Years ago it was pretty easy to figure out who the “average” serial killer was, according to renowned international forensic scientist Dr. Henry C. Lee.
“In the early days of my career,” Lee told a crowd of students and legal experts at a one-day seminar on criminal profiling Friday at the University of New Haven, “your standard serial killer was always a male loner.”
But these days, Lee told his audience, “We have female serial killers, we have partner serial killings — everything has changed.”
Lee said there about 16,000 to 18,000 homicides a year in the United States and “there are maybe 300 to 1,000 serial killers.” But another new trend, Lee added, “Is that serial killers used to always be from the United States. Now we have serial killers in India, in China.”
Lee is currently the chief emeritus for Scientific Services for the State of Connecticut and an occasional lecturing professor of forensic science at the University of New Haven, where he helped establish the Henry C. Lee Institute of Forensic Science, where the criminal profiling forum was held.
He also served as Connecticut’s commissioner of Public Safety, the director of Connecticut State Police Forensic Laboratory and as the state’s chief criminalist for more than two decades, from 1979 to 2000.
Lee, who is known as a captivating speaker with a dry sense of humor, has also worked on famous cases such as the JonBenet Ramsey murder case, the Helle Crafts woodchipper murder, the O.J. Simpson and Laci Peterson cases, the post 9/11 forensic investigation, the Washington, D.C. sniper shootings, and he reinvestigated the assassination of John F. Kennedy.
The forum at UNH, which had retired FBI Supervisory Special Agent Jim Clemente among the other speakers, was entitled: Criminal Profiling: What the Mind, Body, and Crime Scene Can Tell.
But it was clearly the personable Lee, and his 90-minute presentation on the mindset of the serial killer, that was the highlight of the seminar.
Lee said he and his wife, Margaret, are often asked, “Why don’t you retire like other people your age do?” Lee’s response to whoever asks, he said, is: “We’re searching for a place with no crime.”
“The United States is a dangerous country,” continued Lee. “One out of 153 will get killed. One out of 28 non-white males will get killed.”
Lee looked around the jammed pack auditorium with close to 200 people in it, and remarked, “That means 1 of you, or 1-1/2 of you will be killed,” as the crowd nervously chuckled.
Another new phenomenon Lee continued is that there “aren’t just serial killers out there.”
“These days we have serial rapists, serial robbers, serial e-hackers,” said Lee.
The good news, Lee said, is that “99 percent of homicides are not serial killers. Most murders are still husbands, or ex-husbands killing wives.”
The bad news, he continued, is that serial killers “look pretty normal. They can be pretty clever, pretty calculating, pretty charming,” making the investigation into a serial killing more difficult for law enforcement.
Clemente told the audience that the FBI defines a serial killer as “the killing of two or more people in separate events.”
And both Lee and Clemente said that serial killers tend to follow a specific pattern, which they said includes: consistent method of operation, similar choices (gender, age) of victim, and common approaches to victims, similar physical and/or sexual interactions, use of similar weapons, and use of similar language.
Additionally, they added, serial killers usually kill each victim the same way, use the same get-away vehicles, tend to commit crimes in the same geographic area, and they also usually do their crimes around the same time of day, day of week, time of year.