by John Douglas and Mark Olshaker gives an insider’s
view of FBI’s elite serial crime unit. Douglas
was the youngest agent not just as a lecturer at Quantico,
but also at FBI Headquarters. His resume is impressive
having spent four years in the military, holds numerous
graduate degrees, was a member of the SWAT team, a hostage
negotiator, and the FBI’s criminal profiler pioneer.
the bestselling book and now a Netflix original series,
people are taken behind the scenes of some of the most
gruesome and challenging cases. FBI profilers gather
up crime scene evidence to help predict the type of
personality who commits serial murders. Through interviews
with some of the most ghastly killers such as Charles
Manson, Edmund Kemper, and the Son of Sam, to mention
a few, Douglas determines their motives, attempting
to figure out why they did what they did and why in
such a particular manner.
following is an interview with one of the FBI’s
most legendary Agents:
Cooper: You speak of the why + how = who?
Douglas: I wanted to interview these serial killers
because I found the best indicator of future violence
is past violence. To understand the ‘artist’
you must study the ‘art.’ I decided to go
directly to the source to form an understanding.
You spoke on how a good profiler should also walk in
the shoes of victims. Do you feel as Michael Connelly
wrote, “I speak for the victims, for those who
can no longer speak?”
I got very close with some of the families. My goal
with the interviews is to give families closure and
help law enforcement solve crimes. We must remember
the victims, but unfortunately we do forget those ‘surviving
victims.’ They suffer from losing a loved one
forever and ever. We have seen these people break down,
suffer from an illness, or get a divorce. I also broke
down from the work I was doing, walking in the shoes
of the antagonists to better understand them. But we
also must reconstruct what the victims went through
and why they took certain actions.
You discuss in the book how you had PTSD and because
you were so worn down you contracted viral encephalitis,
a fever, which doctors said ‘fried his brain,’
and that if you did recover you would likely be left
in a vegetative stage?
Success meant more work, which meant more stress and
learning how to cope. I was gone one-third of the year,
traveling and talking to surviving victims and the killers.
I would run myself to exhaustion. I had PTSD; psychologically
it took its toll. A lot of people in my unit got ill
and died early. We felt pulled in all different directions:
personal family, FBI family, local law enforcement,
the community, and victim’s families.
You had a powerful quote in the book, ‘I’m
afraid too many of us in the Bureau, in the military,
and in the Foreign Service give too little thought to
the incredible burdens on the spouse left behind.’
It does take a toll on the family. When I would come
home I would need to decompress. Hearing about my family’s
day, like one of my children scraping a knee, seemed
so trivial to everything I had done. I needed to decompress
before I could react.
You describe serial killers as controlling, manipulative,
dominating, and egocentric?
They like to relive the excitement and stimulation of
the kill. They mentally reassert domination and control.
They picked vulnerable victims, such as runaways, street
people, prostitutes, and drug addicts. We examined why
did they pick a certain victim over another. For example,
if they walked into a bar they could pick out those
with a broken wing. Usually the victim has a certain
posture or look.
What makes a good profiler?
You need to be able to re-create the crime scene in
your head. You need to know as much as you can about
the victim so you can imagine how they might have reacted,
and put yourself in her place. You have to be able to
feel her fear as he approaches, or her pain as she is
being raped, beaten, or cut. You have to try to imagine
what she was going through when she was tortured.
What are the traits of a serial killer and can you define
Douglas: Bed-wetting beyond a normal age, cruelty
to small animals, and fire starting. The FBI now categorizes
them if there were two or more kills. In the Netflix
series we say three or more because that was the 80’s
But you also interviewed people who did not fit into
that description like Sirhan-Sirhan, the killer of Robert
If I were in a prison I would not pass up anyone including
a skyjacker, kidnapper, extortionist, serial rapist,
arsonist, or a bomber. I worked over 5000 cases. I also
interviewed James Earl Ray, the Martin Luther King murderer.
Perhaps we can see some of the other interviews if there
is a season 2 or in the next book, Unmasking Evil.
Did you ever profile a mass killer?
While I was in Scotland I was asked about a mass murderer
of an elementary school where dozens of children were
killed. I thought the person targeted the school because
they had some personal connection, and a middle age
guy. The profile helped them find him. But someone like
the Las Vegas killer is difficult to profile. We look
for warning signs and should educate the public to be
aware of any comments and strange actions.
Do you think it is an environmental influence, genetic,
From my experience with violent offenders I really can’t
think of one where I found that they came from a loving
and nurturing environment. I don’t believe there
is a violent gene in ones genetic makeup. Certainly
you find such things as addictive behavioral patterns
running through a family’s genetic pool system
but IMO it’s nurture and not nature that is the
major contributor to violent crime.
school teachers have told me that they can predict which
child will grow up to be a violent offender one day.
How do they know that? Because the children identified
by them all come from dysfunctional families and they
witness the child acting out at a very early age such
as crimes of bullying, animal cruelty, destruction of
property, and other antisocial acts. Having said that
I will add that a dysfunctional family does not mean
that every child is doomed. There are always survivors.
This concludes the first part of our interview. Is there
anything you would like to add?
What bugs me is my former colleagues who say things
to the press, possibly jeopardizing the investigation.
Many of these killers follow the press. For example,
someone once said about the DC Sniper that he thought
he was G-d. The next day a little girl was shot in the
stomach and a search of the area found a tarot card.
Written on it, ‘I am G-d.’ Also, many of
the self-anointed experts do not even have the training
and are just talking heads.
