Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods


A New Service For the FBI

Robert Ressler (right) with Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lector from The Silence of the Lambs (Robert Ressler)
Robert Ressler (right) with
Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal
Lector from The Silence of the
(Robert Ressler)

Most people first heard about the FBI's Behavioral Science Unit (BSU) from the movie or book by Thomas Harris, Silence of the Lambs. Unit director Jack Crawford was influenced to some extent by talks that Harris had with Supervisory Special Agent Ressler, who had learned the psychological principles involved in profiling from pioneers Howard Teten and Pat Mullany.

"They were the original team that dealt with profiling and crime scene assessments," Ressler explains. "They started organizing people for this program in 1969, and when the FBI Academy opened in 1972, that's when the unit really got established. I joined them in 1974."

This was four years after he had come into the FBI. After he'd served eight years in the army, from 1962-1970, he went to graduate school at Michigan State University. Ressler was then recruited by an agent in the Lansing office who ended up becoming the assistant director at Quantico. "When they opened the Academy, they had different departments, like a university, and I was recruited into the Behavioral Science Unit, which dealt largely with instructing those people who came to the Academy as students."

He remained with the BSU for 16 of his 20 years at the FBI, retiring in August of 1990. By that time he had introduced several programs that contributed to the development of the National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime. Then in 1985 he became the first Program Manager for VICAP (the Violent Criminal Apprehension Program). The concept for VICAP was to collect information about solved and unsolved homicides, specifically those that were serial, random and/or involved abduction. The database also included information about missing persons where foul play was strongly suspected and unidentified dead bodies in which the manner of death appeared to be homicide. Local and international law enforcement agencies could connect to the growing database and either provide further information or utilize the information stored there to help solve their own crimes.

Even after Ressler retired, he has continued to offer workshops in criminology, to serve as an expert witness, and to introduce the VICAP system into other countries, including Japan, South Africa, and Poland.

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