The FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit (BAU), was first formed in 1972 under the name the Behavioral Science Unit. The foundation of the unit was agents Robert Ressler and John Douglas. Ressler and Douglas wanted to bring in elements of psychology to help develop a profile of unidentified spree or serial killers, which they called Unknown Subjects, or UNSUBs. Ressler is also credited with coining the term “serial killer.”
Since its inception, the unit has investigated some of the most infamous cases in American history. Also, over the decades the unit has split into more specific fields and the BAU as one single entity disbanded in 2014. As of this writing, the unit that focuses on crimes like serial and spree killers is now known as BAU-2.
Nevertheless, the BAU is a fascinating division of crime fighting and it is featured on shows like Criminal Minds and Hannibal. These are the cases that helped shape the real life BAU.
10. George Metesky
Between 1940 and 1956, New York City was being terrorized by someone who was placing bombs in random places, such as movie theaters, subway terminals, libraries, and buildings owned by the energy company Consolidated Edison (Con Ed). In total, 33 bombs were planted and 22 detonated. Thankfully, no one was killed, but 15 people were hurt.
There were no clues as to the identity of the person who became known as the “Mad Bomber.” The problem was that the police couldn’t just sit around and wait for the Mad Bomber to screw up or catch him red handed because innocent people, including children, could be killed at any time. Not to mention, he had been getting away with it for 16 years.
Desperate for a lead, the NYPD sought assistance from James A. Brussel, a private psychiatrist that worked in counterintelligence profiling in World War II and the Korean War. They asked him to develop a personality profile based on the Bomber’s crimes and the locations of where the bombs were placed.
In his profile, Brussel had several predictions, including:
- He was a male foreigner from Europe
- He worked at Consolidated Edison
- He was between 40 and 50-years-old
- He was a bachelor that was living with female relatives
- He’d be clean-shaven and neatly dressed with an athletic build
- He would be a textbook paranoid
- He would be wearing a buttoned double-breasted suit
At this point, we should note that this was the first real criminal profile, so Brussel was a bit ambitious with his predictions, especially pertaining to the Bomber’s clothes.
Nevertheless, using the profile, the NYPD published a letter directed to the Bomber in the New York Journal American. In the letter, they told him to give himself up. The Bomber wrote the NYPD a reply letter stating he wanted to make a truce, but he still needed to bring Con Ed down. In the letter, the Mad Bomber gave away an important clue about himself: he had been injured on the job. The NYPD wrote a response and had it published, and again, the Bomber wrote back.
Both of the Mad Bomber’s letters were published in the local newspapers and this prompted a file clerk at Con Ed to look into their files. When she did, she came across the file for a former employee named George Metesky. He had been hurt on the job and he was fired after receiving only 26 weeks of pay. He later got sick due to the injury he received while working at Con Ed, but when he reapplied for benefits, he was too late and his claim was denied.
The clerk soon became sure that Metesky was the Mad Bomber because he had sent a letter to Con Ed. In the letter, Metesky used similar sayings and phrases that the Mad Bomber used in his letters. The police questioned Metesky and then got a search warrant.
Metesky was arrested, found unfit to stand trial and died at the age of 90 in a state hospital.
As for how accurate the profile was, Brussel was right about a few things. Metesky worked for Con Ed and he was a 48-year-old paranoid bachelor. But Brussel also got a lot of things wrong, notably Metesky was born in America, lived alone, and he wasn’t wearing a buttoned double-breasted suit.
9. Ted Bundy
One thing you’ll probably realize as you go through this list is that Robert Ressler interviewed the most heinous and terrifying killers in modern American history. However, the serial killer that disturbed Ressler the most was “Ted” Theodore Bundy.
Bundy, who was known for his good looks, intelligence, and charisma, cut such a swath of violence along the west coast of America between 1974 and 1978, that his name can still bring chills to people at its mere mention. It is believed that Bundy killed at least 30 women, but since he was executed in 1989, we will probably never know the true amount of victims he claimed.
