People have always been more fascinated and intrigued by villains than they have by heroes. Take Joker; for example, such an eccentric and dark comic character has been one of the most cherished character of comic history.
But why is that so? Maybe because of the fact that people can understand why a person does good deeds and makes sacrifices for people he cares about. However, they don’t understand why a person can commit such heinous crimes such as anarchy, rape, and murder.
What goes on in the minds of the villains? Why do they do the things they do?
For much of history, people were concerned with the punishment of evil and wrong-doers. However, in recent history i.e. the twentieth century, did thinkers and law-enforcement professionals changed the game. They did so by trying to find the reasons and situations that led the person to commit such horrifying and evil acts.
The foundation of such an approach is the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit (BAU). A division of the law-enforcement organization concerned with criminal profiling (a method that aids in creating a personality composite of an unknown criminal) and the study of criminal behavior.
In 1972, Howard Teten along with Patrick Mullany formed the FBI’s Behavioral Science Unit that taught students criminal profiling (a tactic they developed) to help them solve different cases in which the offender was not known.
Robert Ressler was the one that took the FBI’s Behavioral Science Unit to the next level. Ressler, who was recruited in the Behavioral Science Unit, organized interviews with around 36 serial killers (a term coined by him) from 1976 to 1979. He did so to find a correlation between the criminals’ backgrounds and motives that led them to commit such crimes.
Ressler is also credited to be the one who created the Vi-CAP (Violent Criminal Apprehension Program). This program consists of information on unsolved homicide cases. The program is equipped to gather information from various local police stations and cross-reference it with unsolved homicide cases from around the country.
This program was created in response to the issue of nomadic killers. These killers committed homicides in different locations leaving behind police officers thinking it to be a single homicide. These officers would not be aware that similar homicides had also been committed in other localities (potentially by the same killer) making it harder to catch him.
With the Vi-CAP, it became much easier to find such nomadic killers, since police officers were able to cross-reference their data with other homicide of different localities.
The Behavioral Analysis Unit (BAU), has come a long way since its genesis. And it has tackled some of the most bizarre cases of crime. Here is a list of some of the most important cases of BAU that helped it to become a successful division of the FBI that is it today:
The Mad Bomber
Between the years 1940 and 1956, New York City was crippled with terror because of a person who was placing bombs at random places including cinemas, theaters, libraries, and buildings of Consolidated Edison (Con Ed) (and energy company).
In a span of 16 years, 33 bombs were planted by the person among which 22 were detonated. Although, miraculously, there had been no casualties, around 15 people got hurt.
Over these years, the police force had been unsuccessful at catching the person, who became known as the “Mad Bomber”. No clues had been collected and nothing seemed to be pointing to any suspect. The police were in a frenzy.
The police could not sit around waiting for the bomber to make a mistake. Or to somehow catch the culprit red-handed in the act. Precious lives were at stake.
In such circumstances, the detectives took an unprecedented step in the history of the law enforcement agency. They went to a psychiatrist to seek his assistance. James A. Brussel was a psychiatrist who had assisted in counterintelligence profiling in the Korean War and WWII.
Although Brussel initially hesitated to test his theories on such a high profile case, he eventually agreed. The detectives asked Brussel to create a certain personality of the mad bomber that would help them in their search.
Brussel took an approach that he called reverse psychology i.e. with the given behavior of the individual he was to interpret the type of personality the person may have. This technique would later become known as criminal profiling.
Brussel predicted, after his study, that the culprit will be a male foreigner from Europe, between 40 and 50 years of age, who worked at Consolidated Edison.
The NYPD after getting these insights published a letter addressed to the bomber in the New York Journal American. The NYPD told the bomber to give himself up. The bomber responded to this letter stating that he wanted a truce; however, he would not quit his motive to bring the Con Ed down. In this letter, the bomber also mentioned that he was injured on the job. This tiny piece of information proved to be instrumental and ultimately led to his arrest.
The NYPD responded to the bomber’s letter to which the bomber responded back. Both the bomber’s letters were published in the local newspapers. On seeing the letters, a clerk at Con Ed started looking into old files and eventually found a case where an employee got injured on the job and was fired after getting paid for only 26 weeks.
That employee was George Metesky. George reapplied for benefits but was rejected on the basis of a late application.
The clerk soon became certain that Metesky was the mad bomber because he had once sent a letter to the company. And both Metesky’s and the bomber’s letters had similar words and phrases.
