Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods


Dark Dreams

Dark Dreamsis your second book about sexual predators. What sets it apart from the first one?

The first book dealt with my life and some of my more interesting cases. This book is an attempt to acquaint the public with the difficulty in trying to identify, apprehend, and convict sexual offenders. There are an infinite number of deviant sexual behaviors and different combinations of sexual behaviors that can be merged into a single crime, and law enforcement, mental health and social services have to deal with those issues.

The chapter that goes into that is titled "The Infinity of Darkness." I discuss the role that fantasy plays in sexual crimes and how offenders act out those fantasies using wives and girlfriends, as well as inanimate objects. Other chapters deal with bringing the fantasy to reality in crime, sexual sadism, linking a series of cases together via behavior, serial murder, ritualistic and impulsive behavior, serial rape and, of course, profiling. One of my favorite chapters is titled "Am I God?" and it deals with the role of narcissism in sexual crimes and with one particular criminal who wrote a lengthy manuscript in which he described four murders in detail, and because of his power over life and death, questioned whether or not he was God. Frequently I will tell my classes, "Thank God for Narcissism."

What do you mean by that?

The most successful sexual criminals are quite narcissistic, believing they are superior to society in general and law enforcement in particular. They come to believe that they can't get caught, so they engage in greater and greater risk taking. This serves two purposes; to prove they are superior and to maintain the "high" they get from committing the crimes. They have feelings of invulnerability and consequently they make mistakes, which, in hindsight, seem to be stupid mistakes. Thank God for narcissism. What I just told you comes right out of my class. People who have attended my lectures and read Dark Dreams have told me that if they close their eyes, they can hear me teaching.

In the book, you talk about the shocking case of Mike DeBardeleben. Can you tell us about that?

James Mitchell DeBardeleben mugshot
James Mitchell

I was brought into that case by the Secret Service. They had been looking for DeBardeleben for a number of years for counterfeiting and they identified an apartment that he lived in. They searched the apartment and found nothing of a criminal nature. One of the agents went through every single page of the greater Washington, D.C. area looking for underlined names, names with an asterisk, or missing pages. When he got to the yellow pages, he noticed that a page in the "storage" section had been torn out. He then obtained the information from the missing page and called every business listed, identifying two containers with his material. These two sheds contained an abundance of counterfeiting equipment, but they also contained thousands of pornographic photographs of women, bloody female garments, women's driver's licenses, pieces of jewelry, red lights, sirens, counterfeit police badges and identification, handcuffs, hundreds of pages of his writings, and audio tapes of his torment of a former wife and a rape victim. There were also tapes of himself discussing his goals as they pertain to his sexual crimes and one tape of him speaking in a falsetto voice, mimicking what he had forced his rape victims and wives to say. With the assistance of Dr. Park Dietz, I wrote a 40-page report for the Secret Service to help them better understand sexual sadism as it pertained to DeBardeleben. In my opinion, he is the most well documented sexual sadist in the history of the world and that includes the Marquis de Sade. An excellent book by Stephen Michaud was written about him, Lethal Shadows.

Are there signs to look for as children develop?

In my opinion, the best human predictor of future violent behavior is the fourth grade school teacher. She can tell you who is going to be a problem. She observes the children for an extended period of time each day and sees how each child interacts with others. She observes cruelty, deceitfulness, verbal and physical violence and manipulative behavior.

All children will demonstrate these behaviors at some point, but I am referring to repetitive patterns of such behaviors that occur even when the child has suffered the punishment for such actions. Common sense plays a large role at this point. Does your common sense tell you that the child's behavior is beyond the norm?

I found it interesting the way you saw links between something St. Augustine said and the way sexual sadists think. How did you make that association?

I'm a Christian and I enjoy reading about my faith. One day I came across some of St. Augustine's writings where he spoke of the five steps that men and women take to act in a sinful way. He wrote that sin originates in the mind, and it then moves to the senses for approval. The consequences are considered, the will makes a decision to act, and the mind rationalizes the behavior. As I read that, I realized that if I replaced the word 'sin' with the word 'crime,' I could apply it to my work and lectures. The sexual criminal fantasizes about a criminal act, and if the idea is pleasing to his sensestouch, sight, etc.he considers the consequences of what might happen and then decides to act. Finally, he rationalizes his behavior for having committed the crime..."I wouldn't have done it if..."

I once asked a serial rapist, "If the death penalty was the punishment for your crime, would you still have committed the offense?" He told me that he would have. I asked him why and he responded by asking me if I had ever skipped school and I said yes. He asked if I knew the consequences and again I said yes. He then asked why I had skipped school if I knew I was going to be punished and I said, "Because I didn't think I was going to be caught and I wasn't thinking of the consequences, I was thinking of the immediate gratification." All he said was, "There you go." You don't think about the consequences and if you're narcissistic, you don't believe you will be caught.