Exploring Patterns of Perpetration and Victimization: Establishing Baseline Typologies for Profiling the Murders of Pregnant Women

Review Article

Austin J Forensic Sci Criminol. 2014;1(1): 9.

Exploring Patterns of Perpetration and Victimization: Establishing Baseline Typologies for Profiling the Murders of Pregnant Women

Erica Hutton1*, Sarah A Baker1 and Nicole K Procise2

1Department of Criminal Justice, Psychology, & Social Sciences, Trine University, USA

2Ivy Tech Community College of Indiana, USA

*Corresponding author: Erica Hutton, Department of Criminal Justice, Psychology, & Social Sciences, Trine University, 1 University Avenue, Angola, IN 46703, Best Hall 115-H, USA

Received: October 29, 2014; Accepted: December 02, 2014; Published: December 05, 2014


The following research study purports that there are relative perpetration and victimization patterns prevalent amongst the investigation of pregnant women that have been murdered. The researchers completed a national research study comparing approximately 100 cases of homicide in which the victim was a pregnant female. The research design encompassed a qualitative method, revealing pertinent data regarding perpetration patterns for the purpose of appraising emergent themes of offender and victimization classifications. The results of the study yielded a data set that was innovative, establishing distinctive patterns and profiling typologies in regards to the investigation of criminality, perpetration, and victimization in homicide cases of pregnant females.

Keywords: Homicide; Criminality; Typology; Profiling; Offender; Victimization; Perpetration; Investigative psychology; Motive


The identification associated to the causative factors of homicide has been on the forefront of society and researchers for quite some time. Murder is embraced as an authoritarian phenomena in which the right to live is denied by the victim and entitlement is ultimately warranted for the perpetrator to employ various modalities to kill and dominate another [1]. In addition, the notion of harming populations that are deemed to have a more vulnerable disposition than others within society have led investigators to gather data associated to the various patterns of perpetration and victim selection alike. For example, investigators are curious as to why one individual is selected for victimization over another. The population embraced within this research study included pregnant females that were murdered within the last twenty years in the United States. It is erroneous to assume that because a female is noticeably pregnant, that members within society would proffer respect, courtesy, or honor for the nature of their disposition; in contrast, pregnant women are vulnerable, limited, and considered to be targets within this study with concentration afforded to their fatality.

According to Brearley [2], homicide is most often defined as a violent death with interest centered upon motive, punitive measures enforced, and the social phenomena regarding criminality. Many recognize the fundamental health, social, and emotional risks that pregnant women are exposed to that may have negative results; however, violence is typically not an element that society attributes to the demise of a pregnant female [3]. Approximately 100 cases of homicide were collected to anatomize prevalent patterns amongst the perpetrators that have murdered pregnant women. Furthermore, victimization patterns were explored in various geographic regions to assess and investigate emergent elements for the purpose of establishing a baseline for offender and victim typologies.

Problem statement

The researchers noted that there was a lack of literature concentrating upon the profiling measures employed for investigating the death(s) of pregnant women. The gap in the literature was deemed problematic in regards to the comprehensive understanding pertaining to the perpetration patterns associated to the murder of pregnant women and the entirety of investigative patterns that subsist as a whole. The data revealed a plethora of patterns regarding both the perpetration and victimization patterns to assist the researchers in the establishment of baseline for typologies that law enforcement personnel could employ while investigating cases such as these.

Background of problem

One of the underlying reasons as to why the researchers aimed to explore the plausible patterns associated to the murder of pregnant females is that there are not many research studies readily available on the subject matter. The researchers collected data from cases that have occurred within the United States that were available in public record, thoroughly assessing the data for the purpose of exploring possible themes pertaining to this particular type of perpetration and victimization alike. Pregnancy-related deaths pertain to any death that took place during pregnancy or up to 1 year post-pregnancy [4]; however, information pertaining to cause of death and the perpetration patterns associated to pregnancy homicide rates is lacking as a whole, warranting further concentration to this particular type of criminality. Throughout the United States, 38 states are currently implementing fetal homicide legislature in which 23 states are applicable to any stage of the pregnancy to include gestation to delivery. Fetal homicide is also known as feticide and the Fetal Protection Act, the Preborn Victims of Violence Act, and the Unborn Victims of Violence Act support the notion that it is imperative to treat both the mother and the unborn child as two disparate individuals, both deserving of rights [5].

Statistical evidence

On a national level, murder is the most popular cause of death for pregnant females at a rate of 3/100,000 females with suicide following behind with a rate of 2/100,000 females. Medical complications pertaining to pregnancy is the third highest correlation to the death of a pregnant female [6]. In addition, accurate data associated to measuring the frequency of females that were pregnant and murdered is at an elementary level, best assessed through the investigation of data that can be obtained from death records.

