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Archive for Thursday, July 15, 2004

Homicide investigator shares tips of the trade

July 15, 2004

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Don't tell the media too much.

Don't rule out suspects just because they don't fit an FBI psychologist's profile.

And don't forget to check parole records of who's been released from prison recently.

Those were some of the tips dispensed Wednesday by Vernon Geberth, a nationally known homicide expert who's in Lawrence this week training police from around the Midwest in "Practical Homicide Investigation." Geberth flashed grisly crime-scene photos onto a screen as he spoke to more than 50 officers in a conference room at the Spring Hill Suites by Marriott, 1 Riverfront Plaza.

Much of the weeklong class, sponsored by the Lawrence Police Department, is closed to the public. Geberth allowed reporters inside Wednesday for an hourlong lesson about the 1987 case of Timothy W. Spencer, the "South Side Strangler" of Richmond, Va. In 1994, Spencer became the first person in the United States to be executed largely on the basis of DNA fingerprinting.

Among the lessons:

  • Investigators in that case initially failed to connect some of Spencer's rapes, Geberth said, because an FBI psychological profiler had theorized the suspect was Caucasian, unlike Spencer. Geberth warned officers not to succumb to what he called "linkage blindness."
  • Police didn't help their case, Geberth said, by releasing crime details to the media during the investigation -- such as how the suspect entered homes and which items were used to strangle the victims.
  • Vernon Geberth, president of PHI Investigative Consultants Inc. in
Garnerville, N.Y., shares tips with law enforcement personnel.
Geberth is in Lawrence this week for training sessions for officers
from aroun the Midwest.

    Vernon Geberth, president of PHI Investigative Consultants Inc. in Garnerville, N.Y., shares tips with law enforcement personnel. Geberth is in Lawrence this week for training sessions for officers from aroun the Midwest.

Conventional police wisdom is that it's easier to solve a crime if only the police and the suspect know what happened at the scene.

Geberth called the person who released the information "Major Stupid."

"Obviously not an investigator," he said.

"Bureaucrat," someone in the audience said.

  • One rape case that matched Spencer's modus operandi was initially thought not to be linked to him because he would have been in prison at the time, Geberth said. But investigators later found that when the rape happened, Spencer had been granted a seven-day holiday furlough from prison, Geberth said.

Geberth retired from the New York City Police Department as commanding officer of the Bronx Homicide Task Force. He's now president of his own consulting company and has written a book widely called "the bible for homicide investigators."

It's the fifth year Geberth has come to Lawrence. At least six officers from the Lawrence Police Department and the Douglas County Sheriff's Office are attending this year's class, along with officers from Oklahoma, Missouri and other neighboring states.





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