The Profiling Project vs. Homicide Victim Seth Rich: Criminal Profiling BS

I don’t know who murdered Seth Rich, and neither does “The Profiling Project”.


There is probably no other subject in criminal justice/criminal investigation that is plagued by so much bullshido as what is commonly called “Criminal Profiling”. You’ve probably seen the series, Criminal Minds or the movie Silence of the Lambs I’ll be generous to this investigative tool by saying that it can provide investigative leads in a small number of homicides that an investigator would find useful. However your average criminal investigator would much prefer a partial fingerprint, or some DNA, or something, anything less abstract. There are a whole bunch of people out there doing criminal profiling, and often rather badly. My article below concerns one such group called the Profiling Project that was created to investigate the murder of Seth Rich.

If you want to see a much better effort carried out by volunteers read Citizen Sleuths about the DB Cooper case. I’m not going to talk about the general problems with “criminal profiling” but if you are interested please read Malcom Gladwell’s critique on the subject which mentions a British Home Office study of profiling in England from the 1990s which found that in only 5 of 184 crimes in which profiling was used, did it lead to the arrest of a suspect. (That’s 2.7%!) Now onward to the Profiling Project.

Conspiracy theorist media outlets like InfoWars have been furiously pushing the idea that Seth Rich was assassinated for leaking DNC documents

The Profiling Project Does a Disservice to Seth Rich’s Family

I don’t know who murdered Seth Rich, and neither does the Profiling Project. They’re a group of current and former George Washington University students who just published a report claiming “Seth’s death was more likely committed by a hired killer or serial murderer”.

Seth was an employee of the Democratic National Committee. He was shot to death early one morning on July 10, 2016 at the 2100 block of Flagler Place in North West Washington D.C. After he died, he was rumored to have leaked DNC emails to Wikileaks. No reliable evidence was ever produced to support the resulting conspiracy theories, but it did have the effect of politicizing his death.

The Profiling Project’s report can be found here. It is an overtly simplistic, redundant, poorly edited report that would be rejected by any competent police department. (1) It attempts to profile Seth Rich and provide a Victimology section without admittedly having conducted “direct interviews with family and friends to the victim” They instead based their knowledge of him almost totally on his online presence. I suppose I should thank them for not disturbing his family, but they have inadequate information in their report with which to justify conclusions such as Seth “appears to have few close friends” and “he did seem to be a heavy drinker”.

The profile has multiple references to media accounts of this homicide but the authors admittedly had no access to police crime scene photography, the autopsy report, or any of the police reports describing the crime scene. (2) All they have is MPD Public Incident Report that says “the decedent was lying in the Southwest corner of the intersection of W. St. and Flagler PL. NW. The decedent was conscious and breathing with apparent gunshot wound(s) to the back.” Unfortunately the Profiling Project did not attach a copy of this report to their lengthy report, but they also quote it as saying the weapon involved was a “handgun”.

Then the Profiling Project’s report states on page 10: “It has been reported (cite) that no bullet casings were found.” The writer of this section of the report did not include the citation for their source of this important piece of evidence and their editor, presuming someone edited this document, didn’t catch that they had not included this citation. (The source might be from Fox 5 DC) The Project’s report then states “The crime scene was very organized to the point of being sanitized.” As if a city intersection could be “sanitized”.

I still don’t know whether the police recovered a casing at the scene, but assume that Rich’s parents were correct, and accurately quoted, that a casing or casings were not recovered.. The police may have simply not found the casing that was fired, especially because this was an outdoor crime scene. Handgun casings are small, and round, and often roll around. Similarly had a revolver been used, it would have not left casings on the ground. The Project also discusses the possibility that a revolver was used but believes that this is unlikely because in a previous study revolvers were used in only 12% of D.C. crimes, (See Appendix C of the report) It is unclear from the text of the Project report, how Vincent Di Maio obtained this information for his 1999 book on gunshot wounds. The report’s assumption that the killer picked up their casing(s) is presently unproven, but the profile accepts it as fact and piles some more assumptions on top of it.

The Profiling Project then goes on to state: “The crime scene was very organized to the point of being sanitized. This would indicate careful planning on the part of the offender, control of the entry to, and exit from, the crime scene as well as in-depth understanding of law-enforcement investigative processes.” Once again the Project leaps to conclusions that are unsupported by the evidence. They have very little information about the condition of the victim’s body but they reach other conclusions such as “Offender did not display excessive emotion at the crime scene, did not appear to act from hate, anger, fear, gain, jealousy or revenge, all motivations for murder.”

The report selectively decides which media accounts to believe. For example Fox 5 DC reports that at the time of Seth’s death there were armed robberies occurring in this neighborhood and half a block away there was a robbery “hot spot” next to a construction site. The Project doesn’t like the robbery theory, because there are media reports that Seth’s valuables were not taken. However is quite plausible that Seth kept his possessions because he resisted a robbery and was then shot as a result. Fox news claims that Seth’s mother told them that her son fought with his assailant(s) Now it’s unknown who told her this or whether there were defensive wounds on Seth’s body, but for the Project to simply say that there was no reports of defensive wounds and therefore little or no direct contact between Seth and his killers, is ignoring the mother’s claim that her son fought with his assailant(s) and therefore is cherry picking the Fox news reporting that they otherwise rely upon.

