Using Behavioral Analysis to Narrow Suspects in Rebekah Gould’s Murder
Editor’s Note: This is the ninth article in a series reviewing and analyzing the facts and evidence related to the death of Rebekah Gould. Read the first article here.
In a previous article, I discussed the use of behavioral analysis—often referred to as criminal profiling—in murder investigations. The concepts covered in that article can be applied to the unsolved murder of Rebekah Gould and can assist in narrowing the list of suspects.
Was Rebekah’s Killer Organized or Disorganized?
Utilizing the methodology employed by criminal profilers, we can make some deductions about the likely characteristics of Rebekah’s killer by establishing whether that person’s characteristics during and after the murder were organized or disorganized.
The evidence in the case points towards a disorganized criminal. For example, the trailer home where she was killed showed indications of general chaos with blood stains in various parts of the home. The manner in which she was killed—two blows to the head with a blunt object—indicates a blitz attack that was not pre-meditated and was likely perpetrated with a weapon of opportunity obtained inside the trailer.
Also, the way in which Rebekah’s body was discarded at the bottom of an embankment, in plain sight, indicates the killer had no plan for the disposal of her body. The killer’s reaction in the immediate aftermath of this unplanned crime probably led him or her to concentrate only on self-preservation, meaning the killer was concerned only with avoiding arrest. The killer made further efforts to avoid capture by attempting to clean the crime scene and remove evidence of the murder from the trailer.
An analysis of these facts points to a disorganized criminal who could not control their anger or extreme emotion, leading them to attack Rebekah in the heat of the moment. Her murderer was unsophisticated and likely had never killed before. Indications are that her killer had not previously engaged in criminal violence. Otherwise, the murderer would have been better prepared and would not have panicked after committing the crime.
Masking of the Crime Scene
Masking a crime scene refers to the killer’s cleanup of the scene in an attempt to misdirect the investigation. Though Rebekah’s killer attempted to mask the crime scene, he or she did a sloppy job, leaving a substantial amount of evidence that was easily discovered by investigators.
It has been stated by the responding officer that bedding covered with blood was found in the washing machine. It is unknown whether the wash cycle was complete when the officer discovered it or whether it was in mid-cycle. Bloody pillows were found stuffed under the bed and blood stained the mattress. Reportedly, towels with Rebekah’s blood were found in the dryer, although law enforcement will not confirm that. For whatever reason, the killer did not, or was unable to, stay at the crime scene long enough to complete the washing and drying of the bloody bedding and return it to the bed.
Killers with no known connection to a location (in this case the McCullough trailer) have no motive or reason to remain on scene any longer than necessary. The longer a perpetrator stays at the scene, particularly in an attempt to clean up, the more evidence the killer leaves about himself or herself.
A Killer with a Known Connection to the Murder Scene has Motive to Stay and Clean up
Only a killer with a personal and known connection to the murder scene has motive to stay and clean up. Rebekah’s killer felt comfortable enough to remain in the McCullough trailer for a period of time after the crime to clean, move the body out of the trailer, and start at least one load of laundry. This indicates that the killer had a known association with the residence. So unless the murderer was caught cleaning up evidence of the crime, he or she would not normally look out of place if seen there.
When confronted with a crime scene that has been masked, investigators must determine not only the motive for the homicide, but also the motive for the cleanup.
In Rebekah’s case, her killer probably felt he or she would be the most logical suspect if it were discovered that Rebekah had been killed at the McCullough trailer. Rebekah’s murderer incurred a significant amount of risk by remaining on scene to clean and then moving her body to a secondary disposal site.
The Significance of Moving the Body
Rebekah’s killer took the time to move her body to a disposal site approximately six miles away from where she was killed. Her body was found at the bottom of an embankment near a two-lane highway. I believe her killer drove from the McCullough trailer to the disposal site along unpaved back roads. If I’m correct, the killer had an intimate knowledge of the dirt roads connecting the two locations that a stranger would not have known. Additionally, the disposal site is at the bottom of an embankment which is accessible by vehicle. It’s been determined Rebekah’s killer did not roll her down that embankment, which means he or she purposely transported her body to the bottom, probably by driving down there. The dirt path which leads to the bottom is not readily obvious from the paved road up above and would not be noticed by someone unfamiliar to that highway.
From this, we can deduce that the killer was a resident of the area.
