Episode 040: Modus Operandi, Ritual Behavior, and Signature

on August 5, 2011 in Law Enforcement, Podcast Episodes, Pop Culture, Psychology, Serial Killers by

Charles Albright removed the eyeballs of his victims.

The Zodiac Killer signed his letters with a distinctive mark that included a cross and a circle.

Richard Ramirez drew Satanic pentagrams on the walls of his victims’ homes, and sometimes on their bodies.

The Boston Strangler tied his ligatures into birthday ribbon bows.

And in fiction, Buffalo Bill put a Death’s head Hawk Moth in his victim’s throats.

Less obviously, Ted Kaczynski made repeated references to nature and wood in his letters.

Paul Bernardo videotaped his rapes of young, wholesome girls, and would script what they said, with instructions like “I’m the king” or “Call me master”.

Few things in either true crime or crime fiction capture the public’s awareness like the idea of a serial killer’s signature. It’s said to be a killer’s calling card, a window into the murderer’s deep-seated, and perhaps even unknown, motivations and psychopathy.

Rarely does an episode of Criminal Minds go by that we’re not shown a killer’s signature, with a detailed monologue from a BAU team member explaining how this provides an insight into the unsub’s motivations.

But what is the truth about offender signatures?

Plus, Odds and Ends is now a regular feature!

Discussed in this Episode: Charles Albright, Richard Ramirez, Ted Kaczynski, Paul Bernardo, Nathaniel Code Jr., Harvey Glatman, Timothy Wilson Spencer, Gary Ridgway, Albert DeSalvo, William Lester Suff, Jack the Ripper, David Berkowitz, Zodiac Killer, Albert Fish, John Allen Muhammad, Lee Boyd Malvo, Gilgo Beach Serial Killer

You can also download the episode directly.

And feel free to use the comments below for episode discussion.

“LA Forensics: The Signature Murders” by Katherine Ramsland on TruTV.com
“M.O. and Signature Compared” by Dr. Tom O’Connor of Austin Peay State University
“Frequency of Body Posing in Homicides” by Vernon Geberth in the February 2010 Law and Order Magazine
“Modus Operandi vs. Offender Signature” by Noor Z. Rassaq
“Ritual and Signature in Serial Sexual Homicide” by Louis B. Schlesinger, Martin Kassan, Blair Mesa and Anthony J. Pinizzotto
“Violent Crime Scene Analysis: Modus Operandi, Signature, and Staging” by John E. Douglas and Corinne Munn in the February 1992 issue of the FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin
“Using Sexually Related Crime Scene Characteristics to Profile Male Serial Killers: A Question of Motivation” by A.L. Bronswick
“Signature Killers” by Robert D. Keppel
“Serial Killers: The Method and Madness of Monsters” by Peter Vronsky
“Serial Murderers and their Victims” by Eric W. Hickey
“Crime Classification Manual” by Douglas, Burgess, Burgess and Ressler
“Profiling Violent Crimes: An Investigative Tool” by Holmes and Holmes.


  • Tony says:

    Arrrgghh! I cant get the episode directly everytime I try I end up getting “error 404” and I cant find it on I-tunes either. Whats goin on I need my sk podcast fix man.

    • Brian Combs says:

      The direct download link was broken, but is now fixed. You’ll need to refresh the page with the link, but then it will work.

      Not sure what the problem with iTunes is. That works find for me.

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