Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Serial Killers and Criminal Profiling

By Pete Klismet
[Editor’s Note: Criminal profilers conjure up all kinds of images to the average Joe. Movies, television shows, and novels have often given us misconceptions of this special breed of investigator. Our guest writer today can help us understand this part of law enforcement because that is what he is trained to do—profile criminals. Pete Klismet, is a retired FBI criminal profiler who teaches, writes, and provides consulting services on this subject.]


“How’d you know that?”

“Are you some sort of a psychic?”

“Do you have a crystal ball or something?”

Anyone who has been trained in criminal profiling and has worked with law enforcement agencies, or has taught about the concept in college, has heard all of these comments.  And many more.  The word “profiling” conjures up some sinister images in people’s minds, and seems almost devilishly frightening to some, but yet fascinating to others.

WHAT IS CRIMINAL PROFILING?

Criminal profiling is the art of developing a behavioral profile of an offender based on evidence from a crime scene, and many other factors involved in an investigation of a violent crime.  Profiling is sometimes done by a forensic psychologist -- someone who has studied the criminal mind. However, since the mid-1980’s, the FBI has assumed a prominent role in the use of this technique.  A profile may then be used by police departments to assist in apprehending the criminal.  But a criminal profile by itself, rarely solves a crime.  In most cases, that is accomplished by old-fashioned detective work.

A profile is intended to be a behavioral portrait of an offender. If done correctly, the profiler may be able to determine ‘why’ a person committed the crime he did.  If ‘why’ can be determined, then we may have motive, and thus help identify the person who committed the crime.  There is a lot that a crime scene can tell a profiler about the person who committed the crime. This is especially true in homicide investigations. Criminal profiling is often used to help investigators identify psychopaths and serial killers who may otherwise go free. It can also be used to help identify other types of offenders, such as serial sex offenders.

In criminal profiling, a crime scene often helps to label the offender as organized or disorganized. An organized offender will plan ahead, often choosing the victim ahead of time. Any tools needed are brought by the offender. He is meticulous with details, and it is clear that the crime was well thought out. This tells a profiler much about the offender.

Organized offenders tend to be high in the birth order of their family. They are very intelligent, but often were underachievers in both school and life. Most of them have a live-in partner, are socially adept, and will follow the coverage of their crimes in the media very carefully.  Contrary to popular belief, a killer of this nature, even a serial killer, is not ‘crazy.’  Quite the opposite is true.  They also ‘hide in plain sight,’ and when identified are a complete surprise to people who know them and thought they were ‘perfectly normal.’

A more spontaneous or impulsive offense is often the work of a disorganized offender. He will act impulsively, with little to no planning involved, and the crime scene will usually show this lack of planning. Seeing this, a trained profiler can draw some conclusions about this offender.  Disorganized offenders are often of average or slightly below-average intelligence. They were younger children, they usually live alone, and are not as socially mature or competent as an organized offender. They often live or work near the scene of the crime, and tend to have a poor work history. Typically, they are younger than the organized offenders.

Criminal profiling is used not only to find potential offenders, but also to narrow down a list of offenders that has already been compiled by the police. Although it doesn’t work in every case, criminal profiling has helped investigators to apprehend hundreds of criminals. By studying the patterns and motives of previous offenders, profiling may enable investigators to predict the characteristics of current and future offenders, allowing killers and other perpetrators to be caught before they can continue on to other crimes.

SERIAL KILLERS

Serial killers are a fairly recent phenomenon on the American landscape, and many people are captivated by what they do and how they do it.  Some of them, such as Ted Bundy, Richard Ramirez “The Night Stalker,” and Jeffrey Dahmer have even had cult followings, as odd as that may seem.  In some ways it seems ghoulish, and in other ways the allure of a person who commits multiple murders seems to present a fear of the unknown, of not being able to comprehend such irrational acts, and a desire to learn more about what makes these people tick.  To some it’s not all that interesting, but to many others it’s something they can’t learn or read enough about.