The BAU was asked to get involved with the Bundy case in 1977 after Bundy escaped from a courthouse library in Aspen, Colorado, while preparing for his upcoming murder trial. Using Bundy’s history, the BAU developed a victim profile to warn young, pretty girls with dark hair that was parted down the middle, that they could be targeted by Bundy, making it the first time that profiling was used to warn the public about a dangerous predator.
Another way that Bundy changed crime fighting in America, specifically the BAU, was a result of Bundy moving from state-to-state. This is what allowed Bundy to claim so many victims, because the police weren’t able to link the crimes in different states. To tackle this problem, the BAU started a national database based on the modus operandi, personality, and victim type.
Years later, after interviewing Bundy, Ressler said that Bundy was an animal. He also often wondered if Bundy got into his head, more than he got into Bundy’s.
8. John Wayne Gacy
Between 1972 and 1978, John Wayne Gacy lured 33 young men to his house in Chicago, where he murdered them and buried many of their bodies in the crawl space underneath.
The profilers weren’t called in before Gacy was arrested because when Gacy first fell under police suspicion, it was only for one murder and no one really considered the horrifying extent of his crimes. Instead, Ressler became involved with the case after the bodies were being dug out of his crawl space.
In one of those incredibly bizarre, cosmic coincidences, Gacy, who, at the time was the most prolific American serial killer, was from the same neighborhood as Robert Ressler. In fact, Ressler claims that the two were in the Boy Scouts together.
Gacy was an important case for the BAU because it was the first organized serial killer that Ressler interviewed, and the two had frank and very graphic discussions about his crimes. This helped reinforce what Ressler believed about organized killers.
Before he was executed, Gacy painted Ressler a painting of himself dressed like a clown and on the back it said:
Dear Bob Ressler,
You cannot hope to enjoy the harvest without first laboring in the fields. Best wishes and good luck.
John Wayne Gacy, June 1988.
Ressler asked what it meant, and Gacy cryptically replied, “Well, Mr. Ressler, you’re the criminal profiler. You’re the FBI. You figure it out.”
Gacy invited Ressler to come to his execution and the profiler refused.
7. Richard Chase
Organized serial killers are considered the most dangerous type of killer because they are methodical and elusive. This allows many of them to hunt for years without drawing suspicion to themselves. On the other end of the spectrum are disorganized serials. What makes disorganized serial killers so dangerous is that they are unpredictable and police never know who they will kill next or what is driving their need to kill.
One such example of a disorganized serial killer was the Vampire of Sacramento. In January 1978, Ressler got a call from the Sacramento Police Department. Earlier that evening, a 22-year-old woman had been murdered in such a gory fashion that even the police had a hard time looking at the crime scene.
Ever since the BAU started, it only developed profiles for cold cases because that is when investigators were desperate enough to try profiling. But with the Vampire case, for the first time, Ressler was part of an active investigation.
His immediate profile predicted the following:
- White Male
- Thin and would look undernourished
- Home will be dirty and unkempt, there will also be evidence of the murder there
- History of mental illness
- Drug use
- Loner who spends most of his time at home
- Unemployed and probably receiving disability pay
- Probably suffering from paranoid psychosis
Ressler gave his official profile to the Sacramento P.D., but days later, three people, including a six-year-old, were found shot to death and a fourth person who was at the house was missing. Police believed that the killer kidnapped the fourth person using one of the victim’s cars.
With the information from the new killings, Ressler determined that the killer was single and would live within a one to two mile radius of where the car was abandoned.
Shortly after the murders, the police got a phone call from a woman who had a run-in with someone she used to go to high school with, a 30-year-old man named Richard Chase. The run-in happened not far from where the first vampire murder took place. What was so unsettling to the woman was that Chase’s appearance was dramatically different. He looked malnourished, thin, disheveled, had a yellow crust around his mouth, and he was wearing a sweatshirt covered in blood. Chased tried to get into her car, but she drove away and called the police when she got home.
