Spiral (Circle) Search Method: Procedure, When to Use With Examples

The spiral (also called circle) search method is a unique and specialized crime scene search pattern that involves circular movements (inward or outward) across the area involved. It is often employed in confined interior or exterior crime scenes, such as small fenced yards or cramped spaces.

This technique requires searchers to be highly attentive to their surroundings and the area they are searching to ensure thorough coverage and avoid overlooking critical evidence. 

Although it can be challenging, but the spiral search method can be highly effective in specific situations when executed correctly.

Types of Spiral Search Pattern Methods

Types of Spiral Search Pattern Method

There are two types of spiral searches i.e. Inward and outward spiral search methods.

1. Inward Spiral Search Method

It involves starting the search at the outer perimeter of the crime scene and working towards the center. 

Searchers begin by making a circular pattern that gets coiled smaller with each circle. 

This approach is particularly useful when the crime scene has a smaller area with a clearly defined perimeter.

2. Outward Spiral Search Method

The outward spiral search method requires searchers to start at the center of the crime scene and move outward in a circular pattern.

In this approach, the circular search pattern begins small and becomes larger with each subsequent circle. This method is beneficial when:

  • The crime scene has a distinct central point
  • A particular area of interest requires immediate attention
  • Not outer set boundaries

[Table] Difference Between Inward and Outward Spiral Search Method

FeatureInward Spiral Search MethodOutward Spiral Search Method
Starting pointThe broader area of the crime sceneCenter of the crime scene
Direction of searchThe outer perimeter of the crime sceneMoving away from the center
Search patternCircular pattern becoming smallerCircular pattern becoming larger
Applicable situationsDefined perimeter or large areaDefined central point or area of interest
FocusFocus during the initial searchConcentrated sections or crucial parts
AdvantagesCovers the whole area methodicallyQuickly examines the most crucial parts
ChallengesMaintaining focus while moving inwardEnsuring coverage of expanding circles

When to Use Spiral/ Circle Search Method?

When to Use inward or outward Spiral Search Method in crime scene

The spiral search method is best suited for:

A. Inward Spiral/Circle Method

  • Confined spaces, both interior and exterior, with limited room for movement.
  • Small fenced yards or enclosed areas where a systematic search is required.
  • Crime scenes with clearly defined central points or perimeters.

B. Outward Spiral/Circle Method

  • Crime scenes without physical barriers (e.g., open water).
  • Have a central point of attraction.
  • Scuba diving in a lake to find a body, whereabouts, weapon of crime, or other physical evidence.

Note: The circle/spiral method is not recommended for areas cluttered with debris, or containing holes or small ditches, as it could be dangerous and difficult to navigate.

Read Case: A case where the body is dumped in a river but even scuba drivers can’t able to find it because of climatic conditions. Read full case: Joseph Wehmanen & Erik Schrieffer [A Clutch of Witnesses] Forensic Files Case

Procedure on How to Conduct Search using Spiral Method

Following is the step-by-step procedure to conduct a search using the inward and outward spiral (or circle) methods:

Step 1: Assess the Crime Scene

Determine whether the crime scene is more suitable for an inward or outward spiral search method based on its layout, size, complexity, and the presence of a central point or perimeter.

Step 2: Select the starting point

  • For the inward spiral method, begin at the outer perimeter of the crime scene.
  • For the outward spiral method, start at the center of the crime scene.

Step 3: Begin the search

Initiate the search using a circular pattern that:

  • Gets successively smaller with each circle for the inward spiral method.
  • Starts small and becomes larger with each subsequent circle for the outward spiral method.

Step 4: Maintain a constant focus

As you progress through the search, stay attentive to the area you are searching and your surroundings.

This ensures thorough coverage and avoids overlooking potential evidence.

Step 5: Mark searched areas

Keep track of the areas you have already searched to prevent double-searching or skipping sections of the crime scene. 

This can be done mentally or using markers such as flags or other visual cues.

Step 6: Collect and document evidence

As you uncover evidence during the search, carefully collect, preserve, and document it according to standard crime scene investigation procedures.

