While the method of operation, also known as modus operandi, consists of techniques, habits, and peculiarities in a serial killer’s behavior, investigators may also encounter deliberate alterations of the crime scene or the victim’s body.”
Sometimes, the alterations are made to mislead investigators, and are known as staging. In other cases, the particular poses may serve a purpose in the killer’s fantasies and are considered part of their signature, and referred to as posing.
In most cases, leaving a victim’s body in an unusual position is a deliberate act by the offender, intended to hinder the investigation, shock those who discover the crime scene, or provide the killer with perverse satisfaction. It may also serve as a means for the killer to convey a message to law enforcement or the public.
A serial killer may dispose of the body next to a “No Dumping” sign or, as in the case of Henry Lee Lucas, near a prison gate.
The “Boston Strangler” Albert DeSalvo posed his victims to shock those who discovered the bodies. In most cases, DeSalvo left his victims with their genitals exposed towards the door.
After murdering his sixth victim, 67-year-old Jane Sullivan, DeSalvo left her body in a bathtub in a kneeling position with her bare buttocks exposed. Investigators determined that the victim had been killed in another room and then dragged to the bathroom for posing.
When DeSalvo was questioned about posing his victims, he said, “I just did it.”
However, experts believe that the true intention was to shock whoever discovered the bodies. According to the FBI, such posing is a sign of a disorganized serial killer.
Often referred to as the world’s first serial killer, Jack the Ripper left his victims in sexually degrading positions to emphasize that he considered them disposable.
According to Dr. Robert D. Keppel, the Ripper often left the victims’ legs splayed and their genitalia exposed. Each murder had some element of posing, involving the arrangement of clothes, the placement of a thimble, the splaying of legs, and the positioning of organs, intestines, and tissues.
The infamous cannibalistic killer Jeffrey Dahmer posed and photographed his victim’s bodies to be able to relive the memories in the future and stimulate his obsession with sexual sadism and necrophilia.
Dahmer posed his victims’ bodies in various positions, which he found to be sexually significant.
William Lester Suff, the “Riverside Prostitute Killer,” was convicted of killing 12 women between 1988 and 1991.
The majority of his victims were street prostitutes, and as a result, Suff left some of the bodies next to dumpsters with their arms turned outward to expose needle track marks.
Criminal psychologists believe this was Suff’s statement regarding the worth of his victims.
Perhaps one of the most significant and most analyzed cases of posing is the George Russell murders.
The morning of June 23, 1990 started out perfectly normal at a McDonald’s in Bellevue, Washington — until an employee went to take out the trash.
Lying near a pile of sweepings was a nude deceased woman. Although investigators saw no visible gunshot or stab wounds, they noticed something unusual – the victim’s body was deliberately posed.
“Somebody had taken quite some time staging the body. I had noticed there was a large size coffee cup lid covering her right eye. One foot was crossed over the other and her hands were folded over her stomach and they were holding a pine cone,” Detective John Hansen told the press.
The police knew they had a sadistic necrophile on their hands. What they did not expect was that they were facing a serial killer with one of the most distinctive methods of operation – George Russell.
On August 9, 1990, seven weeks after the first murder, a 13-year-old girl realized her mom hadn’t woken up for work yet. When she went to check on her, she walked into Russell’s second murder scene.
The victim was carefully positioned on her bed. She was naked, except for a pair of red and white high-heeled shoes on her feet. The victim’s legs were completely splayed and her exposed groin was facing the doorway. Inserted into her vagina was the barrel of a rifle that the victim kept under her bed.
This time, Russell slashed the victim’s ear and left 13 distinctive Y shapes on her body. She had been bitten and kicked with such ferocity that two broken ribs penetrated the chest cavity. Her head was bound in a plastic dry-cleaning bag.
Just as the investigators thought they were making progress, Russell claimed another victim.
Once again, the “Charmer” took his time to pose the victim. Her legs were spread apart and a dildo was inserted in her mouth, with the book “More Joy of Sex” cradled in her left arm.
The victim’s body was covered in over 200 small knife wounds, some in patterns.
According to Dr. Robert D. Keppel, the victims “were posed in sexually degrading positions: naked, arms spread or folded over as if in deliberate repose, holding or supporting items that revealed the killer’s attitude toward them, and legs deliberately spread.”
“The killer obviously received an intense sexual thrill from manipulating the victims’ bodies so as to demonstrate their vulnerability after death. These bodies belonged to him. As part of the pose, only items that the killer found at the crime scene were incorporated into the victim’s portraits—the crime shots that he knew would be taken by police photographers. He did this consistently in all three murders,” Keppel said.
Two weeks after the third attack, Russell was arrested while attempting to break into the residence of his fourth intended victim, Robyn Oldenburg.
In November 1991, the “Charmer” was found guilty of all three murders and was sentenced to two life imprisonment terms, plus an additional 28 years.
Despite the conviction, in one of his phone interviews, Russell continued denying his guilt and told the press that much of the evidence against him was circumstantial, emphasizing that he had alibis.
“Supposedly I’m a Ted Bundy fan. I had books on him, but as far as a fan, no!” Russell told Seattle Post-Intelligencer.
As of 2023, the 65-year-old Russell is currently incarcerated at the Stafford Creek Corrections Center.
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