Friday, September 23, 2011
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.
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
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 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
May would marry Arthur, then a recovering “lunger” around 1904. Arthur worked as a store clerk in various locations throughout
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
Saturday, September 17, 2011
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.
Wednesday, September 14, 2011
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
Colorado Savings Bank (1950s)
From the time the
Thursday, September 8, 2011
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
Henry Wayne was the third of eight children born to George and Terrissa Wayne. Henry grew up in
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.