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Thursday, October 18,2012

Jessica Ridgeway: Sketches of a killer

Profilers, criminology studies piece together information to describe suspect

By David Accomazzo and Elizabeth Miller
Photo by Elizabeth Miller
Searchers look through a field near where Jessica's body was found.

This story is part of Boulder Weekly's Jessica Ridgeway package.

Map of Arvada and Westminster with Jessica's home, where her body was found and where her backpack was found

Map of Jessica's neighborhood

Killer's 'awareness space' might lead to clues, by Joel Dyer and Jefferson Dodge

Local schools respond to Jessica's death, by Elizabeth Miller

Boulder County sheriff: trick or treat with your kids this year, by Jefferson Dodge

Westminster Police: Ketner Lake attempted abductions may be linked to Jessica Ridgeway, by Boulder Weekly staff

Local law enforcement reacts to Ridgeway murder, by Jefferson Dodge


One of the starkest aspects of the Jessica Ridgeway murder case is the lack of evidence and clues. That no one saw anything smacks of either cold professionalism or blind tragedy.

But even the basic, gruesome details can reveal certain aspects of the crime. Police say Jessica’s body was “not intact.” She was taken in broad daylight, in a neighborhood with potentially dozens of witnesses who might have (but tragically didn’t) witnessed the abduction. Her backpack appeared miles away from both the body and the abduction site. Investigators can form theories and scenarios based on all of these facts.

The odds of any child being kidnapped or killed by a stranger are slim. The Federal Bureau of Investigation reported 697 children age 11 and younger were murdered in 2010. Estimates for kidnapping annually hover in the low 100s — fractions of a percentage that any one child would be abducted by a stranger.

When children are taken, studies show, there’s often little time in which to act to save them when the abductor is motivated toward homicide. In 74 percent of cases, the victim is killed within three hours of abduction. It’s probable that Jessica was dead even before her mother woke up and realized she was missing.

Statistically, according to “Sexually Motivated Child Abduction Murders,” Jessica was more likely a victim of opportunity than a deliberate selection. School age girls are three times more likely to be the victims of an abduction, and elementary school children like Jessica are often taken within a mile of home. Her killer also may live nearby.

But a key component to solving the crime lies in determining whether Jessica was just in the wrong place in front of the wrong predator at the wrong time, or a victim of a targeted abduction, says Mary Ellen O’Toole, a former FBI profiler. Jessica’s abduction was riddled with risk. She was kidnapped in the busy part of the morning in the middle of a neighborhood, leaving the smallest of windows to successfully abduct her. The killer dismembered her body, which O’Toole says means spending more time with the body and increasing the likelihood of dropping a hair or some other sort of identifying DNA onto the body. The killer left her backpack in the middle of a Superior suburb, where someone could have seen the suspicious car. The sheer boldness of her abduction could reveal either an extremely impulsive killer, who happened to be in the neighborhood that Friday morning, or someone familiar with the area who intimately knew Jessica’s routine — and carefully planned the abduction.

Though as of press time the Westminster Police Department has not released a cause of death, studies on similar incidents suggest that the statistical likelihood is for a physical method of murder, like strangling.

Details from the medical examination of Jessica’s body, which police will likely not release, could shine light on what type of person kidnapped and murdered her.

“All we know is what the police have said, which is that she was ‘not intact,’” says Mark Safarik, a former FBI profiler who now operates a criminology consulting firm out of Virginia.

“They haven’t discussed, which they won’t in an open investigation, the aspects of that. But that’s a critical piece of information, and you can learn a lot from that kind of information. For instance, you can have a very organized, thoughtful sexual predator who has thought this out, perhaps watched her on previous trips to the park, or you can have a guy who’s just acting on impulse. The way, in fact, that she was dismembered can tell you a lot about that.”

O’Toole talks about three reasons why a killer might dismember a body. One could be to delay identification of a body — for example, removing the head or the hands. The second would be to make the body easier to transport. And the third would be some sort of pathological reason, if the killer was getting some sort of psychological thrill from dismembering the body.