I became friends with the husband of one of my students, an Air Force major, some years ago.  We both enjoyed golf, and would get together once or twice every couple of weeks and play 18 holes.  After one round, we sat down and were enjoying a couple of cool, refreshing beers.  Without any prompting, and literally out of the clear blue sky, Paul said, “By the way, I want to thank you for ruining my love life.”

“Me?  What did I do?”

“Brandy lies in bed every night with a book about one serial killer or another.  I have a hard time getting between her and her books.”

“Sorry…..my bad.”

While we both got a good laugh out of that, I know I’ve had more than a few of my college students who were similarly absorbed with learning more and more about the dark and gruesome, illogical actions of people who kill others for “fun.”  It’s one of the most irrational things man can do, yet trying to learn what drives them to kill with such blood-lust can almost consume one’s life.

When I went through what we called “Profiling Boot Camp” at the FBI Academy in the mid-1980’s, I was the same way.  I’ve spent nearly thirty years reading virtually every book on particular serial killers that I could get my hands on.  To the present date, that probably numbers well over one hundred books.  With every book I read I learn something new, and I’ve continued to do the same thing for many years.

FBI DIARIES: PROFILES OF EVIL

But in my case, there’s a method to my madness.  When I combine my years of training and experience with what I may learn from a book, it almost seems unfair to not share that with other people who may have a similar interest, or may be taking a course on criminal profiling in college.   There are other books out there which some consider textbooks.  Some of these contain information which is not consistent with what I learned and practiced.  A few of these books offer the author’s own personal ‘spin’ on profiling, and more often than not, this is someone who declared themselves a ‘profiler’ because they read some books and perhaps have taken some psychology classes in college, including “Abnormal Psychology.”

I suppose anyone can make the same claim, but relatively few of us can make the claim with the training, education and experience to back it up.  And I think that’s what’s driven me for so many years.  No one “knows it all” about criminal profiling, and I certainly won’t claim to.  In fact, one thing I’ve learned over the years is the more I learn, the less I seem to know, but I continue to want to learn as much as I can.  And that’s what I hope to offer anyone who reads this book, whether you’re similarly fascinated and want to know more, or whether this book is used as a textbook for a college class.

This is not an academic treatise in which you will have to review statistical tables with boring columns of numbers and percentages.  Unlike a college textbook, I’ve tried to write this in a conversational manner, or as if I were doing a lecture in my college classroom.  I hated reading textbooks when I was in college or graduate school.  This is a practical guide which, while it won’t turn you into an instant profiler, will give you considerable understanding into how a profiler's minds work, and why they work the way they do.  Hopefully, I’ve written it in a way that will be understandable, and the cases I’ve reviewed should add some credibility to the concepts in an earlier part of the text.

I promise you that I’ve put as much of my learning and experience into this book as I possibly can, and if you study some of the concepts and cases I’ve studied or profiled, you may gain a similar thirst to know even more.  If I’ve made you think in a different way, I’ve done my job.  And an author or a teacher can’t hope to accomplish more than that.

*******
PETE KLISMET

Pete Klismet retired as full-time Professor of Criminal Justice in May of 2013. He is also retired from the FBI, where he was selected to be one of the original group of criminal profilers. He is the founder of Criminal Profiling Associates, on the web at www.criminalprofilingassociates.com. He is the award-winning author of FBI DIARY: PROFILES OF EVIL, available from Amazon.com, his publisher at Houdini Publishing  or through the links on his own web site listed above.

28 comments:

  1. Pete: Thanks for joining us here on Hook'em and Book'em. I know our readers are interested in your background and experience.

    Readers: Now is your chance. Pete is going to be checking in from time to time to see if anyone has any questions about the article, criminal profiling, or serial killers. Given that we all like a good mystery, I know there are more that a few questions floating around out there in cyber space.

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  2. This was very interesting and I personally have always been fascinated with the serial criminal. The "why", is what always brings me back to criminal shows and books alike. I could never understand how someone could commit such an act and then not be overwhelmed by enough of a sense of remorse to not do it again. I would love to hear your thoughts on the accuracy of TV shows that portray FBI Profilers, such as "Criminal Minds". Do you think that there is any truth to the methods they show?
    Thanks again!