The police questioned George Metesky and later got a search warrant. Metesky was arrested but he was unfit for a trial. He was 90 years old when he died in a state hospital.
This case was the first of its kind, where the police sought a psychiatrist’s assistance in solving the crime. And about the accuracy of the analysis, Brussel’s prediction for Metesky was wrong in certain aspects. Although Metesky was a male bachelor and 48 years old, he was not a foreigner.
The Killer Clown
John Wayne Gacy, often referred to as the killer clown, was among America’s worst serial killers. John was convicted of raping and murdering 33 teenagers. He committed his murders between the years 11972 and 1978.
Gacy lived in Cook County, Illinois. He faced an abusive childhood. His father was an alcoholic who beat his wife. His father had a habit of beating them with a razor strap if he saw them misbehaving.
Gacy felt alienated in school and found great distress in the fact that he was attracted to boys.
Gacy was initially accused of sexual assault and then arrested for only one murder. However, after further investigation, the remnants of human bodies were found in his house.
He committed all of the murders in his Norwood Park ranch house. And almost all of the bodies were hidden inside the crawl space of his home. Some bodies were found in other areas of his home. While the remaining were thrown in the Des Plaines River.
Only when it was found that Gacy had murdered a total of 33 young boys did the criminal profilers from the FBI became involved.
What’s bizarre is that Gacy and Robert Ressler were neighbors. In fact, Ressler even claimed that both of them were in the boy scouts together. Because of this, both of them had intimate and graphic discussions regarding his crimes.
The case was an important one for the BAU because this was the first time they came face to face with an organized killer. And the interviews with Gacy were quite helpful for Ressler as he could confirm all of his assumptions regarding organized killers.
Gacy even invited Ressler to his execution. However, the criminal profiler refused the invitation.
Probably the most good looking and charismatic figure, in our list of the most vicious serial killers, is Theodore Robert Bundy. Not only that, but he was also the one that Ressler, a person who’s job was to deal with serial killers, was most disturbed by.
Although he committed his crimes between 1974 and 1978, the mere mention of his name can bring chills to people. The exact count of his murders has not been confirmed because of his execution in 1989. However, it is believed that the count of his victims exceeded thirty.
Ted was quite clever and deceptive. It was quite a challenge for the officials to keep him behind bars as he got out a number of times. In 1977, while preparing for his murder trial, Ted escaped from a courthouse library in Aspen, Colorado.
After this attempt, the BAU was asked to get involved. The criminal profilers created the accused profile and warned the young women having dark hair parted from the middle that they could be the killer’s next target. This was the first time in law-enforcement history that criminal profiling had been used to warn the public.
A significant aspect of Ted’s approach was that he committed his crimes in different locations. This made it harder for the police to catch the predator as they could not possibly link all the murders. And because the killer was always on the move.
In order to address this unique problem, the BAU devised a program that would contain information on all unsolved cases categorized with respect to modus operandi, personality, and victim type.
Ted Bundy was the only person, among all the devil-like killers that Ressler interviewed, which caused great distress to Ressler. He often wondered, years after his interview with him, if Ted got into his head more than he got into Ted’s.
If you’d liked to know more about Ted and his case there’s an excellent film based on his story.
“Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile”A film by Joe Berlinger
The name of the movie is taken from Ted’s actual murder trial. The film based on Ted’s history and trial proceedings.
The Vampire of Sacramento
When it comes to serial killers, there are two types. The first kind is organized serial killers that are, as the name suggests, organized, have a pattern and a certain victim type. On the other hand, there are disorganized serial killers that are on a random murder spree.
Catching an organized serial killer is hard because the motive is not yet certain and they are extremely organized. However, catching a disorganized serial killer is more difficult because of a lack of pattern and motive.
One such case of disorganized serial killers is that of the vampire of Sacramento. This was the first-ever case that the BAU got involved early on. In previous instances, the BAU got involved only when it had been too long and the investigators got so desperate that they had no option but to try criminal profiling.
It was January of 1978 when the Sacramento Police Department called Ressler regarding a case. The victim was a 22 years old woman who was so brutally and viciously murdered that even the officers had a hard time looking at the corpse.
The profile for the murderer suggested that he would be a white male in his mid-twenties. He would be malnourished, would have a history of mental illness and drug abuse. He would be a loner, unemployed, and could be suffering from psychosis.
The criminal profile of the killer was given to the Sacramento P.D. However, days later, three people, including a six years old child were found shot to death in their house. There was a fourth person that was missing. The police suspected that the killer had kidnapped the fourth person using one of the victim’s car.
