Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Criminal Profiling: Part 1 History and Method

The Prison Interviews

While on the road teaching local jurisdictions this method of behavioral analysis, Ressler thought it might be a good idea to visit some of the prisons they were near to gain access to dangerous criminals. They were profiling unknown offenders but could actually talk to known offenders and find out more about their motives and their crimes. If the BSU could devise a protocol of questions to ask, and could get detailed responses, they could start a database of information about traits and behaviors that these men shared in common.

In 1978, Ressler recalled in an interview, I had come up with the idea of improving our instructional capabilities by conducting in-depth research into violent criminal personalities. I suggested we go into the prisons and interview violent offenders to get a better handle on them and formulate a foundation for criminal profiling. Initially, it was me and my partner who did this while we were on road trips for teaching purposes. If I was in California, I would contact the agent who was our training coordinator and have him set up interviews at local prisons with people like Charles Manson or Sirhan Sirhan.

John Douglas and Robert Ressler both write about these visits in their books, and they were generally the team who did the prison interviews. If you want to understand the artist, Douglas writes in Mindhunter, look at his work.

Initially, they contacted different types of offenders, from mass murderers to assassins (even failed ones) to serial killers. Jeffers goes into extensive detail on this aspect of the program. He makes it clear that the team did not want to ask questions that psychiatrists might have used during prison assessments. They were interested in law enforcement not psychoanalysis. Data were collected on 118 victims, including some who had survived an attempted murder, and finally the team devised a questionnaire routine that covered the most significant aspects of the offenses. The goal was to gather information about how the murders were planned and committed, what the killers did and thought about afterward, what kinds of fantasies they had, and what they did before the next incident (where relevant).