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  3. To anon.....One fundamental problem we have is trying to apply rational thinking to irrational acts. We are dealing with high-level psychopaths who have no interest in anything other than their own pleasure and how they're going to achieve it.

    Second question: Reality of tv 'profiling' shows. Just so happens my 2nd Master's thesis was on just that topic some years ago. But, in being a criminal justice professor, I learned my students, older or younger, tend to believe shows like CSI and Criminal Minds are reality. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Their job is to entertain, not portray things accurately. The process of 'profiling' somewhat mirrors what you see on Criminal Minds, but they greatly simplify it. Thus, it IS entertaining, but nothing like the reality of the job I did.

    Pete

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  4. Readers: Without going into too much detail, today I completed a profile for an agency back east - the case involved a young, single mother and her child (5 yrs. old) who were killed one night in their home. I won't go into all the gory details, suffice to say in reviewing all of the reports, etc., it occurred to me that the crime was not about burglary, theft, sexual assault, but it was very personal. The victims were strangled and their faces were covered up after they were killed. We call this 'undoing' and it shows remorse for what he did. The killer also took a photo of the victims and the little girl's dad. Why would you take this? You had to have a personal connection with the victims. My profile was in agreement with their suspect, who is indeed the child's father. It's a cold case, so I don't know what is going to happen. I did, however, give them some suggestions of things they could do to further the investigation.

    Pete

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  5. Here's a quote I got from, of all places, watching the movie "Fast and Furious 6" with my wife last night. Duane Johnson said: "To catch wolves you need to have wolves." We talked about it on the way home. My wife is very literal, so she assumed it was about using wolves to round up other wolves. My brain doesn't work that way, and I can't help myself. A near and dear friend, Bob Ressler, recently passed away. Bob was an icon in developing criminal profiling to the point its reached today. One of his books is titled "I have lived in the Monster." Not to make this a 'pop quiz,' but can anyone connect those seemingly different quotes and see how they are related. I'll be interested in your answers.

    Just some random thoughts by PETE

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  6. Question 1 - Do you believe Serial Killers are born with something missing that allows them to do what they do or are they raised into becoming what they are?

    Question 2 - Is your book going to be available for the Kindle or other eReader in the future. I'd love to read it :)

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    1. Kat........if you look below @ my misplaced answer to Nicole's question, I think you will find a part of that answer. And, let me add, your question is a VERY good one. I don't know that we'll ever have an answer to whether it's psychological, biological or sociological. I call these the "Klismet PBS theories." Catchy? Not really. Maybe.

      But, let me add something I didn't mention when answering Nicole's question. Jeff Dahmer probably grew up in a family as good as or better than most of us did. He was not predictable, where others (Ed Kemper comes to mind, and I examine him in my book) were more predictable becuz they came from abusive, dysfunctional families. When you boil it all down (that is a terrible way to put it when Dahmer's name is involved, but it is what it is)...I tend to think childhood abuse is the largest single factor. Why? Well think about this. Sexual assault and serial killings are not about sex. They're about 'control' and 'power' over someone. Why would someone want that? Because when they were a kid, they had no control over mom or dad beating the snot out of them. So, they are on a constant quest for that control, and through sexual assault and killing, they gain the ultimate. Make sense?

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    2. Kat.......to answer question 2. My publisher sez it will be on Kindle "at some point." My suspicions are later than sooner. It's only been out 2 weeks now, and I think he wants it to run it's course for awhile, get good Amazon reviews, and then onto Kindle it goes. I don't have any control over that, as you might imagine. In about a month, I will bug him about it, becuz I've had quite a few questions about just that. I guess I'm still 'old school' and I like to lie in bed with a book in my left hand, and save the other hand to rub Miss Nancy's back. No, wait, that's TMI.....!!!

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  7. Those two quotes remind me of my blog post today, believe it or not. As a writer, if you're doing villains, in order not to make them cliche, you have to attempt to get inside their skin, their minds. It's not a pretty journey, but how else can you even hope to accurately portray someone who has decided to be evil at their core? Most of us can't quite stomach going that deep into the dark side, but our imaginations will accommodate some of us if we insist. The rest of us need your wisdom, experience, and valuable insights recorded in your work.

