Friday, May 24, 2013

About the SHEISC Team

Over the past forty years, general knowledge of serial killers has been derived from self-selected sources; offender interviews and case studies. A varied group of individuals gathered this data but operated in information silos due to competing interests. This lack of collaboration led to the influence of anecdotal evidence on public statements made about serial killers. Today, a burgeoning “serial murder industry” amplifies these myths and stereotypes, packaging them as entertainment. The ‘true crime’ genre has fostered a new generation of researchers that promulgate similar falsehoods. In response to this misinformation, Enzo Yaksic ushered a subset of the criminal justice community into the digital workspace to synchronize and standardize serial homicide data collection efforts. This unprecedented initiative, named the Serial Homicide Expertise and Information Sharing Collaborative (SHEISC), was formed in August 2010.

Leveraging connections made while interning at the Federal Bureau of Investigation Academy, Enzo built a network comprised of those with experience maintaining serial homicide datasets. Each member - Mike Aamodt, James Alan Fox, Eric Hickey, Ronald Hinch, Brigadier Gérard Labuschagne, Jack Levin, Janet McClellan, Bryan Nelson, Michael Newton, Kenna Quinet, John White - compiled and contributed their own data to one central location, henceforth known as the ‘SHEISC Joint Serial Killer Database’. In 2013, this dataset was merged with the ‘Radford/FGCU Serial Killer Database Research Project’ to bolster the creation of a national serial homicide offender database, a call made to the field three years prior by Enzo. For additional details and biographies, please see below.

The baseline data was compiled by Enzo Yaksic for James Alan Fox's Extreme Killing: Understanding Serial and Mass Murder. This initial dataset contained records on approximately two thousand US based serial killers and was built over the course of the past ten years. Seven other datasets from the following contributors were combined with Enzo's initial data to form the 'SHEISC Joint Serial Killer Database': 

Mike Aamodt is professor emeritus of psychology at Radford University in Radford, Virginia. Mike is the founder of the Serial Killer Information Center. Mike contributed his entire dataset to this effort.

Eric Hickey is the Dean of Alliant International University’s California School of Forensic Studies. Eric has authored numerous scholarly works including Serial Murderers and Their Victims. Eric contributed his entire dataset to this effort.

John White is an Associate Professor of Psychology at Richard Stockton College. John recently authored The Utilization of Forensic Science and Criminal Profiling for Capturing Serial Killers. John contributed his entire dataset to this effort. 

Kenna Quinet is an Associate Professor of Criminal Justice, Law and Public Safety at the School of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis. Kenna's research focuses on various aspects of homicide including serial and mass homicides, missing persons, unidentified dead and prostitutes as serial homicide victims. Most recently, she is a co-author of The Will To Kill: Making Sense of Senseless Murder with Jamie Fox and Jack Levin. Kenna authored Prostitutes as Victims of Serial Homicide: Trends and Case Characteristics from 1970-2009 and The Missing Missing: Towards a Quantification of Serial Murder Victimization in the United States. Kenna was the first to contribute her entire dataset to this effort. 

Ronald Hinch is a Professor at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology. Ron wrote the seminal work Researching Serial Murder in 1998. Prior to joining UOIT he was a faculty member at the University of Guelph in Ontario, where he served as Chair of the Department of Sociology and Anthropology. Ron contributed his entire dataset to this effort.

Janet McClellan is the Chair of the Masters in Criminal Justice and Homeland Security & Disaster Management in the School of Public Services with Kaplan University.  Janet recently authored Erontophontophilia: Investigating Violent Sexualized Homicides and Delivery Drivers and Long-Haul Truckers: Traveling Serial Murderers. Janet contributed her entire dataset of African American serial killers to this effort.  

Bryan Nelson is a Forensic Mental Health Specialist with the Forensic Conditional Release Program (CONREP) in California.  Bryan is a treatment provider for individuals who have been found Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity or deemed a Mentally Disordered Offender with specialization working with sexual offenders.  The role of fantasy in the development of serial murder offenders has been a research interest for Bryan for many years. Bryan contributed his entire dataset to this effort. 

Michael Newton is the author of the first and second editions of The Encyclopedia of Serial Killers. Michael contributed his entire dataset, in paper form, to this effort. Enzo copied the dataset to an Excel file so it could be merged with the others.  

Wade C. Myers is a professor of Psychiatry and Human Behavior at the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University and Director of Forensic Psychiatry at Rhode Island Hospital. Wade has written extensively on the issue of juvenile killers, including the book, Juvenile Sexual Homicide. Wade provided information on one case to this effort. 