The Project’s report is loaded with unsupported and unwarranted assumptions. For example they take Seth’s dad’s assertion that Seth would have not “go outside the system” and leak DNC materials to mean that he would not have resisted an armed robber. I do not believe one can reliably repurpose this statement to draw a conclusion concerning how a person would react when faced with a robbery. There are repeated mentions in the Project’s report of whether a “toxin was introduced into Seth”. There is no indication why the Project decided this was a relevant and realistic concern for its report, even though it tends to dismiss such a conclusion. A professional killer appears to be being ruled out because Seth was found alive and was not killed immediately by the attack. (He died at the hospital)

I’m still trying to figure out why the writers of this report even brought up the possibility that Seth Rich was killed by a serial murderer (they don’t even allege who the other victims of this killer or killers were). (3) If one is not a member of a vulnerable population, such as being a male or female sex worker, runaway, hitchhiker, or some group routinely involved with organized crime, including street gangs, one’s chances of being victimized by a serial murderer are quite low.

There is at least one inadvertently omitted section in the Victimology Conclusion on page 13 that might explain their reasoning, but I think the Project may be arguing that Seth’s murder required criminal sophistication, it was not a robbery, therefore whoever had killed him, had killed prior to this incident. This assumes a number of reliably established facts that don’t exist in this report. It is more likely the offender or offenders escaped because they were likely no witnesses to this crime at 4:19 am in the morning. (Or alternatively no witnesses who wanted to come forward).

The report is probably correct in concluding that very few white males become murder victims and then the subject of cold case investigations in Washington D.C. each year.. If Fox hadn’t reported several robberies occurring shortly before this homicide as occurring within a block of the murder (and they even interviewed a Howard student who had been robbed) this information would be more likely to support the Project’s theories but facts as they say are stubborn things.

The reader should be aware that this effort was financed by GOP Lobbyist Jack Burkman. Since the Profiling Project’s report has been featured on the Drudge Report and Newsweek, and The Daily Mail it may unfortunately become the basis for the public’s “knowledge” of this crime. This would be a shame. This is a poorly done report that is defective on its face.

UPDATE ON 7/21/2017

Since this article was initially published, the author has located the Profiling Project’s “final” initial report.  While this 83 page version adds the rest of an important missing paragraph on page 13, its reasoning is quite flawed.

“In support of our assertion that the offender has killed before, and is, by the FBI definition, a serial killer, Adams & Pizarro (2014) note that multiple homicide offenders refine their criminal abilities through experience. That Offender left a sanitized crime scene is indicative of experience. The crime scene also appears to be void of emotion or attempt to hide the crime, further supporting the experienced killer premise, as multiple homicide offenders have ‘a greater ability to kill multiple victims without thought or care for the consequences.’ (Wright, Pratt, & Delisi, 2008).”

In my original 1,300 word critique of the PP’s initial report, I explained why I thought it was a mistake to described the crime scene as sanitized.  This was a deduction based on an absence of shell casings that could not be supported by what is publicly known about this case. The comments about the crime scene being “void of emotion” is contradicted by the assertion by Seth Rich’s parents that Seth’s watch band was torn, and that he had bruises on his hands and face. The term “void of emotion” in my opinion is psycho-babble. Finally the PP draws a conclusion that the offender or offenders did not try to hide the crime (i.e. move Seth’s body) and this shows that they did not have “thought or care for the consequences”.

It is much more likely that the offender, or offenders, having shot Seth Rich on a Washington street, did not feel they had the time to drag or move his body, if this thought even crossed their minds. Once again, the MPD has a gunshot locator, and assuming the offenders knew of this very public device, there would have been a strong incentive for them to leave the murder scene immediately before the police arrived, or before they were observed by a witness.

Otherwise  the vast majority of the expanded report is made up of a 37 page appendix featuring the criminal records of three individuals who were arrested for robbery in Washington D.C. after Seth’s murder.  The report however does not adequately explain why they devote so much space to Appendix E, when on page 35, they do not describe these three individuals as having anything to do with Seth’s death.  Please also look closely at page 35 to read about the three individuals who are the subject of Appendix E. To see my full analysis  the rest of the “final” initial report please read posts 132 and 133 here.


(1) I’m borrowing from comments made by my friend Chuck Hardin.

(2) The preferred FBI term for “profiling” is Criminal Investigative Analysis. “The effectiveness of criminal investigative analysis is limited by the accuracy, completeness, and quality of material received from the submitting agency” . . . “A thorough written and pictorial description of the crime scene through 8 inch by 10 inch color photographs and a crime scene synopsis is essential for an optimum criminal investigative analysis. . . “The autopsy report should include (if possible) toxicology and serology results, autopsy photographs, photographs of the cleansed wounds, estimated time of death, type of weapon, and suspected sequence of attack.” John Douglas ,Ann Burgess, Allen Burgess, and Robert Ressler, Crime Classification Manual: A Standard System for Investigating and Classifying Violent Crimes (Jossey-Bass Publishers, San Francisco, 1992), pp. 310-311.

(3) The report uses the following definition of a serial murder. “The unlawful killing of two or more victims by the same offender(s) in separate events.” Normally when claiming a serial murder is responsible for a particular murder, it is expected that an investigator will specify what homicides they also believe were committed by the same offender or offenders. This is not done in this report.

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Sam Browning
Samuel P. Browning is a Connecticut Attorney. He has an M.S. in Forensic Science from the University of New Haven
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