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The Effectiveness of Profiling in Serial Killer Investigations. How Do Criminal Profilers Use
Moris Kimathi

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Every day, law enforcement officers across America are called to respond to murders. Each
homicide case is tragic, but there are few cases more heartrending and more difficult to
understand than serial murder. (Robert S. Mueller, 2014)
These are the words, with which the FBI Director Muller initiated his message, to address
the serial murder issue for Behavioral Analysis Unit on the FBI website.
In this world plagued with people who are parasitic to its very existence, serial killers
hold the prime position. The serial killer problem has become more evident in this era as their
numbers and their victim count increased. This paper scrutinizes the topic of serial killers via
effectiveness of criminal profiles drawn up by criminal psychologists and the historic reception
of these profiles to capture serial killers.

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Who is a Serial Killer?
The term Serial Killer is to be used for a murderer responsible for three or more
separate events, in three or more separate locations with an emotional cooling off period between
homicides (Douglas & Burgess, 2006). This however is not the only definition for a serial killer.
It differs from others in just the number of count for the murders. However, most officials accept
the third murder as the step stone for the title of Serial killer
What is Criminal Psychological Profiling?
FBI investigators observe the modus operandi and the signature of serial killers to gather
evidence for a murder. The modus operandi includes manipulation, domination and control as
the tools the killers use to lure their victims. It is the dynamic of their very nature and can evolve
overtime. The signature on the other hand is what giver the killer satisfaction in his act of
murder, it always remain same. It is the gesture that of a verbal, sexual or physical act (Hickey,
1997) the killer never fails to commit for each of his murder victim.
The psychological profile is an amalgamated study of the above traits. Here the
development of the key interactive characteristics and nature of a killer are studied and drawn.
This information is gained from the crime scene the killer has left behind.
It is not just a personality prediction but a socio-psychological profile, as it draws the
character traits and preferences as well as social and demographic suggestions like age, sex,
race, employment, education, living arrangements and other similar factors. (Holmes &
Holmes, 2002)
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Psychological profiling is nothing like basic profiling that includes ABP (All-Points
Bulletin) or BOLO (Be On the Lookout), which are based on eye-witness accounts. The creation
of a criminal psychological profile is based on the vital evidence of accurate interpretation of a
murder crime scene. It can point out the sort of personality of a person who can commit the
Early Crime Analysis (18
Serial killing might be a much older menace but it was in late 1880s London that it
became the subject of criminal profiling due the horrific murders of five prostitutes in quick
succession. After the first two murders, the killer sent the investigating officer a letter signed;
"Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper. The next day the killer struck again, murdering and mutilating
two more women in the same night, and followed it with a package again sent to the Whitechapel
vigilante organization enclosed with another taunting note, and part of the missing kidney he had
taken from the bodies of his victim.
The last known victim of Jack, the ripper was the most horrifically mutilated of all the
other victims and it was her death that prompted the police to ask the doctor assigned to perform
her autopsy for a detailed description of her wounds. Dr. Thomas Bond, a surgeon who also
performed the autopsy of the first victim, came up with more. In his reports he stated that the
murders were performed with brutality and were clearly sexual in nature (Ramsland, 2014). He
further stated,
All five murders had been committed by one person alone who was physically strong,
cool, and daring. He would be quiet and inoffensive in appearance, middle-aged, and neatly
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attired, probably wearing a cloak to hide the bloody effects of his attacks out in the open.
(Ramsland, 2014)
The Doctor later further added that the killer could have had surgical knowledge, but
none of this information provided results and Jack the Ripper, was never caught. However,
following this case the task of criminal profiling became a procedure for criminal psychologist
instead of surgeons.
The Psychological Approach (19
In the 19
century more advancement was made to understand the minds and methods of
serial killers by mental health care professionals. These psychiatrists met and extensively
interviewed convicted serial killers, to review their former social settings and backgrounds.
Peter Krten, a German serial killer who was convicted on many assault and murder
charges was interviews by Dr. Karl Berg, who later published his detailed analysis of Krtens
personality. Similarly, Charles Starkweathers killing spree in 1960 was also scrutinized and
