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Five Cases That Shaped the Real Mindhunters

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College graduate, freelance writer, cooking aficionado. Political junkie by day and screenwriter by night.

The FBI offices in Quantico, VA.

The FBI offices in Quantico, VA.

The FBI's Behavioral Analysis Unit was started in 1972 by agents Robert Ressler and John Douglas. The two agents wanted to use elements of psychology to help create profiles of unknown spree or serial killers, also known as Unknown Subjects. Ressler is credited with creating the term "serial killer."

Since its start in 1972, the BAU has investigated some of the most infamous serial killers in American history. As the unit grew, it began to break into specific fields. The BAU as a single entity broke up in 2014. The BAU has been featured on the small screen and silver screen in Criminal Minds and Hannibal.

Below are five cases that made an impact on the FBI's use of behavioral analysis.

1. Jeffrey Dahmer

Jeffrey Dahmer was a cannibal serial killer who became known to the public in July 1991. Dahmer shocked the world and made headlines everywhere. During his lengthy trial, Dahmer's defense team called on Ressler to testify that Dahmer only killed during psychotic episodes.

Dahmer was on trial during the same time when Ressler retired from the FBI. Ressler was interested in someone who appeared to be an organized serial killer but lost control when they committed the murders, which would classify him as a disorganized serial killer. During Ressler's career, all serial killers were either organized or disorganized, not both.

Ressler was able to interview Dahmer several times. He considered the man likable, despite being a serial killer. Ressler says that Dahmer's open honesty set him apart from killers like Gacy and Bundy. Ressler ended up not being allowed to testify.

2. George Metesky

From 1940 to 1956, New York City was being targeted by a man who was placing bombs in several public places, such as theaters, subway terminals, libraries, and buildings owned by Consolidated Edison. Nobody ended up being killed, but 15 people were injured.

The police could not figure out the true identity of the person who became known as the "Mad Bomber." The NYPD needed help finding the bomber before he started killing people. They called on a private psychiatrist, James Brussel. Brussel worked in profiling during World War II and the Korean War. Brussel created a personality profile based on the Mad Bomber's crimes and the locations of his bombs.

The Mad Bomber gave a major clue to his true identity in a letter, where he said he was injured on the job. The letter was seen by a file clerk at Con Ed who discovered the file for George Metesky, who was injured on the job and later fired after only earning six months of pay. Metesky ended up getting sick from the injury.

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Police ended up questioning Metesky and secured a search warrant. Metesky was eventually arrested but found unfit to stand trial and died at a state hospital.

3. Ted Bundy

Ted Bundy disturbed Ressler the most. Bundy was known for his looks, intelligence, and charm. He ended up on a violent rampage along the west coast of America from 1974 to 1978. His name still freaks people out. Bundy is rumored to have killed 30 women, but nobody knows the real total of victims he claimed.

The BAU ended up getting involved after Bundy managed to escape from a courthouse library in Colorado while preparing for an upcoming murder trial. The BAU developed the first victim profile to warn potential victims that they could be targeted by Bundy, making it the first time a profile was used to warn the public about a predator.

Bundy also transformed the BAU and how it operated because of the way he moved from state to state killing people. The police failed to link the crimes in each state to him. The BAU ended up developing a national database centered on the motive, personality, and victim type.

4. John Wayne Gacy

From 1972 to 1978, John Wayne Gacy managed to lure 33 young men to his Chicago home, where he killed them and buried them in the crawl space underneath his home. The BAU was not initially called in before Gacy's arrest because when police first suspected Gacy, it was for only one murder, and nobody considered the reach of his crimes.

Ressler got involved after police were digging out the bodies from his crawl space. Ressler later revealed that Gacy was from the same neighborhood as him. It's rumored the pair were in the Boy Scouts together. Gacy was the first serial killer that Ressler interviewed.

5. Edmund Kemper

One of the smartest American serial killers that Ressler and Douglas ever met was Edmund Kemper. Kemper is a genius with an IQ of 136. Kemper committed his first murders at the age of 15. In 1964, he murdered his grandparents. He was sent to a psych hospital where he convinced them to release him to his mother's care.

Kemper grew to an imposing 6'9'' and weighed 300 pounds. While living with his mother in Santa Cruz, Kemper ended up killing six co-eds at a university in Santa Cruz. He was later given the nickname "The Co-ed Killer." The BAU was drawn to Kemper's articulate speaking.

Ressler ended up visiting Kemper alone and was accidentally locked up alone with the serial killer. Kemper did not hurt Ressler. Ressler kept interviewing him, but he never did it alone again.


This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

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