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
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 the term?
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 definition.
But you also interviewed people who did not fit
into that description like Sirhan-Sirhan, the killer
of Robert Kennedy?
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
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
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
What about the ways the killers were portrayed
in the show?
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 about him?
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 paroled?
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 paroled?
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 in hell.
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
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
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.
sure to visit his website: www.mindhuntersinc.com/
wants to thank John Douglas, Mark Olshaker and Gallery
Books for the interview.