published as analysis by Psychiatrist James Melvin Reinhardt, who interviewed Starkweather in
captivity. These publications were not exactly criminal profiles, but they did provide an effective
insight in understanding the crimes and their motivations.
The effectiveness of criminal profiling was established back in mid-1900s, as the U. S.
Office of Strategic Services also requested a personality analysis or profile drawn of Adolf Hitler
in 1942. (Holmes & Holmes, 2002) These profiles were used to preempt retrospective reactions.
The modern Criminal Profiling Structures
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It was psychiatrist Dr. James Brussel who made the first and most famous criminal
profile in 1950s that led to successful arrest of the George Metesky in 1957, the bomber
responsible for various bombings in 40s and 50s in public places like Radio City Music Hall
and Grand Central Station. His criminal profile was accurate from ethnicity, motivation,
approximate age, personal presentation, living situation, level of paranoia, religious affiliation,
employment status, up to the dressing preference. (Brussel, 1968)It was this success that
introduced criminal psychology as an indispensable FBI Behavioral Science Unit in crime
fighting efforts.
Psychological profiling myths and the truths
The mass media and enigmatic theatre movies have created stenotypes for the serial
killers. Movies like From Hell and Silence of the Lambs all portray a typical set of traits that
their serial killers showcase. The Behavioral Science Unit solved many cases which put these
myths to in harsh light of reality. According to FBI Director Robert S. Mueller the most
prominent of these Hollywood myths include.
Serial killers are all dysfunctional loners, when in fact many notorious killer like BTK
killer and Green River killer were both family men, with children, held steady jobs, one
even was a former US Air Force soldier, and attended church.
Serial killers are all white males. The FBI has arrested Chinese, Latin, African American
and Columbian natives for serial killing murders from various parts of US.
Serial killers are only motivated by sex. Many infamous killers after being caught
admitted to have killed multiple times for thrills, monetary gains, anger, or simple
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instinct. Dr. Michael Swango, known as The Angle of Death is a perfect example for
non-sex related serial killing.
All serial murderers travel and operate interstate. Many killers increased their killing
zones as their lifestyle or traveling patterns changes. With each killing the increased
confidence allowed them the ability to operate and carry out their signature kills, outside
their comfort zone too.
Serial killers cannot stop killing. Serial killers like Jeffrey Gorton and BKT Bomber,
admitted to having stopped killing before they were captured. An alternate outlet for their
emotional outbursts was all they required to stop themselves from going on killing sprees.
The BTK killer, Dennis Rader killed 10 victims in between 1947 to 1991 but then
stopped as he began indulging in other sexual activities to satisfy his needs. He was
captured on 2005 and was not involved in any murder during that time.
All Serial killers are insane or are evil geniuses. All the killers captured to date
demonstrated varying intellect level, from average to above average. Labeling them as
manipulative, brilliant minds only results in overlooking of suspects who can perform
with meticulous care even with average intelligence.
Serial killers want to get caught. With time comes experience. The same happens with
these killers who gain confidence with each kill and start to take shortcuts and thus leave
behind unintentional clues to their identity. It is never their intention to get caught; their
recklessness usually is responsible for their identification.
The psychological profiling of serial killers undertakes all these minor and major snippets of
human nature into consideration alike, and thus the resulting profiles usually are a perfect
persona of the responsible person.
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Serial killing is an ugly facet of social human world. Even if these killers are careful
enough to go undetected, they still leave behind a twisted puzzle of facts that when pieced
together gives a relative view into the reality. Psychological profiling is the way to make sense of
these puzzles and determine with relative confidence the possible identity of the culprit. It is by
no means an accurate science but its success rates cannot be denied. In todays fight against
violent crime, Psychological profiling is a vital tool of trade.

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Brussel, J. (1968). Casebook of a Crime Psychiatrist. New York: Grove Press.
Douglas, J. E., & Burgess, A. G. (2006). Crime Classification Manual: A Standard System for
Investigating and Classifying Violent Crimes. Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons.
Hickey, E. (1997). Serial Murderers and Their Victims. California: Wadsworth Publishing
Holmes, R. M., & Holmes, S. T. (2002). Profiling Violent Crime. CA: Sage: Thousand Oaks.
Ramsland, K. (2014, April 19). Criminal Profiling: Part 1 History and Method. Retrieved from
Robert S. Mueller, I. (2014, April 19). Serial Murder. Retrieved from The Federal Bureau of