Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Criminal Profiling: Part 1 History and Method

The Baton Rouge Serial Killer

Similarly, profiling took a hit in the case of the Baton Rouge serial killer, a man who had murdered five women in Louisiana. Contrary to the FBIs predictions of an unskilled white man awkward around women, the killer, Derrick Todd Lee, turned out to be black, personable, and had a family and a job. But reporters failed to mention that the local police officers, not the profilers, had neglected to include witness reports that identified a black man near one victims home. What they showed the FBI profilers who came into the case were the witness reports that described a white male.

Derrick Todd Lee
Derrick Todd Lee
In fact, while the Baton Rouge killers profile was mistaken on a couple of points, it was actually right on many more. They were correct about his age, his controlling behavior, his strength, his tight finances, and his non-threatening style. The accuracy of many other details are still unknown. But the media did not report any of that. They only pointed out the errors, and thats what stays in the publics mind.

What got lost in the frenzy was the fact profiles are merely tools, and theyre only as good as the information they get. Theyre also based on probability from the analysis of past cases that are similar to the one under investigation. If most past serial killers have been white males, its reasonable to suggest that a current UNSUB will likely be a white male. With more data on female, black and Hispanic serial killers in the future, the range of possibilities will become more flexible. Until that time, as long as most serial killers remain white males, the probability analysis in a given profile is still going to favor a white male. Probability always has a margin of error and any other approach is just wild-ass guessing.

Gary Leon Ridgway
Gary Leon Ridgway
Not long after that, reporters discovered that famed profiler John Douglas had been wrong about something in the Green River Killer case that might have made a difference in the investigation - perhaps even saved lives. After Gary Ridgway was caught and confessed to 48 murders, he said that hed sent an anonymous letter to the newspaper in 1984, in the midst of his long spree. Douglas had decided it was amateurish and had no connection to the murders. While he was correct on several other things, it was this mistake that made headlines.

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