Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Criminal Profiling: Part 1 History and Method


Robert K. Ressler
Robert K. Ressler
Former profiler Robert Ressler calls the BSU Hoovers last positive legacy, although others have noted that only with his death was the way cleared for real emphasis on psychology. When it opened in 1972, the Behavioral Science Unit was initially formed with eleven agents, and Jack Kirsch was their first official chief. DeNevi and Campbell describe the tentative early steps. (Their history is sometimes inaccurate when they discuss cases, but its the first to offer a comprehensive account of the personalities of those innovators who made the BSU what it is today.) While the BSU offered advice to local law enforcement on different types of crimes, serial murder would become their forte. Kirsch, a former police training coordinator, served for eight months, followed by John Pfaff.

Howard Teten, also a member, had already toyed with the idea of criminal profiling, and had included some of the ideas in his NA course, Applied Criminology. Upon meeting with Dr. Brussel and also having some success of his own, he made profiling a more central component of his training. Although Teten disagreed with Brussels Freudian interpretations, he accepted other tenets of the analysis. With the energetic Special Agent Patrick Mullany, who had an advanced degree in psychology, Teten designed a method for analyzing unknown offenders in unsolved cases. He would look at the behavioral manifestations at a crime scene for evidence of aberrant mental disorders and other personality traits and then use that information to make deductions. Eventually, his ideas on specific crimes were much in demand.

The initial BSU staff handpicked agents that seemed to have a knack for behavioral analysis, and as the demand on their time and the daily exposure to brutal crimes became more intense, they developed a strong camaraderie. With the pressure for greater analytic sophistication, many of them began to specialize. Hazelwood, for example, went into sadistic sexual crimes and autoerotic fatalities, while Dick Lanning focused on child abuse and investigated alleged satanic ritual abuse. As the various members went out to local jurisdictions to teach, they helped to solve many puzzling cases.

Among these was one from Montana in 1973-74. As time went on, the analysis appeared to the local cops to be a failure but actually ended up as a spectacular, albeit tragic, success. DeNevi and Campbell provide the details. The kidnapping of a 7-year-old girl yielded no physical evidence but a viable suspect, David Meirhofer. Yet he was well-groomed, courteous, and educated, and he passed a polygraph. Although they eventually got him for killing a young woman in the area, he would not confess to knowing anything about the little girl. The local police who had consulted the profilers were ready to pass on him, but the BSU team who had looked at the crime remained convinced that Meirhofer was the guy. After killing the child, whom hed kept imprisoned for a period of time, he did confess and also added the murder of two boys. Then he committed suicide. The profilers were sadly vindicated.

Requests for consultations started to come in from police departments around the country, so more agents were trained, and that became the Crime Analysis and Criminal Personality Profiling Program. By 1977, the unit had a substantial identity, comprised of a three-pronged purpose: crime scene analysis, profiling, and analysis of threatening letters.

Whoever Fights Monsters
Whoever Fights Monsters
The profilers did not go to every case of serial murder (and still do not) but only those into which they were invited or that clearly involved federal crimes. Even so, thanks to the NA training programs, they had made good contacts with graduates who acknowledged their skills and were eager to get an experienced perspective. Many jurisdictions rarely even had a homicide, let alone a series of them, so to have professionals who had seen many such crimes and crime scenes available was often considered a boon.

Robert K. Ressler, among the early agents to enter the new program and author of the second book to be published on the unit, describes his early experience in Whoever Fights Monsters. John Douglas, who joined in 1979 and eventually became unit chief, followed that with the bestselling Mindhunter, and several others have since added their own contributions to the pool of materials.

But who are those guys?

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