Step 7: Complete the search

  • For the inward spiral method, continue the search until you reach the center of the center of crime scene.
  • For the outward spiral method, complete the search when you reach the outer perimeter of the crime scene.

Step 8: Review the search

After the spiral search is completed, analyze the collected evidence and the overall effectiveness of the search. If necessary, consider employing a secondary search. 

Note: When initiating a secondary spiral search make sure you move in the opposite direction to the initial search. For example, if you previously moved in a clockwise direction towards the center (clockwise inward spiral), it is advisable to proceed in a counterclockwise direction for the second round.

Read More: Point-to-Point (Link) Search Pattern Method: Procedure With Examples

Practical Example of Using Spiral Search Pattern Method

Case History: A murder case has been reported in an abandoned warehouse. The crime scene investigators are called to examine the area and collect evidence. The warehouse has a distinct central point, with the victim’s body lying near the center with multiple pattern wounds.

Why Investigator chooses the Outward Spiral method? The outward spiral search method is chosen because the victim’s body has lots of injuries and many tools that present in warehouse might cause those injuries.

Step 1: Establish the Central Point

Where the victim’s body was found, it should be considered as the starting point (or central point of interest).

Step 2: Document the Scene

Before beginning the search, photograph and document the crime scene, taking special care to capture the initial state of the central area.

Step 3: Begin the Outward Spiral Search

Starting from the central point, investigators start moving in a circular pattern, examining the area immediately surrounding the victim’s body.

Step 4: Expand the Search Area

As the search progresses, the circular pattern expands with each subsequent spiral, moving further away from the central point and covering a larger area.

Step 5: Collect Evidence

While searching, the investigator may discover various pieces of evidence, such as blood spatters, weapon fragments, or personal belongings of the victim or suspect. 

Each piece of evidence should be carefully documented, photographed, and collected.

Step 6: Continue Expanding Until the Perimeter is Reached

The search continues in an outward spiral pattern until the entire warehouse, including its outer perimeter, has been thoroughly scanned for evidence.

Step 7: Final Documentation

Once the search is complete, the crime scene investigator creates a final report, detailing the evidence discovered and the search method employed. 

Read More: Shirley Duguay & Douglas Beamish [Purr-fect Match] Forensic Files Case


  • Only one searcher is needed per scene or zones of a scene.
  • A thorough search method in confined and smaller spaces.
  • Both inward and outward spiral methods allow searchers to concentrate on specific areas of the crime scene.
  • Inward spiral works best with a clearly defined perimeter.
  • Outward spiral works when a particular area of interest requires more attention.


  • Difficult to perform, as it requires searchers to pay constant attention to their surroundings and also keep track 
  • The circular nature of the search pattern may cause searchers to become disoriented and may lose important evidence.
  • Unlike strip or grid search methods, the spiral search method does not provide a straightforward way to mark searching lanes or paths, making it challenging to keep track of searched areas.
  • Not suitable for all crime scenes, especially those with irregular shapes, large sizes, or those containing hazardous elements such as debris, holes, or small ditches.

General FAQs

What types of crime scenes are best suited for the spiral search method?

The inward spiral search method is particularly effective for confined interior or exterior crime scenes (small fenced yards or cramped spaces). While the outdoor spiral method is effective for crime scenes without physical barriers (eg. open water).

How does the inward spiral search method differ from the outward spiral search method?

In the inward spiral search method, the search begins at the outer perimeter of the crime scene and works towards the center, with each circle getting successively smaller. Conversely, the outward spiral search method starts at the center of the crime scene and moves outwards, with each circle getting successively larger.

What are the main challenges faced when using the spiral search method?

The main challenges in the spiral search method include maintaining focus on both the search area and surroundings, avoiding disorientation and dizziness due to continuous circular movement, navigating obstacles in the search area, and the absence of clear markings for search lanes or paths.


  • Intelligent indexing of crime scene photographs by K. Pastra; H. Saggion; Y. Wilks [link]
  • An introduction to crime scene investigation: AW Dutelle by Jones & Bartlett Learning
  • Crime Scene Forensics: A Scientific Method Approach By Robert C Shaler [link]

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