However, the CDC has begun the requisite collection of data pertaining to the murder of pregnant females to include mortality rates and homicide rates alike. There are certain states that employ the Pregnancy Mortality Surveillance System in which states have the opportunity to volunteer information for secondary data collection purposes [6]. Furthermore, the agencies predominately responsible for the collection of statistical information associated to perpetration and various forms of crime are failing to recognize that females that are pregnant are a population that deserves further attention into the patterns regarding their mortality, especially in regards to the crime of murder.

Literature review

During the 16th Century in the town of Bedburg, Germany, a heinous serial killer by the name of Peter Stubbe began to slaughter cattle, women, and children [7]. Stubbe became known as the Werewolf of Bedburg; he killed 13 children and two pregnant females. In the killings, the women were sexually assaulted and their bodies torn apart, dismembering and removing the fetuses and eating the hearts of the unborn children. Peter Niers and his gang killed 75 individuals between 1577 and 1582, confessing to the killings of pregnant women and cannibalism of the fetus [8]. In these cases, dismemberment was implemented as the hands of the fetus were removed and the heart consumed.

Niklaus Steuller was executed in 1577 in Bamberg; he murdered three pregnant women by sitting on their mid-sections and ripping out the unborn child, killing the babies upon removal from the body [9]. During the time frame of 1749-1774, London founders of obstetrics William Hunter and William Smellie killed 35 to 40 pregnant females and their unborn children for experimentation purposes. The procedures employed were also utilized to explore emergent developments associated to the caesarean section procedure that was performed on unconscious or freshly murdered victims [10]. The Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine reports that these two physicians are infamous serial killers that appreciated the scientific associations of dissecting corpses of females in the latter stages of their pregnancy [10].

Pearl Bryan of Greencastle, Indiana was murdered in 1896, by Alonzo Walling and Scott Jackson. The plan was to perform an abortion as to conceal her unwed pregnancy; she was 5 months pregnant and in her 2nd trimester at the time. The procedure started with the administration of cocaine and dental tools were employed to aim to perform an effective abortion; however, the procedure was botched and Bryan was left with wounds that resulted in significant blood loss. Subsequently, Walling and Jackson (1896) dismembered Bryan and it is highly plausible that the killing was deemed to be sacrificial for the occult [11]. Records of Maternal Mortality Data were not introduced into the United States until the 1900’s; therefore, it is an arduous task to locate incidents prior to the 20th century [12]. According to the Journal of Midwifery & Women’s Health, during the 1980’s there were concerns that the deaths of pregnant females were not being reported and there was a fracture in regards to the material of maternal mortality ratios alike [4].

A serial killer known as the axeman in New Orleans during the timeframe of 1918 to 1919 randomly killed his victims; one victim was a pregnant woman and another was a young infant that was in the arms of its mother [13]. The axeman was known to taunt local law enforcement by submitting various letters to the newspaper, purporting to be a demon from Hell. In 1902, Rose Harsent, 6 months pregnant, was found stabbed to death and her killer was never tried due to the fact that there were rumors regarding a possible suicide and the case resulted in a hung jury on two different occasions [13].

The violence regarding the murder of pregnant women is not just applicable to historical cases or rare serial killers with a heinous vengeance. Recently, a Pakistani female that was pregnant, was taken to the courthouse and beat to death with bricks and clubs by her family members because she married a man that she loved, versus her cousin [14]. Homicides that were deemed to be excusable included crimes that were misadventures, or even cases of homicide that were considered to be caused by self-defense [15]. The first documented incidents in the United States of the murdering of pregnant females reveal the lynching of black women during 1866-1957 [16]. The lynching of Mary Turner is one exemplary study of this time period. Turner was 8 months pregnant at the time that she was murdered by a lynch mob in 1918 [17].

