Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Criminal Profiling: Part 1 History and Method

High Profile for the Profiling Unit

What the profilers needed was a case that would demonstrate their technique with a clear success that would get the publics attention. The Vampire of Sacramento was interesting, but that threat had been local and quickly contained. With all the calls coming in from around the country, it was likely the profilers would find a good opportunity, and they did: a string of deaths in Atlanta that was making national news. In Mindhunter, Douglas tells how he and Roy Hazelwood were the BSU representatives on this case.

Chatahoochee River
Chatahoochee River

From 1979 to 1981, someone was killing Atlanta's youth. More than 25 black males, some as young as nine, had been strangled, bludgeoned or asphyxiated. All potential leads had turned into dead ends. The only real clue was the presence on several of the bodies of fiber threads. A few also bore strands of what was determined to be dog hair. Douglas and Hazelwood, who arrived after a number of the murders had been committed, walked around the neighborhood where the victims had lived and said that this was not a racial crime; they predicted the killer would be black. They also indicated that the next victim would likely be dumped in the Chatahoochee River, since that was the pattern.

Wayne Williams
Wayne Williams
The police set up a stakeout. On May 22, 1981, this strategy appeared to pay off. In the early morning hours, the stakeout patrol heard a loud splash. Someone had just thrown something large into the river. On the James Jackson Parkway Bridge, they saw a white Chevrolet station wagon, and when they stopped it, they learned that the driver's name was Wayne Williams. He was a 23-year-old black photographer and music promoter. They questioned him, but when he said he'd just dumped some garbage they let him go.

Only two days later, the police found the body of 27-year-old Nathaniel Cater. Hed been asphyxiated approximately 48 hours before. A single yellow-green carpet fiber was found in his hair. The police got a search warrant for Wayne Williams' home and car, and the search turned up some valuable evidence: The floors of Williams' home were covered with yellow-green carpeting, and he also had a dog. Comparisons from the samples removed from the victims showed good consistency with Williams' carpet. Three separate polygraph tests indicated deception on Williams' part.

The prosecution relied on only two of the twenty-eight suspected murders---the one from the river, Nathaniel Cater, and another recovered in the same general area a month before, Jimmy Ray Payne. A single rayon fiber had been found on his shorts, which was consistent with the carpeting in Williams' station wagon. They also introduced into evidence the fibers found on the bodies of ten of the other victims, which also matched those in Williams' car or home. In total, there were 28 fiber types linked to Williams. In addition, several witnesses had come forward to place him with some of the victims.

John Douglas acted as a consultant in the 1981 trial, predicting Williams behavior to certain strategies, and he records the moment when Williams became upset and shouted that he wasnt going to fit the FBIs profile. Douglas also knew that Williams would take the stand and try to control the proceedings - and even that he would pretend one day to be sick. It was a showcase for him, Douglas says.

After only 12 hours, the jury returned a guilty verdict against Williams, with two life sentences.

That was good for our program, Jeffers quotes Douglas as saying afterward. Wed proven that a psychological profile can help convict a killer.

But it wasnt enough to develop profiles from one crime to another; the workload was building fast, and the need for a computerized database was pressing.

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