Experts: Criminals get overconfident
Do criminals want to be caught?
Police say the suspect in the 1988 April Tinsley slaying left clues years after her death that helped lead to his arrest Sunday. However, if evidence against him stands, it’s unlikely John D. Miller was trying to be found, experts say.
Most criminals are not smart enough to cover their tracks. Some get cocky and revel in the attention. Few, if any, they say, want to be caught.
“What they want is for people to talk about the crime, speculate and talk about them,” Kenna Quinet, an associate professor at the IUPUI School of Public and Environmental Affairs, said in an email response. “They want to taunt the police, the family, the community and they are desperately seeking attention and notoriety and, like the BTK Killer (Dennis Rader), their desperation often leads to their apprehension.”
Rader, the self-proclaimed Bind, Torture, Kill serial killer, was convicted in 2005 of 10 slayings in Wichita, Kansas. He was sentenced to 10 consecutive life terms in prison.
April Marie Tinsley, 8, was reported missing April 1, 1988. Her body was found three days later in DeKalb County near Spencerville.
Over the years, clues would pop up.
In 1990, police were called to a barn where someone had scrawled, “I kill 8 year old April M Tinsley did you find her other shoe haha I will kill agin,” according to a probable cause affidavit.
In 2004, police were dispatched to three addresses to find used condoms and notes. The notes claimed responsibility for April’s rape and death. DNA from the condoms was consistent with that taken from April’s underwear, the affidavit said.
In May, a public genealogy database search led to Miller. In a July 6 search of Miller’s trash, police found used condoms. Testing showed DNA from them was consistent with the 2004 profile and DNA from April’s underwear, according to the affidavit.
Miller, 59, is charged with murder and child molesting in the girl’s death. He told police he abducted April from Fort Wayne, took her to his trailer in Grabill, and sexually assaulted and killed her, the affidavit states.
Fort Wayne psychologist Stephen Ross agrees with Quinet’s assessment. It’s highly unlikely criminals want to be found, he said. Most get careless.
“They get what we call that superoptimism, that they’re beyond being touched and caught, and then they get sloppy and end up eventually getting caught,” he said. They sometimes emerge years later and leave clues, he added. “That doesn’t mean they want to get caught. They just want to mess with law enforcement.”
Writing in Psychology Today in 2016, criminal behavior expert Stanton Samenow said the notion that criminals want to be caught appears to stem from the father of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud, who wrote about an unconscious desire to get caught and punished.
After conducting psychological evaluations of offenders for 46 years, Samenow wrote, he doesn’t buy into that theory.
“There is a ‘superoptimism’ in which (a criminal) regards the crime as a fait accompli,” or irreversible, Samehow said. “His experience supports this certainty. He knows the likelihood of being arrested is low. He previously has gotten away with crimes without anyone suspecting him as the perpetrator. Aware of the possibility that he could slip up, he is certain that this will not happen ‘this time.’”
“In short, criminals do not want to be caught,” Samehow concludes. “Nor do they feel guilty about what they did. Their regrets are about getting caught, not about the harm they inflected on others. Nor do they commit crimes from a desire (unconscious or otherwise) to get help. In most circumstances, the only ‘help’ that they seek is to get dug out of a hole that, by their own behavior, they have created for themselves.”
Quinet, who has studied homicide for more than 30 years, said it’s likely police are looking closely at Miller’s past.
“I would be surprised if the offender in this case only committed this crime,” she said, “and I’m sure law enforcement is following up on his possible links to other sex and violent crimes.”