Criminal profiling and the body parts case

Criminal profiling expert Jim van Allen speaks to CBC News about the Montreal body parts case.

Q&A with Jim Van Allen, profiling expert

The search for the person who killed and dismembered a man in Montreal — sending body parts in the mail — has drawn international attention because of the macabre details of the crime and the difficulty of understanding who could commit such a deed.

Jim Van Allen has many years of experience as a criminal profiler, including as former manager with the Ontario Provincial Police Criminal Profile Unit.

He assisted in the investigation of the Paul Bernardo cases, and the Holly Jones and Cecilia Zhang homicides, two young girls who were abducted and killed in 2003 and 2004

A much sought after expert, Van Allen now heads the Behavioural Science Solutions Group, a private firm in Langley, B.C., that specializes in threat assessments and violence reduction strategies. He spoke to CBC News by phone from Langley.

Have you seen other crimes that resemble the body parts case in Montreal?

We've seen different crimes in different places that have some similarities to this. But I've never seen somebody publish it on the internet, like has been done here.

We've seen various crimes recorded either by digital photos or video. Normally that's kept privately by the offender for himself. This individual appears to be publishing it, he's looking for maximum media attention, he's looking for the shock value to the public, and it's likely to just increase his own notoriety. He wants to receive attention, even if it’s strong negative attention.

Certainly one way to get attention is by mailing body parts. As a profiler, do you see any significance in where the body parts were sent?

Those targets guaranteed him maximum media attention and he got it.

Dismembering a body first of all sounds like a pretty difficult thing and not too many murderers do that. What does it say to a profiler when dismemberment follows a murder?

Criminal profiling expert Jim Van Allen says the evidence in the body parts case suggests an individual looking for media attention and notoriety. (Courtesy Jim Van Allen)

Individuals dismember bodies for different reasons. Sometimes it's just to facilitate the disposal of the body, of evidence, prevent discovery of the crime and avoid apprehension. But other times bodies are mutilated or dismembered because of the level of anger and rage.

In some cases it's a sexual crime. Certainly there's a strong sexual component to this crime.

There are multiple reasons for the dismemberment in this case. Dismemberment made the torso easy to dispose of and he also had this design to commit a sensational crime and he used the body parts to do that.

The mutilation and dismemberment are recorded. The video is one of the most gruesome things the average person could see.

I had to avert my eyes from the screen a couple of times and I've looked at a lot of graphically violent stuff. I'd recommend that most people do not watch it.

Once the police have a suspect, how do they connect the profile to the individual?

Profiling does not always help direct investigation at a suspect.

This is an easy one to misinterpret or just not get, because it seems so unusual at first glance. The better you understand it, the better you can investigate it, you will know how to deal with and communicate with the suspect once you locate him. One of the goals is to get the individual into an interview room talking to police officers.

If we understand the dynamics of the crime, and the personality, then we’re better prepared to speak to him and set up an environment where he can share information, should he choose.

Is there anything here that tells you the perpetrator wants to be caught?

No, that's a myth. People who show remorse after committing a crime call 911 or show up at a police station and he has not done that to date.

Is it also a myth that people who commit violent acts or cruelty against animals go onto crimes against people?

Not all of them, no. Many little boys go through that, not to the extent he's published on the internet, of course, but not everybody that does that goes on to commit crimes against human beings, at least of this severity.

An unusual amount is known about the suspect, 29-year-old Luka Rocco Magnotta.  All this stuff that he's been doing online, including the kittens, was that just his attempt to get attention or is there something else at play there?

What we're seeing is the same theme going through all his activities. It's part and parcel of his personality, who he is, what he wants out of life. And he wants to be known as this racy, glamorous persona, the Russian, Italian model thing that he's not. It all seems to be orchestrated to garner him attention and notoriety and it has continued to the point where it's at now.

But that makes it difficult to get away with the crime, if he's guilty.

If he was trying to get away with that crime, he sure went about that the wrong way. But if he's attention seeking and looking for the notoriety, he’s done it. He's fled, he's got a bit of a head start and now the police are trying to trace him.

An international manhunt is now underway. I’ve heard Magnotta probably has limited resources, he's probably going to be easily recognized, so what do you think he's going to do?

I think he's going to hop on a bus and go somewhere he can blend in, where they don't know him. The United States is close to Montreal, he apparently has a background in Toronto, and those might suggest areas he might go to, but all possibilities are very much alive. Hopefully a member of the public will recognize him, report him and that will focus the manhunt.