Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Mike DeBardeleben: Serial Sexual Sadist

A Surprise for the Secret Service

The agents spent three hours going through the contents of the storage area. It was clear that DeBardeleben had ordered things through the mail to assist him in disguising himself as a police officer. He also had an assortment of women's phone numbers and addresses. Evidence of counterfeiting was among these items, but its significance began to pale when the agents pieced together what they found with what they knew about other crimes. One bag contained handcuffs, a dildo, shoelaces, a chain, bloody panties, and lubricant. There were also hundreds of photos of females, most of them sexually explicit, and several audiotapes.

US Secret Service badge (AP)
US Secret Service badge (AP)

This was way out of their league. It wasn't the kind of case they usually tracked. Since 1865, the job of the Secret Service had been primarily to investigate and stop counterfeiting and fraud against the government. In 1883, the Secret Service became a distinct organization within the Treasury Department, and eleven years later it was first assigned the job of protecting the president. Eventually some agents were transferred to the Department of Justice, and that became the FBI. By 1915, they were investigating espionage. Then they also began to protect former presidents, the vice president, and their immediate families. In 1984, Congress enacted legislation that made the fraudulent use of credit and debit cards a federal violation and soon the Treasury Police Force merged with the Secret Service.

According to their Web site: "The types of criminal cases we work are mainly concerned with safeguarding the nation's financial security.... We spend a lot of time investigating counterfeit money both in the United States and overseas. Additionally, we currently investigate credit card fraud, computer fraud and financial institution fraud. Even though we now rely on computers to help us, we still go out and ask questions of victims, witnesses, and suspects.... We also investigate people who make threats against the President, Vice President, or any of our protectees."

Often Secret Service agents manage to break a case and confiscate counterfeit bills because numerous people are involved and someone snitches; a lone practitioner like DeBardeleben is much more difficult to stop. He'd proven to be slick and elusive, and was soon among the most wanted.

Back at the Washington Field Office, agent Greg Mertz looked through the assortment of distasteful items they had found in DeBardeleben's storage locker and then listened to one of the tapes. He was utterly stunned by its contents, and it soon became evident that DeBardeleben, in the words of one expert, had a criminal history "unmatched anywhere for its sadism, its scope and his success at eluding detection."

The tapes recorded intense and disgusting torture sessions with women, who begged their tormenter to either stop or kill them. They appeared to be somewhat scripted and revealed a man full of self-hatred who needed to experience pain in others or himself to get aroused. According to Michaud, many of the investigators believed that DeBardeleben was the "most dangerous felon ever at large in America." Agents Greg Mertz, Dennis Foos, and Mike Stephens went to work on a case the likes of which they'd never seen before or since.

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