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Tom Quick was a Colonial frontier hero; by others, he was one of America’s earliest serial killers.

A nurse who poisons a number of patients within the same hospital over several months would likely be classified as a serial killer, even though the crimes all occurred in one location (Leyton, 1986). Cases of random mass poisonings, such as the 1982 Chicago Tylenol tamperings, are even more complicated to categorize (Levin & Fox, 1985). If several people die over an extended period of time and in different geographic locations as the result of a single episode of tampering, are they the victims of a mass or serial killer? Most typologies of human behaviour lack inclusiveness and category mutual exclusivity. Despite their grey areas, they can be helpful for understanding variations in offender behaviour.

The Crime Classification Manual (CCM) is the first attempt to develop a comprehensive diagnostic system, using standardized terminology, to classify offence and offender characteristics for the crimes of murder, sexual assault, and arson (Douglas, Burgess, Burgess, & Ressler, 1992a). The result of a research project conducted by the National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime at the FBI Academy, the CCM was designed to assist police investigations, facilitate research, and improve communication between criminal justice and mental health experts. It is modeled on the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, and uses subcategories of Uniform Crime Reports (UCR) definitions based on four types of primary criminal intent: (1) criminal enterprise;

(2) personal cause; (3) sexual intent; and (4) group cause. Classification variables include modus operandi, weapon use, victimology, physical evidence, autopsy results, and similar factors. The CCM provides investigative questions and considerations for each crime subtype. While it is a useful step, the CCM has been criticized for being atheoretical and lacking empirical verification of its category structure.

From a study of 42 mass and serial killers and FBI data on simultaneous homicides, Levin and Fox (1985) constructed profiles of the typical multiple murderer. Such killers are most often white males in their late twenties to early thirties. Rarely psychotic, they are more ordinary in background, appearance, and personality than anything else. The murderous act is usually precipitated by a period of frustration and then triggered by some particular event.

Levin and Fox (1985) note that while half of the single victim homicides in America involve black offenders, only 20% of the multiple murders in their study (U.S. cases from 1974 to 1979) had a black perpetrator — considerably closer to the 11.7% actual racial composition of blacks in the U.S.

© 2000 by CRC Press LLC