In 1972, the FBI established the Behavioral Science Unit (BSU). The unit’s goal was straightforward. It wanted to develop law enforcement techniques, procedures and tactics that focused on the psychology and behavior of violent criminals.
To that end, two men in particular—FBI agents Bob Ressler and John Douglas—were pioneers in developing psychological profiles for the most violent of criminals. These trailblazers played a vital role in developing modern day criminal profiling, with a particular focus on mass murderers. In fact, Ressler is often credited with coining the term “serial killer.”
The BSU was dissolved in 2014, but the work it produced is still being utilized in various spinoff units, such as the Behavioral Analysis Unit and the National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime.
Here are three of the most disturbing, early cases encountered by the Behavioral Science Unit.
It was September 1983 in Bellevue, Nebraska. A 13-year old paperboy went missing. Days later, his mutilated body was found in a ditch. Bite marks were all over his body. And, there was evidence of sexual assault.
Local law enforcement asked the FBI for assistance due to the gruesome nature of the crime. None of the known sex offenders in the area fit the profile developed by the FBI. So, no immediate arrest was made.
Then, three months later, another young Nebraska boy was kidnapped and murdered. This 12-year old victim also had bite marks on his body. About two months after the second murder, a woman caught a man loitering near a local daycare. She confronted the man, but he pushed her, jumped in his car and fled. But, the woman got his license plate number.
The man was John Joubert, a 19-year old, who was stationed at a local Air Force base. Joubert fit the profile developed by the FBI. He was arrested, and eventually confessed to the two murders.
Not too long after his arrest, Agent Ressler was teaching a FBI training course. Two Portland, Maine detectives were among the many attendees. After hearing the Nebraska case file, the detectives immediately notified Ressler that the murders sounded just like an unsolved killing of an 11-year old boy from Portland. Turns out, Joubert hailed from Portland.
He was eventually convicted for all three murders – one in Maine, two in Nebraska. Joubert died by execution at the age of 33.
In this situation, the FBI’s profile narrowed the suspect field, and helped solve two murders within a short time. But, the profile also helped resolve an open murder case located on the other side of the country. If the Maine detectives had the help of this unit originally, it is quite possible that Joubert wouldn’t have skipped town, moved to Nebraska and committed two additional murders.
The FBI’s profiling work was cutting-edge, and was helping remove violent offenders from the streets.
Agent Ressler interviewed many serial killers during his time with the FBI. Supposedly, the killer who most disturbed Ressler, was Ted Bundy. Known for his charm, good looks and intelligence, Bundy killed over 30 women on the American west coast between 1974-1978.
Many in law enforcement suspect that Bundy killed a much larger number than 30 women, but he was executed in 1989, so the truth will most likely never be known.
In 1977, while awaiting a murder trial in Colorado, Bundy escaped from a courthouse library. That’s when the FBI was called in to help. The unit developed a victim profile in an effort to warn women about Bundy and the threat he posed.
What was the victim profile? Young, pretty ladies with brown hair parted down the middle. This marked the first time an FBI criminal profile was used to warn the general public about a serial killer.
The Bundy case had another lasting effect on crime fighting. Bundy’s victims spanned many different states. This is what enabled him to murder for so long without getting caught. Why? Because there was no centralized criminal profiling database. But, that changed as a result of Bundy. A new national database was created by the FBI, and it included the predator’s modus operandi, personality and victim type.
Ressler had often publicly discussed his interviews with Bundy, and he was very candid in describing Bundy as a complete animal.
A genius, with an IQ of 136, Edmund Kemper is one of America’s most notorious serial killers. At 15, Kemper committed his first murders – his grandparents. Sent away to a psychiatric hospital, Kemper was able to manipulate the staff into believing he was no longer a danger to society. So, in his early 20s, he was released into his mother’s care.
At 6’9 and over 300 pounds, Kemper was a massive, imposing man. Known as the “Co-ed Killer” for his murder of six college women, Kemper’s killing spree came to an end after murdering his mother and her friend. After killing his mother, he mutilated her body.
Due to Kemper’s high intelligence and articulation skills, the FBI was very interested in learning about him and his motives. According to Kemper, his violent tendencies towards women stem from their early rejection of him, and the abuse he endured from his mother.
Ressler interviewed Kemper on several occasions, and the killer’s insights assisted the FBI in developing a thorough understanding of the mind of a serial killer.
The work conducted by the BSU was very difficult, and psychology draining. But, these men and women put the needs of the public ahead of their own. They wanted to understand the mind of a killer, so hopefully they could prevent further violence. Are there other famous FBI profiling cases that you find fascinating?
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