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Profiling in the Victorian Era
Written by Allison   
Saturday, 09 April 2011 12:00

As anyone with a degree in forensic psychology will tell you, criminal profiling, as practiced during the Victorian era was elementary at best. Considering the crime rate of the time, and the lack of consistent police formation and subsequent involvement, profiling was used more as a practicality than actual deductive tool. However, profiling, whether noted in use or not, was employed in one of the most infamous murder cases in history: the Ripper Murders.

Coined Jack the Ripper by the murderer himself, investigators were faced with the brutal killings of at least five women during the Victorian era. At this time, as shown at the Web site for Scotland Yard , an organized police agency was still burgeoning under the detail of commander Sir Robert Peel. However, the Ripper murders, which were violent for even the seedy parts of the Whitechapel district, would prove daunting to investigate, much less to solve.

Investigators assigned to the Ripper case were tasked with identifying clues and gathering evidence. This data, along with the assistance of the much-heralded medical examiner Dr. Thomas Bond, allowed profiling to emerge as a means of educated deduction in criminal assessment. By documenting forensic evidence including the “Ripper Letters" (a series of macabre pronouncements sent to the local news papers), portions of the victim’s bodies (which were also mailed to local news and police agencies) and photographing the grisly crime scenes, detectives were better able to gain an insight into the type of subject likely to perform such a killing.

Along with this collection of evidence, eyewitness accounts and descriptions, Dr. Bond added his knowledge of how the murderer likely performed these grisly attacks and a profile was loosely created. Thus, as discussed on an article featured on , the Ripper murder case that took place from 1888 to 1891, near the end of the Victorian era, served to be the initiate of modern criminal profiling.

However over the years since the Ripper case, profiling (in its general sense) became more prevalent and divided its self among various categories as the need for more investigative methods became apparent. As the Swiss Criminal Profiling Scientific Research site points out, two distinct forms of profiling are regularly and systematically employed by the FBI as well as many other law enforcement agencies all over the world.

The first, and probably most used method during the Victorian era, is psychological or offender profiling . In this case, an educated summation is made based on a psychological overview of the possible perpetrator. As in the Ripper murders, forensic evidence is gathered at the crime scene and used to deduce the probable psychological or personality traits a person must have to commit such crimes. From this data a sort of portrait can be made, depicting the type of person most likely to commit the crime at hand.

It is also assumed that geographical profiling was, though not as extensively as psychological profiling, used in the Victorian era. For instance in Whitechapel, a small area was used to assume the behavioral tactics of the murderer. Due to the location of the bodies, the time allowed for the crimes to take place and the crime rate in the area itself, it was concluded that the Ripper would most likely have used this small area as his hunting ground. As discussed in an article on, the pubs frequented by the victims were also considered in the investigation of the murderer. Thus, it is likely the techniques used to deduce possible criminal propensity provided the introduction of what is geographical profiling today.

Yet, even as Inspector Frederick Abberline investigated the Ripper murders, his profiling techniques were challenged. His choice to photograph murder scenes drew criticism from many of London’s elite. Abberline’s own Chief Inspector, Charles Warren, tied the investigator’s hand by requiring that a message reading, “The Juews are the men that will not be blamed for nothing," and supposedly scrawled on a wall by the murderer himself be washed off prior to being photographed. Although directing that it needed to be washed away to keep bigoted rioters at bay, Abberline’s attempts at collecting profiling information had been thwarted. However this would not be the last time profiling techniques would fall under question.

In Atlanta, in 1996, Richard Jewell, the accused Olympic Park bomber, was profiled and arrested for the crime of setting off a bomb during the Olympic gatherings. Jewell, a former security officer at Piedmont College in Georgia, was profiled using the most basic of tools: assumption, personal history and likelihood. Jewell had filled all three criteria, but there was exception, Richard Jewell was innocent.

According to psychologist Craig Jackson, profiling is given too much credibility and has never led to the direct apprehension of any serial killer or habitual criminal. In an interview with the , Jackson stated that he believes criminal profiling to be more art than science and advises that its use be considered only as an informative tool and not as actual fact.

Cases like the one above are one downside to criminal profiling. While criminal profiling can often paint a thorough portrait of a possible killer, the broad generalities and vagueness of its nature have not changed much since their inception during the Victorian era. As a result many people feel that creating a profile based on vague behaviors, remains an obvious obstacle.


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