ROBERT K. RESSLER: TAKING ON THE MONSTERS
The New Generation
Currently Ressler is a criminologist in private practice for consultation and expert witness services. He has two associates, Dr. Thomas Muller, Chief of the Criminal Psychology Service within the Austrian Federal Ministry of the Interior, and Dr. Christie Kokonos, a forensic psychologist.
Dr. Muller was trained in the Federal Police School in Innsbruck, Austria, and became a member of the SWAT team. He then acquired graduate degrees in psychology. Now among the areas in which he teaches are hostage negotiation, abnormal criminal psychology, criminal profiling, and threat assessment, and he established the Criminal Psychology Service in Austria, which he heads. He has also worked together with Ressler to train other investigators abroad, notably in Poland, Germany, South Africa, and the U.K.
Dr. Kokonos has consulted with state and local police departments in Pennsylvania on child abduction, homicide, rape, suicide, and autoerotic fatalities. She seeks to promote an interdisciplinary approach to forensic science through the integration of investigative techniques and psychological research. In Camden, New Jersey, she works at the Riverfront State prison on psychological and parole evaluations, and does risk assessments on sexually violent predators.
The original FBI project to study violent offenders had the goal of understanding the fantasy structure that motivates the serial and sexual killer. Ressler and his associates continue to examine this phenomenon with the infusion of insights from psychology with the hope of developing a more standardized body of knowledge. For years, Ressler lectured to psychological groups to explain the FBI's system and to encourage professionals to work with it. For that, he received several prestigious awards and was granted an assistant professorship in psychiatry at Georgetown University.
"The original profilers pretty much emanated from the behavioral science work at Quantico," he explains, "and it spread from law enforcement to the academic. By bringing in Dr. Park Dietz and others like him, we started spilling it over into the professional community, and where psychiatry had initially been at odds with the FBI approach, a lot of mental health professionals then got on board. Over the years, the forensic community has pretty much accepted what we were doing in behavioral science and absorbed it."
This, he believes, is important, because it used to be the case that forensic work was simply a sideline that some clinicians might take on, but often they had little experience with criminals and crime scenes. "If you go back to the early criminal cases where they brought in psychiatrists," he says, "you'll see that they were working out of theories rather than from experience. The difference now is that professionals are fulltime forensic psychiatrists, so they devote their entire career to the forensic aspects of their trade. They get into crime scene information, interviews with offenders, and testifying in court on a regular basis. They're now more experienced."
Dr. Kokonos is enthusiastic about this direction. "I'm different as a profiler because I'm not law enforcement, and traditionally that's what profilers have been. I'm mental health, and we've typically not had access to law enforcement and what they do. Most psychologists have never seen a crime scene or crime scene photos; they have no idea what it takes to do an investigation; have no training; and are completely unaware of how an investigation goes. To do this kind of work, they need to be able to look at a picture of a victim and understand the injuries they see from having been exposed to a lot of cases. Most mental health people fail to understand sex offenders and the role of fantasy in their motives and behavior. So I'm helping to pull law enforcement and mental health together. I help to educate law enforcement about what they need to put into their reports that a psychologist may need down the road, for instance, in order to help keep a serial rapist in prison. The officers need to understand how important it is to do a very thorough victim interview, to put things down in the right order, and to know how the various mental disorders correspond to specific acts of violence. They also need to know that there are different types of rapists. Understanding what to look for is important. In fact, both sides need training so that they can determine whether offenders are likely to re-offend, what kind of victim they might choose, and whether they will start to branch out. Psychology and law enforcement need to work together. The time is right to do that."
As she moves more deeply into this arena, Kokonos relies on Ressler in a supervisory capacity. In one incident, as a test, they did their profiles separately and then compared them.
"We worked on a sexual assault and murder case in northern Pennsylvania," Kokonos recalls. "A little girl, age 11, was grabbed after she left a Halloween party. She walked home with another girl, but a few blocks from her house they parted ways. A witness actually saw her coming down the street and then saw a man come out from a side street. He grabbed the girl, threw her in a car, and was gone before anyone could get there. This was on a Wednesday. On Thursday they found an article of her clothing and then on Friday morning they found her. We believed that she had not been killed until Thursday night, so the man who grabbed her had kept her alive for a period of time. This is unusual and I thought it was likely he might do it again and that he'd done something sexually deviant in the past.
"I went through all the information from the crime scene and wrote up my profile. I sent Mr. Ressler the photos and reports, and then sent him my profile in a sealed envelope. I had the state police meet us at his house and when we got there, he gave the police his version of what he thought the offender would be like and then he opened mine. He read it and said, 'Did you read my mind?'"
For Kokonos, this was a gratifying moment, in part because the better she gets at it, the more she can help to advance the vision. Many people now trained in law enforcement learn some psychology and many psychologists interested in the forensic field are getting better at understanding crime and crime scenes. As Kokonos says, the time is right for a merging of the two disciplines for improved techniques in profiling.