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The Mortal Tragedy: Analyzing Body Disposal Patterns in Homicide Cases

Award Information

Award #
Funding Category
Competitive Discretionary
Awardee County
Congressional District
Funding First Awarded
Total funding (to date)

Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2023, $166,500)



Delayed recovery of homicide victims’ bodies poses a risk of losing crucial evidence. Body disposal sites are critical for investigations, yet existing research has mainly focused on them as a sub-category. Insufficient consideration of environmental factors can cause errors and missed opportunities in investigations, resulting in unsolved cases and no justice for victims. This gap also impedes the development of effective search strategies such as predictive models and maps. The purpose of this project is to examine the spatial and temporal patterns of known body disposal sites using the environmental criminology approach. Subsequently, this knowledge will be utilized to develop innovative mapping technology that enhances the search for clandestine sites.


Primary Activities


This project will employ a mixed-methods research design that integrates three independent yet linked studies. The research methodology will primarily depend on police data sourced from the Homicide Investigation Tracking System (HITS) database containing homicide cases, supplemented by primary data collection to address any gaps in data. In the first study, I will investigate the spatial patterns of known body disposal sites of homicide victims. This will be achieved through the identification of any spatial trends that exist among disposal sites, utilizing ArcGIS mapping. Moreover, geographical features surrounding the disposal sites will be identified, with specific attention given to their distance and direction from the sites. In the second study, attention will shift to temporal patterns of the disposal sites. Through statistical regression analysis, the impact of temporal factors, such as post-mortem interval and seasonality, on the type of disposal locations will be examined. Finally, the third study will utilize findings from the initial two studies to develop predictive maps investigating the probability of locating clandestine sites, employing a Bayesian approach. To test the accuracy and utility of these maps, model evaluations will be conducted using likelihood ratio techniques and randomized simulations.


Expected Outcomes


The improved understanding of body disposal patterns resulting from this project would have significant nationwide implications for homicide investigations and criminal profiling. Predictive maps developed in this project can aid law enforcement agencies across the country in their search for clandestine body disposal sites. In addition to the final report to the NIJ, this project will produce three articles, each study developed into an independent article for submission to academic journals. Results will also be presented at national conferences and communicated to the HITS Senior Investigator/Analyst in their preferred format for team training.  CA/NCF

Date Created: September 14, 2023