Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Criminal Profiling: Part 1 History and Method

Famous Early Profile

Dr. James Brussel
Dr. James Brussel
But perhaps the most famous profile by a psychiatrist to that point was the one developed by Freudian psychiatrist Dr. James Brussel during the 1950s. Almost every book on the subject of profiling documents this case, in part because it was surprising but also in part because it grounded a historic turning point for the FBIs future program.

More than three dozen explosions had occurred during the 1940s and 1950s in places like Radio City Music Hall and Grand Central Station, and the perpetrator had sent a number of angry letters to the area newspapers, politicians, and utility companies. Believing there was a method to his madness, Brussel studied the crime-related material for the police and provided details about the man's ethnicity, motivation, approximate age, personal presentation, living situation, level of paranoia, religious affiliation, employment status, and even his typical manner of dress - a double-breasted suit. The man was a skilled mechanic, Brussel said, and contemptuous of others. He once had worked for Con Edison, the utility company to where letters had been sent, and his resentment had built over time, with no relief. He would probably live with a maiden sister or aunt in Connecticut, New Hampshire, or Maine.

George Metesky in jail
George Metesky in jail
When the police finally tracked down George Metesky in 1957 to Waterbury, Conn. (thanks to an open letter Brussel had published in the newspaper that drew a veiled response), he was in his robe. He did live with two unmarried sisters, and was of the correct age, ethnicity and religion. The police told him to get dressed and he returned buttoning up in a double-breasted suit, just as Brussel had predicted. Many of the other profile details checked out as well.

Brussel also went on to profile the man who was committing a series of sex murders in the Boston area from 1962-64, but others had done so as well and it became clear from the many diverse professional opinions that the area of criminal profiling was not an exact sciencenot even close. Learned men openly contradicted one another in their assessments of the Boston Strangler, and the police were back at square one. Brussel wrote about his approach in a book, which caught the eye of Howard Teten, an FBI agent who was teaching a course in criminology at the National Academy (NA). That crossroad proved momentous for the future of profiling.

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