Once they looked into the call, the police realized that Chase lived less than a block away from where the car was abandoned and less than five miles from two of the crime scenes. Chase’s apartment was searched and they found evidence of the murders, including blood that Chase had been drinking.
Chase was arrested and most of the predictions in Ressler’s original profile were correct. Chase, who suffered from schizophrenia, talked with Ressler after his arrest and it was clear that Chase was mentally ill; he mostly talked about UFOs and Nazi mind control.
It total, Chase murdered six people, but never stood trial for his crimes. He committed suicide the day after Christmas in 1980 by overdosing on his antidepressants, which he had been saving for weeks.
6. Wayne Williams
Starting in 1979, the bodies of young African American children, mostly boys, were found discarded throughout the city of Atlanta. All of them had been strangled. The case is notoriously known as the Atlanta Child Murders.
At first, the police believed that, since the victims were all black children, the killings were racially-motivated and the most likely suspects were the Ku Klux Klan or Neo-Nazis. They didn’t think it was a serial killer because, up until then, serial killers had only been white men who killed people of their own race and there were no well-known black serial killers.
In the spring of 1980, after the 16th body was discovered, the police were desperate for leads. BAU agent John Douglas went to Atlanta and his profile was rather controversial. Douglas didn’t believe the murders were hate crimes because the bodies were being dumped in areas that were predominantly or exclusively black, suggesting the killer was more comfortable in those areas. Also, if the killer was white, he probably would have stood out in these neighborhoods. At first, the police, especially African American officers, were resistant to the idea that the horrible killings were the work of a serial killer who was from their own community.
Another aspect of the profile, that turned out to be incredibly helpful, was that the killer would probably dump the body of his next victim in the river. The police staked out the Chattahoochee River and on May 22, 1981, at about 3:00 a.m., heard a splash in the water. When they went to the river’s edge, they caught 23-year-old Wayne Williams driving away. Williams, who was African American, was allowed to leave the area because, at the time, the police weren’t sure what caused the splash so they had no reason to hold Williams. Two days later, the body of a 27-year-old man was found in the river and Williams was arrested.
Williams was convicted of two murders and both of them were adults. Williams denied the murders and no one has ever been convicted for the murders of the 22 children, although he is suspected in most of the them. However, many people, including Douglas, do not believe he is responsible for all of them.
5. Joseph Paul Franklin
Serial killers who are also drifters are some of the hardest killers to track down because, before the internet, it was hard to link killings from state to state and drifters often use unconventional means to stay off the grid.
One of the first drifter cases that the BAU got involved with was that of James Clayton Vaughn, Jr., who was born in Mobile, Alabama, to a poor family and suffered horrible abuse as a child. As an adult, he became fascinated with Evangelism and Nazism, even going as far as to change his name to Joseph Franklin to honor Evangelist Benjamin Franklin and Nazi Joseph Goebbels.
After reading Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf, Franklin decided to start a race war. In July 1977, he started firebombing synagogues and in October of that year, he graduated to murder. Over the next two years, Franklin roamed the east coast, killing people that he thought were inferior to him. Often he would do it from a distance using a sniper rifle. This included shooting civil rights leader Vernon Jordan and paralyzing Hustler magazine publisher Larry Flynt.
The FBI knew that some of the hate crimes were connected to one UNSUB, but they didn’t have any inkling that it was Franklin, nor did they know the true extent of his crimes. In September 1980, a police officer in Kentucky noticed a gun in the back of Franklin’s car. The officer called in a record check on Franklin and found out that he had an outstanding warrant, so Franklin was arrested. Shortly after being brought into the police station, Franklin escaped from detainment. When his impounded car was searched, they found evidence that connected him to a number of shootings throughout the eastern United States, and they realized they had let a very dangerous man escape their custody.
