By: Joe Giacalone
There are many questions that must be answered during a homicide investigation, but there are six (6) fundamental ones that an investigator must keep at the forefront of every case:
- Who was the victim?
- How were they murdered?
- Why were they murdered?
- Where were they murdered?
- Who is responsible?
- Where is the suspect now?
Who was the victim?
A victimology is one of the most important steps when investigating any crime. Since most people become victims of crime by someone they know, investigators must concentrate on who the victim was from the very beginning. A complete victimology allows the investigator to get to know the victim from a variety of sources. Whether it is from interviews or computer databases, the investigator must strive to know more about the victim than those closest to him / her. If you know the victim, you may know who the perp is. In a suicide investigation, the victimology is known as the psychological autopsy.
How were they murdered?
What type of weapon was used? Multiple stab wounds, excessive blunt force trauma or overkill, can indicate a very close relationship. Who else could get this angry? I have named the most common reasons why people are murdered as the Homicide Triangle; Love, Money and Drugs. No greater emotion than love could derive that much anger towards another person. The way the person was killed can give pertinent insight to the investigator on who the perpetrator is.
Why were they murdered?
Motives ran the gamut. Many times the case you are investigating can be looked at as a “Why Dunit.” When you know the why (motive) it often leads you to the who. I often looked at the situation as who would benefit the most by the victim being dead? Investigators must have an opened mind, especially when developing theories of who is responsible and why. When the evidence and facts are leading you away from your theory, you cannot stick to it. Do not let your theory run t he investigation.
Where were they murdered?
Were they shot dead in the doorway? That may signal a hit or stranger attack or were they murdered in the bedroom which may show a more intimate relationship. Who else do we let into our most private of places than those that are close to us? Was there a sign of a struggle? Was the scene a ‘dump’ job? Investigators may never find the original crime scene, so wherever the body is found becomes your primary scene.
Who is responsible?
Searching for an unknown perpetrator is the most difficult for obvious reasons. If investigators need to spend hours just to identify the victim and / or perpetrator, the further the case gets away from them. I know all about the the First 48, however, most cases are broken with in the Golden Hour – the first hour after the killing.
Where is the suspect now?
When a suspect is positively identified, the hunt is on. Searching for a known perpetrator is often a game of cat and mouse. That is why detectives must think three moves ahead of the perp. Devices such as license plate readers (LPRs), red light traps, surveillance cameras and various computer checks can keep you ahead of the perp. When conducting computer checks, look into associates and family members that may know their whereabouts. If possible, it is always a good idea to find an ex-girlfriend. Many times, they keep tabs on them and have the most up-to-the-minute information.
Investigators have many questions to answer in a homicide investigation, including what is evidence and what is not. Homicide investigation is seen as the exemplar for all investigations. What steps you take to solve a murder, you will use most, if not all, to solve lesser crimes. If investigators can answer these six fundamental questions and document their findings, they may be able to close more cases and increase crime clearance rates.
Joseph L. Giacalone is a retired NYPD Detective Sergeant with an extensive background in criminal investigations. He has held many prestigious positions in the NYPD, but his favorite was the Commanding Officer of the Bronx Cold Case Homicide Squad. Joe has worked on and supervised hundreds of homicides, violent felonies, suicides and missing persons cases.