Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Dr. Steven Egger: Expert on Serial Murder


At a U.S. Senate subcommittee meeting, a number of people from law enforcement and criminology presented a case for acquiring funds for a computerized database, to assist with the investigation of serial murder. John Walsh was among them, testifying about his murdered son, Adam, and true crime writer Ann Rule described serial killers who had been mobile enough to go from state to state. A way to link cross-jurisdictional crimes like these could save many lives.

Roy Hazelwood
Roy Hazelwood

The Department of Justice then hosted a conference at Sam Houston State University, inaugurating the Violent Criminal Apprehension Program (VICAP). Under the auspices of the National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime, the FBI would run it out of Quantico. Egger was a witness to this process, and his participation inspired his dissertation, "Serial Murder and the Law Enforcement Response," written while he was a doctoral student at Sam Houston State University.

"They had a grant from the National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime," says Egger, "and they were developing the protocol for psychological profiling based upon the interviews that Ressler, Hazelwood and other FBI agents did in the prisons. Here I was studying something that didn't even have a label, in which I had been involved many years earlier. I realized that no one was doing any research on it. The only published information at the time was a couple of articles, all recent, in the FBI's law enforcement bulletin. So I decided to write a qualitative dissertation where I developed my own methodology on case studies, which I then used in the revised edition of my second book. I also coined the term 'linkage blindness'."

Dr. Steven Egger
Dr. Steven Egger

What he means by a qualitative research, which is common in the applied social sciences when researchers wish to immerse most fully in their subject matter, is a method for data collection and analysis that involves allowing the phenomenon under study to shape the queries and procedures. This involves viewing the subject just as it is, rather than subjecting it to pre-set formulas for analysis. It's described in its raw form, so there's no danger of limiting its complexity. The researcher risks getting swamped in details and losing focus, but the research benefits the subject's fullest dimensions.

"My argument," says Egger, "is that if enough researchers use that format, then we could come up with a fairly extensive database from which we can draw inferences. I used the work of a gentleman named Yin who has done a lot of qualitative research. Then I looked at Gibbon's typology, and I extrapolated to serial murder and built my own categories."

He may not have realized it at the time, more than 20 years ago, but he was embarking on a career devoted almost entirely to serial murder. As such, he would develop an approach to speaking to these offenders whenever he had an opportunity, and he got one with another Texas-based killer.