Linking serial homicide – towards an ecologically valid application

Tom Pakkanen*, Jukka Sirén, Angelo Zappalà, Patrick Jern, Dario Bosco, Andrea Berti, Pekka Santtila

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


Purpose: Crime linkage analysis (CLA) can be applied in the police investigation-phase to sift through a database to find behaviorally similar cases to the one under investigation and in the trial-phase to try to prove that the perpetrator of two or more offences is the same, by showing similarity and distinctiveness in the offences. Lately, research has moved toward more naturalistic settings, analyzing data sets that are as similar to actual crime databases as possible. One such step has been to include one-off offences in the data sets, but this has not yet been done with homicide. The purpose of this paper is to investigate how linking accuracy of serial homicide is affected as a function of added hard-to-solve one-off offences. Design/methodology/approach: A sample (N = 117–1160) of Italian serial homicides (n = 116) and hard-to-solve one-off homicides (n = 1–1044, simulated from 45 cases) was analyzed using a Bayesian approach to identify series membership, and a case by case comparison of similarity using Jaccard’s coefficient. Linking accuracy was evaluated using receiver operating characteristics and by examining the sensitivity and specificity of the model. Findings: After an initial dip in linking accuracy (as measured by the AUC), the accuracy increased as more one-offs were added to the data. While adding one-offs made it easier to identify correct series (increased sensitivity), there was an increase in false positives (decreased specificity) in the linkage decisions. When rank ordering cases according to similarity, linkage accuracy was affected negatively as a function of added non-serial cases. Practical implications: While using a more natural data set, in terms of adding a significant portion of non-serial homicides into the mix, does introduce error into the linkage decision, the authors conclude that taken overall, the findings still support the validity of CLA in practice. Originality/value: This is the first crime linkage study on homicide to investigate how linking accuracy is affected as a function of non-serial cases being introduced into the data.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Criminological Research, Policy and Practice
Issue number1
Early online date2020
Publication statusPublished - 20 Jul 2020
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


  • Behavioral crime linking
  • Ecological validity
  • Hard-to-solve homicide
  • One-off homicide
  • Serial homicide


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