Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Criminal Profiling: Part 1 History and Method


Jeffers, as well as DeNevi and Campbell, document the tale of how a homicide detective in Los Angeles came to spearhead the movement to develop a national database for unsolved crimes around the country. His name was Pierce Brooks and it all began with the murder of a woman in 1958. As he studied the crime, he believed that the offender had killed before. Then he got an unrelated case that struck him the same way. Brooks spent off-hours and weekends in the library looking for similar incidents as a way to link these crimes to a repeat offender. He started in Los Angeles and then began to go through articles from other major cities. The task seemed hopeless, but then he found a murder that was similar to one of his. He made a fingerprint match between the two cases and found a good suspect. But the process had been painstaking.

Roy Hazelwood takes the story from there: Then he went to his police chief in Los Angeles and said, Look, I think we need to buy a computer, enter these kinds of cases, and see if we can't match these cases together. The chief scoffed at the idea, because a computer at that time would cost $1 million and take up a city block.

Harvey Glatman
Harvey Glatman
Brooks also managed to link a string of three deaths associated with an early serial killer, Harvey Glatman, who asked women to pose for photographs before he killed them. He was known as the Lonely Hearts Killer. With cases like this, Brooks knew that investigators around the country needed a centralized database and he never stopped pushing for it.

At a Senate subcommittee meeting for the U.S. Congress years later, he and others presented a case for funds for a computerized system. John Walsh was among them, testifying about his murdered son, Adam. True crime writer Ann Rule also testified, and she pointed to a large group of serial killers who had been mobile enough to go from state to state: Ted Bundy, Kenneth Bianchi of the Hillside Stranglers, Gary Addison Taylor, and Harvey Louis Carnigan. She said that in Bundys case, according to Jeffers, a system like VICAP might have saved as many as 15 lives. Brooks said that his own method of looking up linked crimes had remained the same for 25 years, which was shameful in light of computerized technology.

Then in the early 80s, says Hazelwood, Brooks got the Department of Justice to host a conference at Sam Houston State University, and that's when VICAP, the Violent Criminal Apprehension Program, was born. Glatman's case started that whole process. It was decided that the FBI would run it out of Quantico and in 1985, we hired Brooks to become the first director of VICAP, because it was his idea.

Thus, in 1985 the BSU came under the auspices of the FBI's National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime (NCAVC). Its now known as Behavioral Science Services, with an Investigative Support Unit offering the Criminal Investigative Analysis Program (CIA), in which profiling plays only a part. CIA is a multi-faceted approach to many types of crime, dividing an investigation into four clear stages.

  1. Determine that a crime has been committed
  2. Try to accurately identify the crime
  3. Try to identify and apprehend the offender (profiling)
  4. Present evidence in court

Using standard VICAP forms, which have been revised and simplified over the years, investigators collect data from police departments around the country on solved, unsolved, and attempted homicides; unidentified bodies in which the manner of death is suspected to be homicide; and missing-persons cases in which foul play appears to have played a part. In other words, thanks to the program, a homicide in Los Angeles may be linked to one in New York done by the same person; a murdered John Doe in Missouri can be identified as a runaway from Boston. Everyone involved expected great things from this development, but their influence sometimes reached even farther than they had expected.