Signature crime

A signature crime is a crime which exhibits characteristics idiosyncratic to specific criminals, known as signature aspects, signature behaviours or signature characteristics. Where a modus operandi (MO) concerns the practical components of a crime which can also be unique to one suspect, signature aspects fulfill a psychological need and, unlike the MO, do not often change.

Two examples cited in Crime Classification Manual by John Douglas are a bank robber from Michigan who required tellers to undress during the robbery so he could photograph them, and a rape case where the perpetrator forced the husband to return home and be humiliated by the event. These characteristics move beyond modus operandi, because they fulfill a psychological need rather than a need of practical execution of the crime.[1]

The 1898 Gatton murders also exhibited signature aspects. Following the murders, the bodies were re-arranged so their legs crossed over their bodies with the feet pointing west.[2] Ted Bundy also used a complex series of signature behaviours.[3]


  1. Douglas, John (2006). Crime Classification Manual (2nd ed.). John Wiley and Sons. pp. 23–24. ISBN 0-7879-8501-5.
  2. Whiticker, Alan J. (2005). Twelve Crimes That Shocked the Nation. ISBN 1-74110-110-7
  3. Keppel, Robert (2008). Serial Violence. CRC Press. pp. xvii. ISBN 1-4200-6632-3.


  • Douglas, J.E., Burgess, A.W., Burgess, A.G., & Ressler, R.K. (1992). Crime classification manual: A standard system for investigating and classifying violent crimes. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
  • Keppel, R.D., & Birnes, W.J. (1997). Signature killers: Interpreting the calling cards of the serial murderer. New York, NY: Pocket Books.
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