Friday, September 23, 2011

User error or something...

Sorry about the formatting thing going on with the previous post. I've tried everything but Blogger appears to be smarter than I am.

Problems with Profiling …

Profiling is the double edged sword of criminal investigation. On the one hand it can be beneficial in building a strategy for interrogation and investigation of suspects but on the other hand it can create false leads and throw off investigations. John Douglas, one of the FBI detectives who helped create the discipline of criminal profiling, has stated that profiling is just one tool an investigator can use to apprehend a killer. It is through hard and tireless work of detectives that crimes are solved. Historic crime hobbyists, me included, often reach for modern concepts to gain insight into crimes of the past. This can be both fun and yield some new avenues of investigation. The problem comes when people watch TV shows like CSI and Criminal Minds which tend to portray psychological profilers as some kind of warlock looking through layers of time to see the murderer. Can modern profiling be useful in historic crimes? Yes but I think there are problems when context isn’t considered.

Warlocks (and a witch) with dramatic Sunglasses of Omniscience!

Context can be a major problem when profiling a historic crime. Robert Ressler offers a profile of the killer based on the Villisca crime scene in the excellent documentary Villisca: Living with a Mystery. In his opinion the killer was a “mixed typology.” Okay, Inspector, so what? You say the same thing. Well to answer my own hypothetical (and slightly schizophrenic) question I have to point out a couple of those elements which make the crime scene disorganized.

1) Weapon left at the crime scene

2) Lots of forensic evidence (fingerprints as far as I know) left at crime scene

First of all, you have to understand the difference between criminal investigation in 1911 and criminal investigation in the 1970’s (when these typologies were proposed). Aside from the awesome soundtrack of a 1970’s investigation, there also needs to be consideration for what tools were available to an investigator at the time. The organized killer plans out the crime in large part to conceal his/her involvement. By 1970 fingerprint, fiber and blood analysis were common ways a crime was investigated. By the time the typologies of Organized, Disorganized and Mixed entered into investigations (1992) forensics had advanced geometrically in ways that a serial killer in 1911 would never have imagined. An Organized offender today would take steps to ensure no finger prints, hairs or blood (or other body fluids) was left behind at the crime scene because these are all things which modern forensics can trace back to the killer.

In 1911 the organized offender didn’t have to worry about these things at all. Investigators could barely tell if blood found at the scene was human, let alone a blood type. Fingerprint analysis was in its very early stage and it had not been used to solve a crime in the United States yet (with the exception of Bertillon anthropometry). A killer in 1911 could wipe his forehead with a handkerchief, throw it on the floor then spit and there wasn’t anything an investigator could glean from, what today would be, very damning evidence.

This leads me into the weapon being left at the scene of the crime. Organized offenders tend to not do this because often the murder weapon rolls into the fantasy being played out and also the whole forensics argument again. In 1911 discarding the weapon would have been the most effective means of concealing involvement in the crime. And it wasn’t like the killer was disposing of something relatively valuable, like a gun, it was just something he’d stolen (untraceable to him) and had no value to him at all because the next time he felt the urge to kill he could just steal another. Discarding the weapon in another spot would have also been riskier then leaving it at the crime scene. The killer wasn’t throwing the weapon into the trunk of his car and driving away, he was walking (running) to make his getaway. Carrying an axe, lead pipe or pick while doing so would slow him down and if he was stopped and questioned, that was it. He was sure to swing. One could argue that leaving the weapon at the scene was a trait of the Organized killer in 1911.

P.S. ~ The Halloween season is upon us. For those of you who found this place Googling “axe murder” or “serial killers,” welcome. Look around and leave a comment.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Victimology: May A. Burnham

Victimology is becoming a much more important area of study in the larger field of criminology. Most often a criminal is caught by tracking down points in time and locations at which the victim may have contacted the perpetrator. What were the victim’s habits or actions that might have led to this contact? Often times a victim who seems to be a low risk for violent crime is discovered to have engaged in high risk behaviors such as drug use or prostitution. Victimology is not without controversy. Victim’s advocates have argued this is a way of assigning partial responsibility for the criminal’s actions to the victim themselves (the old “[he, she] was asking for it” fallacy. In fact there is a term in sociology, penal couple, which assigns near equal blame to the victims of violent crimes. As an anthropologist I think this, along with a lot of sociology, is utter crap. But that’s for another day. For now let’s look at May Burnham.

