Unheard Of and Holding Back the Dark: You Can’t Make This Stuff Up

Serial Killers

Studies have revealed that an estimated 400 serial killers were active in the United States between 1800 and 1995, and these offenders killed as many as 3,900 people. Between 1960 and 1990, confirmed serial killings in the U.S. increased by 940 percent. Seventy-six percent of all recent serial killings took place in the U.S. (Eric W. Hickey, Serial Murderers and Their Victims, 3rd ed., Belmont, CA.: Wadsworth/Thomson Learning, 2002, and Michael Newton, Serial Slaughter: What’s Behind America’s Murder Epidemic?, Port Townsend, Wash.: Loompanics, 1992.)

The FBI Method of Profiling

The FBI method of profiling is a system created by the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) used to detect and classify the major personality and behavioral characteristics of an individual based upon analysis of the crime or crimes the person committed. One of the first American profilers was FBI agent John E. Douglas, who was also instrumental in developing the behavioral science method of law enforcement.

(REFERENCES: Douglas, J.E., Ressler, R.K., Burgess, A.W., & Hartman, C.R.(1986). Criminal profiling from crime scene analysis. Behavioral Sciences and the Law, 4: 401–421. Jackson, J.L., & Bekerian, D.A. (1997). Offender profiling: research, theory, and practice. Chicester: Wiley. Turvey, B.E. (1999). Criminal Profiling: An Introduction to Behavioural Evidence Analysis. San Diego: Academic. Woodworth, M., & Porter, S. (2001). Historical Foundations and Current Applications of Criminal Profiling in Violent Crime Investigations. Expert Evidence, 7: 241–261.)

From: Peter Vronsky, Serial Killers: The Method and Madness of Monsters, The Berkeley Publishing Group, New York, New York, 2004, p. 322, 329, 351, 357

FBI agents specializing in profiling offenders, known as criminal investigative analysts, study crime data from suspected serial homicides, kidnappings, terrorist acts and other serious and violent offenses.

In most serial homicides, FBI agents do not actively participate in the investigation, secure evidence, or pursue the suspect – that is the responsibility of the local police agency. Nor is the FBI called in if serial homicides occur in different jurisdictions .… The FBI analysts act in an advisory capacity, only at the request of a local police department …. Although generically called profiling, the technical term is criminal investigative analysis.

Profiler is not a substitute for human analysis – it is a tool. Its input is always analyzed and reviewed by a human profiler. Profiler is used to statistically pinpoint human conclusions.

The FBI does not particularly want its profiling system to be scientifically systemized. Veteran John Douglas states, “The key attribute necessary to be a good profiler is judgment – a judgment based not primarily on the analysis of facts and figures…. Many, many factors come together in our evaluations, and ultimately, it comes down to the individual analyst’s judgments rather than any objective scale or test. He also noted that: [A] profile collapses the moment an offender does not conform to the statistical norm.

From: David Canter, Ph.D., Unlocking the Minds of Serial Killers and Sexual Predators – and Cracking Cases, Dorsett Press, New York, New York, 2006, p. 12,13.

One of the first profiles ever compiled came from Dr. Thomas Bond and described the likely characteristics of “Jack the Ripper”: The murderer must be a man of physical strength and great coolness and daring. There is no evidence that he had an accomplice. He must in my opinion be a man subject to periodic attacks of homicidal and erotic mania. The character of the mutilations indicate that the man may be in a condition sexually, that may be Satyriasis. It is of course possible that the Homicidal impulse may have developed from a vengeful or brooding condition of mind, or that religious mania may have been the original disease but I do not think that either hypothesis is likely. The murderer in external appearance is quite likely to be a quiet inoffensive looking man probably middle-aged and neatly and respectably dressed. I think he might be in the habit of wearing a cloak or overcoat or he could hardly have escaped notice in the streets if the blood on his hands or clothes were visible. Assuming the murderer to be such a person as I have just described, he would be solitary and eccentric in his habits, also he is likely to be a man without regular occupation, but with some small income or pension. He is possibly living among respectable persons who have some knowledge of his character and habits and who may have grounds for suspicion that he is not quite right in his mind at times. Such persons would probably be unwilling to communicate suspicions to the Police for fear of trouble or notoriety, whereas if there were prospect of reward it might overcome their scruples.

From: Robert K. Ressler and Tom Shachtman, Whoever Fights Monsters, St. Martin’s Press, New York, New York, ps. 73-75, 81, 132.

[U]sing a research protocol of some fifty-seven pages (Criminal Personality Research Project), we interviewed thirty-six individual incarcerated murderers, concentrating on their histories, their motives and fantasies, their specific actions. Eventually, we were able to discern important patterns in their lives and learn something about their developing motivation to murder.Nearly 70 percent had a familial history of alcohol or drug abuse. All the murderers – every single one – were subjected to serious emotional abuse during their childhoods. And all of them developed into what psychiatrists label as sexually dysfunctional adults, unable to sustain a mature, consensual relationship with another adult.


From birth to age six or seven … the most important adult figure in a child’s life is the mother, and it is in this time period that the child learns what love is. Relationships between our subjects and their mothers were uniformly cool, distant, unloving, neglectful.
The abuse that the children endured was both physical and mental. Society has understood somewhat that physical abuse is a precursor to violence, but the emotional component may be as important.

[A]ll the murderers knew they had not had normal relationships, and they resented not having them; it was this resentment that fueled their aggressive, murderous behavior.As our society grows more mobile, and as the availability of weapons of mass destruction increases, the ability of the antisocial personality to realize his rapacious and murderous fantasies grows apace.


America’s most prolific serial killer, Sam Little. Said to have murdered more than 90 women.

Serial killer Ed Kemper (center) with FBI profilers Robert Ressler (left) and John Douglas (right).

Little’s renderings of some of his victim which authorities used to identify the women.

“Vampire of Sacramento”

Reference Material

The Anatomy of Motive
John Douglas and Mark Olshaker
Simon and Schuster Inc.

Hunting Humans
Dr. Elliott Leyton
John Blake Publishing Ltd.

Angel of Darkness
Dennis McDougal
Grand Central Publishing

I’ll Be Gone In the Dark
Michelle McNamara
HarperCollins Publishers

Whoever Fights Monsters
Robert K. Ressler and Tom Shachtman
St. Martin’s Press

Serial Murder: Multi-Disciplinary Perspectives for Investigators
Editor: Robert J. Morton
Supervisory Special Agent
Behavioral Analysis Unit-2
Federal Bureau of Investigation

Serial Murder: Pathways for Investigation
Robert J. Morton Supervisory Special Agent, National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime Federal Bureau of Investigation
Jennifer M. Tillman Crime Analyst, National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime Federal Bureau of Investigation
Stephanie J. Gaines ORISE Research Analyst, National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime Federal Bureau of Investigation