Given the dismemberment and other details of the case, O’Toole says all signs point to someone who lives in the area. Dismembering a child’s body is extremely rare, she says, and it is an extremely risky way to destroy and dispose of a body.

“Dismembering a person takes a lot of time. It’s not easy,” O’Toole says. “You’ve added one more step to the [homicide]. That one more step takes time.”

Then there’s the backpack. Reports say it was placed prominently on the sidewalk, but had the man who found it discovered anything indicating murder, he would have called 911 immediately instead of sending a message to the Louisville listserve.

“[It says,] ‘Look over here. Look in this neighborhood; don’t look in my neighborhood,” says freelance criminal profiler Pat Brown. “To me, that would indicate that he lived close to the family.”

Safarik agrees. He says he doubts the backpack was intended for anything other than misdirection.

“It’s a backpack placed to mislead law enforcement in the opposite direction of where the body was placed,” he says.

Police said at a press conference they would not be giving out any additional details on the case. In lieu of a description of the suspect, an FBI spokesman said, “It could be your boss, it could be your friend, and ultimately it could be your family member.”

That description irks Brown.

“It’s vague and they give that one out for every serial killer out there,” she says. “It has nothing to do with the evidence at all.”

Brown says anyone who would abduct, murder and dismember a 10-year-old girl is a psychopath, and police should release a description of psychopathic traits to look out for.

“They should list the traits of a sexual psychopath — pathological liar, manipulation, it’s all about him, they need to list those for people,” Brown says.

Profilers refrain from speculating about characteristics of her killer because the police haven’t released the information and there’s only so much that clues from her medical examination could suggest in the way of the make-up of her murderer.

Where their assessments end, criminology studies step in to hypothesize on her killer based on what we know about killers who have gone before.

Statistics outline her abductor as likely a white male in his late 20s or 30s, without a girlfriend, a wife or children. In the demographic study “Nonfamily Child Abductors Who Murder Their Victims,” which compiled information from detailed interviews with 25 convicted child abductors who murdered their victims, 72 percent were younger than 30, 76 percent were Caucasian, 60 percent were not married, 56 percent had no children. It’s possible a recent conflict with a female, or legal problems, triggered his predatory drive.

Though almost half of the offenders were employed at the time of the murder, it was likely unskilled work. They reported little education beyond high school, 40 percent of them dropping out before graduation.

Only 36 percent had a psychiatric diagnosis before the offense and only 28 percent of offenders reported being sexually assaulted or molested as a child.

He was, likely, an isolated child with few friends and, possibly, a history of bed-wetting, raised by both biological parents in a home environment he would describe as stable. A lonely child has probably grown to a lonely adult who lives on the margins of society.

There’s a 49 percent chance he had selected that tree by the side of the highway as where he would leave her body before he’d kidnapped her, and a 22 percent chance he has returned, or will, to the site where he disposed of her remains. There’s also a 21 percent chance he’s already left town.

If he’s like the majority of the offenders in the study, he would still score below the threshold for classification as a psychopath on the Hare Psychopathy Checklist, which is used by researchers and clinicians to diagnose risk for violence. Perhaps not because he’s not psychopathic, but because he’s learned to mask those traits, able to hide even in the full sunlight of a Friday morning.


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Great article! Lots of research and well written. Thank you


I'm sort of frustrated and tired of the "normal police procedure" in these abduction, disappearance and murder cases... purchase email addresses


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it wasnt sunny that morning. it was cold and dark.


It was just a saying; for the killer it may have been bright even if it was dark and cold with these kind of ppl u never know %uD83D%uDE33



I'm sort of frustrated and tired of the "normal police procedure" in these abduction, disappearance and murder cases.

Catching the guy should be paramount to withholding information for prosecution or any other reason. If they want help from the public then take a risk and put out some information that people can actually use.

Basically they just say "It could be anybody. Tell us about someone you think may have given you a bad vibe and has recently changed their behavior in any way." 

It seems like these things just drag out until they are lower priority. The public is powerless because they aren't given any real opportunity to help and the police only have what they are given initially and any obvious follow ups to go on. They need to start finding these individuals!

