New Approach Aims To Use Facial Recognition Technology To Link The Victims Of Serial Killers

The novel technology could reveal new information on cold cases. Motortion Films/Shutterstock

Rachael Funnell 30 Jul 2020, 17:49

Inspired by the film Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile, new research is trialing if serial killer victims can be linked by recognizing patterns in their profiles. Using facial recognition technology, the approach aims to recognize when victims with similar appearances are being targeted, as has sometimes been the case with historic, infamous serial killers such as Ted Bundy.

The project was conceived and lead by senior lecturers in Forensics and Criminology Brendan Chapman and David Keatley, respectively, at Murdoch University, US and was published in the journal Expert Systems. Inspiration struck Chapman while watching the 2019 film Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile, which chronicles the crimes of Ted Bundy.

"Ted Bundy’s victims had a number of physical similarities about them which I thought seemed common to the way that the rest of us, non-psychopaths have similarities between sexual partners such as ex-boyfriends and ex-girlfriends,” Mr Chapman said in a statement. “Many of us have probably been told that they seem attracted a particular “type”, so what if sexually motivated serial killers are the same?

“In a situation where we have, say, 10 known victims of a sexually motivated serial killer, we might be able to look back over unsolved cases and find victims that could be considered as possibly the 11th victim.”

The research utilized the same techniques used in facial biometrics, including the technologies that enable phones to be unlocked using our faces and pass through airports using digital passports. They analyzed photographs of Bundy’s victims using this tech and found that a number of them shared similar facial geometries, significantly more than was found among an analysis of random faces chosen from a public database.

Chapman and colleagues termed the analysis “Facial Similarity Linkage of serial killer victims” and hope the approach has applications as an additional intelligence tool that can assist law enforcement in digging up new information on old crimes. The technology is still in its early stages of development and requires further validation and a more advanced means of data collection before it could be fit for purpose, but if successful the novel approach could identify victims who hadn’t previously been linked to a serial killer, providing valuable information that could bring closure to ongoing cases.

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