PDA

View Full Version : serial killers, local law enforcement, and the FBI



rosehips
11-17-2012, 03:45 AM
It's my understanding that the FBI investigate serial killers. At what point would an investigation cease to be in the hands of local law enforcement?

My scenario:
One of my characters is a city police detective. He's on a murder case that is just starting to be identified as being connected to other murders and assaults.

Who officially determines that the case involves a serial killer?
When that determination is made, at what point would the case be taken out of my character's hands and given over to the FBI?
Is that automatically how it works, like with a kidnapping? Or is there leeway for my detective to still work the case?

Thanks for any and all help.

melindamusil
11-17-2012, 07:09 AM
FBI will always have jurisdiction for:
-crimes against children (abuse, kidnapping, etc.)
-crimes that occur on federal properties (like nat'l parks - also they will share the responsibility for investigating crimes that occur in airports)
-crimes that cross state lines

They have a really good page on their website with more information about the areas they cover:
http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/investigate/what_we_investigate

rosehips
11-17-2012, 07:29 AM
So do they only take over a serial killer investigation if it crosses state lines?

I saw on that page that they do list serial killers in the heading, but then I didn't see it in the menu to follow up about it.

I clicked on "More" and then "serial killings," but that led to an article that talked about highway serial killings, where bodies were dumped along the highway crossing several states. So that does seem to confirm the cross-state-lines bit. Am I right then, in thinking my detective would not end up having to hand over the case, as long as the killer remained within the city limits?

blacbird
11-17-2012, 10:30 AM
So do they only take over a serial killer investigation if it crosses state lines?

One of the big problems in recognizing serial murders is jurisdictional, within states. In a big state like California, some famous serial killing cases (e.g., Randy Kraft) took a long time to be recognized because the victims were found in numerous different law-enforcement jurisdictions, and information wasn't widely shared. When a murder victim is found, the first people involved are always local law enforcement.

Although "crossing state lines" could mean not just where the killings took place, but possibly if a person suspected fled across state lines. Which does bring up a relevant question, to which I don't know the answer: Did John Gacy's case, in Chicago, involve the FBI at any point? Or that of Wayne Williams, in Atlanta? I don't believe either of those investigations involved more than one state.

I do know that in the case of Herb Baumeister, who murdered at least 17 gay men in the Indianapolis area, the investigation was stymied for quite a while because his rural residence was outside the county in which Indianapolis is located, and that county's sheriff's department refused to look into the matter. Baumeister also was suspected of at least ten killings with bodies dumped along the interstate highway eastward in Ohio, but no one could prove a connection. It became a moot point when, once his crimes were exposed (he had a treasure-trove of human bones on his property), he fled to Canada, where he committed suicide, without ever admitting anything. I don't believe federal authorities ever got called into that case.

Some famous serial murderer cases weren't even recognized as such until the perp got arrested or killed (Jeffrey Daumer, Dean Corll, Robert Hansen). Edmund Kemper had to call authorities himself to come get him; until that moment, they didn't have a clue.

If you really want to provide realism to your serial-killer story, you'd do well to research these names, even if a lot of it proves pretty grim:

Theodore Robert Bundy
John Wayne Gacy
Gary Ridgway
Randy Kraft
William Bonin
Bobby Joe Long
Kenneth MacDuff

And, of course, the most famous American unsolved case of them all, the Zodiac killer in California.

caw

cornflake
11-17-2012, 10:42 AM
So do they only take over a serial killer investigation if it crosses state lines?

First, they do not take over investigations. They cooperate with other agencies and departments.

Second, nope, the FBI is empowered to investigate serial killings even if they're suspected or proven to be contained to a single state. It's an exceptional circumstance; there are a few.

There's more to it than that though, that would precipitate where you've gotten to I think, if I understand your q. correctly. A local department with a crime they think may be one of a string, or a crime they have other suspicions about, can send the information to the FBI to be entered into their db (VICAP) and crosschecked and etc., to get help both with finding out what type of offense it may be, with investigation and to see if the information matches anything else. A local department can submit information and request FBI investigative help if they believe they have a serial killer operating within their jurisdiction and the Bureau will assess the request and honour it if they believe the information to be correct.

ironmikezero
11-17-2012, 09:29 PM
VICAP is perhaps the most valuable tool available to identify serial killers. However, it is essentially a voluntary participation database that relies upon participating agencies who must submit case relevant information for comparative analysis. Not all LE agencies elect to take advantage of this system and participate. Unfortunately, there is a pervasive misconception that contributing data to VICAP means the FBI will "take over" the case - generally speaking, that's not true. There may be cases of concurrent jurisdiction and subsequent cooperative investigations, but the originating agency is rarely excluded (absent extenuating circumstances). Any federal agency may assist/support a state/local investigation upon request provided the case meets the parameters of that agency's investigative responsibility and the appropriate resources are available. There have been concerns raised in regard to the Privacy Act, but access and analytical results are adequately restricted. See the link.

http://www.fbi.gov/foia/privacy-impact-assessments/vicap

melindamusil
11-17-2012, 09:35 PM
For your story, do you WANT the FBI to be involved and/or local law enforcement to go away? Or do you want the FBI to stay out of it?

Also when is your story set? It's my understanding that, though the FBI generally "plays nice" with local law enforcement today, they weren't so accommodating in the 1960s, 70s, 80s.

Some light reading:
http://www.trutv.com/library/crime/index.html
That website is called "crime library" and has lots of essays on major crimes, criminals, and forensics. You can definitely get info on the previously-mentioned serial killers and many more. Some of it's kinda gruesome but I've also found it to be great for education/inspiration.