    Thanks so much, Pete. I admire the skills, study, and insights developed over the years and the practical application which can't be anywhere near easy to do. Truly, it's a gifting from God.

    My questions for you would be: Do you find the highly organized killers to be from more stable upbringings than the disorganized? And do at least some of these heinous killers come from "normal" families?

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    1. Nicole.........see my answer below. I'm still trying to figure out this blog thing, but I'm glad Mark invited me. It's going to be fun. Heck, it already is, chatting with you guys!!

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  8. This is a superb and interesting blog, Pete, and it kept my attention from beginning to end. Even though I already know about your book, it would certainly make me want to read it, if I didn't know.

    I think the now infamous BTK fits both the organized and disorganized categories after reading your blog. I was always totally fascinated by that case and Richard always told me he would be someone you'd never suspect or pick out of a crowd as being weird or different. I know you've worked on that case, too, so which one would you put him in?

    I cannot wait to get my very own "inscribed" copy of your book and to visit with you and Nancy.

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    1. Thanks Jackie. For the record, Jackie is my 'sista.' We just had different mothers. And fathers. But we are very close and you could not ask for a better friend. Jackie has authored a book which you can find if you search Jackie Zortman. Sorry my sis, the name of your book escapes me. Heck, right now I'm not sure of my name, other than I think it has something to do with Poland.

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    2. Just for the record, you have to search Jackie Taylor Zortman and the name of my book is "We Are Different Now" and it's on both BN.com and Amazon.com. Thanks for the plug, Pete.

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  9. Nicole.....first of all, let me compliment you on an extraordinary analysis of my little 'pop quiz.' You hit the nail on the head, and very eloquently so. (I may have to 'steal' some of the stuff you wrote for the book I'm doing now!!). There is a word for that, and it starts w/a "P".... It'd just be a secret between us. :-}

    Now, onto your questions, which are very good ones I might add: Do you find the highly organized killers to be from more stable upbringings than the disorganized?

    This one has made me go 'into the monster.' Quite a few I've studied are racing thru my head. The short answer would be 'yes.' But, and there's always a 'but' isn't there. It's not a predictable process, and I doubt we'll ever figure it out. Both 'types' come from dysfunctional families, often abandoned by dad, dominant mom - even physically abusive @ times. I'd have to say the disorganized killer, particularly those who are more successful (that's a bad way to put 'killed lots of people'), like Herbert Mullin in Santa Cruz, CA, have (being politically correct here) 'mental issues.' Others are what we use to call 'Inadequate Personalities,' poor planning skills, usually younger, etc. I have a much longer answer, but you'd have to take my full-semester class!

    And do at least some of these heinous killers come from "normal" families?

    First example that jumps in my mind is Jeff Dahmer. If you can believe that. I've studied everything I can about him, or nearly so. His dad is a NICE man, well-spoken and bright. I know he has a PhD and if I remember right it's in Chemistry and he taught @ Ohio State. Not a bad pedigree. Dahmer's mom had some anxiety issues, probably Chronic Anxiety Disorder. Jeff became a virtual alcoholic in the 8th grade. To self-medicate. I think so. Thus, is there a genetic link? Used to be, I'd laugh at that, but in recent years, the more I've learned, the more I've started to lean toward the biological side (haven't totally bought in, but I'm still leaning sharply to the starboard side of the ship on that). When I was in college, I laughed at the possibility that 'they were born' that way. But now, I don't know. People inherit asthma, schizophrenia and a whole bunch of other things. Why not an inclination toward impulsiveness, or OCD. And to end this (term paper), I think a serial killer represents the absolute pinnacle of OCD.

    This was a long answer. I hope it doesn't use up all the storage on Mark's hard drive!!

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    1. Don't worry, Pete. Plenty of storage...it is all in the clouds.

