Returning to the Scene of the Crime
To me, one of the most interesting criminal behaviors is the act of returning to the crime scene. It seems so illogical. Why take the risk of being caught or leaving behind additional clues the police can use to catch you? Perhaps it is the risk that heightens the reward in their minds. Whatever the reason there are different motives driving this behavior. As crime authors you are probably most familiar with the scenario of a serial killer returning to the scene where his victim was dumped or buried. This is not fiction. Some serial killers actually do return to the scene of the crime but there are a number of reasons why this may happen. On the ghoulish end of the spectrum some killers return to have “relations” with their victims (pause for vomiting). Other reasons may include the following:
- Checking to see if the body/crime scene has been discovered by police
- Looking for items that may have been left behind. Sometimes in the heat of the moment (and in darkness) a killer may drop anything from weapons, tools, or even a wallet. If they have misplaced something like this they may fear that it was dropped at the dump site and return to look for it.
- Relocating evidence/body. If they believe the police are closing in on the crime scene (like a foot search moving in that direction) or some other activity (land development) may uncover the remains, they may return to exhume the body for relocation. If the body was originally dumped on the surface or placed in a shallow grave they may have a change of heart and decide on a better hiding place or dig a deeper grave in another location.
Of course all of this presumes that the victim is the magnet drawing the suspect back. In truth there is another prominent reason. The killer may be drawn to the location itself. Some serial killers find a good hiding place and they return with additional victims. They may also select a location in which to ambush their victims. I once had a case of several murdered victims in a fairly small geographic location (about the size of a football field). I was called in to examine the insects because the police wanted to know if the victims were all killed at once or on separate days. It was the latter. The evidence available suggested that the killer was targeting the area more than the specific victim.
What about other crimes though? Armed robbers may select certain gas stations over and over because they are an easy target. Maybe the location has no surveillance or is in a remote location and carries a lot of cash. In one unbelievable case I investigated a burglary of an abandoned restaurant in which thieves stole copper piping to sell for scrap. Even though I was there for several hours and left crime scene tape up the thieves returned the next night to finish the job and take the remaining pipe. Our officers were there to catch them but one thief actually had a test footwear lift in his pocket. Apparently he had found it in the trash where I tossed it the day before and must have thought it was pretty cool.
Obviously it is a risky move for the criminal. Police have learned the value of keeping such a discovery out of the press. If the killer thinks the scene is “safe” then they might return; where we will be waiting for them. As an author you can just imagine such a scene. Bad guy scoping out the crime scene while the cops lay in shadows, anxiously waiting to see who shows up. Someone comes into view. Is it the killer or some dope out for a midnight stroll? If you pounce too soon you may alert the killer and lose that golden opportunity to catch them red handed! Obviously this is a bigger concern in an urban area. Most people won’t be strolling around at midnight in the middle of the forest but you never know. If your detectives discover a body consider letting them wait to see if the killer returns. It may amp up the tension and keep your reader on the edge of their seat!
Posted on June 16, 2012, in Characters, The Crime Scene and tagged crime, Crime Scene, csi, detective, fiction, forensics, murder, mystery, police, serial killer, Serial Murder, Ted Bundy, thriller, tom adair, trace evidence. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.