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Interview with Candice DeLong of 'Deadly Women'

Former FBI profiler Candice DeLong stars in Investigation Discovery's "Deadly Women" series, about women who kill.
Photo courtesy of Investigation Discovery

If you're an Investigation Discovery "addict," as they call their fans, you're probably already familiar with Candice DeLong. The former psychiatric nurse and FBI profiler has earned her place among the celebrated commentators on the true crime channel, with DeLong's distinguishing trademark being her dark sense of humor and wry commentary. You don't have to be in front of the TV to know who's talking when she adds her take to a story. Her style is as distinctive as her fingerprints.

DeLong has her own series, "Facing Evil with Candice DeLong," but as a regular on the long-running series "Deadly Women," she just celebrated the 100th episode of the show with the new season premiere August 1. The show focuses exclusively on women who kill, and if you're thinking, "They really found that many female killers?" let me tell you, they're just getting warmed up.

DeLong sat down to talk about the series Wednesday, the nature of women who murder, and her career as an FBI profiler, long before Jodie Foster made it cool as Clarice Starling in "Silence of the Lambs."

Diana Price: Is there anything that fans might be shocked by this season? I know anyone who's watched the show before probably thinks they're unshockable, but you can always find something new.

Candice DeLong: Oh, yeah ... and this is probably going to sound like "Oh, I hear that all the time," but I really do believe this year's stories are just the most compelling we've ever had. Sometimes in the past there's been so much horror and gore and disgust. But this year I think we had a tremendous amount of stories that were really interesting -- unique. And after 100 episodes and 300 stories, to find anything anymore that's unique? That's pretty unusual, but they did it. And in fact, a couple of the women we covered in "Deadly Women" this year, I chose to interview for my show "Facing Evil." It's just super cool.

DP: It's even more unique because, I mean, while these women in the show aren't all serial killers, traditionally it's men who are serial killers and murderers.

CD: I remember, Diana, in 1986 or 87 I had been with the Bureau seven years, and I had been in the profiling program 3-4 years ... and I remember one day we had a lecture with some expert FBI agent was coming in to lecture us on serial killers, and he gets up to the podium and he looks out at all of us ... mostly men, and he looks around, very cocky, and says "There's no such thing as a female serial killer." And this is pre-internet, so information wasn't as readily available as it is now.

Now, looking back at that statement, I have to say perhaps he should have had my research crew at Beyond Productions, because they keep coming and coming and there have been serial killers females throughout the centuries. Our very first "Deadly Women" back in 2004, we had a case of a woman, Countess Bathory, in the late 1500s in Transylvania or Eastern Europe, and she was wealthy and she was a serial killer of children. They are out there, but the average women we present on "Deadly Women" are not that exotic in terms of high body count.

But women can be just as bad as men.

DP: Yeah, and this show definitely proves it, for anybody who has seen it before, and if they haven't, they'll find out.

CD: You go where the evidence takes you and sometimes it's surprising, sometimes it goes back to a woman. Do you know why women can get away it a lot longer than men can get away with murder? The average person, when they look at a woman -- such as Lizzie Borden -- they don't see a killer, they see a woman. And women in our society and most cultures are the caregivers, the nurturers, the givers of life, the cuddlers: You know, "Mom." And we don't think they could ever be horrible. Now kids that grow up with an abusive mother know they can be horrible.

DP: I know one of the hallmarks of female killers is using poison, but is there anything else that's a red flag that tells you it's a female killer.

CD: I can tell you things that tend to make me rule out women -- well, not rule out completely but put it on the back burner -- is if the victim is strangled. Women just tend to not do that. Multiple stabbings, male or female, that's more a display of some kind of rage, either against that person for a very specific reason or the victim represents someone else to the killer. The killer is making the victim pay for someone else's crimes against them or perceived crimes against them. But I am unaware, me personally, of any case of a woman strangling another woman. It's probably happened, but it's very uncommon.

DP: On the other side of the coin, if you're a layperson, what are some red flags from a woman that you should watch for besides bodies piled up in the basement?

CD (laughs): I can tell you and this is based on a lot of the other women's stories. Like I told you again my son is 38. He is really bright, PhD law degree but he can't watch the show. He says "Mom, if I watched 'Deadly Women' I'd never get married" and I used to go "Oh, dear." But then I started going, "Well, what would be the problem in that?"

DP: Yeah, exactly.

CD: I would say that -- to tie in with your question -- one of the things that I repeatedly see is that the show is educational. If the show was not educational I would have no part in it. This is real stuff and we really do the dramatization and re-creations as accurately as we can. We don't want to get anything wrong.

It can really show a man who is out in the dating world what to avoid. For example, a woman who is maybe a little too interested in money ... I would say anybody these days that wants to rush another person into marriage. The person who is the potential victim? Their antennae should go up. Absolutely their antennae should go up and here's the thing, Diana, I think that a simple -- meaning free -- Google search can reveal a tremendous amount about someone if they have a record, if they have been mentioned in a newspaper article.

