Martha’s Murder

The victim is an African-American 55-year-old retired nurse who was active in her church; she was divorced 12 years ago, and her ex-husband is not considered a suspect (he has an alibi for the time of the murder). As far as it is known, she is not currently dating or seeing anyone. She has two children (son and daughter, now adults). She now lives alone with a golden retriever (named Keeper). She lives in nice neighborhood (middle class, largely African-American) with a relatively low crime rate. It is considered a stable neighborhood but does have a few transients. The victim is very tall for a woman: 6 feet tall and 180 pounds.

Martha lived across the street from the park in which her children played when they were young. Her home is a two-story house with a basement and fenced-in backyard. To the left side of her house lives a nosy elderly neighbor; the house to her right was for sale and unoccupied at the time of her death.

At the time of her death, she kept her dog outside in her yard tied to a chain-link fence. Keeper normally barks at strangers, and he has been kept leashed since he has escaped from the backyard in the past. In fact, he has gone missing for days at a time.

On the day of her death, Martha attended choir practice at her local church and returned home at 10 PM. She then called her mother and talked for 45 minutes (this is typical for her). At 11:30 at night, the lights went off (according to the elderly neighbor), and this is again typical for Martha.

Around 4:30 AM the next day, a newspaper deliveryman noticed smoke coming from her residence and called the fire department. The arriving firemen noticed a trail of blood leading out of the house that lasted for a block and a half before a street-sweeper wiped out the trail.

Her house was found unlocked, and the firemen discovered that two fires had been set in the house but had already gone out by themselves. The fires were set in the living room and kitchen; the arsonist’s modus operandi (MO) was to pile papers on top of the stove and then turn on the burners; the killer then attempted to burn her body by lighting paper on the stove and then using that to set the papers piles up on her body.

Investigation revealed that the offender entered the back basement window (it was a very large window). Her neighbor did not see anything (she was probably asleep), but the dog should have seen the killer and yet did not bark. Keeper was found still alive and tied to the fence.

Investigators noticed a blood trail from the basement bathroom up the stairs into the first floor of the home—the killer apparently cut him- or herself badly while entering through the window.

The victim’s body was found in living room. She was face-down, her left foot burned by fire, but that was extent of the damage to the victim from the fire, and fire damage to her home was slight. The victim’s robe and nightgown were pulled over her head, and her panties were pulled down around to her ankles; it is believed that this happened postmortem.

There was a postmortem stab wound to her thigh. The cause of death was manual strangulation; the strangulation was very violent, with a fractured hyoid bone present in the neck, and evidence of a crushed trachea. The lack of soot in her lungs indicates that she was dead before the fire started. Contusions to her mouth and scratches on her face were also evident, presumably inflicted by the killer during a struggle with the victim. A human bite mark on her left breast was also detected. The bite mark was very irregular, and from the lack of blood around the wound, happened postmortem. No semen was found at the scene, and but there is considerable evidence of a violent, traumatic sexual assault that would have resulted in considerable injury had the victim survived.

Other Facts

  • A rug was placed over the head of the victim.
  • A sash from the dress she wore earlier that evening is missing.
  • The victim probably would have heard the offender entering her home and encountered him or her in the living room.
  • A knife is missing from her kitchen and was not recovered from the scene.
  • The killer apparently looted her bedroom after killing her (no evidence of a struggle in bedroom), and while he or she was still bleeding. The victim’s pocketbook was dumped and searched. A pillowcase from her bed is missing.
  • Her jewelry, camera, and some cash she kept in a drawer are missing, but a check with surviving family members indicated that none of the missing items were particularly valuable, and the amount of cash missing was probably less than $50. Her checkbook and credit cards were still in her house.
  • Her time of death is estimated between 12:30 PM and 4:00 AM.Answer the following questions:

1.    Is this an example of an organized or disorganized offender? Explain.

2.    Where does the killer live relative to the crime scene? (Give his or her residence from the crime scene in blocks.)

3.    What was his or her primary motive for the crime?

4.    What the purpose of the arson?

5.    Was the fire the work of an experienced arsonist?

6.    Why did the killer take the sash?

7.    Why did the killer take the pillowcase? What did he or she use it for?

8.    How tall is the killer relative to the victim? (Answering this correctly will narrow the suspect pool).

9.    How does the dog know the offender? It is obvious that the dog knew the offender (why else wouldn’t he bark?), and how? Please note that the neighbor did not see anyone hanging around Martha’s backyard.

10.       Did the offender and victim have a prior interaction, and if so, what was the nature of that interaction?

11.       Why is the bite mark irregularly shaped? If the victim was still alive, the irregular bite mark might be caused by her pulling away or pushing at the killer while he or she was biting her. However, since the bite mark occurred after her death, that cannot be the reason.

12.       Why did the killer put a rug over the victim’s face after her death?

13.       What else can you add about the offender that will help with the investigation?

14.       Using the typology of rapists, what type of rapist would the killer be classified as?

OBJECTIVE OF THIS ASSIGNMENT:Demonstrate deductive reasoning and critical thinking skills through application in hypothetical examples of criminal behavior.

Define and utilize concepts necessary to profile cases such as modus operandi, signature behavior, and crime scene reconstruction and offender typology.

Identify the characteristics of false reports of crime and staged crime scenes.

Demonstrate an understanding of the categories of abnormal behavior that are likely to be encountered in criminal behavior.

Identify the meaning and nature of various crime scene indicators including pattern analysis, evidence characteristics, primary and secondary crime scenes and offender motivation.

Apply the use and limitations of organized/disorganized offender criteria to hypothetical crime scenes.

Demonstrate understanding of the principles by which behavior reveals motive and how motive and personality impact behavior.

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