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Using Bayes’ theorem in behavioural crime linking of serial homicide



Purpose. The study extends research by Santtila et al. (2008) by investigating the effectiveness of linking cases of serial homicide using behavioural patterns of offenders, analysed through Bayesian reasoning. The study also investigates the informative value of individual behavioural variables in the linking process.

Methods. Offender behaviour was coded from official documents relating to 116 solved homicide cases belonging to 19 separate series. The basis of the linkage analyses was 92 behaviours coded as present or absent in the case based on investigator observations on the crime scene. We developed a Bayesian method for linking crime cases and judged its accuracy using cross-validation. We explored the information added by individual behavioural variables, first, by testing if the variable represented purely noise with respect to classification, and second, by excluding variables from the original model, one by one, by choosing the behaviour that had the smallest effect on classification accuracy.

Results. The model achieved a classification accuracy of 83.6% whereas chance expectancy was 5.3%. In simulated scenarios of only one and two known cases in a series, the accuracy was 59.0 and 69.2%, respectively. No behavioural variable represented pure noise but the same level of accuracy was achieved by analysing a set of 15, as analysing all 92 variables.

Conclusion. The study illustrates the utility of analysing individual behavioural variables through Bayesian reasoning for crime linking. Feasible applied use of the approach is illustrated by the effectiveness of analysing a small set of carefully chosen variables.