Taking back roads allowed the killer to avoid paved streets thus reducing the risk of being seen by another motorist. Although driving on back roads reduced the chance of being spotted or pulled over, it still incurred a very high level of risk, particularly when the killer had to stop at the disposal site and remove Rebekah’s body from the vehicle.
Furthermore, the killer likely took the time to unwrap her body in whatever covering she was transported in, probably because the wrapping had the killer’s DNA on it and could be traced back to the McCullough residence. This additional step added more risk to the situation, but that action was perceived as being worth the gamble of taking the extra time to complete.
If Rebekah’s killer had never visited the McCullough trailer prior to her murder and had minimal or no known connection to Rebekah, there would have been no motivation to remove her body from the residence.
In fact, leaving her body where it fell would likely have led police to immediately investigate the residents of the trailer, those who frequented the trailer, and persons with known connections to Rebekah. Leaving her body inside the trailer would have worked well in the killer’s favor, as the investigative focus would have been elsewhere. That is obviously not what happened because Rebekah’s body was not left at the murder scene. As a result, the killer inadvertently provided a substantial clue to his or her identity.
Determining the Motive
Based on the blitz attack delivered to Rebekah, her killer almost certainly was driven by rage and uncontrollable emotion. This type of attack almost always indicates anger by the offender and a lack of overall criminal skill and self-control.
Because of the nature of Rebekah’s injuries, it is logical to deduce that she and her killer argued prior to her being bludgeoned. From that, we can infer that Rebekah and her killer knew each other well enough to engage in a heated verbal argument that escalated to murder. This rarely happens between strangers. I cannot speculate as to exactly what Rebekah and her killer argued about, but a large percentage of arguments that lead to murder revolve around jealousy, a cheating partner, or a pending break-up.
Familiarity with the McCullough Residence and Dogs
Rebekah’s killer was, at a minimum, familiar with the location of Casey McCullough’s trailer. It is in a fairly remote area, although one neighboring house had a direct line of site. Reportedly, there were two full-time residents of the McCullough trailer: Casey and his father. If neither was involved in Rebekah’s murder, her killer must have known that both of them were away that Monday and that neither would return home unexpectedly. If the killer did know when they were coming back, he or she likely would have fled the scene as soon as possible after the crime.
Additionally, it was reported that there were two dogs in McCullough’s trailer that day, one that belonged to Rebekah and the other that belonged to Casey. Casey’s dog was reportedly a mixed-breed pit bull. Anyone not familiar to that dog would likely have had difficulties with the animal leading them to injure or kill the dog, or be injured themselves.
However, neither dog showed any evidence of injury. Furthermore, if the crime had been committed by a stranger, the dogs likely would have barked constantly. Although it’s doubtful the incessant barking would have alerted someone in the neighboring house, it probably would have distressed and annoyed the killer. That would have led the murderer to flee the property as soon as possible after the crime. A stranger would not have remained at the crime scene after the murder with two unfamiliar dogs causing a ruckus.
Most likely, the killer was known to the dogs and, therefore, the dogs did not bark or attack.
Was Rebekah’s Killer Male or Female?
When I originally started researching Rebekah’s case, I leaned towards her killer being a female. This was based on two items of evidence: (1) the location of her injuries and (2) the way in which her body was disposed.
Rebekah’s injuries included one to the front of her face, which shattered her nose into several pieces, and the other to the left side of her head. Hitting someone in the face with a blunt object often indicates jealousy or rage toward the victim because of betrayal in intimate relationships. An example would be a wife who confronts her husband’s mistress and angrily strikes her in the face for luring her husband into a cheating relationship. Hitting in the face can be symbolic of destroying the victim’s good looks and facial features. The killer is jealous of or angry at those features. Facial injuries may be more indicative of a female attacker.
With regards to the link between facial injuries and female killers, this is certainly not a set rule of thumb. A male could just as easily have struck Rebekah in the face and head in a fit of anger. My theory on the exact manner in which the two blows were delivered will remain private in order to protect the investigation. However, I do feel the way the blows were delivered indicates that Rebekah’s face was not the initial target of those blows. It follows that, because her face was not the target, her killer was most likely a male. It appears Rebekah was given no chance to defend herself from a surprise attack which also indicates a male who hit her hard enough on the first blow that she was stunned, bleeding, and in horrific pain leaving her vulnerable to the second hit.