II: The realism of the Netflix
The Netflix show has Dr. Wendy Carr as a consultant,
was she based on anyone?
She did not exist, but was based upon Dr. Anne Burgess,
who is more of an academic type. She came down to meet
with another agent that was investigating rape. After
she heard about what we were doing she wanted to learn
more about how we looked at a crime scene and the way
a victim was attacked. Unlike in the show, she was never
a member of the Behavioral Science Unit. She had a completely
different profession than the character in the show.
She was actually a forensic nurse who did co-author
some books with me.
Did you actually have trouble with the FBI accepting
the unit as shown in the show where you were displaced
to the basement?
Yes, it is correct. We had pull back on what we could
possibly learn from interviewing serial killers. Even
when we started to teach profiling we got resistance
and there was an attitude of ‘what is this BS?’
What about the ways the killers were portrayed in the
It is amazing how the casting had them look so much
like the killers. Maybe the time line was different
but the conversations were accurate. For example, Richard
Speck who killed eight student nurses did throw a live
bird into the fan, but it happened before we got to
the prison. I did open the interview with him using
street language, which had him open up because he thought
I was as crazy as he was.
The show mentions Lawrence Bittaker. Can you tell us
He met Roy Norris while serving time together and discovered
their mutual interest in dominating and hunting young
women. After being paroled in 1979 they kidnapped, raped,
and tortured five girls. They bought a van, nicknamed
it, ‘Murder Mac,’ insulated its interior,
and then went on the hunt, videotaping what they did.
Bittaker’s nickname became ‘Pliers Bittaker.’
After they were caught I interviewed Bittaker with a
female agent, Mary Ellen O’Toole. Interestingly,
he would never look at her when she asked a question.
You mention in the book that Charles Manson was also
In his young adult life he committed a series of robberies,
forgeries, pimpings, and assaults. He was paroled in
1967 after serving for some of these offenses. I do
not think of him as a routine serial killer. I was interested
in finding out how someone could become this satanic
messiah. He found lost souls and was able to institute
a highly structured delusional system that left him
in complete control of their minds and bodies by using
sleep deprivation, sex, food, and drugs. People forget
he was not even at the Sharon Tate murders because he
was afraid it would violate his parole. He spoke of
‘Helter Skelter’ from the Beatles White
Album, having a vision of the coming apocalypse and
race war that would leave him in control.
He just died, but do you think he ever should have been
No. The biggest threat would have been from the misguided
losers who would gravitate to him and proclaim him their
G-d and leader. When I think of Manson and his flock
of wandering inadequate followers I immediately visualize
the violent crimes they perpetrated against innocent
people. The crime scenes were horrific and it’s
difficult to imagine what was going through the victims’
minds, as they each knew they were going to die a violent
death. Imagine Sharon Tate, eight months pregnant and
begging for her life and that of her unborn child. So
why do any of them deserve parole when they initially
received the death penalty but unfortunately a Supreme
Court ruling changed their death sentence to life imprisonment.
Therefore, life imprisonment means just that. No parole.
No matter how much they conformed to prison rules and
were considered model inmates and “found religion”.
Manson and his followers will all again meet one day
Can you please explain the book quote, ‘I can
speak for myself, I would much rather have on my conscience
keeping a killer in jail who might or might not kill
again if sprung, than the death of an innocent man,
woman, or child as a result of the release of that killer?’
Many thought that the rapist or killer would burn out
and they would just stop. They ignored that these were
actually crimes of power and manipulation. I remember
a guy in California who chopped the arms off of a young
girl and went to prison. After a number of years he
was thought to have been rehabilitated and was released.
He then goes to Florida where he brutally kills a woman.
Eventually, I started to go before Parole Boards telling
them ‘all you have done is incarcerated a body,
but what you haven’t taken away from them is what
is going on in their minds.’ They remember and
fantasize about the crime. I tell them they have no
business making decisions regarding probation or parole
if they have not looked deeply at the crime scene photographs,
the victim, circumstances of the case, police reports,
and the autopsy.
Edward Kemper, known as the Coed Killer, also received
a type of parole. Please discuss his case.
He killed his grandparents and was committed to the
Atascadero State Hospital for the criminally insane.
Let out in 1969 this six foot nine, 300-pound man started
preying on coeds in 1972. He killed them, carried the
bodies back to his mother’s house, had sex with
them, and buried them face-up in the yard. Eventually
he called the police and confessed to the murders. He
was convicted on eight counts of first-degree murder.
I was struck by his intelligence, a 145 IQ, how huge
he was, and the amount of hostility he had built up
in him. He was not cocky, remorseful, and was cool and
soft-spoken. BTW: The hospital scene is not true and
I never felt intimidated by him.
What do you want the viewers and readers to understand?
I hope the public realizes we cannot catch all the perpetrators.
As profilers we provide clues. We cannot apply the same
method to every case. Certain cases are easier to solve
than others. For example a rape case with a surviving
victim can provide us with verbal, physical, and sexual
evidence. I also do not think law enforcement should
rely on polygraphs. Dennis Rader, the BTK Strangler;
Gary Ridgeway, the Green River Killer; and Robert Hanssen,
someone in the FBI’s leadership who spied for
the Russians, all passed the polygraph. After that they
were not considered persons of interest for some time.
wants to thank John Douglas, Mark Olshaker and Gallery
Books for the interview.
sure to visit his website: www.mindhuntersinc.com/