Tom Hargrove is a Database Research Consultant with E.W. Scripps Co. and recipient of the national Philip Meyer Prize for journalism for creating a computer algorithm that identifies homicide clusters with a high probability of serial murder. Information on the project can be found here: www.scrippsnews.com/projects/serial-killers Tom was instrumental in securing the release of summary unsolved homicides data from the ViCAP system. Tom provided information on one case to this effort. 

Kenneth Morris is a Criminal Profiler with the Virginia State Police. Ken is a graduate of the International Criminal Investigative Analysis Fellowship. Ken provided 10 cases to this effort.

Enzo also copied the dataset from Justin Cottrell's book The Rise of the Black Serial Killer into an Excel file so it could be merged with the others.

Although this dataset only encompasses serial murders committed within the US, two researchers contributed their data to this effort: 

Brigadier Gérard Labuschagne contributed 115 cases of South African serial killers to this effort.

The data from Lee Mellor's Cold North Killers: Canadian Serial Murder was copied for this effort.

It should be noted that others were approached during the planning stages of the collaborative.

Dr. Steve Egger has graciously offered to contribute his dataset of 3,000 serial killers to the effort. Dr. Charisse T.M. Coston maintains a dataset and has committed to sharing it with the SHEISC.

In October 2010, Enzo contacted Vernon Geberth, author of Antisocial Personality Disorder, Sexual Sadism, Malignant Narcissism and Serial Murder, in an effort to request the data used in the article. Geberth stated that the original data exists only in hard copy form due to a complication with the computer where the "thesis materials" were stored. Further requests for the paper copies were ignored. When asked for his database, Elliot Leyton stated that he did not have a dataset that he could provide towards the effort. In September 2010, Louis Schlesinger simply stated, "Sorry, can't share data, good luck."

In April 2011, Dr. David Canter stated that since the 'Missen Corpus of Serial Killer Data' was purchased for 20,000 dollars, it can "only be made available to bona fide researchers at considerable cost." In September 2012, Dr. Maurice Godwin, who received his PhD from Dr. Canter's program, attached a 2,500 dollar price tag to a different dataset that he maintains. Dr. Godwin's justification for the cost arose from the fact that, unlike the data in the Radford/FGCU Serial Killer Database, his information was gathered directly from police files (care of Robert Keppel/HITS). Dr. Godwin also added that the 'Missen Corpus of Serial Killer Data' was compiled from "anecdotal" sources, mostly detective magazines and true crime books. Given the open-source nature of our serial homicide data sharing effort, we neglected to pursue the avenue of purchasing other datasets.

Dr. Gabrielle Salfati noted that legal and ethical issues as well as Institutional Review Board and police restrictions can limit a researcher's access to raw data. Affiliation with a university or other recognized agency was also suggested to increase the likelihood that agencies will provide data.

Dr. Matt DeLisi provided the data used in his Multiple Homicide Offenders: Offense Characteristics, Social Correlates, and Criminal Careers paper but the IRB at Iowa State University required that the data be de-identified so all names were removed after the dataset was created.

In July 2011, Enzo partnered with Scripps Howard News Service investigative reporter Thomas Hargrove to file a Freedom of Information Act request to obtain the names and demographics of all serial killers known to the National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime. Even though Drs. Schlesinger, Warren and Salfati consistently reference data gathered from FBI files and agents of the NCAVC write academic papers based on said information, the FBI claimed to “not maintain a running list of serial killers.” As an example of the pitfalls and pratfalls endemic to this data gathering venture, when Enzo asked Dr. Kirk Heilbrun for the data used in Comparing Single and Serial Homicide Offenses, he stated that "the database in question actually belongs to the FBI, so it's not mine to contribute."

About Enzo Yaksic

Enzo Yaksic is an advocate for the open exchange of information. In August of 2010, after ten years of researching serial homicide, Enzo founded the ‘Serial Homicide Expertise and Information Sharing Collaborative’ (SHEISC) where he acts as the database coordinator. The SHEISC ushered a subset of the criminal justice community into the digital workspace to synchronize and standardize serial homicide data collection efforts. Through the SHEISC, Enzo and his team have made serial homicide offender data widely accessible to both academic researchers and law enforcement professionals.


Enzo has contributed to all three editions of James Alan Fox’s Extreme Killing: Understanding Serial and Mass Murder and the fourth edition of The Will to Kill: Making Sense of Senseless Murder. Enzo worked with Eric Hickey to complete updates to the sixth and seventh editions of Serial Murderers and Their Victims (SMATV). Enzo co-wrote a profile on lesser known serial killer Samuel Dixon, along with Dr. James Reavis, featured in the sixth and seventh editions of SMATV. Enzo built the database referenced in the Slate article Blood Loss - The decline of the serial killer. Enzo was the first to offer possible explanations for the steep decline in serial killings since 1990, a notion in direct contrast to popular belief.