This guy is super dangerous and needs to be found soon!



Excellent article; well written, well rounded, & insightful.  Just as I found the previous article on the Ridgeway case concerning the geographical awareness of the suspect. It incorporated my theories on this case, & is the first article or blog I've read that has. Props to you!

I find it interesting that according to the statistics, the suspect wouldn't be classified as a psychopath on Hare's criminal psychopathy scale, due to their remorselessness, remarkable ability to compartmentalize, hypercontrolling, hypersensitivity to others treatment of them while insensitive to others' needs, among other traits. 

Interesting article, as I said before. 



I'd amend O'Tooles "3 reasons to dismember a body" to 5.

4) Dismembering will cause the M.E. to be unable to determine cause or manner of death. This leaves an escape route in the event the suspect is prosecuted. The suspect can in turn say, well they died accidentally & I only dismembered them for convenience of transport, or out of fear of being caught with a dead body, some sort of thing like that.

5) Dismembering increases the surface area exposed to the elements, and to wildlife scavengers, if dumped in a field rather than buried in a plastic bag in a clandestine grave. Increasing the surface area exposed means faster decomposition.  If cops aren't lucky enough to happen upon the body placed in a remote area, then this decomposition can turn the body into dry bones, further confounding the M.E.

What's puzzling in Ridgeway's case is that the identifying body parts are missing, yet the partial remains were placed in an area where it could be found. Why bother doing that -- why not have left it in the foothills, intact even, where it might never have been found particularly since she was abducted on a snowy/sleety day, & the winter weather is around the corner. It's kind of dumb, if this isn't a pathological-deviant pleasure sort of dismemberment like Ted Bundy might perpetrate. Which brings me to this: Ed Kemper kept skulls of his victim, like Ted Bundy did, for necrophile acts. The lower body of Ridgeway is missing, so might the suspect be defiling it & the skull, to deposit on some open range in the future after decomposition makes it useless for the suspect's perversions ?


The problem with most of Our insight is that it lies within Our own 'frame of reference'. Catching this Killer will demand thinking objectively outside the box, which is where this person is. This could be related to an act of cannibalism. if that were the case, than this Killer has probably hunted, killed and dressed out large animals before. He may have used the same skills here. Reviewing the photo of the dump site, I see no bloody stains. What's that structure nearby, up the Hill from the fallen tree? He may have a monetary motive? Organs, correctly removed, and preserved are quite vaulable. So, the Abductor, if this is in fact a dump site, may just be the hired hand of the Killer; An Egor working for Dr. Frankenstein? This may have been Videoed? 'Death Flicks' are quite valuable. How their distributed is a mystery to me? Also, the 'body parts' would have value to the same type of sexual deviant, pervert who would garnish pleasure viewing a Video of a brutal murder. So, in the mind of the Abductor, and most likely Killer there is some sort of twisted rational for this episode? Speaking of Episode, this is exactly like a Case I saw on 'Cold Case Files' on Cable last winter. Could be a reenactment? And as I stated in another post, the Killer was present at all of those locations. yet he did not attract any attention? What time in the morning does the garbage truck make it's rounds? And, like that...


Profiler - True, it seems certain 'alleged' suspects or killers have based their alibis on South Park episodes & a fellow inmate's autobiography (ex. Casey Anthony), or based their alibi on a true crime story of another victim "customizing" as needed (ex. Billie Jean Dunn's alibi story of her daughter's disappearance parallels Carlie Brucia's). If it were an organ harvesting motive, there'd have to be preservation of them, & someone standing by to immediately send them off - via helicopter, or vehicle if they're close in proximity to the receiving medical facility plus a team of surgeons, anesthesiologists, perfusionists, & first assistants & nursing staff standing at the ready to transplant into the recipient, for each person receiving an organ. (As someone who's assisted in heart surgeries, I can guarantee that'd be hard to hide, & it takes more skill than a general surgeon to perform transplants.) I believe that since this guy seems to exhibit quite the bravado, distributing Kiddie porn vids/pics from this murder, or a snuff film as you mentioned, would definitely be up his alley & something I would hope the FBI's cybercrime unit's been on top of.