The way in which Rebekah’s body was disposed of indicates no remorse by her killer. In fact, it could be interpreted that her killer wanted to further humiliate her in death and chose to leave her half-clothed, in public view, with nothing to cover her up. A killer who experienced guilt or remorse would likely have left her in a more dignified manner, whether by burying her, covering her up, or attempting to put clothes on her. It’s as if the killer wanted to dispose of her as one would toss a bag of trash on the side of the road. This may be exactly how her killer viewed her, as trash.
The killer may have felt Rebekah got what she deserved and was not worthy of any dignity in death. This is how I would expect a female killer to treat a victim for whom she felt no guilt for killing. It is not how I would expect an intimate partner of Rebekah’s to dispose of her body, but it certainly does not rule out the killer being someone with a close relationship to her.
One exception to this theory is if a male killer disposed of her body at night. Due to the cover of dark, he wouldn’t have realized how humiliating a position he left her in. Furthermore, a male killer with only his own self-preservation in mind would have no problem disposing of a body in this manner.
A female killer likely would have needed an accomplice to move the body. Even a very strong female would have had a great deal of difficulty removing the body from the house and lifting it into the trunk of a car or bed of a truck. That’s not to say a female couldn’t have called in an accomplice for help. But the incomplete cleanup of the scene and the fact that Rebekah’s car was left on site suggests that only one person was involved in moving the body and attempting a cleanup. If two people were involved, I would expect the cleanup to have been twice as good and her car and belongings to have been moved elsewhere.
Bloodstain patterns and locations can be helpful in determining the gender of a killer. Generally, when a murder scene has a various types of bloodstains in more than one area of a residence, this provides evidence of the victim putting up a fight with the killer for a period of time. In turn, it is indicative of the killer being a female as they are not as strong and are not able to maintain as much control over the victim as a male killer could.
It is difficult to apply this concept to Rebekah’s case because the investigating authority has not released any details or photographs of the crime scene. Therefore, it is unknown exactly where Rebekah’s blood was found and what those bloodstains indicate about her movements before her death. The fact that she died from just two blows to the head, with no evidence of self-defense wounds, indicates that a strong male delivered those blows. However, that doesn’t eliminate the possibility of her killer being female.
Investigators’ Lack of Knowledge in Staged Crime Scenes
Unfortunately, the investigators assigned to Rebekah’s case likely had little education or experience in staged and masked crime scenes and did not realize the significance of the killer taking the time to clean up parts of the trailer and transport Rebekah’s body to a secondary location. This is not necessarily their fault, as only a small percentage of killers engage in these actions.
Despite the killer’s efforts, their cleanup failed to direct investigators away from the location where Rebekah was murdered and the masking attempt was in vain. Therefore, the investigation should have focused on the most likely suspects who had a personal link to Rebekah and who had a known connection to the McCullough trailer.
The most relevant quote I came across in my research for this article came from Hans Gross in the book Criminal Investigation published in 1907. Though stated more than a century ago, it still holds true today:
“It has happened hundreds of times that criminal investigators, already on the right track, have left it thinking: ‘The man who has committed this crime could not have been so foolish as to do that,’ but innumerable cases prove that he has been so foolish; it matters not whether he was confused, suddenly frightened, has made a miscalculation, acted hastily or what not. It is therefore always best for the Investigating Officer to take the simplest view at the outset.”
If readers have any information about the murder of Rebekah Gould, no matter how inconsequential they believe it might be, please call the Izard County Sheriff’s Department at (870) 368-4203 or the Arkansas State Police at (800) 553-3820. There is currently a $25,000 reward being offered for information that leads to an arrest and conviction of the killer.
Tips can also be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. Anyone reporting information has the right to remain anonymous.
About the Author: Jennifer Bucholtz is a former U.S. Army Counterintelligence Agent and a decorated veteran of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. She holds a Bachelor of Science in criminal justice, Master of Arts in criminal justice and Master of Science in forensic sciences. Bucholtz has an extensive background in U.S. military and Department of Defense counterintelligence operations. While on active duty, she served as the Special Agent in Charge for her unit in South Korea and Assistant Special Agent in Charge at stateside duty stations. Bucholtz has also worked for the Arizona Department of Corrections and Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in New York City. She is currently an adjunct faculty member at American Military University and teaches courses in criminal justice and forensic sciences. Additionally, she is an instructor for the Department of State’s Office of Anti-Terrorism Assistance and a licensed private investigator in Colorado. You can contact her at Jennifer.Bucholtz@mycampus.apus.edu. For more articles featuring insight from industry experts, subscribe to In Public Safety’s bi-monthly newsletter.