As a Northeastern University criminal justice student, Enzo completed a research assistantship with the Investigative Training Unit (ITU) of the FBI Academy. At the urging of the late Robert Ressler, Enzo constructed a survey while at the ITU that was designed to gauge the further usefulness of Criminal Investigative Analysis. The survey was disseminated around the world to the top minds in serial murder research. The results served as a catalyst for a poster Enzo presented at the 2006 Northeastern University Research Expo which attempted to break the misconception of the "white male" serial killer stereotype. This poster was the first academic source to assert that African American serial killers are as prominent as their Caucasian counterparts, a finding later cited in SMATV. Enzo was recognized for this work by his receipt of the Leonard S. Adelman Memorial Award. A proponent of the limited use of criminal profiling, on April 15, 2013, Enzo accurately predicted that the Boston Marathon Bombings would have been committed by two young men.


In 2010, Enzo introduced the idea of creating the first national serial homicide offender database. To realize this vision, Enzo partnered with Mike Aamodt of Radford University to help build and populate the ‘Radford/FGCU Serial Killer Database’. Enzo has been credited with Significant Professional Performance. This initiative is critical to the further understanding of serial offenders and represents a significant collaboration among academic professionals in the field. Enzo’s efforts with serial homicide data were detailed in a Fast Company article.


In 2011, Enzo partnered with Scripps Howard News Service investigative reporter Thomas Hargrove to file a Freedom of Information Act request to obtain the names and demographics of all serial killers known to the National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime. Although numerous academic papers that were written by agents of the bureau state otherwise, the FBI claimed to “not maintain a running list of serial killers.” The FOIA request was subsequently denied. A second request, filed in 2014, was also denied.


Enzo contributed to the investigation into serial killer suspect Felix Vail by providing assistance to investigative reporter Jerry Mitchell. Enzo’s behavioral analysis of Vail - coupled with Jerry’s tenacious pursuit - led, in part, to his arrest. If Vail is responsible for each of the cold case murders suspected, this would be the oldest prosecution of a serial killer suspect in U.S. history. Vail shares some commonalities with serial killer suspect Drew Peterson and may also be connected to a double homicide that occurred in Starkville, Mississippi. Enzo offered insight into Vail's state of mind after analyzing eighteen hours of audio tape captured by a private investigator. Vail's journals, of which there are 2,400 pages, also provided additional information of his mindset over the course of the past few decades. Enzo constructed an accounting of what was learned from Vail’s journal entries and his utterances on the audio tapes for Michelle McNamara’s True Crime Diary. Enzo also commented that sets of earrings retained by Vail could be mementoes meant to assist him in reliving past experiences. Enzo partnered with Todd Matthews of NamUs in the hopes of connecting the earrings with potential victims.


Vail’s potential use of dismemberment as a means of body concealment would place him in the five percent of serial killers who have utilized this technique. Some believe that the discovery of dismembered remains instantly signals the work of a serial killer. Enzo publicly contested this narrow view when some attempted to link body parts to the Long Island Serial Killer. Enzo addressed the stereotypes and myths that surround serial killers in an op-ed piece that appeared in the Clarion-Ledger. Enzo offered additional insight into the ways in which serial killers differ from their Hollywood depictions. Enzo is in the process of designing a ‘massive open online course’ for Coursera.


After attending the ‘First Annual International Multidisciplinary Collaborative Conference on Violence Research & Evidence-Based Practice: Sexual Homicide’ in 2011, Enzo co-founded the ‘Multidisciplinary Collaborative on Sexual Crime and Violence’ (MCSCV) with the late Leonard Morgenbesser. The MCSCV, an active network of one hundred academic researchers, law enforcement professionals and mental health practitioners, allows members to communicate over a private and secure email listserv in an effort to come to a greater understanding of atypical homicide. On a monthly basis, a ‘Serial Homicide Digest’ cataloging various events related to serial murder is disseminated to the group. Enzo partnered with Dallas Drake of the ‘Center for Homicide Research’ to create a literature repository for members of the MCSCV. Enzo created the collaborative after participating in a Virtual Breakthrough Series. In 2015, the MCSCV completed the two year transition to Northeastern University and was renamed the Atypical Homicide Research Group after incorporating the topic of mass homicide.


