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Homicide Victimology

Homicide Victimology

Jake J. Koppenhaver


Professor Brown

February 9, 2008
Homicide Victimology
Homicide Victimology

When a person is killed in a deliberate fashion, it is never a pleasant experience for those

around them. Unfortunately, investigators have a lot of work to do after a homicide has taken

place which requires the cooperation and help from many people in the victim's life.

Investigators must first learn everything they can about the victim even if a suspect has already

been identified. Some would assume that the presence or proof against a suspect about the crime

would be sufficient to prosecute them for the crime, however this is usually wrong. Not only

does the investigator have the burden to prove the guilt of the suspect, but also must assist

prosecutors in determining and showing to a court the reason why the suspect could have

committed the crime (intent and motive). Only when all of the angles are covered can an

investigator move on from a case, ensuring that the suspect will be punished for their crime.

Often times when investigating a homicide, the investigator must first identify the victim.

After this sometimes daunting task is complete, they move on to tracing the last steps the victim

took, ascertaining who the last person to see and speak with them were. This also helps

investigators construct a possible time of death (or in the business, T.O.D.) which can narrow

down the list of suspects based on their own alibis. Photo identification is the first item to look

for, however sometimes depending on injuries it must be done through other medical or social

techniques. If the crime took place amidst a crown of people or at an event of some sort, often

times witnesses are able to accurately and promptly identify the victim. In these cases, the next

step is usually a lot easier, which is determining the victim's recent activities. Upon speaking to

witnesses, the investigator must retrieve their accounts on exactly what happened during this

event, including any instances that could have led up to it. This can help determining motive and

create a list of immediate suspects.

Homicide Victimology
An example case file would be a male body being found in a less-than-desirable part of

town in a motel room in the early morning hours. He was stabbed with a knife that was left at the

scene. Patrol officers have secured the scene and crime scene technicians have photographed and

documented several possible pieces of evidence prior to investigator arrival. There is evidence of

sexual activity, as well as drug use in the motel room: used condoms and small clear baggies

with white powdery residue in them. There is no photo identification, as the wallet is nowhere to

be found, however the motel manager did identify the victim's car which contained registration

and insurance paperwork that gave his name and in-town address. Before visiting the address

listed, the investigator spends a bit more time collecting reports, speaking to the officers who

responded, looking over the scene, and interviewing the guests in the neighboring rooms and the

motel manager.

The manager stated that he checked in the night before, apparently alone, and after

visiting the room for a short time he left. He remembered that the victim was speaking on a cell

phone while returning to his vehicle before leaving. This creates another lead to follow by

inspecting call records from the phone. In speaking to the guests in neighboring rooms, the

investigator finds that loud noises were coming from the room, accompanied by loud music. It

sounded as if there were a handful of people in the room, however they only physically saw two

people leave around 0300, neither being the victim. The visitors most likely had something to do

with either the sexual activity or drug usage, or both, that occurred inside the room. This helps

the investigator construct not only a list of people to see the victim last, but also discern what his

activities were before his death.

The victim was wearing a wedding band when he was found, and upon visiting the

known address for him the investigator finds a woman—the victim's wife—and a young child

living in the home. The woman stated that her husband, now positively identified by crime scene
Homicide Victimology
close-up photos, is the victim and was supposed to be out of town for business. According to her,

he makes monthly trips out of town to promote franchising opportunities for his employer. She

also stated that the surfacing of this apparent lie did not surprise her very much, as they have

been having marital problems since the young child was born, involving intimacy and suspected

infidelity. The wife believes there to be another woman, however is unable to prove it. When

questioned about her husband's drug use, she told the investigator that she was unaware of any.

She said he had no apparent enemies, albeit some mysterious hang up calls to their home, or

strange people asking for him and refusing to leave a message. When she questioned him about

them he brushed it aside.

The investigator now travels to his employer to discover more about the victim. Speaking

with his supervisor, he learns that there are quarterly trips out of town for certain staff, which

does not sync with his monthly trips described by his wife. Speaking to his coworkers sheds

some light on his marital issues though; on trips out of town he forwent going to dinner with his

group, instead getting his own hotel room which he was seen entering and exiting with other men

at all hours of the night. There was a rumor at his workplace that he was gay after his coworkers

saw this activity. They also saw a decline in his work performance decline and sporadic

emotional ups and downs on these multi-day trips, possibly due to drug use while out of town.

Armed with this information, the investigator is better able to discern the routines of the victim,

and what could have possibly led to his murder (i.e.: his infidelity, his drug involvement, etc.).

After this initial field work is completed, the investigator does more research, this time

inspecting finances, account activity, call records, etc. Finances can help determine if the victim

was in debt, and possibly pursuing illegal ways of generating revenue, which can also be

supported by financial account activity. Financial accounts are invaluable in determining recent

activities, as recent transaction can help pinpoint where the victim was in the hours leading up to
Homicide Victimology
their death. In this case, the investigator has found transactions describing ATM withdrawals

totaling over $500 the night he was killed, along with two others being a bar tab at a known gay

club and a small transaction at an all night convenience store. From this evidence, the

investigator would know to start at the club the victim was at, and ascertain his contact with

others, followed by what he purchased at the convenience store. Depending on what the club

staff says, he can determine who the victim fraternized with, and possibly even who he left with,

which can also be corroborated by video surveillance at the convenience store.

While most crime labs and scene technicians will analyze evidence and complete the

scientific portion of the investigation, the detective or investigator must balance both, reading the

evidence and interpreting it, turning it into motive, intent, action, and relating it to those he

encounters in the investigative process. It is never an easy task with situations such as these,

however given the above scenario and findings of the investigator, one could surmise that

robbery may have been a motive, with the lure of sex to bait the victim. The one thing to be

remembered about investigations is that nothing can be set in stone, and investigating a homicide

of all crimes is no different. The investigator must take in all aspects of the environment, and

look into all aspects of the victims' and sometimes the suspects' lives in order to understand the

details of the crime.

Homicide Victimology

Osterburg, James & Ward, Richard (2004). Criminal Investigation: A Method for Reconstructing

the Past. University of Illinois: Anderson Publishing.

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