This incident gave significant insights to the profilers who then advised that the killer would be living alone within a two-mile radius of where the car was abandoned.
A few days later, since the murders, the police received a call from a woman. She mentioned that she ran into Richard Chase, a person she used to go to school with. They met not far from where the first murder had taken place. What the woman found so distressing and strange was that Richard had changed so much. He not only seemed malnutritioned, disheveled, weak, but he also had blood on the sweatshirt that he was wearing.
What’s more, he even tried to get into her car. But the woman didn’t let him in and hurried to her home and called the police.
Upon investigating the call it was found that chase lived not father than a block from where the car was left. Moreover, his apartment was within a 5-mile radius from the two murders. Evidence of the murders was found from his apartment. Not only that, the weird thing was that the blood of the victims was found in his apartment that he had been drinking.
After Chase got arrested it was found that almost all of the predictions of the profilers were true. When Ressler interviewed the killer, he mostly talked about weird stuff such as U.F.Os which revealed that he was suffering from schizophrenia.
Chase killed a total of 6 people. However, he committed suicide before he could stand trial for his murders. He had been saving his antidepressants for weeks which he used to kill himself.
In 1979, dead bodies of young African-Americans, mostly male, were found bumped across various areas in Atlanta. All of the victims had been strangled to death. Initially, owing to the circumstances, the police thought that this was the case of a hate crime. Therefore, their suspicion lay on extremist organizations such as the KKK or the Neo-Nazis.
They couldn’t think it was a serial killer because, albeit, all the killers had been white men targeting individuals of their own race. However, after the 16th victim was discovered in the same circumstances, the police became desperate for leads.
John Douglas, an FBI agent from BAU, went to Atlanta. After a thorough study of the victims and circumstances, Douglas presented a rather controversial profile of the criminal. Douglas suggested that these weren’t cases of hate crimes because the suspect couldn’t be a white man. The reason being that all of the victims’ bodies had been dumped in areas that were either exclusively black or that had a black majority.
This suggested that the killer was most comfortable in such areas. And even if the killer were white, he would easily stand out in a black community.
This profile was initially resisted by most African-American police officers. They couldn’t accept the idea that a serial killer could be of their own community.
In the profile, another prediction was that the killer will dump the next victim in the river. This was a significant finding as the police were asked to stake out at the Chattahoochee River. And on May 22, 1981, the officers heard a splash at around 3 a.m.
Upon arriving at the scene they saw Wayne Williams, a 23 years old black male, feeling in his car. The police caught him; however, they had to eventually let him go because the police didn’t know what was thrown into the river. The police, upon searching the river, found the body of a 27-year-old African-American man which led to the arrest of Wayne.
Wayne was convicted of the murders of only two African-American males. While no one got convicted for the murder of the remaining 22 individuals. Although Wayne is suspected to be the killer of all of them, he denies it. And there are many people that are of the notion that Wayne did not commit all of those murders.
Wayne is serving his sentence in the Telfair State Prison.
Joseph Paul Franklin
The case of Joseph Paul Franklin was a tough one to crack, even for the FBI’s BAU. The problem with this case was that the killer, Joseph, was a drifter. This meant that he went from state to state and murdered while remaining off the grid.
Such circumstances made it harder for the police to link all the murders or trace the culprit, especially in a pre-internet era.
James Clayton Vaughn, Jr. lived in Mobile, Alabama. Born to a poor family, James had a rough and abusive childhood. As he grew up, he became more and more fascinated with Evangelism and Nazism. The extent of his dedication to such doctrines can be established from the fact that he went as far as to change his name to Joseph Franklin as a tribute to Evangelist Benjamin Franklin and Nazi Joseph Goebbels.
The turning point in his life was when he finished reading Mein Kampf, an autobiography of Adolf Hitler. After reading the book, Joseph decided to initiate a race war. Joseph started firebombing synagogues in July of 1977. However, in October, the same year, he turned to murder.
Joseph traveled across the east coast killing people he deemed inferior to himself. He often used to murder at a distance using a sniper rifle. Among the victims were Vernon Jordan, a civil rights activist and Larry Flynt, publisher of the Hustler magazine.
Although the FBI was aware that the murders were related to UNSUB, they could not have possibly made a connection with Joseph.
