Another look at the organised-disorganised concept in sexual homicide: myth, straw-man, or useful construct?


Davis, Michael


The organised-disorganised concept in the study of sexual homicide was first described in 1980 by Hazelwood and Douglas, who were behavioural scientists with the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Based upon their investigative experience, and the extant literature at the time, the authors posited that there were two broad categories of lust murderer: the organised nonsocial and the disorganised asocial. As the names suggested, the former were characterised by more methodical offences whilst the latter revealed more frenzied offence behaviour. These features of the crime scene were also theorised to correspond with non-social and asocial characteristics of the offender. The organised-disorganised concept soon became an important consideration within the developing field of criminal investigative analysis and was the subject of some minor research attention in the 1980s. Decades later, several authors began to question not only the reliability but also the validity of this construct; deeming it at best an anachronism and at worst a myth. Indeed, recent literature in the field of investigative psychology seems to uncritically accept that this was an invalid concept worthy of little further attention. This paper first provides an overview of both the original literature and its later critique. It will be argued that publications that purportedly disproved this concept remarkably did not address the offence behaviours that had initially been proposed as characteristics of organised and disorganised offences. Rather, an examination of these conflicting results indicates that the distinction was never possible on the basis of the behaviours that were chosen for analysis. Moreover, it will be posited that published criticisms of the organised-disorganised concept were almost entirely based on erroneous assumptions, such that it was being criticised for not resulting in something that it was never intended to provide. As such, rather than being a myth, the construct was actually a straw-man that has subsequently been used to undermine the entire field of behavioural analysis. This paper will also examine the organised-disorganised concept with reference to the wider literature on sexual homicide and violent crime in general. It will be argued that the true concept of behavioural organisation in interpersonal crime has considerable convergent validity, with practically all typologies of such offending comprising organised and disorganised variants (e.g., instrumental-expressive, compulsive-catathymic, cognitive-affective, sadistic-angry, cognitive-hostile, etc). Nevertheless, the concept is far from a panacea in evaluating crime scenes or offenders. Recommendations for the appropriate and limited use of this construct in both the practice of forensic mental health and behavioural investigative advice will be discussed.

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Conference paper


Systems, Clients And Patients Psychiatry, Psychology and Law: Joint conference of the Australian and New Zealand Association of Psychiatry, Psychology, and Law (ANZAPPL) and the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists Faculty of Forensic Psychiatry, Canberra, Australia, 25-28 November 2015

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