Two FBI Profilers

Fascination with serial murder goes back at least as far as the case of Jack the Ripper.  More recently The Silence of the Lambs, both the novel and the film, expanded this fascination to a significant degree. Not as well-known but more authoritative are three books by two real-life FBI profilers, John Douglas and Robert Ressler.

Most readers are familiar with the methods and purposes of profiling: the agent ponders the whole and every part of a crime scene—which includes an in-depth exploration of the murderer’s mind and motives—in order to construct a profile of the offender. This profile enables law enforcement personnel to narrow the field of their search. For example: Be on the look-out for a tall Caucasian male with a speech impediment, unmarried, in his thirties, etc.  

Despite this less direct participation in the search for and apprehension of the killer, the profiler’s work is difficult and even traumatic. In his book called Mindhunter (coauthored with Mark Olshaker), John Douglas recounts an incident from his life that involved actor Scott Glenn, who was preparing for his role as special agent Jack Crawford in The Silence of the Lambs. For the purpose of giving the actor an experiential understanding of this sort of work, he made him listen to the recorded torture and murder of two teenage girls at the hands of two sadistic monsters. Scott Glenn was reduced to tears and discovered that he no longer opposed the death penalty as he had previously.

Although John Douglas takes into account the makings of a serial killer, such as abusive environments during childhood and other tragic factors, he is a stern man of justice. He insists that the perpetrators of these horrific crimes be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. In his book called Journey Into Darkness (also coauthored with Mark Olshaker), he includes a chapter in defense of capital punishment. It is an eloquent appeal, but this passage in particular struck me:

“Asserting that capital punishment is legalized murder does a tremendous injury, in my opinion, to the very concept of right and wrong, in that it trivializes the crucial distinction between the victim of the crime and its perpetrator—the innocent life and the one who chose for his own vile reasons to take that innocent life.”

The book by Robert Ressler (coauthored with Tom Shachtman) is called I Have Lived in the Monster. Ressler’s presentation is every bit as compelling as that of Douglas, and includes interviews with serial murderers John Wayne Gacy and Jeffrey Dahmer. Moreover, he offers a number of insights which I find to be especially chilling. For example:

“In the Middle Ages, this incomprehensibility [of stranger murder/serial murder] translated into attributing such crimes to werewolves and vampires…People felt there were demonic elements to such acts—and I cannot say that they were entirely wrong, because even today, when we try to explain to ourselves the acts of a Jeffrey Dahmer, those acts seem Satanic, at least in part, because they are in large measure beyond rational understanding.”    

Image by ValynPi14 from Pixabay