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Copyright (c) 2004 American Psychological Association
Psychology, Public Policy and Law

ARTICLES: The Organized/Disorganized Typology of Serial Murder: Myth or Model?

September, 2004

10 Psych. Pub. Pol. and L. 293


David V. Canter, Laurence J. Alison, Emily Alison, and Natalia Wentink, University of Liverpool


Despite weaknesses in the organized/disorganized classification of serial killers, it is drawn on for "offender profiles," theories of offending, and in murder trials. This dichotomy was therefore tested by the multidimensional scaling of the co-occurrence of 39 aspects of serial killings derived 100 murders committed by 100 U.S. serial killers. Results revealed no distinct subsets of offense characteristics reflecting the dichotomy. They showed a subset of organized features typical of most serial killings. Disorganized features are much rarer and do not form a distinct type. These results have implications for testing typologies supporting expert opinion or to help understand variations in criminal acts, as well as the development of a science of investigative psychology that goes beyond offender profiling.

The organized/disorganized dichotomy is one of the most widely cited classifications of violent, serial offenders. Although first introduced by the special agents of the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Training Academy at Quantico in an examination of lust and sexual sadistic murders (Ressler, Burgess, Douglas, Hartman, & D'Agostino, 1986) the distinction has since been put forward to differentiate all sexual homicides and also types of arson in Douglas, Burgess, Burgess, and Ressler's (1992) Crime Classification Manual. These authors have made the distinction between organized and disorganized offenders on criteria that they claim can be drawn from an examination of the crime scene, the victim, and forensic reports. Ressler et al. (1986) claimed that "... facets of the criminal's personality are ...
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