In September of 1980, a police officer saw a gun in Joseph’s car in Kentucky. Upon asking for a record on Joseph, the officer discovered that he had an outstanding warrant and Joseph was arrested. But soon after the arrest, Joseph escaped the confinement.
When Joseph’s car was searched, the police found evidence that linked him to a number of murders committed in the east coast. Upon revelation, the police realized what a dangerous man had escaped from their custody.
The problem was that Joseph was a drifter. This meant that neither did the police know where he was going nor could they warn the public in any way. Joseph was quite resourceful. This is why he had been able to murder for such a long time without any issues.
However, now the police knew who the killer was and had a theory on how he was able to commit murders for such a long time. They predicted that he would remain on the east coast and that he would have to either donate blood or commit a bank robbery.
Following this, the police immediately released a memo with Joseph’s description to all the blood banks to keep an eye out for any person that matched the description.
Shortly after, in October of 1980, a blood bank from Florida told the police that a man of similar description did come in to donate blood. From there the police traced him to Lakeland, where he was arrested.
His execution was held in November of 2013 for the first murder he committed. It is estimated that Joseph had killed a total of 15 people by then.
In September of 1983, a gruesome incident took place. A boy, aged thirteen, disappeared from Bellevue, Nebraska while delivery newspapers. His dead body was discovered a few days later dumped in a ditch. The BAU got involved with this particular case because of the unsettling manner in which the boy had been murdered.
The killer had stabbed the victim multiple times; moreover, the dead body had bite marks on it.
The BAU established this as a case involving sexual motive and the known sex offenders of the area were brought in. None of the sex offenders matched the criminal profile presented by the BAU. Therefore, all of them were removed from the list of suspects.
In December of the same year, another similar incident took place. A 12-year-old boy was kidnapped while going to school in Papillion, Nebraska. His body was later found and it also had bite marks over it.
Six weeks after this incident, a worker at a preschool saw a man idling around the preschool. When the worker confronted the man, he pushed the worker away and ran away in his car. Luckily, the worker swiftly wrote down the license plate of the car and informed the police.
Upon tracing the car, the police were led to John Joubert, a 19-year-old boy who was listed in the Air force. He was stationed not too far from where both the murders occurred. What’s more, he perfectly fit the BAU’s profile.
Upon questioning, John confessed to both murders.
Not long after this scenario, Ressler was presenting John’s case to the FBI training class. Among the attendees, two detectives from Portland, Maine realized that there were similarities between John’s murder patterns and those of the murder of an 11 years old boy who’s murder was still unsolved.
Upon further investigation into the matter, Ressler and the detectives discovered that John Joubert had lived in Portland before enlisting in the Air force. And they theorized that John joined the force only to distance himself from the murder.
The police had suspected another man for the murder and he had been tried in court and found not guilty. The district attorney and the police force wasted more than a year and a half trying to get the wrong man behind bars. And in the meantime, John ran away to Nebraska and viciously murdered two more innocent souls.
John Joubert was found guilty of all three murders and sentenced to death. He was executed by an electric chair on July 1996, aged 33.
This case is of significance because it demonstrates how the criminal profiling method is not only successful in finding suspects but is also helpful in eliminating wrong suspects. Not only does it save valuable police time and resources that would otherwise be spent on the wrong suspects but it also saves the police from wrong arrests.
The Co-ed Killer
Edmund Kemper was an extremely smart individual. He had an IQ of 145, making him the smartest killer on the list. At the age of 15, he killed both his grandparents. Later in an interview, he claimed to have done it to “see what it felt like”.
Following the murder of his grandparents, he was admitted to a psychiatric hospital. He outsmarted the staff of the hospital that believed he became better and was released to his mother’s guardianship in his twenties.
Soon after his release, he began drifting. He would pick up female hitchhikers and spend some time with them before letting them go. However, it was not long before he stopped letting them go and began murdering all of his prey.
In 1973, he murdered his mother and her friend. Not only that, he went on to ridicule his mother’s severed head. He never liked his mother because of the years of abuse, physical and mental, she had laid on him.
After killing his mother, Kemper, who had outsmarted the police until now, called the Santa Cruz police department and confessed to all the murders. At first, the police did not believe that a guy they knew as the Big Ed, who was famous among the police, could actually be the person that had committed all those heinous crimes. However, in the subsequent interrogations, he led the police to all the proofs that they needed to prove that he, in fact, was the person that killed all those co-eds.