Enzo wrote “A Special Dedication to Leonard Morgenbesser” for the seventh edition of Serial Murderers and Their Victims. As an anti-gun violence advocate, Leonard would approve of Enzo’s opinion on one way to address gun violence – reclassify multiple murdering gang members as serial killers, making it society’s problem rather than just a byproduct of being disadvantaged – that was captured in a USA Today Opinion piece on the subject. As a continuation of this point, Enzo contributed to Steven Daniels’ book chapter on creating a new class of multiple murderer. In 2014, Enzo gathered together an expert panel and applied the Modified Delphi Technique in an attempt to resolve the definitional issues that have plagued serial homicide research over the past forty years. In 2016, Enzo organized a ongoing research collaborations with members of the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit 5 and the Homicide Investigation Tracking System (HITS) of the Washington State Attorney General's Office.


Enzo collected data for University of California professors Mikhail Simkin and Vwani Roychowdhury for a follow up to Stochastic Modeling of a Serial Killer. Enzo is researching the potential use of an Electronic Surveillance Tool and Informational Dashboard to be used to collect serial homicide data in real-time. Enzo participated in a cold case panel discussion with Deborah Halber, author of The Skelton Crew and will speak at an upcoming conference titled ‘Confronting Homicide in a Changing World’. Enzo constructed a book review of Why We Love Serial Killers: The Curious Appeal of the World's Most Savage Murderers, a work that actively supports much of the flawed thinking about serial murderers. Enzo is mentoring Dr. Clare Allely on an ESRC proposal which aims to discern the antecedents of serial murder. Together with Mike Aamodt, Enzo delivered a webinar on serial homicide data titled Serial Murder: Separating Fact from Fiction, hosted by the Justice Clearinghouse (password = Waterh0le). Enzo presented ‘Addressing the Challenges and Limitations of Utilizing Data to Measure Serial Homicide’, currently in press at the journal Crime Psychology Review, at the 2015 Homicide Research Working Group meeting. Enzo will present on serial murder data and its uses at the 17th Conference of the International Academy of Investigative Psychology. Enzo co-authored a paper titled Violence is rare in autism: when it does occur, is it sometimes extreme? that appears in a special issue titled ‘Senseless Violence’ in the Journal of Psychology. Along with Tom Hargrove and Mike Aamodt, Enzo is working on a book proposal to CRC Press/Taylor and Francis about the utility of homicide data in the age of ‘Big Data’. Enzo will guest lecture at Quincy College in August 2016.


Enzo was twice selected to review an article as part of the peer review process for the Journal of Criminal Justice. Enzo was invited to write a chapter in the third edition of Violent Offenders: Theory, Research, Public Policy and Practice. Enzo is working with the National Registry of Exonerations to compile data on instances where a serial murderer was responsible for the homicide that resulted in an innocent party being incarcerated. Enzo donated to the ‘Justice for Jaye’ campaign to secure funds for DNA testing in the hopes of identifying Beverly Jaye Potter Mintz’s killer, a case Enzo is currently consulting on, and to the campaign to provide Tiffany Sayre - one of Chillicothe, Ohio's missing women - a proper burial. Enzo will also contribute to the Wisconsin Association of Homicide Investigators Cold Case Review Team. Enzo recently contributed to The Globe and Mail’s investigation into the murders of indigenous women in the hopes of helping to identify the factors contributing to their victimization and was the first to state that Quinton Tellis is likely a two-victim serial homicide offender.


Enzo advised a group of Northeastern University graduate students during a seminar titled Special Topics: Serial Offending - CRIM 7260-01 (CRN 37450). Enzo serves on the Board of Directors of the Murder Accountability Project, a non-profit with the goal of exposing those criminal justice entities in non-compliance with federal Freedom of Information Act requirements. Enzo is an Advisory Board Member to the proposed Institute/Center for Forensic Psychology and Criminal Justice Studies at Richard Stockton College of New Jersey. Enzo is a consultant for 48 Hours and the Technical Advisor to a television series titled The Hunting Season, to run on the A&E network. The program will be a docuseries aiming to dispel the myths surrounding serial homicide. Enzo was mentioned in the Acknowledgments section of Mike Arntfield’s Murder City: The Untold Story of Canada’s Serial Killer Capital, 1959-1984. Enzo was profiled in April 2016’s Boston Magazine, acknowledged by The Marshall Project as a person shaping the criminal justice conversation and profiled on the NU SCCJ website.


The SHEISC was included in the article The Evolution of Serial Murder as a Social Phenomenon in American Society: An Update, Eric Hickey’s Serial Murderers and Their Victims (7th ed.), mentioned by Dr. Clare Allely in a radio interview and will be featured in Peter Vronsky’s book Serial Killer Chronicles: An Early History of Monsters. The SHEISC was recognized by DataKind for using #data4good and profiled in Routledge's CJ Update newsletter.


Enzo can be reached at yaksic.e@alumni.neu.edu or LinkedIn