Twenty-five year old May Alice Burnham was the oldest daughter of John and Emma Hill. John met Emma while working for the railroad making railroad ties and they were married about 1882. John’s job would require him to move his family on down the line as the rails were built. May and her younger sister Nettie would be born in Kansas before John picked up and moved the family on into Colorado Springs. Around 1890 Emma had had enough and it was time her daughters went to school. John purchased a house and took a job as a wagon maker, giving his family some geographic stability for a change. May and her sister were extremely close growing up, likely owing to their constant relocation, and this closeness remained strong even after both of them had married. John, it seems, took up with the railroad shortly after Nettie had married. This time his work as a carpenter for the railroad took him south into Mexico. This is where he was at the time of his oldest daughter’s murder. Shortly before this, Emma, now making pastries at a local hotel, petitioned for a divorce.

May would marry Arthur, then a recovering “lunger” around 1904. Arthur worked as a store clerk in various locations throughout Colorado Springs, including a candy store near the neighborhood they would later live in. When Arthur’s tuberculosis became worse and he moved into the sanitarium almost full time, May became essentially a single mother. She and the children moved into her childhood home to live with her mother for a while. Sometime in the middle of 1910, Arthur was deemed well enough to leave the sanitarium occasionally and he moved his family out of Emma’s house and into the upstairs rooms of Anna Merritt. It was during this time that Anna and May would become good friends. Some time in early 1911, Arthur would discover the little cottage on the edge of town, near the railroad tracks. It was a quiet little neighborhood and very near the road out to the sanitarium.

One thing to examine when putting together a victimology is the kind of behaviors a victim has that put them into contact with strangers. In order to make ends meet, May would take in “overflow” from Anna Merritt’s house when someone needed a bed for the night. This often involved renting the bed in one of the two rooms of the house. The door between these rooms had a lock on it and could be secured from one side although I admit I do not know which side it was. May also allowed borders to rent the hammock on the front porch of the house. This would have brought her into contact with strangers regularly and in the few weeks the Waynes lived in their home, would have brought them into contact with these strangers as well. Because of the proximity to the D&RG railroad tracks and with the prevalence of “stowaway” passengers on (yes I know, hobos) they would have seen more then their fair share of itinerant strangers as well. For a general timeline of the Burnham’s movements on the day of the murders, go here.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Entrances, Exits and Procurement…

The neighborhood the Burnham and Wayne families lived in was decidedly lower class and populated by people of very little means. It was just a half a block away from the Denver & Rio Grand railroad tracks. To the west of the homes ran a trolley line which ran late at night in order to accommodate the late shift workers of the Golden Cycle Mill to the west. Below is a (not scale) map of the neighborhood from 1909. The map is running with North on the right side. The arrows indicate the two houses and are pointing in the direction the front doors faced. The houses running along the trolley tracks were all vacant but due to the high use of the road they faced, there were electric street lamps running in front of them. The “Alley” to the east of the two houses was dark.

I think the most likely path of the killer was along the Alley. He could have come in from the west but would have risked being seen entering the back yards of the vacant houses along the trolley line. By coming in from the railroad tracks in the east and cutting south into the Alley, the killer would have been moving in almost complete darkness. Why did he then choose the Wayne’s house to enter? By coming from either the south or the north through the alley he would have passed two other occupied houses first; Joseph and Martha Evans to the south of the Wayne’s house, and Mrs. C. L. Brown's house just across the Alley from the Burnhams. There are two characteristics that stick out to me as possible reasons for skipping those two houses. First, the Browns were African-American. Second, the Evans were in their fifties. Opportunity didn’t seem to be a factor since the killer forced entry into both murder houses so if he was willing to break into those two houses, why not the Evans or Brown homes? "But Inspector...you are implying the murders weren't random!" Kind of, yeah. I don't think the killer actively stalked the victims in Colorado Springs but I also don't believe he just broke into a house without any idea who might be in there. There is circumstantial evidence to suggest the killer observed his victims at Ellsworth and Villisca. I think it is likely he did the same in Colorado Springs. There were numerous spots, including vacant houses, surrounding the crime scenes where the killer could have hidden and observed his targets. A worker on his way to the Golden Cycle Mill reported that he observed a man "loitering" in the vicinity around midnight on the night of the murders. Could this have been our guy?


