The arrest of Dennis L. Rader as the BTK (Bind, Torture, Kill) serial killer ended a 31 year manhunt for the notorious Wichita Strangler. Looking back now on the many profiles and profiler opinions that were generated for this case by "professional" profilers makes you wonder why the police waste any time or energy on this junk science. The Wichita Eagle picked up on this lack of value in profiling in a recent article:
The emerging details about Mr. Rader do underscore that those celebrated and oft-quoted "profilers" should be taken with a heavy dose of salt.
As former Wichita Police Chief Richard LaMunyon said last week, much of the early analysis supplied by profilers doesn't match up with what we know of the suspect. According to them:
BTK was antisocial.
He couldn't maintain a relationship.
He stood out in a crowd.
Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.
Of course, profilers themselves would be the first to admit that what they do is more art than science. Their broad-brush psychological portraits are just another tool for shrinking the large pool of possible suspects to a manageable size, and for identifying characteristics and patterns of behavior that might lead to a suspect.
But it's worth a reminder that, more often than not, they are wrong. That's not a condemnation; merely a call for humility.
Calling profiling an "art" is kind. Calling it "forensic" profiling is an oxymoron. A better term is voodoo. It doesn't serve any practical police purpose and a "profile" never helped in making a single serial killer arrest. DNA leads to arrests, profiling leads to confusion. In fact, in some cases like the Washington, D.C., "Beltway Sniper" murders of October 2002 profiling hindered the investigation. Profilers and profiling do not add one penny of value to a police investigation - so why the fascination? Is it because Hollywood has bestowed some secret powers on these experts? The only value profilers seem to serve is in helping to sell the many pseudo-science books that they have written.
Profiles also make very nice material for the talking heads to use when filling time on the 24 hour televsion news channels.
For the record lets review some of the BTK (Bind, Torture, Kill) profiles:
- He believes the killer has never been married and does not have any children.
- He is a very intellectual clever man who's kept the city guessing for so long.
- Brodsky says the BTK strangler is very unhappy. He kills to meet an unfulfilled need.
- Brodsky says, "People who know him consider him a loner, aloof, stubborn, not an easy going guy at all."
- Down time between crimes may indicate when BTK was experiencing a more stable period of his life, time in prison, time in a mental institution, time in the military, or time in another state or country.
- He may also have a connection to Indiana where the author of the poem has been made a state poet and received his own holiday.
- BTK is probably a Caucasian born in the Midwest but has a some familiarity or fluency in Spanish (through living overseas or associating with Hispanics in the United States) or the BTK is of Hispanic decent but has lived most or all of his life within the United States.
- He may be inadequate with women or has a lifestyle devoid of female romantic involvement.
- [BTK] may actually be a cop, or may impersonate a cop.
- He would attempt to insert himself in the investigation.
- [BTK] was in all probability a loner, inadequate, in his 20s or 30s, might possibly have an arrest record for break-ins or voyeurism.
- [BTK] may have stopped killing because he is in jail for something else, or a mental hospital, may have died, or maybe he injected himself so closely into the investigation, he got scared.
- BTK was probably born between 1946 and 1952, with a higher probability of 1949-1951. He is a baby-boomer.
- He was probably the youngest child with at least one older, female sibling. There were possibly multiple older siblings. At least one older, female sibling proved quite successful and was recognized both inside and outside the family home as “special.”
- He probably plays a stringed instrument, like a guitar, but not particularly well. This would have been of interest to him in his twenties but probably not long after that.
- He probably has a decent collection of music that spans several decades. He is aware of music trends but not obsessed with them. He prefers simple, straight-forward musical genres.
- Like his mother, he is also passive and a manipulator, but very good at presenting himself to others even though he shies away from social interaction for the most part.
- His physical health has deteriorated in recent years, possibly to a dangerous level.
- He would spend his life on the periphery of social engagements, perhaps lurking but rarely interacting with any enthusiasm.
- He would have few, if any, friends and would have been virtually friendless his entire life.
- "Where has he been?" [from 1979 to 2004] A good guess is prison, he said. Whatever his status, something has kept him from communicating, McCrary said.
"It would be kind of hard to believe that he would be sitting right there in Wichita all that time."
- Ressler said [BTK] because his pattern of killings has not been seen in Wichita since the '70s, he has "left the area, died or is in a mental institution or prison."
- "I've learned that if man gets the opportunity, he will do devious things," Ressler said.
- "He has a dark side, whether it's poisoning his neighbor's roses or killing his neighbor."
- "One has to consider the fact that this guy is a gamesman -- he likes to play with authorities."