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  10. Thanks so much, Pete, for your thorough answers (and the compliments!). I would've gladly taken your class, but I'm way up here in the Green River Killer territory. He fit into the unnoticeable, regular guy category. When I learned he used to take his young son along for the body dumps, it just hurt to think about that kid, but he managed to grow up, get married, and live life, albeit with the stigma of his dad ever present.

    The older I get I can see where the genes might go haywire. I don't know your spiritual leanings, but as sin deepens and multiplies, it corrupts all genetics. When professorial types start spouting that pedophilia is just another sexual persuasion like homosexuality, you know all hell is breaking loose.

    Wow. OCD. It does make sense.

    Thanks again for answering my questions, Pete. Appreciate it.

    And thanks, Mark, for such a worthy guest.

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  11. Thanks Nicole.....Gary Ridgway is an interesting critter, to say the least. He came from a family that was intact, but his dad was a pipsqueak, and mom wore the pants. Plus, was abusive. Verbally if nothing more. But, dad played a part with his hatred of hookers, perhaps being the ultimate factor in what he did. Best book I have ever read on the topic of serial killers was Ann Rule's "Green River Running Red." Very thorough and great analysis of all related components.

    Also, for many reasons I am in complete agreement with your comment about Pedophilia. It isn't a 'lifestyle,' it's an incurable disorder which cannot be cured, and I don't care what all the 'experts' say. However, I do have a solution. Not legal tho.

    Pete

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  12. Pete,

    I agree - there is a solution - and it's not 3 hots and a cot. But that feeling extends to many of society's ills, including rapists and murderers.

    Kat

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    1. Well put Kat. Unfortunately since the Gideon vs. Wainwright case in about 1963, which mandated legal representation for ALL persons charged w/a crime, lawyers have a stranglehold over the Criminal Justice "System" (really more of a process). And there are even politics involved. Like a lot of our society, the tail is wagging the dog, and I really don't know if we will ever get back to the concepts of 'truth' and 'common sense.'

      Pete

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  13. Had a nice 30 minute interview with WDNE-FM/AM (which is in WVa) this morning. I checked the station's home page and unfortunately, they don't have a link to the interview. However, my highly-efficient wife (the lovely Miss Nancy) recorded it on her Iphone or Droid, or whatever it is. So, we're going to try to figure out a way to put a link of our own on the blog if anyone wants to listen to it.

    Pete

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  14. I did an interview for You Tube which was published by Houdini Films in Las Vegas. We're going to edit it a little bit, cuz I don't like the start, but here's the rough draft. We talk a bit about "FBI Diary: Profiles of Evil," but also address the topic of Criminal Profiling. It's about 15 minutes long, but pretty informative. Hope you enjoy it.

    Pete

    The link:

    http://youtu.be/BWqtPTNBwEE

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    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    2. Pete: FYI. The link says the video is unavailable.

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  15. My bad on the link. I told my publisher/producer that I didn't like the start of the video. So, they're now working on it, and when it's done, I'll re-post the link.

    Pete

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  16. Here's the link to the You Tube video. I had my publisher fix the intro, so I think it's much better now.

    http://youtu.be/ZcmgAPGHFbo


    Cheers..................Pete

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    1. Nice video, Pete. Very professional.

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  17. Hi, I found this extremely interesting! I wish others had the minds and interest that we share in this field. I wrote my own blog on the Mindset of a Criminal and was hoping you could give it a read and we can discuss our ideas! http://intothemindsetofacriminal.blogspot.com/

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  18. Hi Pete!
    I've really enjoyed reading your blog responses and I can't wait until your book arrives at my doorstep! I've been searching for some good books on criminal profiling. I'm currently a sophomore student at Boise State majoring in accounting and criminal justice. I actually was given the opportunity to speak with an FBI agent. He persuaded me to pick up the accounting major due to the fact that most students pursuing the FBI/profiling major in criminal justice. I guess it makes me less of a "little fish in a big pond".

    I know this isn't the purpose of the blog... but:
    Do you have any advice for a college student who wants to pursue a career catching killers?
    I've been extremely fascinated with the criminal mind since I was 13 and I cannot see myself wanting to do anything other than catch those bastards.


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