Maybe one of these guys knows?

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Victimology: Blanche V. Wayne

I have already gone into Blanche Wayne’s family background here so I won’t repeat it. I want to try, as best I can, to follow her movements before the night of September 17th, 1911. Blanche had just turned 23 and from photos and descriptions was quite pretty.

Based on Arthur Burnham’s statement that Henry Wayne had called him on August 23rd (a Wednesday) then it is likely that the entire Wayne family arrived in Colorado Springs either on or near that date. Burnham stated that he spoke to Wayne about the cottage and the next time Burnham went home (Wednesday the 30th) the Waynes had moved in. The little cottage was $6 per month rent (about $138 today) and Henry paid for two months in advance. Lulumay and the Burnham children played in the back of the houses from time to time and May Burnham had told Arthur “[Blanche was] a nice little woman.”

Colorado Savings Bank (1950s)

From the time the Waynes moved into the little cottage, Blanche would be seen around the neighborhood with her daughter while on walks to the corner store and to the park a few blocks away. To a person, those in the neighborhood said they didn’t know the Waynes well. The only exceptions were apparently May Burnham and Grant Collins, the owner of the corner store. Collins told investigators he saw the Wayne family almost every day but hadn’t really talked to them until the Sunday afternoon before their deaths. Blanche apparently did speak to her neighbors as some of them stated she told them the $55 Henry placed into savings was from the sale of furniture in Indiana. Some time during the week of September 17th, 1911, Blanche spoke to her neighbor, Martha Evans, about barrowing her axe, which would ironically become the murder weapon. There hasn’t been anything in my research to indicate Blanche or Henry were high probability targets for violent crime. If anyone has any more information about Henry or Blanche Wayne, particularly from relatives, I would really appreciate hearing from you. I would like to flesh out these victimologies with a bit more info and history.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Victimology: Henry Wayne


September 17th, 2011 will mark 100 years since the (unofficial?) beginning of the series of murders known as the Midwest Axe Murders. I am in the camp of these murders being the work of a highly mobile serial killer. Of particular interest to those who study serial killers are the victimology. What traits, characteristics or actions lead to the killer choosing this particular victim? Ideally I want to start examining the victims a bit more in order to gather information that could lead to, at least a few, conclusions about victim selection by the killer. Since the Wayne’s were possibly the very first victims of the Midwest Axeman, I’ll look at them first, starting with Henry “Frank” Wayne.

Henry Wayne was the third of eight children born to George and Terrissa Wayne. Henry grew up in Pulaski County, Indiana, near the small town of Medaryville. George was a farmer, originally from Ohio, and made sure his children went to school. Henry alternatively went by Frank which was the short form of his middle name, Francis. Henry married Blanche McGinnis in 1908 and their daughter, Lulamay was born in 1909. Probably around September of 1910 Henry left for Colorado Springs to receive treatment for tuberculosis at the recently opened Modern Woodman Sanatorium. He stayed in the Sanatorium for 11 months and was released. Arthur Burnham told investigators he had told Henry about the cottage next to his and Henry decided to move in. According to Burnham that was the extent of their socializing. In early August of 1911 Burnham was told by the cook at the sanatorium that Henry was to be his replacement in the kitchen. Henry worked there for a few days then went back to Indiana to bring out his family. On August 23, Henry placed a call with the operator to Burnham and asked about the empty cottage next door. On August 31, 1911 Henry made a deposit of $55.00 ($1300 today) in a local bank. Blanche Wayne had told neighbors this was from the sale of furniture in Indiana.

A restored TB hut on the old grounds of the Modern Woodman Sanatorium

Initial investigations of the murders focused around love triangle hypotheses and it wasn’t just regarding the Burnhams. Remember I said in a previous post that Denver Chief of Police Hamilton Armstrong believed the murderer was a woman? Well the hypothesis behind this belief was Henry, away from his family for so long, had been friendly with another woman and Henry broke the whole thing off when his wife and daughter got to town. There isn’t anything to suggest this was the case at all. In fact it’s very likely that Henry spent the majority of his time at the sanatorium before he was released. According to accounts in the newspaper, Henry had no friends in the city and only vague acquaintances at the sanatorium any way. The only solid evidence of Henry interacting with anyone was an argument he was seen having with another man in the front yard of his cottage the week before the murders. No one could say what the argument was about and the man was never found.