While the method of operation, also known as modus operandi, consists of techniques, habits, and peculiarities consistent in serial killer’s behavior, investigators might also encounter deliberate alterations of the crime scene or the position of the victim’s body.
Sometimes the alterations are made to mislead the investigators and are merely known as staging. However, in some cases, the alterations might serve the needs of the killer’s fantasy and are considered a part of his signature and referred to as posing.
The act of leaving a victim’s body in an unusual position is a conscious criminal action by an offender to thwart an investigation, shock the finder and investigators of the crime scene, or give perverted pleasure to the killer. It could also be a way for the killer to send a message to the police or the public.
A serial killer may dispose of the body beside a “No Dumping” sign, or as in the case of Henry Lee Lucas, dump it 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 toward 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 murdered in another room and then taken to the bathroom for posing.
When DeSalvo was questioned about posing his victims, he said, “I just did it.”
However, experts believe that the real intention was to shock whoever found the bodies. According to the FBI, such posing is a sign of a disorganized serial killer.
Often coined 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, from the arrangement of clothes, the placement of a thimble, the splaying of legs, to the arrangement 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.
On June 23, 1990, during a routine morning trip to the dumpster, McDonald’s employee made a startling discovery of a deceased woman who was incongruously lying near a pile of sweepings. She had no visible gunshot or stab wounds, but the victim’s body was deliberately posed.
In the documentary Mark of a Serial Killer, Detective John Hansen recalled the disturbing discovery:
“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.”
On August 9, 1990, 47 days after his first murder, Russell struck again. This time, the victim was carefully positioned in an open display on top of 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 of her bedroom. Inserted well up into her vagina was the barrel of an over-and-under rifle–shotgun combination, with its stock resting across her shoes.
Just as the investigators thought they were making progress investigating the first two murders, the “Charmer” claimed another victim. Once again, Russell took his time to pose the victim. Her legs were spread and an electronic dildo was inserted in her mouth, with the book More Joy of Sex cradled in her left arm.
According to Dr Robert D. Keppel, in George Russell’s case, 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.
Although cases where posing is present are captivating, they are very rare. According to the Washington State Attorney General’s Homicide Investigation and Tracking System’s database, out of 5,224 cases, covering the years 1981-2000, only 1.3% of victims were left in an unusual position, with 0.3% being posed and 0.1% being staged.