Are Police Using Media to Talk to Sniper?

Investigators are saying very little about the Beltway Sniper, and when they do it is unclear to some whether they're talking to the public or trying to manipulate a serial killer.

Criminal experts said Wednesday that every televised word may actually be crafted to deceive a shooter who enjoys the attention he is getting from killing nine and wounding two in neighborhoods surrounding the nation's capital.

On Tuesday, FBI analyst Linda Franklin was identified as the hunter's newest victim, shot with a single round to the head in a Home Depot parking structure Monday night. Emboldened investigators, who got the most detailed witness statements yet, said they were confident the descriptions would help catch the killer.

Barely 24 hours later, Montgomery County Police Capt. Nancy Demme said the descriptions weren't enough to put a face on the killer. "I know that's not what the public wants to hear," Demme said.

But it may be what the shooter wants, and authorities could be happy to provide it, Ewing said. "They may have more than they're letting on and they're trying to lay low until they can move in."

It is a marked difference from how local officials acted when the killing started more than two weeks ago.

On Oct. 7, one day after Montgomery County Executive Douglas Duncan declared schools safe havens, a 13-year-old boy was shot as he walked toward class. The boy survived, but was in critical condition for nine days until Thursday, when he was upgraded to serious. A tarot card found near the shooting scene said "Dear Policeman, I am God."

Later, Maryland Gov. Parris Glendening and Washington Mayor Anthony Williams called the sniper a "coward" on national television, prompting Montgomery County Police Chief Charles Moose to step up to the microphone and publicly criticize the state's top elected official.

"The governor's training is not in the law enforcement field," Moose said. "I am convinced that the governor will never do that again."

All of which may have led to the tightlipped demeanor adopted by investigators in the past week.

Before the tarot card was reported, Moose said "You should understand that I hope to God that some day we'll know why all of this occurred." Some thought he was clandestinely appealing to the person who signed it.

"Charles Moose became the person on television who is talking to the press, and the hope may be that the killer will establish some relationship with him," said Dr. Reid Meloy, a forensic psychologist who worked with investigators on the Night Stalker's six-month murder spree in California.

Dr. Richard Ratner, a criminal psychiatrist in Washington, D.C., said every word spoken by authorities is now "based on some estimate of what you think is going on in his head. Unfortunately, we don't have much experience with serial killers who operate this way."

Most get satisfaction from killing up close, watching their victims suffer, and by inflicting sexual torture, say those who investigate such cases.

But this one fires a .223 caliber round from a distance, then flees.

"Son of Sam" serial murderer David Berkowitz left a letter after shooting to death a young woman in 1977. It was addressed to New York police Capt. Joseph Borrelli, who had publicly called the at-large killer a woman-hater.

"I am deeply hurt by your calling me a wemon hater," read the misspelled letter. "I am not. But I am a monster."

Talking before news cameras about a serial killer still on the loose can be dangerous.

"If you provoke him, he could kill again, sooner than he would have," said Meloy.

Criminal behavior experts said the sniper clearly has psychopathic personality traits, meaning he is emotionally removed from humanity and feels entitled to kill.

So appealing to him to surrender wouldn't work, forensic psychiatrists said.

"He is behaving in a way that is beyond any verbal negotiation," Meloy said.