Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods


False Leads

All the major New York papers including The New York Times published summaries of Dr. Brussel's profile. As Finney predicted, the crackpots responded in force. Plenty of them wanted to take credit for the bomber's actions, but none of them could recreate or produce F.P.'s singularly well-crafted bombs. The police had deliberately kept photographs and details about the devices out of the papers.

Additionally, plenty of normal, civic minded citizens brought leads to the police. Each one had a friend or neighbor or colleague that "fit the profile" and very suddenly the person was convinced that he or she had discovered the bomber. One of the most dangerous and troubling aspects of profiling is that it inevitably leads to innocents being suspected of crimes simply because they fit a profile.

An elderly man on the Upper West Side telephoned the police about a Polish neighbor who lived with an Aunt and often tinkered with metal in his spare time. He left the house at odd hours and carried with him strange-shaped packages. The police interviewed the man only to discover that he was an aspiring modern sculptor who sold his works on the streets of Greenwich Village.

Another man informed the police of an eccentric army buddy who fed stray cats as a hobby. The man had been an army demolitions expert and had once worked for Con Edison. After following the man for a few days, the police determined that the man simply liked to feed cats and nothing more.

A Darien, Connecticut, commuter told the police about a neighbor who had once worked for Con Edison and had spent some time in mental hospitals for paranoia. A skilled mechanic, the man was married to a woman ten years older than himself. The marriage didn't fit the profile, but Dr. Brussel thought the older wife might be a deviation of the Oedipal theory. The man frequently traveled to New York City while carrying a mysterious blue valise. His neighbor had been highly curious about the valise for years, and after the profile was published he called the police. The police discreetly questioned the man with the valise. They discovered the contents to be a pair of women's high-heeled boots. The man had a foot fetish, and he frequented prostitutes in the city who donned the boots for him.

Dr. Brussel himself followed up a false lead. A colleague told him (within the confines of doctor patient privilege) of a patient with an irrational grudge against Con Edison. Dr. Brussel excitedly examined the file and found the man fit the profile. Unfortunately, the man had been confined to a mental hospital on the day of one of the attacks.

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