Michael Tabman

The Last Criminal Profile

In Crime and Security on February 17, 2013 at 8:32 am

          In October 2012, I wrote a blog, Can Criminal Profiling Really Identify a Murderer? premised on an FBI Psychological Profile that seemed unusually inaccurate. In that blog I also cited other examples of “off the mark” profiles.  After that blog, two media outlets invited me to discuss profiling.  One host asked me to identify any case that had been solved via a criminal profile.  I could not think of one.  That does not mean it hasn’t happened, only that in my experience I was not aware of any.  At that time, and continuing through today, there is a serial killer on the loose in Long Island, NY.  This killer’s profile, which identified a number of specific traits, some apparently from physical evidence, has not yet yielded an arrest.

Though not a profiler, through my 24 years of FBI experience, I have worked with profilers and have seen the process in action.  Profiling is not an exact science, and the best efforts of the most highly trained will have errors – they are only human.  I respect and admire the training and expertise of criminal profilers.  However, I am starting to seriously question the value of these profiles, though they make for great entertainment.

After the ex-LAPD Officer turned killer Christopher Dorner died, his profile became media fodder.  His manifesto showed an angry and pathetic side to him.  He was labeled an “injustice collector” and other catchy phrases.  Yet, with all that retrospective understanding of his personality, nobody saw this coming.  As I watched this sad story unfold, I reflected back to only a few months earlier when I discussed Cops Gone Bad with msnbcnews.com. How did these police officers escape getting “profiled” during their psychological assessments? With Dorner’s predictable suicide, so ended his rampage with no justice for those killed and no hope that we can avert another mass killing.  Does profiling him and those like him serve any useful law enforcement purpose?

While researching cases that had been solved directly by criminal profiling, I found some interesting tidbits.  The only case I found in which there was a claim of profiling leading directly to arrest was from the 1940s – 1950s.  The subject of this case was George Metesky, dubbed the Mad Bomber.  Metesky planted bombs in popular New York City venues over the course of 16 years.  Prior to identifying Metesky, the NYPD employed a psychiatrist to profile the Mad Bomber.

The profile included such descriptors as: “male, possible motive: discharge or reprimand, feels superior to critics, resentment keeps growing, present or former Consolidated Edison worker, probably case of progressive paranoia.”  The Mad Bomber’s letters to newspapers and left at bomb sites, made clear allusions to his employment at Con Edison and his belief that his employer had wronged him.  After publicizing some of the Mad Bombers letters, a clerk at Con Edison identified former employee George Metesky as a suspect by poring over worker compensation files.  While the profile accurately predicted many personal traits, there is debate as to the role it played in solving the case, as many aspects of the bomber were revealed through his writings.  The Mad Bomber profile also noted that he was probably neat, unsocial and single.  Metesky planted his first bomb when he was 37 years of age.

During the 1990s, we were terrorized by the Unabomber, sending bombs through the mail.  Various profiles of the Unabomber included terms such as, “Male, single, meticulous, trouble with romantic relationships, loner and paranoia.”  While the profile did contain several similarities with the person convicted, ultimately, the Unabomber was identified after his manifesto was printed in the newspaper and his brother recognized the writing as that of Ted Kaczynski. Kaczynski began his bombings at age 35.

Ted Bundy, one of the most notorious serial killers, fit many of the above noted characteristics.  His arrest was the result of a failed abduction attempt and subsequent traffic stop by police.  Bundy’s first murder was committed when he was 28 years of age.

Serial Murderer David Berkowitz, known as the Son of Sam, terrorized New York City at the time I was a college student, frequenting the areas where Berkowitz was known to strike.  As Metesky and Kaczynski, Berkowitz sent letters to the newspapers.  His profile shares many similarities as the others.  He was caught by an observant passer-by and a parking ticket.  He committed his first murder at the age of 23.

And now we have Christopher Dorner, a single male, aged 33.  He too was described as paranoid; not by a profiler, but by an ex-girlfriend.  How much of Dorner’s profile is consistent with the others?  Did understanding him help us stop anything?

Articles entitled, Psychological profiling ‘worse than useless’, Criminal profiling: the reality behind the myth and The Criminal Profile Illusion – What’s Behind the Smoke and Mirrors? have titles that are self explanatory of their contents.  Another paper, Psychological Profiling also questions the value of the criminal profile.  In my blog cited above, I noted a time when I relied on a profiler for helping design an interview strategy in a mass murder investigation.  The profiler was very helpful, though there was no need to “profile” the killer.  We knew who he was and he was dead.

There is no harm in having a criminal profile, but I now believe it is more show than substance.  I do not see that a criminal profile will directly lead to an arrest.  I prefer to see such expert resources design useful methods for detecting and preventing violent acts.

Please allow me to offer my “profile of the profile.”  It may be valuable to finding the still unidentified Long Island serial killer.

–          Male

–          Single

–          Began killing in mid 20’s to late 30’s

–          Signs of paranoia

–          Blames others for real or imagined wrongs

–          Troubled interpersonal relationships

–          Neat, organized

–          Above average intelligence

–          Will be identified and arrested by means other than his profile

I do not intend to make light of serial killers.  I do not mean to disparage the hard work of well-intentioned and highly educated criminal profilers.  But, I find it important to shed light on what I believe is reality versus myth.  The “Criminal Minds” effect may be as real as the “CSI Effect” and that can only have a detrimental effect on criminal prosecutions.


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