Why does Behavioural Profiling
fail to catch serial killers
The Case of the BTK
Professor Craig A. Jackson
Head of Psychology
Education, Law & Social Sciences
Birmingham City University
Wilson D, Jackson CA, Kaur-Rana B. Against the Medical-Psychological Tradition of
Understanding Serial Killing by Studying the Killers. Amicus Journal, 2010; 22: 8-16.
If the citizen fits the profile . . .
Offender profiling generally refers
to the process of using all the
available information about a crime,
a crime scene, and a victim, in order
to compose a profile of the (as yet)
unknown perpetrator.
Ainsworth 2001
The crime scene is presumed to
reflect the murderer’s behaviour
and personality in as much the
same way furnishings reveal the
homeowner’s character.
Douglas, Burgess, Burgess, Ressler
Behavioural “Embedded” Profilers
Amateur Profilers
Critical Overview
Behavioural Profiling has never led to the direct apprehension of a serial murder
Behavioural Profiling based on spurious science in 1950s-1960s
• Small Data sets / Limited numbers / Biased sample
• Profiles too vague to be specific
Given too much credibility as a scientific discipline
Application of Behavioural profiling is not open, replicable or repeatable
No scientific test of the validity and usefulness of this method
Challenge the Notion of “Understanding Serial Killers
. . . in order to Prevent and Capture Serial Killers”
• Can we prevent serial murder by understanding the killers’ minds?
• Deconstruct taken-for-granted assumptions of behavioural profiling
• The grey areas and weak methodology of behavioural profiling
• “Climbing inside the heads of monsters” – Primitivism as Poor Public Science
• James Brussel, Howard Teten, John Douglas - Behavioural Science Unit 1972
• Questionnaire Interviews with 36 convicted serial killers – a biased sample
• 57 page questionnaire: “Thousands of questions”
Killers who Talk too Much . . .
• Killlers’ views and insights were more often than not socially constructed
to suit the nature and circumstances of their arrest, conviction and
Parole, Transfer, Activity, Image
• “(Fred) West’s interviews were worthless except to
confirm that nothing that he said could be relied upon as
anything near the truth.” John Bennet
111 pages of autobiography
145 tape recordings
6,189 transcribed pages
• Organised & Disorganised Offenders – too simplistic and binary
Rossmo 1996
Which are You?. . .
. . . and Those who Don’t Talk at all
The Crimes of the BTK
Serial killer in Kansas active from 1974 to 2005
Murdered 10 people from 1974 – 1991 (caught in 2005)
Mr Joe Otero, Mrs Julie Otero, and two children, Jo jr and Josephine
Kathryn Bright and wounded her brother Kevin
Killed Shirley Vian
Killed Nancy Fox
Marine Hedge, was murdered
Vicki Wegerle was killed
The last confirmed victim of BTK was Dolores Davis
The Crimes of the BTK
The Crimes of the BTK
Pen Pal
A gift for the Profilers
Two teams of FBI profilers assessed all case details
1979 Hot Dog squad
1985 Ghostbusters
3 letters from BTK to media (1 was a poem)
A letter sent to a potential victim who evaded him
A recording of his voice calling for an ambulance after killing Nancy Fox
Used best known profilers from FBI’s behavioural science unit
“A jam session”
Profiles were so varied as to be useless
A gift for the Profilers
“Look for an American male with a possible connection to the
military. His IQ will be above 105. He will like to masturbate, and
will be aloof and selfish in bed. He will drive a decent car. He will
be a ‘now’ person. He won’t be comfortable with women. But he
may have women friends. He will be a lone wolf.
But he will be able to function in social settings…he will be either,
never married, divorced or married, and if he is married his wife
will be younger or older. He may or may not live in a rental, and
might be lower class, upper lower class, lower middle class or
middle class. And he will be crazy like a fox, as opposed to being
Gladwell (2007)
Pen Pals
Pen Pals
Radar taunted Police and News Agencies throughout
his 17 year run.
Resumed taunts in 2004, 14 years after last killing in 1991
14 letter drops 2004-2005
Communicated with Chief Detective Kenny Landwehr via local papers, then began
leaving packages and notes in places e.g. Home Depot stores, highways etc.
“COMMUNICATION. Can I communicate with Floppy and not be traced
to a computer. Be honest. Under Miscellaneous Section, 494, (Rex, it
will be OK) run it for a few days in case I’m out of town-etc. I will try a
floppy for a test run some time in the near future – February or March.”
At the End of it All.....
Radar sent a floppy disk to detectives
“This is a test. See 3 X 5 Card for details on
Communication with me in the Newspaper”
Christ Lutheran Church
Park City Community Library
Who was BTK?
Dennis Lyn Rader
Married father of two
ADT hone security installer
Scout Leader
Church Minister
City dog warden
Who was BTK?
Dennis Lyn Rader
Violent sexual fantasist
Who was BTK?
Why undetected by wife and children?
Why so long between kills?
How evaded Police for so long?
Why correspond with police and journalists?
Why not stay undercover – 14 years after his last kill?
Any more kills after 1994?
Preventing future serial murders
It is people from within marginalized groups that are the focus of the murderous
efforts of serial killers
If we really wanted to deliver on John Douglas’ objective of reducing the numbers of
people who fall victim to violent crime, we would be just as well concentrating on
eradicating :
• Homophobia
• Prejudice against sex workers
• Prejudice against immigrants
• Supporting young people
• Supporting the elderly
rather than
climbing into
the heads of
serial killers

Why does Behavioural Profiling fail to catch serial killers The Case