Snowflake Snipers

The mugshot of the so-called “Omaha Sniper” in this post at Historical Crime Detective caught my eye, since I’d never heard of Frank Carter before even though I grew up in Omaha. It turns out the serial sniper has recently been written up in Omaha magazine. He claimed that he had only intended to rob some of his victims, but “I just get the inclination to shoot.” Others had been shot from a distance through their home windows, leading city authorities to advise residents to keep their shades drawn at night to avoid becoming targets.

I couldn’t help but wonder if the Omaha sniper was part of the dataset behind the FBI’s failed profile of the D.C. Sniper. I looked it up to see if the FBI profile matched Carter, and discovered that there are actually two schools of profiling: the “inductive” method used by the FBI, and the “deductive” method used by traditional detectives, as typified by Sherlock Holmes. Both types produced profiles for the D.C. Sniper, with the deductive profilers seeming to hit closer to the mark.

Prior to the arrest of Muhammad and Malvo as the D.C. snipers, profilers said:

FBI / Inductive profilers (mixed, from different profilers)
– White male
– 25 to 40 years old
– Not a sniper and not likely military because of weapon choice (inaccurate round)
– Lives in or near the community
– No children
– Firefighter or construction worker
– Possible terrorist links
– Not a true spree killer because a true spree killer would have kept going south. (Robert Ressler, proclaiming that this is not the work of a spree killer on Oct. 9th, describes a true spree killer thus: ‘They have no money, no employment. They kill for mobility. They kill for a car. They are on a desperate fugitive run that is bound to end.”)

Deductive profiling (Brent Turvey & Dr. Mike McGrath)
– No evidence of race
– No evidence of one or two offenders
– Anger motivation
– Cumulative rage from successive failures in personal life
– Straw that broke the camels back would be event in personal life such as divorce, custody battles, and / or loss of job.
– Would want to talk about offenses
– Case would most likely be solved by a tip from alert citizens
– No sniper training (not a very good shot)
– Possible second or third party involved
– Limited evidence of terrorist connection

(You can read a little more about the two methods here.)

As an unemployed 46-year-old white man at the time of his arrest, Frank Carter doesn’t seem to fit the FBI profile very well either. But then again, he’s not much of a conventional serial killer to begin with, having claimed that his more random shootings were designed simply to throw the police off his trail. For example, the Chicago Tribune reported, Carter said he fired several times through the plate glass window of a drug store on one occasion (as it happened, hitting no one) because “I wanted to keep the cops thinking someone in the neighborhood was doing it so they wouldn’t look for me somewhere else.” However, Carter was not your garden-variety robber either: Eager to discuss his crimes with a police, he ultimately tried to take credit for 43 murders, a number the police utterly dismissed at the time.

All of which goes to show, I guess, that profiling based on what people have already thought of doing won’t always be able to discern what they might have been thinking this time.

*”Phantom Sniper Caught: Admits Omaha Killings,” Chicago Tribune, February 23, 1926.


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