Jones()
11-18-2012, 11:32 AM
From a legal standpoint, there's really nothing to stop a local law enforcement official from investigating anything that occurs within his jurisdiction. Even if the FBI has an investigation going into some string of crimes that they see as connected, they can't stop a police officer in (say) Richmond, Indiana from investigating a murder that happened in Richmond, Indiana, even if that murder is part of what the FBI sees as a connected string.

But a problem might arise with motivation. The FBI can't "take over" an investigation from state law enforcement, but the U.S. Attorney can remove a criminal prosecution from state court. If there's a good chance that a state police investigation won't be prosecuted in the state, then state police officers tend to lose interest.

take care,

---Jones()

rosehips
11-18-2012, 10:06 PM
Thank you all for the responses!


For your story, do you WANT the FBI to be involved and/or local law enforcement to go away? Or do you want the FBI to stay out of it?

Also when is your story set? It's my understanding that, though the FBI generally "plays nice" with local law enforcement today, they weren't so accommodating in the 1960s, 70s, 80s.


Ideally, they would stay out of it, at least the way I'm thinking about things right now. I could see developing a storyline involving them if it made more sense that they be involved, but I've already got a lot of balls in the air with this WiP, so if I can avoid the complication, that would be better.

It's set in modern day, but they would probably still create conflict if they got involved, because my mc (not the local detective) is a psychic who helps the detective with investigations. The detective keeps this on the down low, but people he works with know the mc because she is his gf, and don't really think it's all that weird when she shows up to a crime scene with a cup of coffee or something for him (when in fact she's trying to get a reading). I imagine FBI agents would raise an eyebrow at it, though.

I plan on having the killer remain local, so it sounds like in terms of a jurisdictional issue, that won't be overly complicated. I'll have to give some thought to whether it would be worth bringing in the feds as a way of making things more difficult for my mc. In fact, the more I think about it, the more it seems like the way to go, despite adding a couple of more balls to the juggling act. :)

ETA: Thanks again for everything you all have posted. I feel like I have a better understanding of how to incorporate the FBI if I decide to.

Jonathan.Bentz
11-18-2012, 11:17 PM
From what I understand of my own research, the FBI only controls an investigation if its discovered to be a roaming serial killer (I have a book I'm going to write, part of a series, where this becomes an issue). As far as when the kills are only in a centralized location, such as a city or county, the most that happens is the cops send the info they have to the FBI for a profile, and that's only if they don't have access to someone with profiling training. From my understanding, a lot of the big police departments, and even some smaller ones, try to have at least one person go through the training. I know my local PD has someone, or did (I can't remember if they retired or not, I just know at one time there was someone employed there that did). The FBI gives profiling courses for any interested, particularly from law enforcement.

One thing to remember is that while the Criminal Minds show is an excellent narrative, the basic premise is taken out of context. Profilers rarely leave the office, and more often than not work both profiling and another crime desk, from stuff like drugs to the murders that the profiling would be useful in.

melindamusil
11-19-2012, 01:31 AM
FWIW-
If you want to keep it out of the FBI's hands, you can always make the FBI agents so busy/overworked that they don't notice the problem. Maybe your local detective is the first to notice the connections between the murders, but the (busy, overworked) FBI agents don't believe there is a connection and refuse to help him.

Or you could make the lead FBI agent very "old school", and he says they can't call it a serial killer until there are at least x number of murders, or maybe "serial killers always/only kill women" or "serial killers always/only kill people who look alike", etc. He believes this because when he started in the Bureau in the 1970s/80s, that's what his mentor agent says.

Or you could bring them in. :-) I sympathize with having too many balls in the air in your WiP, good luck!!

Bloo
11-19-2012, 01:57 AM
I'm trying to remember re:BTK (being from Kansas). I know local law enforcement solved that case but the FBI (possibly through the KBI)was brought in as a consultant as the Wichita PD wasn't equipped to. D any kind of profiling.

cornflake
11-19-2012, 11:54 AM
From what I understand of my own research, the FBI only controls an investigation if its discovered to be a roaming serial killer (I have a book I'm going to write, part of a series, where this becomes an issue). As far as when the kills are only in a centralized location, such as a city or county, the most that happens is the cops send the info they have to the FBI for a profile, and that's only if they don't have access to someone with profiling training. From my understanding, a lot of the big police departments, and even some smaller ones, try to have at least one person go through the training. I know my local PD has someone, or did (I can't remember if they retired or not, I just know at one time there was someone employed there that did). The FBI gives profiling courses for any interested, particularly from law enforcement.

One thing to remember is that while the Criminal Minds show is an excellent narrative, the basic premise is taken out of context. Profilers rarely leave the office, and more often than not work both profiling and another crime desk, from stuff like drugs to the murders that the profiling would be useful in.

Not for nothing but, especially as you seem to be planning a book based on this, as I mentioned above, the info in your first sentence is not correct.

As well, most 'profilers' are not cops.

WeaselFire
11-19-2012, 05:27 PM
At what point would an investigation cease to be in the hands of local law enforcement?
Never. If a crime occurs in a jurisdiction, that jurisdiction will always maintain responsibility.

Unlike TV, and many novels, Local, State and Federal agencies work together pretty well. For instance. the FBI handles all bank robberies of Federally-insured banks. By working alongside local and state agencies. The FBI freely provides files and details of similar robberies and provides manpower for the search as well as technical help processing evidence. But it's still a local crime and case. There may be five local agencies involved in five robberies by the same suspects, and they will all work together.

Locals don't blow DEA stakeouts. They know about them in advance. In many jurisdictions, a local officer is part of the DEA task force. Very rarely is there any type of issue.

That said, a smaller force will often commit few, if any, resources to an investigation in the State or Federal jurisdiction. They don't get in the way, they don't abandon the case, they just have other work to do.

Jeff

rosehips
11-20-2012, 02:37 AM
Thanks again, everyone.