The BBC producers of the new documentary about the 1960s Nude Killer have asked me to put them in touch with an investigative expert I know.
Dr Kim Rossmo is a former detective inspector with Vancouver police. It was his most recent work as a geographic profiler that fascinated me. He provided me valuable analysis for The Hunt for the 60s’ Ripper.
The personal geography of criminals can be what condemns them.
We all have our own network of routes and paths – to work, the tube, pub, school. The areas we cover are a giveaway about our habits and routines.
Rigel software helps to expose criminals
Similarly, the movements of serial criminals – burglars, rapists, murderers – can reveal patterns about them and where they may be based. Rossmo uses a sophisticated piece of software he has developed called Rigel to analyse a sequence of crime scenes to guide detectives.
Geographic profiling does not identify a serial criminal or solve a case, but it can be vital in pointing police in the right direction.
The analogy Rossmo uses to explain how geographic profiling works is that of a rotating lawn sprinkler. You can’t predict where the next drop will land, but when enough have fallen the pattern will reveal where the sprinkler is.
We all have comfort zones where we spend most of our time – home to work to home to pub to home. Criminals operate within their comfort zones.
This is a very simplified outline and the success of a geographic analysis lies in the expertise of the profiler. They will spend a lot of time at crime scenes noting factors such as the weather, nearby bus stops, types of housing and businesses.
They will know that robbers tend to travel a greater distance from their home than burglars, that adult criminals travel further than juvenile criminals. Meanwhile, murderers often dispose of their victims further away from home than where they meet them.
By scrutinising all the evidence using Rigel, it has been possible for Rossmo to help law enforcement to narrow their focus and successfully catch very nasty offenders in several countries.
In 1997, for example, he was approached by British detectives as part of Operation Lynx. A serial rapist had been inflicting a series of distressing attacks on women between Yorkshire and the Midlands since 1982.
It was a the biggest police hunt since the Yorkshire Ripper case in the 1970s, but investigators were struggling. Rossmo utilised one of the leads they had.
A car stolen by the perpetrator still had its owner’s credit card in it. This appeared to have used by the rapist several times in Leeds. Rossmo created a geo-profile using the rape sites and where the credit card purchases had been made.
This revealed two hotspots for detectives to focus on in central Leeds – Millgarth and Killingbeck. Using a partial fingerprint from one of the victims’ vehicles, police eventually singled out the rapist, Clive Barwell, who lived in Killingbeck, while his mother resided in Millgarth. In 1999, Barwell received eight life terms in prison.
West London, 1964
The problem for detectives in London back in 1964 as they hunted the man murdering young women was that they did not have that focus. They were trying to scour 24 square miles of west London.
A needle in a haystack. They never got their man, who killed six – possibly eight – women.
Geographic profiling was a tool Scotland Yard did not have in the 1960s. But I was intrigued to know what an expert analysis of the 1964-65 crimes would reveal. Kim Rossmo, who today heads the Centre for Geospatial Intelligence and Investigation at Texas State University, agreed to help.
And it is his profile, detailed in my book, that has intrigued the BBC documentary makers.
Rossmo’s analysis reveals two focal points in west London that could have assisted the original investigation. One is around Hammersmith, the other covers Holland Park.
The child killer Harold Jones lived in one of these zones, we now know. However, he never came to the attention of the police.
The geo-profile raises several tantalising questions. What would the police have found if they had known of Jones’s proximity to the victims? He was a callous killer who had shown no remorse for his crimes.
Were there other persons of interest whom police missed in their effort to search a huge swathe of London? The police interviewed hundreds of people and had many suspects, but is it possible they never came close to their man?
As Rossmo told me, ‘It is definitely possible that the reason they were never able to find sufficient evidence to charge anyone was because they never had the right person…’
It will be interesting to see how the new BBC documentary works Rossmo’s expertise into its wide-ranging investigation of the case.