NEW YORK – Whatever is going on in the mind of the serial sniper, this much seems clear: The shooter is becoming both more bold -- taking greater chances with each successive shooting -- while attacking closer to getaway routes.
"He seems to be learning after each one [shooting]," said former NYPD Detective Michael O'Brien.
The Oct. 2 shooting in a Shoppers Food Warehouse parking lot in Wheaton, Md., occurred about three miles north of the Capital Beltway, the area's major highway. Over the next 24 hours, when he shot and killed five people in Montgomery County, his targets were all between two and six miles from the Beltway, which feeds onto major interstates like I-95 and I-270.
But in the subsequent shootings, the distance from the shooting scene to a major highway has been considerably less.
The woman shot on Oct. 4 at the Spotsylvania Mall in Fredericksburg, Va., was just 1,390 feet away from an entrance to I-95. In the Oct. 7 school shooting in Bowie, Md., the child was struck about 900 feet from Route 50, a major east-west artery that feeds into the Beltway.
Dean Harold Meyers was a mere 940 feet away from an entrance to I-66 in Manassas, Va., when he was shot on Oct. 9. Like Route 50, I-66 feeds into the Beltway and a number of other Virginia roads.
Two days later, Kenneth Bridges was felled 1,410 feet from Route 50 while he pumped gas at a Massaponax, Va., gas station. The killer or killers could easily have driven west and hopped onto the Beltway.
And in the last shooting, FBI analyst Linda Franklin was gunned down just yards from Route 50 as she walked through a garage with her husband.
At the same time, the shootings have become more daring.
There was a Virginia state trooper just 50 yards away when Bridges was killed. And Franklin was the first victim killed who was not alone.
O'Brien said the shooter is probably making it easier on himself. Maybe he saw a police car near one of his kills, which made him nervous. Or, since he knows police have set up dragnets across the region, he wants to make a quicker getaway.
"Obviously, this guy lives in the area," O'Brien said.
But there are some other interesting things to note in the killings.
The sniper has not struck on a Tuesday, Saturday or Sunday. But he has attacked twice on Mondays, twice on Wednesdays, twice on Fridays, and five times on Thursdays. Six of the shootings occurred before noon, one occurred between noon and 6 p.m. and four occurred after 6 p.m.
Four of the shootings took place at gas stations. Two took place in strip malls that contained a Shoppers Food Warehouse, and two people were shot outside or nearby a Michael's craft store. The first shot, which presumably missed its target, was fired through another Michael's store window.
There are also heavily wooded areas near five of the 11 killings. Experts said it is possible the killer took off on foot from the area, and had his vehicle nearby.
To many, the Bowie school shooting seems the most random. Bowie is well east of the other shooting sites and well away from the Montgomery County-Northern Virginia corridor.
"To me, there's no rhyme or reason to this guy," O'Brien said. But "he's pretty smart in what he's doing."
And a change in routine may be just the challenge the Beltway Sniper is looking for.
"It's not that he wants to get caught. But he ups the ante -- it's becoming boring and he wants to challenge law enforcement to a greater extent, so he cuts corners," said Jack Levin, director of the Brudnick Center on Violence at Northeastern University and an author of serial murder books. "He looks careless but he really feels as though he'll never get caught."
But are the recent shootings more careless than daring?
"Someone who's shooting in a highly congested area with a rifle is careless," said criminologist Michael Rustigan. "I hate to say it, but it might take one more shooting to get this guy."