The FBI did not earn its current status, credibility or control over serial murder because of psychological profiling. That point is made clear in testimony from the U.S. Senate Hearing on Serial Murder (1984). The Hearing was held to assess the problem of serial murder and to determine whether to fund a computerized tracking system, the Violent Criminal Apprehension Program (VICAP), ostensibly conceived by former homicide detective Pierce Brooks. After Behavioral Science Unit Chief Depue described all the programs at the FBI Academy related to serial murder, Senator Arlen Specter asked: "Does the FBI have anything in existence which would deal with these serial murderers?" (U.S. Senate Hearing, 1984, p. 43; emphasis added). Obviously, Specter did not believe serial murder could be decreased by the totality of programs and approaches developed at the FBI.
The FBI had conducted "criminal personality" research and interviewed 36 unnamed offenders for a book on Sexual Homicide (Ressler, Burgess & Douglas, 1988). Their research was not on serial murder. What has also gone unnoticed is that Pierce Brooks, like the FBI, had done no serial murder research. In fact, Brooks' lack of experience with cross-state serial killers of the type that VICAP was intended to handle led him to seek the support of former detective Robert Keppel. In particular he wanted his name to be linked to Keppel's because Keppel's was linked to the multiple jurisdictional, headline-grabbing killer, Theodore Bundy. "A project associated with Ted Bundy's name would assist in convincing the politicians in charge of the purse strings that the program was indispensable" (said Keppel, 1995, p. 138).
This cynical remark is typical of the entire appeal for funds and the development of VICAP. The possibility that a computer could solve cases for which there was as yet no known (or admitted) research, or any expertise, was unlikely at best. The lack of knowledge is evident from the fact that Brooks, and then Keppel, repeatedly used similar wording and phrases in their appeals for funding of their computerized tracking programs. Brooks (in Egger, 1985, p. 69), defined VICAP as a "centralized computer information center and crime analysis system designed to collect, collate and analyze all aspects of the investigation of similar pattern multiple murders. . . ." Keppel described the Homicide Information Tracking System (HITS) for Washington State as a computerized program intended to meet the needs identified in such cases as Ted Bundy and the Green River Killer, that is, designed to "collect, collate and analyze the salient characteristics of all murders . . . (Keppel, 1995. pg. 372).
In 1958, Brooks had gone to the public library in Los Angeles to search for newspaper reports of cases similar to the ones he was working on at the time. He did nothing with the idea until the advent of the computer in the 1970s, and while asking for funding and waiting for the small federal grant he did obtain, he did no independent research on serial murder. Nor did he ask police what they felt they needed or whether they would be willing to fill out and submit crime report forms of over 50 pages for every unsolved murder in their local areas, which his system would require. So little was known about the patterns, history, or diversity of serial murderers' lives or crimes over time and space before VICAP was developed that misguided and untested assumptions were built into the national system as well as such state-level counterparts as Keppel's HITS in Washington or Egger's in New York (Egger, 1998).
After Brooks was awarded funding to implement his computerized system (which was part of a larger FBI program), he worked at the FBI Academy for nine months. Then, two days before it went online, he returned to Oregon without waiting to find out whether it worked. In fact it did not work because his form was so long and repetitive that relatively few police departments were willing to turn it in. More importantly, when the data they did get was processed and given to analysts, what they got was so unstructured they were unable to find patterns.
No one in favor of VICAP funding, with the possible exception of Egger (1985), ever considered police to be in need of new concepts, procedures, or changes in investigation techniques to apprehend serial, (stranger or apparently motiveless) murders. They believed that profiling and the automation and information exchange VICAP would offer would be enough. For instance, it was believed that serial murderers' patterns and victim types rarely deviated and, with a computerized tracking system, the MO pattern would "literally leap" out of the computer (according to Ann Rule, 1984, p. 20).
From my earliest days of research on serial murder I kept a database of cases and comments about them. One advantage of having done such research is that I can see, for instance, what the FBI thought about the Atlanta child killings. I have an article entitled "Parents killed 4 Atlanta kids, FBI says," (Dallas Times Herald, April 15, 1981):
Four of the 23 Atlanta black children found slain were killed by their parents because they were 'nuisances,' an FBI agent said.
Agent Mike Twibell told a Macon Georgia civic club that his boss, FBI director, William Webster, was correct when he said there were suspects in four of the slayings.
Twibell said some of the children were from broken homes and that their deaths were domestic killings. . . .
'There's no great crime wave sweeping Atlanta,' said Twibell, who claims to have first-hand knowledge of the investigation into the 20-month old mystery of 25 missing and murdered young blacks. 'About the same number were missing in '78. The only difference is now the bodies are being recovered.'
You may think this could not possibly be the view of the Behavioral Science Unit, that these were the views of administrators, unfamiliar with serial murder. But you would be wrong. John Douglas selected Roy Hazelwood to go with him to Atlanta, and they had been there since the 16th murder victim was discovered. In a novel interpretation of the facts, Douglas said (1995, pg. 201) the FBI tried to keep their presence quiet because the local police wanted all the glory. He did not think all the cases were linked - or that there was any conspiracy or racial motive. In a couple of cases, evidence suggested that family members had killed their own children. He viewed the backlash against William Webster as something akin to political correctness, and its true source as the greed of the victims' families. If their children did not make the list of official victims, they "would be ineligible to receive any of the funds" being contributed from around the country (Douglas & Olshaker, pgs. 203-204). They predicted the killer would be black, not the first black serial killer but one of the first to kill strangers. With typical modesty and lack of proof, Douglas said, "Wayne Williams fit our profile in every key respect, . . . " (pg. 213).
As someone who has watched both profiling - and serial murder - spread while criminological interest in other police responses dry up, the next article will explore some of the ways that serial murder might be curtailed.