Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Serial Killer Myths Exposed

VICAP catches serial killers

The FBI has something called VICAP (Violent Criminal Apprehension Program). When a murder occurs, the police investigator fills out an ungodly long form with details of the crime scene. This form (if it is actually filled out and many times detectives don't bother) is sent to the FBI where all the data is added to a database. Somehow, the incredible mass of information with MO details and particulars (was the victim naked or not, was she tied up or not, etc.) is matched with other crimes and, lo and behold, crime linkage is accomplished.

Or at least some similar looking crimes are noted. With the number of serial murders and the difficulties with ever-changing MO and signatures and the added problem of unexpected occurrences at a crime scene (like the rape never happened because someone interrupted the killer or the normal five stabs turns into 50 because the victim mouthed off at him), how accurate can any of this be? While VICAP may be valuable in retrieving other useful law enforcement information, I have yet to understand how it works in making a major difference in identifying serial killer suspects.

It would be far more effective to have a suspect bank that would match suspects with victims through relatives, mutual friends and acquaintances, residences, work, hobbies, amusements, and travels. It would be nice if this bank would detail any odd behaviors on the part of the suspect that would help identify him in another crime. It would be advantageous for a police department to know that one of the people they were interviewing was actually a suspect in two other homicides in two other jurisdictions. However, at present, this information is not shared, and the detective may simply let that suspect walk out of his office and cross him off the suspect list without even realizing another police department had already investigated him in connection with another homicide.

When Ray Biondi, one of the finest serial homicide investigators in the field to date, was investigating the serial murders of Roger Kibbe, wouldn't it have been helpful to be able to plug in "weird cutting up of clothes" and get a match to Roger Kibbe who was one of the persons of interest in the investigation? They did eventually find out that there were records of just this sort in an old juvenile case file from 30 years earlier in another jurisdiction. Tracking this kind of information could really make the difference in identifying suspects.

Let's say that Janie never woke up from her encounter with Bobby Joe Leonard. The police now bring Bobby in for questioning. They look at his felony record which is rather concerning. However, while he is clearly a criminal, there is no identical crime that would link Bobby Joe to the murder of Janie or even hint that he abducts, rapes, strangles, and puts people in closets. Let's pretend, for a minute, that even though Bobby Joe Leonard is not called a suspect in the Arlington County murder of Andrea Cincotta, his information is still entered into a data bank because he was a person of interest in the crime. Wouldn't the detectives in Janie's case be rather interested in the fact that Bobbie Joe was physically in the apartment of a woman who was strangled and placed in a closet just three weeks later? Wouldn't they be interested to know he had no alibi for that day and that Andrea Cincotta's car ended up halfway across the city parked just a few blocks from his mother's house? Wouldn't they be interested in the fact that the day Andrea was murdered was also the birthday of Bobbie's girlfriend and he didn't have money for a present? Wouldn't they like to know that a day after the murder he went to Philadelphia where items like Andrea's missing jewelry could be pawned without identification? If the police were wondering if they should focus harder on Bobby or not, the creation of this kind of data bank could save them a whole lot of time.

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