Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Criminal Profiling: Part 1 History and Method

The Psychiatric Approach

Throughout the next half century, some mental health professionals made a study of murderers and in their published works, the motives and backgrounds were often clarified. Psychiatrist Karl Berg questioned German serial killer Peter Kürten in prison in 1930 after he was charged with numerous counts of assault and murder. James Melvin Reinhardt, a psychiatrist and professor, published his interviews with spree killer Charles Starkweather in 1960. These reports were not behavioral profiles but attempts to understand the crimes. Yet the detailed analyses done contributed some structure and ideas to the development of profiling.

Profiling Violent Crime
Profiling Violent Crime
Holmes and Holmes, in Profiling Violent Crime, discuss a secret profile drawn up for the U. S. Office of Strategic Services on Adolf Hitler in 1942 (although, strictly speaking, this is not a "profile" of an unknown suspect but a behavioral analysis toward the end of predicting behavior).  Dr. Walter C. Langer, a psychoanalyst based in New York, offered a 135-page long-range evaluation of what Hitler was probably like - and what he might do if he believed he were going to lose the war. The OSS wanted a psychological basis for making plans, given various options. Langer used speeches, a lengthy biography, Hitlers book Mein Kampf, and interviews with people who had known Hitler, and later he published a book on what he said.

Adolph Hilter in uniform
Adolph Hilter in uniform
The profile noted that Hitler was meticulous, conventional, and prudish about his body. He was robust and viewed himself as a standards-bearer and trendsetter. He had manic phases, yet took little exercise. He was in good health, so it was unlikely he would die from natural causes, but he was deteriorating mentally. He would not try to escape to some neutral country.

Hitler always walked diagonally from one corner to another when crossing a room, and he whistled a marching tune. He feared syphilis, germs and moonlight, and loved severed heads. He detested the learned and the privileged, but enjoyed classical music, vaudeville, and Richard Wagners opera. He also liked the circus acts that endangered people. He showed strong streaks of narcissism and sadism, and he tended to speak in long monologues rather than have conversations. He had difficulty establishing close relationships with anyone. Since he appeared to be delusional, it was possible that his psychological structures would collapse in the face of imminent defeat. The most likely scenario was that he would end his own life, because hed threatened it before, although he might get one of his henchmen to do it for him.

Hitler was more recently profiled through samples of his handwriting - not considered a scientific approach. Innes indicates that Sheila Lowe used Hitlers letters to analyze his pessimistic, rigid personality. However, despite Inness inclusion of this method in his book on profiling, its not considered psychologically sound and no professional profiler would use it.