Digital Project Proposal: Mapping the Paths of Serial Killers

            In “Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes,” Netflix follows the footsteps of serial killer Ted Bundy, both before and after his crimes. At one point in the series, Bundy’s murders are shown on a map, demonstrating Bundy’s movements across the country. In addition, the victims’ names, faces and locations are shown in chronological order, alongside those who Bundy confessed to killing, but whose names are unknown.

            Geographic profiling is a forensic technique that examines the locations of a series of crimes to determine the location of the criminal. The technique relies on the idea that a criminal will commit crimes outside of the neighborhoods that they live in, but close enough to allow for a quick escape. The theory also states that murderers must know the area to be able to successfully commit their crimes. Bundy’s murders demonstrate the exact opposite to this theory, which is a basis for a common method of investigation.

            This project would examine the paths of several prominent serial killers in order to explore whether geographic profiling is an accurate method of investigation. Furthermore, it would provide a look into the psych of serial killers. Questions to ask are: Do murderers feel comfortable committing crimes in the area that they live? Is having a home base necessary to commit a crime? Does escaping from an area or state allow murderers to evade conviction?

            In the case of Ted Bundy, travelling from state to state prevented investigators from tying crimes to him, in part due to police officers’ lack of communication. Although he faced charges in Colorado, during his escape from prison, he committed three more murders in Florida. Even then, Florida officers did not think of Bundy as a suspect until the time he was found.

Audience: For this project, the audience would be forensic scientists, psychologists and historians.

Existing Projects: Texas State University has a similar project examining crimes committed to Jack the Ripper. On their site, researchers provide a map of the murders. Unlike this project, I hope that mine will follow several killers on an interactive site.

Plan for Outreach and Publicity: This project could be shared by researchers and forensic scientists in the field. Additionally, social media, such as Twitter, could be used the share the final project, especially due to public interest in serial killers.

Evaluation Plan: Success of this project would be based on how possible it is to find and spread information. Finding the specific location of murders, as well as whether they are confirmed to be tied to a certain killer may be difficult. Furthermore, the project may overlook crimes that may have been committed by an individual, but never successfully attributed to them. However, once this information is found and presented as best as possible, success would be measured by the number of clicks and amount of time individuals spend interacting with the map.

3 Replies to “Digital Project Proposal: Mapping the Paths of Serial Killers”

  1. I love this idea! I just watched the Ted Bundy documentary a few weeks ago, and I couldn’t believe how many murders he committed before they recognized a pattern. While law enforcement learned alot from his case, I think a tool such as this could provide useful in further altering law enforcement to developing patterns, and studying previous killers patterns to test their theories about geographic profiling.

    I think they use something like this on Law and Order: SVU, but it’s definitely one of those pieces of technology that is likely just made for TV–and is less of a teaching tool and more of a catch the bad guy in 40 minutes thing to move the plot along (if you couldn’t tell I’m really into this kind of stuff).

    Further, I love this idea because it’s an example of interdisciplinary collaboration which is something I am a big proponent of. I think researchers, from any field of study have a lot to learn from each other if we stepped outside our little bubble once in a while (myself included). Historians and criminal profilers working together sounds like some kind of dream job which incorporates two of my interests!

    Also, if you haven’t watched Mindhunter of Netflix, I would highly recommend it!

  2. To follow up on the previous comment, Mindhunter is amazing and relates to the Ted Bundy documentary. Definitely a series worth checking out since it ties closely with your digital project. I think you will have no problem finding information for mapping since there is a massive interest in understanding the minds of serial killers from both law enforcement and the general public. You mentioned using social media for publicity, but wonder if you can also use it as a resource? Facebook live, Tweets, and Instagram posts have been used as evidence in recent murder cases. Also curious if there are any web crawlers that can help you access more information.

    Great topic! Can’t wait to see how it develops.


  3. You’ve picked a topic that is both significant and likely to draw in attention. Serial killers are disturbing and at the same time something that a range of people is drawn to.

    While there is a lot of material out there covering serial killers and their history, your concept to focus on mapping the paths of serial killers is novel and has the potential to surface both significant historical patterns and issues and to be something that could be visually interesting.

    I think there is considerable crossover potential for audiences on this. In particular, I think this could be a useful general audience resource beyond being of interest to forensic scientists and historians.

    So you’ve got a compelling topic, and I think you are on the right track for an interesting approach. With that noted, the proposal is a little light on detail of the technical details. My initial reaction is that this would be something that you could approach well with a wordpress blog and a google MyMap. You could use different colored pins and layers in a Google MyMap to let users toggle on and off individual layers. From there you could create screenshots of the maps for each individual killer and then make different wordpress site pages that have some brief backround on each of the killers and their individual maps. You could then see if you can get the main full map embedded in the central part of the site.

    My other question for you is one of scope and scale. How many serial killers do you think you would cover in this and how can you get the data together. My initial guess is that something like this would work best with 5-7 different individuals overtime. That said, I think a big part of scoping this will involve getting a sense of how easy or difficult it is to get the data and get the data entered. So that may be a limiting factor in scoping the project.
    My other thought on this is that for scoping the project it would likely be good to think about picking a geographic region. That is, you might do the continental United States, or for that matter, even just focus on a region like the Midwest. I think the mapping parts of this are going to surface more interesting connections and comparison’s if you have a more compressed geographic region.

    My last reaction/observation with this is that a whole other aspect of mapping could be relevant and or interesting in this project. Alongside mapping these murders in space, there is a whole temporal demission to consider exploring. You might think about ways that you could integrate that kind of temporal information. Like, is there a way to represent that temporal information in these maps?

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