Kemper was known to be talkative, yet an extremely articulate fellow. What’s more, he enjoyed talking to the police and had watched all the famous cop shows of the time. This particular quality led Ressler to Kemper. Ressler believed that an interview with Kemper, considering his talkative nature, would give him great insights into minds similar to Kemper’s.
An interesting incident took place when Ressler went to interview Kemper for the first time. Ressler realized that he was sitting alone in a locked interview room with Kemper, who was a huge fellow, about 6 ft 9 in and weighing 300 pounds. This made Ressler anxious. Kemper immediately noticed that and said:
Kemper was only joking and didn’t harm Ressler. And even though Ressler continued to interview him, he never again did the interview alone.
The Vampire Rapist
In 1985, during the week of Thanksgiving, a young 19 years old woman was found naked and handcuffed, Brevard County, Florida. The police and an ambulance were immediately called and the woman was taken to a nearby hospital. There, she was given a blood transfusion because almost half of her blood had been drained.
When the police interviewed her, she told them that about twenty-two hours ago she was hitchhiking and a man picked her up. He took her to his house saying that he had to pick up something for work. There, the man shocked her as he threw a rope around her neck.
He dragged her into his house where he tortured her. He then drained her blood and drank it. Shocked, the woman asked why he was doing all this; to which he replied that he was a vampire.
Fortunately, the woman was able to lead the officers to the man’s house and it was reviled that the culprit was John Crutchley, a 39 years old man, who was certainly not a vampire. The police were amazed to find how ordinary and simple the man’s life was.
Crutchley was a math wiz, with a master’s in engineering. He was working as a computer expert for which he was receiving a handsome pay. He even had a wife and a son that had gone out of town for the holidays, when he attacked the young woman in his house.
Upon searching the house, police officers found women’s necklaces, BDSM props, hair clippings, and equipment used to drain blood. This led the police to investigate over 30 cases of kidnapping and murder of women that hadn’t be solved.
Although there was some circumstantial evidence linking Crutchley to some of these cases, there was nothing that directly linked him to these cases.
The prosecutors made a plea deal with Crutchely that he wouldn’t be charged for any of the murder cases if he pled guilty for kidnapping, theft of blood, and rape.
The district attorney asked Rober Ressler of the BAU to interview Crutchley. And during his trial, Ressler testified that Crutchley had all the ingredients necessary for a serial killer. Consequently, Crutchley was given the maximum sentence of 25 years in prison and 50 years of parole.
The case of Crutchley gives a great example of how far the BAU had come since its inception. In the beginning, the FBI profilers would hesitate to use criminal profiling to pursue a case because it was not rendered hard evidence. And not more than 13 years later, we see in the case of Crutchley, that the same method of criminal profiling had a huge impact on the criminal’s sentence.
Jeffrey Lionel Dahmer was a serial killer and a rapist. Between 1978 to 1991, he raped, murdered, and dismembered 17 men. In July 1991, the gruesome crimes of Dahmer became public and there was a wave of shock and disbelief among the public. The couldn’t believe that any sane man was able to commit such heinous acts and that it was a sign of insanity.
This was the time when Dahmer’s defense lawyer approached Ressler, who had recently retired. He asked Ressler to testify in court that Dahmer committed the murders during psychotic episodes and that he was essentially not in his mind.
The idea baffled Ressler. Until now, he had come across killers that were either organized or disorganized. However, Dahmer’s case, that, an otherwise organized serial killer, lost control while committing murder signified that a killer can be both organized and disorganized simultaneously.
The curiosity led Ressler to interview Dahmer. In the few interviews with Dahmer, Ressler found him to be quite likable, despite the fact that he had committed some of the cruelest and gruesome crimes imaginable. Another great trait of Dahmer was that contrary to other serial killers such as Bundy or Gacy, Dahmer was quite open. He didn’t guard his thoughts and let Ressler into his head.
These interviews with Dahmer proved quite fruitful for Ressler who believed that he had gained valuable insights from him. Dahmer ultimately proved to be both an organized and disorganized serial killer, however, Ressler’s testimony was not allowed in court.
Ressler, after studying Dahmer, came to the conclusion that in spite of all the inhumane crimes that these killers committed they were not different from the rest of us humans in any way.
This concludes our list of the most disturbing yet important cases for the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit (BAU). If you are interested in further studying these devil-like individuals, there is a book called Mindhunter, written by John E. Douglas and Mark Olshaker. The book describes how Douglas, tackled his most difficult cases. However, if you are not a book reader, there is a television series of the same name based on Doulas’ book that you can watch.