Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Criminal Profiling: Part 1 History and Method

The FBI Prepares

As murder rates rose in the 1950s and 1960s, along with an increasingly larger percentage of them being stranger murders, the FBI, under J. Edgar Hoover, received expanded jurisdiction. The area of serial crime (called pattern or repetitive crime) needed immediate attention. Notorious killers such as Ed Gein, Albert DeSalvo, Charles Schmid, John Norman Collins, and Harvey Glatman had been caught by 1970 and all were either convicted of, or suspected in, numerous murders. DeNevi and Campbell quote figures that indicate that there had been five known serial killers during the period from 1795 to 1850 [a low estimate], the next 50 years brought 20, another half century increased that to 33, and finally between 1951 and 1993 there were nearly 400 [probably a high estimate]. Something had to be done, so a new unit was formed to take on this task.

Who Killed Precious?
Who Killed Precious?
The first book to address the now-famous Behavioral Science Unit at the FBI was H. Paul Jeffers Who Stole Precious? (The reference is not to the dog so named in The Silence of the Lambs but to a murdered prostitute.) At the time, around 1989, according to Jeffers, John Douglas was the unit chief and the outfit had shifted dramatically from a curious group relegated to cramped offices and limited resources to the nine-member arm of the National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime.

Robert Roy Hazelwood
Robert "Roy" Hazelwood
Jeffers offers a detailed overview of how the BSU came to be part of the FBI. He quotes an article written by two early profilers, Robert R. Hazelwood and Richard Ault, to the effect that law enforcement to that point had distrusted psychology, yet investigators can and should make use of advances in the behavioral sciences. Unlike detectives who looked for physical clues at a crime scene, Douglas and his crew viewed a crime scenes appearance as symptomatic of the offenders unique aberration. That was certainly not how the FBI traditionally had worked.

Briefly, the Bureau was founded in 1908 but was ill-managed until 1924 when J. Edgar Hoover was appointed its director. He remained in the position until his death in 1972. As part of his plan, he set up the FBI Training Academy in Washington, D.C., in 1935. Eventually it spread onto the Marine base at Quantico, Va. As the FBIs jurisdiction increased in variety and scope, there was more demand from around the country for their resources and the agency developed itself into an elite law enforcement organization. Greater coordination occurred during the 1950s with the Ten Most Wanted program, and in 1967, they set up the National Crime Information Center (NCIC), with access for state and local agencies. But this was not a database for unsolved crimes. That was yet to come.

At the Academy, instructors experienced in investigation offered courses, and a handful of agents wanted to introduce ideas from psychology and sociology. That was the initial seed for the Behavioral Science Unit, and once planted, there was no extracting it.