The problem was that Franklin had been a drifter for years and he was incredibly resourceful, which is how he was able to kill for so long while avoiding detection. It also made him very dangerous because the police had no idea where Franklin was going, meaning they couldn’t even warn people, let alone catch him.
The good news was that now that the BAU knew who Franklin was, they found out how he managed to live as a drifter. They thought that he would stay on the east coast and that he would donate blood for money or commit a bank robbery. They released a memo to blood banks around the east coast informing them to keep an eye out for someone matching Franklin’s description. A few weeks later, a blood bank operator in Florida contacted the FBI saying that a man matching Franklin’s description came in to donate blood. From there, they traced him to Lakeland, Florida and he was arrested on October 28, 1980.
It is believed that Franklin murdered at least 15 people. He was executed in November 2013 for the first murder that he committed.
4. Edmund Kemper
One of the most interesting and terrifying American serial killers is Edmund Kemper. Kemper, who is genius level smart with an IQ of 136, committed his first murders when he was 15. In 1964, he shot both of his grandparents to death. He was committed to a psychiatric hospital, where he essentially outsmarted the staff and they released him to his mother’s care when he was in his 20s.
As an adult, Kemper was physically imposing: he was 6-foot-9 and weighed over 300 pounds. His mother worked at a university in Santa Cruz and while living there, Kemper picked up and murdered six co-eds, earning him the nickname “The Co-ed Killer.” Kemper’s crime spree came to an end in 19793, when he killed his mother and her friend. Kemper hated his mother because of years of abuse, and after she was dead, Kemper took out that anger on her body.
Kemper was amazingly articulate and this drew the BAU’s attention. One day Ressler was visiting Kemper alone in an interview room and when Ressler pressed the button for the guards, no one came. It quickly dawned on Ressler that he was locked up alone with a serial killer who was the size of a professional wrestler and he started to feel anxious. Kemper sensed it immediately and said, “If I went apes*** in here, you’d be in a lot of trouble, wouldn’t you? I could screw your head off and place it on the table to greet the guard.”
Kemper didn’t harm Ressler and said he was only joking. Amazingly, Ressler, who obviously saw the merit in talking with Kemper, continued to interview him. However, he never did it alone again.
3. John Joubert
In September 1983, a 13-year-old boy disappeared while delivering newspapers in Bellevue, Nebraska. A few days later, his body was found dumped in a ditch. He had been stabbed multiple times and there were bite marks on the body. Due to the savagery and the age of the victim, the BAU was called in. The BAU knew there was a sexual element to the murders, so they rounded up sex offenders in the area. However, none of the men fit the profile they developed, so they were removed as suspects.
Sadly, in December 1983, a 12-year-old boy in Papillion, Nebraska, was kidnapped and murdered while walking to school. Like the first victim, the second boy also had bite marks on his body.
Six weeks later, a worker at a preschool saw a man loitering nearby. She confronted him and the man pushed her before fleeing in his car. The worker wrote down the license plate and phoned the police. The police traced the car to 19-year-old John Joubert, a man who was enlisted in the Air Force and stationed at a base not far from where the murders occurred. Joubert, who matched the BAU’s profile, confessed to the murder of the two boys.
A short time after the murders, Ressler was speaking at a FBI training course, where he presented Joubert’s case to the attendees. Two detectives in attendance from Portland, Maine, noticed similarities between the Nebraska murders and the unsolved murder of an 11-year-old boy in their town. The police and Ressler soon learned that Joubert had lived in Portland and they believe he joined the army to distance himself from the Portland murder.
The Nebraska Boy Snatcher case showed that profiles were not only useful to find potential suspects, but they are also very helpful in eliminating suspects as well. With fewer suspects, police can focus their attention better, and it leads to less false arrests; which is exactly what happened in the Portland murder. Another man had been tried for the murder and found not guilty. Police and the District Attorney spent a year focused on the wrong man, during which time, Joubert went to Nebraska and killed two innocent boys.
