Stealth predators the target of profiler's killer-detection system

Former Vancouver police officer hopes to implement program to track serial murderers even where no murders are reported

Kim Bolan and Lindsay Kines
Vancouver Sun

Monday, March 18, 2002

Kim Rossmo

A hospital has a dramatic increase in the number of deaths, but there is no homicide investigation. Dozens of women go missing from the same neighbourhood in a city, but no one realizes the disappearances may be linked.

Inspired by his work on Vancouver's missing women case, a former city police officer hopes to come up with a early-warning computer system that would alert police and other authorities to suspicious circumstances like these.

Kim Rossmo, who is now director of research with the Police Foundation in Washington, D.C., said some types of serial predators deliberately try to hide any sign a crime has even been committed.

"In fact, that is one of their core strategies -- to commit crimes in such a fashion that authorities and victims' families are not aware of what has really happened," Rossmo wrote in a recent article for Crime Mapping News.

Rossmo calls them "stealth predators" and says this type of killer includes "Black Widows" or "Blue Beards" who prey on their spouses, and even nurses or physicians like British doctor Harold Shipman, who is believed to have murdered hundreds of patients.

"These types of individuals pose unique investigative problems," Rossmo wrote. "The challenge is to determine that something is happening, even when no crimes have been reported."

Rossmo, who invented geographic profiling, is researching whether a technique called spatial-temporal clusterings used to identify medical epidemics in cities and regions could become the early warning system for this type of hard-to-detect crime.

"If too many crimes are happening, in too short a time period, in too small an area -- based on historical trends and patterns -- police would be alerted to the presence of an abnormal cluster," says Rossmo.

"The front-end system would be designed to routinely scan data and missing persons reports in order to identify unusual levels of activity -- investigators or crime analysts could then further explore the events and their probable causes."

Shipman was found guilty two years ago of killing 15 of his patients but is believed to have killed up to 236 over two decades. The highest number of his victims were women over the age of 75. He killed them between noon and 3 p.m. in their own homes with massive does of diamorphine.

Rossmo says all one has to do is look at a map marking each death's location to see there was a very unusual cluster.

"While the deaths occurred over a period of 21 years, it is still shocking to realize they were undetected given their geographic concentration," Rossmo says. "A statistical analysis of the point pattern reveals a high degree of clustering; in some cases, it appears he simply walked down the street and targeted neighbouring homes."

"Yet all this escaped the notice of the police, government authorities, the media, families and the medical profession."

The same thing occurred in Vancouver, where missing women cases jumped dramatically in the mid-1990s before police realized they had a problem.

"The numbers had reached the point that the community was seeing it," Rossmo said. "The data, if properly analyzed in that case, told us something. The information was there; it just had to be properly placed in a context. And I'm sure this isn't the only place this has happened."

The problem in Vancouver, however, was compounded by the fact that even after Rossmo alerted police, the department failed to properly act on it, he said.

Perhaps if an early-warning system had been in place, the department would have responded sooner, he said.

"And if people had faith in the system, then it's like a fire alarm going off." 

 Copyright  2002 Vancouver Sun

Two former police officers join call for investigation-Mar 16, 2002 



Missing Women Tip Line: 1-877-687-3377

Updated: August 21, 2016