During the 20th Century, the televised media coverage made the spotlight of the horrific murder of a pregnant female. This became one of the first well-known cases, the 1969 murder of Sharon Tate by the Mason Family. Tate was 8 ½ months pregnant and was brutally stabbed to death [18]. The case that is prominent today is that of the murder of Laci Peterson and Connor, her unborn son. The crime took place in Modesto, CA in December of 2004; the national media coverage conveyed the seriousness and awe associated to her death. George W. Bush enacted the legal precedence in regards to the crime of a female and her unborn child representing two homicides versus one. While conducting research for this study, the researchers noted that there has been a lack of empirical research in reference to pregnancy-related homicides. Documentation that a female was pregnant at the time of death is documented on autopsy reports; however, the data collected is rarely connected to statistical data analysis for crime report notification(s). Research does reveal that there is a correlation between domestic violence and the potential of pregnancy-related homicide. Krulewitch [4] asserts that homicide is the sixth most prominent cause of death for women between 25 and 44 years of age. The purpose of this research study was to convey the importance regarding homicide patterns amongst pregnant females due to the fact that little research currently exists. In addition, the goal of this study was to delve into the perpetration patterns to establish a baseline for profile typologies for the offenders that kill women with unborn children. Profiling measures relating to the murder of pregnant women were not readily available; therefore, the researchers concentrated on the development of such measures to assist law enforcement with additional information regarding such cases. In other words, such profiling measures are helpful to demonstrate the attention that should be afforded to the mortality rate(s) of pregnant women that are murdered.

Theoretical conceptualizations

In regards to applicable theoretical applications, there are many theories that should be integrated in comprehending the criminality associated to the murder of pregnant women. The first theory that will be expounded upon is Conflict Criminology [19]. Within many cases that the researchers investigated, there were incidents of apparent conflict subsisting in the lives of these women that were pregnant and murdered. Such conflict(s) range from child support issues with ex-boyfriends to simply being associated within communities where gangs were heavily prevalent or the presence of drugs populated the environment alike. There are conflicts of interest that are inevitable between individuals and between groups that aim to place their benefits and importance above the rights of others. The conflict(s) between individuals that are of higher power within society are perceived to have more freedom to pursue their interests, while those that are not as powerful are deemed to be rather unconventional in seeking their interests [19]. This deduction affords that the more powerful certain populations are, directly correlates with the likelihood of and propensity to, delve into criminality and behaviors that are deviant by nature. In regard to the current study conducted, the majority of the offenders were individuals that would not be described as being affluent and the victims also mirrored these associations. There were not many victims that were killed that would be described as being powerful within the community; therefore, conflict criminology is pertinent in exploring not only crime causation but also victim selection. The majorities of the women pregnant and murdered were not found to be minorities but were in less affluent communities.

Another theoretical application that is applicable within this study was Feminist Criminology, with emphasis bestowed upon the inferiority regarding women and the disposition of being vulnerable while pregnant. Pregnant women are much more vulnerable than other women and they have limitations that are evident; however, this does not mean that they should be targeted for the crime of murder. Feminists that embrace socialism, concentrate upon the social roles that dominate economic production, and the gender schemas regarding males and females throughout society [19]. The biological role of the female is to be reproductive and domesticated within the home; in addition, there are only certain populations that are targeted for the crime of murder while a female is with child. A woman that is pregnant may be perceived by those that believe in Marxist feministic traditions, that the woman is powerful because she is able to do something that a man is unable to do, reproduce [19]. Embracing such a lens purports that males may become threatened by females around them and this may fuel criminality in regards to male oppression that is experienced, fragmenting the patriarch system. Furthermore, women may also commit crimes in regards to the frustration experienced and women that feel trapped in social roles could overcompensate for their disposition and become criminal, killing others around them due to their limitation(s). There were approximately 14 cases in which females were the offenders, participating in the killing of women that were pregnant. Gender is the central component within feminist criminology perspectives with hegemonic roles dominating the schemas that populate social and vocational actions alike. In addition, the males may feel more liberation subsequent to crime commission when their victims are females.

Sutherland believed that there were multiple associations pertaining to the causation of crime; however, he was able to simplify these complex perspectives by narrowing items down into the concept of inadequate socialization [20]. Additional theories that are applicable to this study are Differential Association Theory and the Theory of Violentization. In regards to the differential associations that are applicable to behavior and motives, overall adaptations will ultimately determine criminal behavior and learning associations. Sutherland in particular, asserted that individuals typically commit offenses more so on the social conditions they experience rather than the situation itself [19]. Therefore, the offender(s) may have elected to commit murder against a pregnant female based on the condition rather than it being accidental or unplanned and so forth. Mead claimed that our cognitions are more so responsible for determining behavior and that individuals will establish permanent associations to their dispositions and out of these associations, meaning is cultivated to apply to specific experiences [19].

A conditioning of violence may be afforded here within domestic relationships while the researchers of this study addressed plausible motives and patterns of perpetration and victimization alike. In addition, there are normative behaviors that although appear to be unconventional by the majority of society, are indeed normative and even conditioned to individuals that typically embrace violence or aggression more readily. Cressey referred to this as normative conflict and asserted that there are various perspectives held by different groups with meaning associated to criminality [19]. Therefore, there is a deduction that women that socialize with individuals that are more violent or aggressive, have the propensity of being murdered while they are pregnant based upon these conflicts that arise from normative behaviors.