Another indication would be if the person is vague about their history, their past. They don't want to talk about it. There may be something wrong, or they may be running from something.

DP: In other words, maybe men need to start taking the types of precautions that women have been taking for years and decades.

CD: Absolutely. Of course, we have so many victims of "Deadly Women," I'm going to have to count them up someday how many are men. We have a lot of child victims, we have a lot of female victims, but it's usually a guy who ends up on the wrong side of a knife or a gun or a bottle of arsenic.

DP: You actually started out as a psychiatric nurse before going back to Quantico and you went at the time when there were not that many females trying to get into the FBI. I've heard some comparisons of you to Clarice Starling -- do you feel that was pretty accurate?

CD: No, but first of all Clarice was an FBI agent in training. For an FBI agent in training, two things would never happen: They would never be given a gun and you get a gun on your last day. You shoot with it for a month, but you get it assigned to you after you have passed everything and all that.

Another thing is essentially she "got the ticket," which means the go-ahead, to be the agent on the hottest serial killer case the FBI had at that time. She's a novice -- that would never happen. And also my favorite scene is when ... her mentor there gives her a file and asks her to look at the case and she is in the dorm room with her roommate. (laughs)

DP: Oh yeah, it's Hollywood.

CD: Here's the deal, all those reasons which the FBI would look at that and go "How ridiculous!" -- because we know that's ridiculous -- that's what made the movie more spectacular for our audiences. Thomas Harris, the author, created what I think is the greatest fictional FBI agent ever. She's a novice FBI agent, female ... against the very brilliant, and skilled, and experienced serial killer. That is what made Clarice Starling such a famous character in fiction and movies. That kind of thing, when you've got that kind of conflict, and when you've got that kind of David and Goliath thing going on, that's the formula right there and that is what it was all about. The very things that were wrong with her and unbelievable are the very things that made the movie fabulous.

DP: Well, you have M. William Phelps that's on "Deadly Women," but it's mostly women commenting on it. Do you think it's an advantage in profiling women or exploring female killers to be female? Do you think that men are still a little blind to the possibility of homicidal women?

CD: Boy, you are asking me questions no one has ever asked me.

DP: Good, then I'm doing my job right.

CD: Well let's see, I'd like to think not, I'd like to think we are so well-educated now and we have so much knowledge that anybody in my line of work would certainly know to keep an open mind. I know female profilers that have made mistakes as well, so I would have to say the answer to your question is no, I don't think that would be going on too much right now. I'm talking about advanced training, criminal personality profiling, FBI or PhD forensics -- that kind of thing -- not local detectives or cops. Now in a major metropolitan police department like New York or Chicago, they are pretty savvy, they see a lot.

DP: What do you think attracted you to doing this kind of work after starting out as a psychiatric nurse? Not that it was a huge leap.

CD: I was head nurse at Northwestern University Hospital when the FBI recruited me. I had been in clinical psychiatric nursing for about eight or nine years art that point. But when I was a young psych nurse, periodically at Northwestern, which is a private facility, we would have somebody admitted to the locked unit. I worked in maximum security and they would be admitted for 30 days for observation and treatment. This is very rare, because they have been accused of a crime, and usually those people had famous last names and wealthy families, otherwise they would have been at the county jail psych wing. But periodically, we had a young boy that killed his mother, one who killed his entire family while they were sleeping -- most of the nurses would not work with those people ... But I was drawn to them. I wasn't drawn to them at the time for the same reason I would be drawn to them now. At the time I found them frightening, but I wanted to know what made them tick so that if I ever come across one of those people in my life, personal life, I would know better how to handle the situation.

So that was the beginning of my draw to the dark side, I suppose you'd say, and then I started out with just a two-year nursing degree and while I was getting my bachelor's degree ... every opportunity I had on electives, I took it on criminal psychology and because I was just interested.

When I was a little girl growing up in Arizona in the 50s, there was a horrible crime. A little girl got into a stranger's car, a little five-year-old girl, and she was beaten to death. I shouldn't have found that out, our parents tried to hide it from us. But I was listening to the radio all the time and I remember been very profoundly affected by that. I said to my mom, "Who would do that to a little girl?" and she said "Some people are just born bad."

That wasn't enough for me. I really wanted to know -- wait a minute, wait a minute -- why would anyone do that? My draw for learning about these people was initially based in fear and then I thought that if I understand then better then there would be no need to be afraid of them.

DP: You've got "Deadly Women" going on with a new season and you've also got your show "Facing Evil with Candice DeLong." Any other projects on the horizon or are your hands already full?

CD: I'm working on my next book. My first book is "Special Agent: My Life on the Front Line as a Woman in the FBI." I was the first female agent to get a book published, and that came out after I retired in 2001. I'm working on a second book.

DP: Great, all right. Do you know when it is scheduled to come out?

CD: Yeah, I don't want to commit because as soon as I give myself a deadline I start working overtime to miss it.

While you wait for the book, check out "Deadly Women" on Friday nights at 10 p.m. ET on Investigation Discovery. Guys, you may be glad you stayed at home and skipped out on a hot date after watching this show.

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