Mind of a murderer

By Jana Rosenberg
The University of Mississippi

Solving homicides and detecting murderers is a familiar task for the director of the University of Mississippi’s Center for Intelligence and Security Studies.

Before joining the legal studies faculty at Ole Miss, Carl Jensen held a 22-year career in the FBI, where he served as a field agent, forensic examiner and supervisory special agent in the behavioral science unit.

In an extensive interview, Jensen discussed why the Jessica Chambers case has been so difficult to solve. He also talked about the motives of murderers and typical reasons behind their behavior.

While working as a behavioral scientist for the FBI, Jensen spent time investigating many homicide cases. During his investigations, he and his team studied criminal behavior hoping it would lead to potential murder suspects.

Identifying a murderer involves much more than just gathering and studying evidence, Jensen said. He believes this may be the reason the Chambers case is still unsolved, especially given her cause of death.

Investigators and officials have classified the case as a homicide. However, after nearly four months of investigation, no suspects have been arrested. Because Chambers’ car was burned, evidence could have been destroyed. This is where behavioral scientists are important.

Rather than profiling, commonly done by special agents, the FBI’s behavioral scientists use a method called “criminal investigative analysis” to solve homicides and detect possible perpetrators. This is a three-step process in which crime victims are intensely studied, and the crime scene is examined in-depth.

Victimology is study of the victim and who he or she exactly was in all personal and historical aspects. With this, scientists learn everything they can about the person who was killed.

“You find out what kind of personality they had and how they would have reacted in a particular situation.” Jensen said.

This helps scientists understand exactly how the victim was killed, hopefully leading to the answer of why and who committed the crime.

When it comes to investigating the crime scene, behavioral scientists carefully study the scene and the way the body is positioned for the purpose of determining the murderer’s possible motives.

“A behavior profiler will look at the body’s positioning, and ask why would the killer pose the body like this, and what sort of benefit did that provide for the killer,” Jensen said.

Jensen said burning someone and their vehicle is not the easiest way to commit murder. This fact has led Jensen to believe the murder was planned by someone looking for vengeance.

“Anytime a perpetrator commits a particular act, they have choices,” Jensen said. “So you ask yourself, ‘Why did the perpetrator make this particular choice, and what influenced this choice?’ One of the reasons you burn things up is to destroy evidence, but another is to send a message – which a lot of times is motivated by anger.”

Jensen also believes the perpetrator is most likely someone within the young girl’s inner-circle.

“It [being burned] is a really horrific way to die,” he said, “so you definitely have to take that into consideration when it comes to solving cases like these, as unusual as they may be.”

Jensen said the majority of murderers kill people, either under spontaneous circumstances, or they have a meticulous plan.

Given the kind of homicide and the timeline of the case, Jensen believes the murderer was most likely someone who knew Chambers well. From experience, he is sure that the authorities are working to sort through evidence that could possibly prove that idea.

However, he explained that even the strongest pieces of evidence from a case as serious as this one will not be released until investigators are 110 percent positive it is correct, which takes time. Beyond that, Jensen highlighted the importance of refraining from developing a hypothesis in a case too quickly.

“A lot of cases get botched because investigators develop tunnel vision,” he said. “They look too (thoroughly) in one place when they should have been looking in another direction. If they have solving evidence, unfortunately it will be awhile before they release it.”

In all of Jensen’s years working for the FBI, Jensen said he has never stumbled upon a case like the Chambers case.

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