Violentization is a theory established by Athens (2003), drawing from symbolic interactionism and embracing the social learning associations of criminality and violent behaviors alike [19]. The theory was established on the findings from interviewing many individuals that engage in violent behavior. This perspective asserts that violent criminal action is situational and reflects the situation itself; the criminal is the actor interpreting the actions that are best suited for the scenario [21]. Furthermore, the perpetrator rationalizes their behavior and therefore the level of violence employed is a developmentally learned and conditioned process. Concentrations of the application of this theory are broken down into four specific stages to include: (a) brutalization, (b) belligerence, (c) violent performances, and (d) virulency.

Within the initial stage of brutalization there is a form of personal victimization directed towards the individual based upon close relationships that have coached the violence and encouraging aggressive responses to behavior(s). In the second stage of this process, belligerence is what the individual will begin to feel as they also aim to overcompensate and refuse to be the victim of such coaching; they begin to take matters into their own hands. The third stage of the process is violent performances and these performances are what the subject begins to emulate and practice. The final stage of this theory pertains to virulency in regards to the victory of completing various conquests in the success of being violent. The Theory of Violentization is applicable to how an individual completes a process of conditioning and progression into the realm of criminality [19]. In addition, the level of reinforcement that applies to this overall process is evident in the introduction, teaching, and mastery associated to violent acts of behavior(s).

Research Design& Methodology

The research design employed within the study was qualitative by nature, a data content analysis, that explored emergent themes and patterns amongst the data collected and assessed. A content analysis is considered to be an empirical method that is predominantly correlated with grounded methods of research in which the process is completely exploratory by nature with researchers concentrating their efforts upon the patterns that emerge from the data collected [22].

Traditionally, a data content analysis is applicable to information that may involve symbols, printed material, sounds, techniques, and images; however, for the purpose of this study, the researchers elected to utilize and implement a data content analysis design for the sole purpose of extrapolating material from 100 crime scenes throughout the United States to explicate the various patterns to include circumstantial, situational, dynamic, and static factors alike. Case data was collected that involved a pregnant woman that was murdered; 10 cases from 10 different states throughout the United States comprised the data set to include: (a) Pennsylvania, (b) Ohio, (c) Indiana, (d) Illinois, (e) North Carolina, (f) Florida, (g) Oklahoma, (h) California, (i) Arizona, and (j) Texas. The data consisted of 100 cases with a non-random sample population, reflective of geographical regions throughout the United States. Non-random sampling illustrates that the population of the cases examined a group of women that all met the criteria of being pregnant when they were murdered. The cases assessed and collected were public record and the researchers pooled the data set from news reports and online resources. The authors only collected a baseline of a 100 possible cases of murder with the victims including a pregnant female; in other words, the study could be expanded upon in future research.

Data analysis

The data content analysis for this study was categorical in that a grid was developed by the researchers in effort of exploring the data collected to assess plausible emergent patterns and themes regarding victimization and perpetration. A sample grid can be found in Appendix A. The data set was established based upon patterns that were noted by the researchers with a baseline for profiles becoming apparent while ascertaining the themes. The states were divided into East and West subtitles with the Mississippi River being the geographical division that marks the segregation. Therefore, Eastern states included: (a) Illinois, (b) Indiana, (c), Ohio, (d) Pennsylvania, (e) North Carolina, and (f) Florida. The Western states included: (a) California, (b) Arizona, (c) Oklahoma, and (d) Texas. The data set below explicates the patterns regarding both perpetration and victimization. Furthermore, the information discovered is informative and quite innovative as the researchers proposed that further investigation into the murder of pregnant women warranted attention and exploration alike.

Trimester patterns

According to the Mayo Clinic [23], (a) the first trimester includes months 1-3, (b) the second trimester includes months 4-6, and (c) the third trimester includes months 6-9. Oftentimes, the fourth trimester is overlooked, with this being the trimester directly after birth. The data revealed in Figure 1.1, illustrates that the most popular trimester for women to fall prey to being a victim of murder is the third trimester. This data is consistent as a whole; however, within the states of California, Illinois, Indiana, and Oklahoma, the second trimester was popular. Most individuals may hypothesize that the first and second trimesters would be more prominent in regards to females falling prey to the crime of murder due to the fact that their pregnancy may not be evident and others around may not even be aware that these individuals are pregnant.