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Understanding Organised and Disorganised Murders:

Ted Bundy and the Complexity of Psychological Assessment (91847 Examine how theory is used in fields of psychological practice)



The study of criminal behaviour has always been a subject of great interest for psychologists and criminologists alike. When it comes to categorising murderers, the terms "organised" and "disorganised" are frequently used. However, the case of infamous serial killer Ted Bundy serves as a stark reminder of the complexities involved in evaluating and classifying criminal behaviour.


In this blog, we will delve into the concepts of organised and disorganised murders, explore the case of Ted Bundy, and discuss how these assessments align with the requirements of NZ Psychology Assessment 91874.


What is the internal asking?

91847 Examine how theory is used in fields of psychological practice, required learners to explain theory used in fields of psychological practice showing an awareness of why the theories are used within that field (may include descriptions of, or references to, psychological theories or studies from published works). Excellence involves evaluating the theories used in the chosen fields. The evaluation considers implications of the theory on the fields and predicts how the fields may evolve over time. If you decided to explore forensic psychology you could explore classifications of crime scenes such as organised and disorganised.


Organised and Disorganised Murders Defined: Organised and disorganised murders are classifications used to describe two distinct types of criminal behaviour. Organised murders involve careful planning, control, and premeditation. Perpetrators of organised murders tend to be intelligent, methodical, and often have a higher level of social skills, making it challenging for law enforcement to apprehend them. On the other hand, disorganised murders are characterised by spontaneity, lack of planning, and chaotic crime scenes. The perpetrators of disorganised murders are often socially isolated and display poor impulse control.



Explaining Organised/Disorganised Classification system- Achieved and Merit Criteria

One way to explain in depth could be to include case studies of notorious killers who present clearly as organised or disorganised killers such as Arthur Shawcross, also known as the "Genesee River Killer." Arthur is often considered an example of a disorganised murderer due to several characteristics exhibited in his crimes and behaviour. In Shawcross's case, several factors point towards disorganised traits:

  1. Crime Scene Chaos: Shawcross's crime scenes often exhibited signs of chaos and lack of planning. He left behind a trail of evidence, including blood, clothing, and personal items of his victims, which suggests a lack of control over the crime scene and a lack of organised planning.

  2. Erratic Victim Selection: Shawcross did not have a consistent victim type. He targeted both sexes and a wide range of ages, displaying a lack of specific targeting or preferences. This randomness in victim selection points to a lack of a clear modus operandi or a rational victimology.

  3. Impulsive Behaviour: Many of Shawcross's actions, such as killing his victims in spontaneous fits of rage and committing crimes in impulsive bursts, indicate a lack of premeditation and planning. This impulsivity is a key characteristic of disorganised killers.

  4. Unpredictable Methodology: Shawcross used various methods to kill his victims, including strangulation, stabbing, and bludgeoning. This inconsistency in his methods suggests a lack of a well-defined pattern or approach, which aligns with disorganised traits.

  5. Erratic Escalation: While there was a clear escalation in his violence, Shawcross's crimes did not always follow a linear pattern. He sometimes committed violent acts, including mutilation, post-mortem, and necrophilic acts, seemingly without a clear progression or purpose.

  6. Criminal Record and History: Shawcross had a history of criminal behaviour, including a prior conviction for manslaughter. His past criminal record and time spent in prison likely contributed to his disorganised tendencies, affecting his ability to effectively plan and execute crimes.

  7. Lack of Concealment: Shawcross did not take consistent measures to hide or dispose of evidence. This suggests a lack of awareness of forensic evidence and the importance of leaving a minimal trace, further indicating disorganised behaviour.

Excellence Criteria: evaluating the theory by considering implications of the theory on the fields

One way Learners could achieve the Excellence criteria is to consider case studies where serial killers do not fall neatly into orgranised or disorganised classification and the implication being that it would be difficult to criminal profile these individuals making motivation and next steps difficult to identify. One such example is Ted Bundy.



The Complex Case of Ted Bundy: Ted Bundy, one of the most notorious serial killers in history, defies straightforward classification into either the organised or disorganised category. Bundy's crimes were marked by a mix of calculated planning and impulsive actions, making him a unique case for psychological assessment. His ability to appear charming and blend into society made him a skilful manipulator, luring his victims with ease. Yet, he also exhibited erratic behaviours and violent outbursts, characteristics typical of disorganised murderers.


Organised Characteristics:

  1. Preparation: Bundy displayed a high level of planning in his crimes. He would often approach his victims using tactics to gain their trust, such as pretending to be injured or asking for help.

  2. Weapon and Restraints: He used weapons like crowbars or tyre irons, showing that he came prepared to overpower his victims. Bundy also carried items like handcuffs, indicating a level of forethought in terms of controlling and immobilising victims.

  3. Victim Selection: Bundy targeted young women with long, straight brown hair and a similar physical appearance. This suggests a degree of selectivity in his victims, indicating that he may have had specific fantasies or preferences.

  4. Post-Crime Ritual: After the murders, Bundy would often return to the crime scenes to perform sexual acts with the bodies, demonstrating a level of post-crime control and manipulation.

Disorganised Characteristics:

  1. Sloppy Crime Scenes: In some cases, Bundy left behind evidence like bite marks, hair, and other physical traces that were later linked to him. This demonstrates a lack of attention to detail and a disregard for leaving behind incriminating evidence.

  2. Random Victimology: Despite his general preference for a particular victim type, Bundy's victim selection also appeared random at times. This lack of consistency suggests impulsivity and a lack of strict planning.

  3. Crime Location: Bundy's crimes occurred in different locations, often in remote or secluded areas. This could indicate that he didn't have a well-defined comfort zone for his crimes, which is a characteristic of disorganised offenders.

  4. Escalation: Bundy's crimes escalated in brutality over time, from burglaries to sexual assaults and eventually to murder. This progression could reflect a lack of control over his impulses and a growing compulsion to commit increasingly violent acts.


Further evaluation could consider the types of crimes the classification is used for and the introduction of more advanced technology. These points would allow students to consider the future direction of classifications.

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