Experts say too soon to label suspect a serial killer


Published: Thursday, January 12, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 11, 2006 at 10:23 p.m.
At a Tuesday night news conference announcing the suspect's arrest, Marion County Sheriff Ed Dean described Leo Lancing Boatman as "a would-be serial killer. . . . who would have continued killing."
Boatman has been charged with shooting and killing two Santa Fe Community College students, Amber Marie Peck and John Parker, on Saturday in a remote section of the Ocala National Forest.
Experts in the field say it is too early to say whether the 19-year-old suspect, who traveled by bus from his home in Largo to the Ocala area last weekend, might fit the profile of a serial killer.
Ron Akers is a professor of criminology and sociology at the University of Florida. Reached by phone Tuesday, he declined to comment on specifics of the Ocala case, but said that as investigators learn more about Boatman's background, they may find events in his past that led him to apparently commit the violent acts against two total strangers that he has been charged with.
Psychologist Jack Apsche, who published "Probing the Mind of a Serial Killer" in 1993, notes that most serial killers have been white males in their late 20s or 30s, who target strangers near their homes or places of work.
"In terms of victim selection, 62 percent of the killers target strangers exclusively, and 71 percent operate in a specific location or area, rather than traveling wide distances to commit their crimes," Apsche said.
By the FBI's definition, a serial killer must have completed three separate murders, separated by a cooling-off period of a few days to a few years.
Akers said that after a true serial killer has been apprehended, investigators will often find certain common traits when looking into their background.
Virtually all serial killers have come from dysfunctional backgrounds involving sexual or physical abuse, drugs or alcoholism, experts say. They are isolated and often resentful toward a society that has shut them out.
"Serial murderers see themselves as dominant, controlling and powerful figures," Apsche said. "They hold the power of life and death, and in their own eyes, they perceive themselves as God."
Apsche is a clinical psychologist and the founder of the Apsche Center for Evidence-Based Psychotherapy and Forensic Services in Yardley, Pa.
In a Wednesday interview, Boatman's 38-year-old brother said that the alleged shooter has had psychiatric problems in the past. Vick Boatman shared a mobile home in Largo with his younger brother. He said 19-year-old Leo was supposed to be on medication but had stopped taking it.
"A serial killer is someone who usually kills strangers, although family members may be in their mix of victims. These are not crimes of passion, but planned-out attacks where they go out seeking victims," Akers said.
"It appears that this guy didn't know either victim, but went out on his own into the forest, knowing that he was going to target someone," he said.
As for tagging the case as a serial killing, Akers said it's too early to make the call.
"As with all profiling, everything is just a matter of averages and tendencies, and you always find exceptions or things that don't fit," he warned.
In the background of many true serial killers, there is a history of minor violence, aggressive or weird behavior, and access to guns, the UF professor said.
"But a whole bunch of people may have exactly those characteristics, and never do anything worse in their life," he said.
Diane Chun can be reached at (352) 374-5041 or chund@gvillesun.com

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