmer, Alaska. He went on a cruise out of New Orleans and came back through Texas. The FBI believes he killed someone at this time. He set fire to a home in Aledo, Texas, on Feb. 16 and robbed National Bank of Texas in Azle.

He was arrested in March and spent hours talking to investigators, but he was cagey with details unless he knew they already had them from his computer. He finally grew irritated that the prosecutors were not upholdng their end of the deal for media silence and a speedy execution. On December 1 or 2, 2012, Keyes slit his wrist with a razor and used a bed sheet to choke himself in a segregation unit at the Anchorage Jail.

The FBI will reportedly release an interactive map of Keyes’ travels today. The agency asks anyone with information on Keyes, his travels or his victims to call 1-800-CALL-FBI.

*     *     *

Dr. Katherine Ramsland is a professor of forensic psychology at DeSales University in Pennsylvania, where she also teaches criminal justice. She holds a master’s in forensic psychology from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, a master’s in clinical psychology from Duquesne University, a master’s in criminal justice from DeSales University, and a Ph.D. in philosophy from Rutgers. She has been a therapist and a consultant. Dr. Ramsland has published over 1,000 articles and 46 books, including:

Snap! Seizing Your Aha Moments

Paranormal Forensics

The Mind of Murder a Murderer: Privileged Access to the Demons that Drive Extreme Violence

Inside the Minds of Serial Killers

The Forensic Psychology of Criminal Minds

The Forensic Science of CSI

The Criminal Mind: A Writer’s Guide to Forensic Psychology

True Stories of CSI

Beating the Devil’s Game: A History of Forensic Science and Criminal Investigation

Inside the Minds of Healthcare Serial Killers

Inside the Minds of Mass Murderers

The Human Predator: A Historical Chronology of Serial Murder and Forensic Investigation

Psychopath

The Vampire Trap

The Ivy-League Killer

Piercing the Darkness: Undercover with Vampires in America Today

Dr. Ramsland’s background in forensics positioned her to assist former FBI profiler John Douglas on his book, The Cases that Haunt Us, to co-write a book with former FBI profiler, Gregg McCrary, The Unknown Darkness, to collaborate on A Voice for the Dead with attorney James E. Starrs on his exhumation projects, and to co-write a forensic textbook with renowned criminalist Henry C. Lee, The Real World of a Forensic Scientist.

For seven years, she contributed regularly to Court TV’s Crime Library, and now writes a column on investigative forensics for The Forensic Examiner and a column on character psychology for Sisters in Crime; offers trainings for law enforcement and attorneys; and speaks internationally about forensic psychology, forensic science, and serial murder. She has appeared on numerous cable network documentaries, as well as such programs as The Today Show, 20/20, Montel Williams, NPR, Larry King Live and E! True Hollywood. For ID, she spoke as a recurring expert on the series, American Occult and Wicked Attractions.