A test of crime linkage principles with solved and unsolved serial rapes

Jessica Woodhams, Gerard Labuschagne

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53 Citations (Scopus)
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Case linkage involves identifying crime series on the basis of behavioral similarity and distinctiveness. Research regarding the behavioral consistency of serial rapists has accumulated; however, it has its limitations. One of these limitations is that convicted or solved crime series are exclusively sampled whereas, in practice, case linkage is applied to unsolved crimes. Further, concerns have been raised that previous studies might have reported inflated estimates of case linkage effectiveness due to sampling series that were first identified based on similar modus operandi (MO), thereby overestimating the degree of consistency and distinctiveness that would exist in naturalistic settings. We present the first study to overcome these limitations; we tested the assumptions of case linkage with a sample containing 1) offenses that remain unsolved, and 2) crime series that were first identified as possible series through DNA matches, rather than similar MO. Twenty-two series consisting of 119 rapes from South Africa were used to create a dataset of 7021 crime pairs. Comparisons of crime pairs that were linked using MO vs. DNA revealed significant, but small differences in behavioral similarity with MO-linked crimes being characterized by greater similarity. When combining these two types of crimes together, linked pairs (those committed by the same serial offender) were significantly more similar in MO behavior than unlinked pairs (those committed by two different offenders) and could be differentiated from them. These findings support the underlying assumptions of case linkage. Additional factors thought to impact on linkage accuracy were also investigated.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)85–98
JournalJournal of Police and Criminal Psychology
Issue number1
Early online date13 Jul 2011
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2012


  • Comparative case analysis
  • Linkage analysis
  • Behavioral linking
  • Sexual assault
  • Sexual offense


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