Joubert was convicted of all three murders and sentenced to death. He was executed in July 1996 at the age of 33.
2. John Crutchley
During the week of Thanksgiving in 1985, a motorist in Brevard county, Florida, came across a naked 19-year-old woman who was handcuffed. The police were called and an ambulance took her to the hospital. She was immediately given a blood transfusion because 40 percent of her blood had been drained. When the police interviewed her, she told them that 22 hours before, a man picked her up while hitchhiking. They stopped off at his house because he said he needed something for work. When they did, he surprised her by throwing a rope around her neck. The man brought her into his house where he assaulted and tortured her. He also drained her blood and drank it. When she asked him why, he said he was a vampire.
The woman was able to give the police the location of the house and it belonged to 39-year-old John Crutchley, who lived in the home with his wife and young child. When the woman was held captive, Crutchley’s son and wife were out of town for the holiday.
When the police looked into Crutchley’s life, he certainly didn’t seem like a vampire. He was a meek and slight man who held a high paying job as a computer expert. A math genius with his master’s in engineering, Crutchley had clearance with the Pentagon and worked on several projects, including developing a computer language for the Navy.
Crutchley’s house was searched and inside they found troves of BDSM props, women’s identifications, dozens of women’s necklaces, hair clippings, and equipment used to drain blood.
Not long after Crutchley was arrested for kidnapping, police began to look into over 30 deaths and disappearances of women that he may have been responsible for. However, there was no direct physical evidence linking him to the murders. With only circumstantial evidence, the prosecutors decided to cut a plea deal with Crutchley. He could plead guilty to kidnapping, rape, and theft of blood, and he wouldn’t be charged with any of the murders.
While the District Attorney wasn’t going to charge Crutchley with murder, they asked Robert Ressler to interview him. Then, at Crutchley’s sentencing trial, Ressler testified that Crutchley had all the earmarks of being a serial killer. As a result, Crutchley was given the maximum sentence, which was 25 years in prison with 50 years of parole.
The Crutchley case showed how far that the BAU had come since its inception. In its early days, the FBI was resistant to using profiling because it wasn’t hard evidence. 13 years later, Ressler was able to testify about a person’s personality at a sentencing hearing and it impacted the outcome.
However, due to the laws in Florida, Crutchley, a.k.a. the Vampire Rapist was, to the shock of many, released after serving only 11 years. But on the very same day that he was paroled, he was arrested for having marijuana in his system and for violating parole. This amounted to three strikes and Crutchley was sent back to prison to serve out the rest of his sentence. Crutchley was found dead in his cell in 2002.
1. Jeffrey Dahmer
In July 1991, when Milwaukee cannibal Jeffrey Dahmer’s crimes became public, it shocked people anywhere that it made the headlines. What so many people had a hard time wrapping their head around was, if Dahmer’s actions aren’t a sign of insanity, then what is? That is when Dahmer’s defense lawyer asked Ressler to testify that Dahmer killed during psychotic episodes. Ressler, who had just retired from the FBI, was fascinated by the idea that someone who acted like an organized serial killer simply lost control when he committed the murder, which is an element of a disorganized serial killer. So far, all serial killers he had come across were organized or disorganized, not both.
Ressler interviewed Dahmer a few times and he found the young man to be likable, despite being one of the most horrifying serial killers he had ever met. What separated Dahmer from the likes of Gacy and Bundy, whom Ressler had interviewed years earlier, was that Dahmer was very open and honest and he let Ressler into his head. Gacy and Bundy, on the other hand, had been guarded and coy.
Ultimately, while Dahmer displayed both characteristics of an organized and disorganized serial killer, Ressler was not allowed to testify at the trial. Ressler said interviewing Dahmer gave him a new perspective on his work. He realized that the killers that committed these inhuman crimes are really just flesh and blood people with families, just like the rest of us.