Be Your Own Detective and Check Out Criminal Profiling:

cast of Criminal Minds
Criminal profiling has become a popular way to catch criminals on TV and in the movies. The real truth is that criminal profiling has rarely aided in the arrest of criminals.

Wikipedia says: Offender profiling is a method of identifying the perpetrator of a crime based on an analysis of the nature of the offense and the manner in which it was committed. Various aspects of the criminal's personality makeup are determined from his or her choices before, during, and after the crime. This information is combined with other relevant details and physical evidence, and then compared with the characteristics of known personality types and mental abnormalities to develop a practical working description of the offender.

Psychological profiling may be described as a method of suspect identification which seeks to identify a person's mental, emotional, and personality characteristics (as manifested in things done or left at the crime scene). This was used in the investigation of the serial murders committed by Ted Bundy. Dr. Richard B. Jarvis, a psychiatrist with expertise on the criminal mind, predicted the age range of Bundy, his sexual psychopathy [sic], and his above average intellect.”

Criminal profiling really got famous with The “Mad Bomber case in New York City from 1940 to 1956. George Metesky was not caught by New York City police for 16 years. He planted and detonated more than 30 small bombs around the city between 1940 and 1956, hitting public places like movie theaters and phone booths.

Psychiatrist James Brussel, was asked by investigators to study crime scene photos and other evidence in the cases. Brussel claimed the suspect would be unmarried, foreign, self-educated, in his 50s, living in Connecticut, paranoid and anting revenge against Con Edison. Note: (the first bomb had targeted the power company's 67th street headquarters).

Some of Brussel's predictions were just common sense, while others were based on psychological ideas. He said that because paranoia tends to peak around age 35, the bomber, 16 years after his first bomb, would now be around 50. The profile proved dead on: It led police right to Metesky, who was arrested in January 1957 and he confessed immediately.

Profiling is still today as much art as science, as few if any other cases have actually been “solved” by profiling.

The FBI has put a lot of resources into criminal profiling, even though there has not been a lot of benefit gained from it so far.

The most dangerous thing about profiling is that it can draw attention away from the real suspect instead of to the right one.

Richard Jewell was extensively investigated (and attacked by the media) following the Centennial Olympic Park bombing in Atlanta. This not only was unfair to Jewell, but delayed identifying the true culprit, Eric Robert Rudolph. The added cost of the false positive on Jewell was that FBI and local police did not search for other suspects.

The other weakness is that sometimes investigators are blinded by an totally wrong profile, and “clear” a suspect who is actually guilty.

What has made profiling so popular, is that in several really high profile cases (yes, pun intended) the profiles that were come up with proved to be correct like in the cases of Ted Bundy, the Green River Killer, and John Duffy the Railway Killer (England 1984)

Like I said – this is good stuff for movies and books, but it is too early to put too much credence into criminal profiling. Of course, it just may be we do not have enough good raw data to evaluate, or maybe we have not learned to best way to break down the data. Either way this art science is useful, but definitely not the end-all of investigations.


  1. Hello Barry.
    I was thinking about you in Texas yesterday and decided to drop in to say hello from Canada today. I hope you are well and happy too.

    Your blog is such an excellent resource and I admire your willingness to share your experience and advice with others.
    Best wishes.

  2. TT - thanks for dropping by - nice to see you around online after so long :)

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