FBI Profiling: Organised vs Disorganised Offenders

Have you ever wondered how profilers make it look so easy to find the suspect in the likes of hit US show Criminal Minds?

In 1986 FBI agents Ressler, Burgess, Douglas, Hartman and D’Agostino developed the organised/disorganised typology following interviews and case analysis for 36 murderers and 118 victims in the USA.

The aim of this research was to produce a methodical approach to analysing scene, evidence and victim in order to deliver a likely criminal profile upon which to conduct the investigation of the crime. Narrowing down the type of person to commit such a crime means police can focus their efforts and therefore save time and money.

The organised/disorganised dichotomy in brief, supposes that the level of organisation or disorganisation of a scene tells you two things: (a) how criminally sophisticated the suspect is, and (b) how able the suspect is in controlling the victims and pre-planning the event.

The Crime Classification Manual was created by the original researchers Douglas, Burgess, Burgess and Ressler so that criminal profiling using this typology could be confidently carried out by police, profilers and mental health workers in the US alike.

So how do these classifications work?

Organised vs Disorganised

Organised offenders tend to be intelligent and socially skilled, with evidence of planning in their crime. As such the crime scene left by this individual is ‘neat’ and shows evidence of the pre-planning such as use of restraints on the victim in order to control them.

Disorganised criminals on the other hand tend to be less intelligent, lack social skills and are more likely to display psychoticism. Their crime scenes are messy and show evidence of a frenzied, impulsive attack on the victim: weapons used were found by the suspect at the scene rather than being brought with them.

Here is a rundown of the key differences between these types of offenders:

‘Organised’ offenders

Social characteristics

  • Well-liked by friends
  • Active social life
  • Controlled and calm personality
  • Sexually competent

Work history

  • Usually employed
  • Economically successful
  • Stable work history
  • Intelligent

The Crime itself

  • May ‘rehearse’ the crime
  • Brings the tools for the job with him
  • Hides or disposes of the body – pre-planned dumpsite
  • Avoids leaving evidence behind
  • Victim often fits a specific type or group
  • Commits sexual acts with live victims


‘Disorganised’ offenders

Social characteristics

  • Poor social skills
  • Likely suffers from mental illness
  • Likely lives alone or with one other family member
  • Impulsive personality
  • Sexually incompetent

Work history

  • Unemployed or in menial work
  • Below-average intelligence
  • Less economically successful
  • History of moving from job to job

The Crime itself

  • Attacks suddenly rather than pre-planning
  • Leaves evidence behind
  • Chaotic/messy crime scene
  • Leaves the body at the scene
  • Commits sexual acts with dead victims


Though the original typology featured only the organised/disorganised dichotomy, more recent versions of the Crime Classification Manual have been updated to reflect criticisms from the scientific community.

‘Mixed’ offenders

The crime scene may display elements of both organised and disorganised typologies, for example there is evidence of pre-planning the attack but the offender leaves a chaotic crime scene.

This third category was introduced at a later date to cover those offenders that do not fit neatly into ‘organised’ or ‘disorganised’ categories, and also to account for murders involving more than one killer.

The manual also now includes the following statement:

“It should be emphasized that the crime scene will rarely be completely organized or disorganized. It is more likely to be somewhere on a continuum between the two extremes of the orderly, neat crime scene and the disarrayed, sloppy one.”

The manual, though at first written with only the sexually motivated murderer in mind, has now branched out to include profiling guidance for arson, rape, cybercrime and religious-based murder.

You can buy the most recent version (edition 3) of the Crime Classification Manual here.



Over to you

Have you come across or written a character who fits ‘to type’ as organised or disorganised? Let me know in the comments!

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