"The lower body of Ridgeway is missing," How do you know this, anan? Interpretations of the aerial video I've seen posted assert the legs and feet were visible but those people could be wrong. If it is true, then I'm more convinced it is solely to hide evidence of a sexual contact assault (like the head) and ease of transportation in a backpack on a bike. I assert it is a local who frequently rides a mountain bike and that is how he went to the dump sites. He did not abduct her on a bike - but he knows those trails and sinuous subdivision streets - especially Rock Creek, which is a foreboding one-wrong-turn-after-another subdivision. And 82nd Ave which bicyclists like to ride and kids party in those coal shacks. The monster felt safe along 82nd Ave and knew it would be quiet late at night on a weekday. Just like Rock Creek around midnight. The monster is intimately familiar with those two areas! Either through biking or maybe even hanging out in the shacks with other young people. And that cross - young people wear those things. Not the goth or vampire people - they wear huge, heavy, fake silver crosses. The cross that was shown was more like a head shop one that comes with a leather necklace. And it strikes me as impossible he snatched Jessica off of the sidewalk or trail - there is no parking lot at Chelsea Park and Moore St is busy. Poor Jessica willingly got into a car or a house, IMHO. If the perpetrator did not have easy access to a car, then that explains why there was not a trip up Coal Creek Canyon into the forest where nothing would've ever been found. I know others believe the dump sites are for mocking. I just do not think so at this time. What a horrible case. My heart just breaks for all involved. Profile: I thought there were bloody stains as there were so many orange flags around the site where the fire engine light was hanging over. Thank you Boulder Weekly for this coverage and forum. This is such an awful case and this monster must be caught right away.


Anon, & All: Of course the purpose in posting here is to attempt to aid those in the vicinity to be able to drill down, and focus on a potential suspect. Yesterday, I reviewed several Sites, including Yahoo... Useless. This has been the most intelligent discussion I've seen... 1st off, yes the weather definitely played a role, as it has in military operations since the dawn of history. I suspect the Killer had some knowledge of Jessica. He knew she was venerable. DOES ANY1 KNOW WHAT CHURCH JESSICA ATTENDED? He lay in wait and intercepted her. Offering a comfortable ride on a raw morning. She had to remove her backpack then. My intuition still tells me that this Killers pathology was accepted because of obsessive religious behavior. SATAN'S GREATEST GUISE WILL BE TO APPEAR AS CHRIST. Roughly 80% of Americans believe in a god, so have been indoctrinated with this irrational belief, and are to some extent inane themselves. So, are most willing to accept a person who's mentally deranged, as long as they exhibit their insanity under the format of religious fever. If, the Killer ran around claiming he believed in little green men from Mars, he'd already be locked-up. But ranting about God, and Jesus might give him some favored status amongst church going Folks. They might even dispel suspicion. Don't want to rat out a fellow Christian... I suspect that he did indeed rape Jessica, after which he was consumed by his own guilt of having commited SIN; fornication. The fact that she was most likely a virgin may have entered into his selection of her as a victim. He than 'scapegoated' her. Admonished his Sin, and guilt unto her. Christ was of course 'scapegoated' Common practice in ancient times. The Romans, being practical used condemned prisoners in place of goats... Hence, the dismemberment, and dispersal of her body to destroy all trace of her. Apparently there is still those missing body parts. What about her digestive tract? Usually deer hunters will drop them into a 5 gallon mud bucket. Than the rest of her. If, in fact he is attempting to admonish his Sin before God, than he's totally out-of-touch with reality; the Community. He may still, or already has attempted to dispose of those remains in a fundamentalist fashion. He may very well have been very vocal, and quite energetic at Sunday Services this a.m. He may build himself a Shrine, with some of the remains he has left. Chances are, if he's still in the area, he may have visited that crime scene at the Lake. He could be destitute. Gas may be a problem for him? That's my take on what info you've provided me with from here in the Mid South. Open your minds. It's not about you, it's about this Maniac before he kills again. He'll go through a psychological cycle. If he survives this murder. More than likely he'll begin fantasying about the next...