"He loves to play cat-and-mouse with the police. He wants his fame, but he doesn't want to give it to them. He wants them to work for it." "He's a very sick individual."
- Divorced white male...
- Drives a non-descript pickup truck or car most likely American made.
- He prefers his own company because he feels superior to everyone
- Does not like face to face confrontations.
- He never rose to the level of employment that he sought.
- He is a drinker, but I do not see him as being drunk when he committed his crimes.
Wrong - these profiles all missed the mark. At best you could say a wrong profile might have an obvious common sense observation or two correct. Dennis L. Rader did not really match any of the professional profiles made for BTK.
The profilers should not feel too bad - even the psychic got it wrong. Dennis McKenzie, the British clairvoyant, age 50 from Cambridge, who flew in from England also made a prediction about BTK that was well off the mark:
He sensed that BTK was self-employed, as either a maintenance man or plumber. "And I'm almost certain that he works for himself.
He didn't even sense that he shared the same first name as the suspected killer. His three BTK sketches were not very good either. [sketch 1, sketch 2, sketch 3]
If Dennis L. Rader, the BTK Strangler, had not gone on a "press release" rampage following the 30th anniversary of his first murders the Wichita police would never have caught him. Although police haven't confirmed how they finally identified Rader. It appears that his 11th communique (since his return) on Feb. 16, 2005 to KSAS-TV contributed to his final unmasking. The package included a 3.5" computer disk that contained the digital finger prints leading back to his church computer and ultimately to him.
Using the BTK case as a benchmark to assess the "state-of-the-art" with regard to serial killer investigations is a disappointment. Granted Rader will probably go down in crime history as criminal anomaly. He is a serial killer who led an extraordinarily ordinary and public life. He was three persons: a good husband, father, and church member; a bad guy public compliance officer, and an evil mass murderer. But, there were numerous paths that led to him.
The police had several firm links to Rader's BTK identity that were never connected. He worked for the The Coleman Company from June 1972 to July 1973, two of his victims (Julie Otero, and Kathryn Bright) worked there. He attended Wichita State University from fall of 1973 and graduated in the spring of 1979 with a bachelor of science degree in administration of justice. Several facts connected the BTK Strangler to WSU. One BTK survivor Kevin Bright (April 1974) reported the killer said: "Haven't I seen you at the University?" A BTK communique in October 1974 came from a copier at WSU. Additionally, a BTK poem was linked to the English class of a former WSU professor, Dr. P.J. Wyatt.
Additionally, two of Dennis Rader's victims lived in Park City, Kansas, Rader's hometown. Rader had grown so confident that he was undetectable that he boldly killed Marine Hedge, 53, in 1985, who lived at 6254 N. Independence in Park City. She knew Rader and lived just a few doors from Rader's own home at 6220 N. Independence. He also killed Delores "Dee" Davis of Park City in 1991.
Like the Unabomber, the Wichita BTK strangler could have been caught by someone who recognizing his writing. If only the police had provided better access to all of his communiques perhaps a citizen or city official in Park City, Kansas, might have made the connection. KWCH-TV reported on March 8, 2005:
Misspellings. Incorrect verb tenses. Dropped suffixes. They’re grammatical mistakes you'll find throughout BTK's letters to the media. One expert says they're the same kinds of errors in documents written by BTK suspect Dennis Rader while he was Park City's compliance officer.
Here's one example: BTK writes, “I’m sorry this happen to society.” Dennis Rader writes, “She report Walter’s dog running.” In both sentences, the verbs have the wrong tense.
For example, the police in Tampa, Florida finally caught rapist and killer, Oba Chandler, when they ran a billboard campaign reproducing the killer's handwriting from a piece of evidence.
Michael Newton, whose books include ``The Encyclopedia of Serial Killers'' and ``Still at Large,'' on at-large serial killers, said about one-fifth of the 20th century's roughly 1,500 serial killers were never caught.
Is There A Better Way to Track Crimes, Catch Killers and Solve Cold Cases?
Former FBI profiler Robert Ressler, creator of the serial killer term, admits that profiling is rapidly giving way to the use of linked DNA and crime databases.
"Years ago, you solved the serial murder case strictly by luck," Ressler says. "Today it’s by technology."
Given that serial killers are notoriously hard to catch why haven't advances in criminal science on how to track them, find them, and arrest them [T-F-A] reached local police departments. Police need to rethink their approach to hunting serial killers and solving cold case murders. Police need a new model or aid to capture serial killers - forget profiling. The police should utilize the internet to assemble and disseminate more detailed information about unsolved murder investigations. They need to reach out to the public and provoke more interest and more tips. Relying on "America's Most Wanted" to stir up the public about an open case only works for a handful of investigations.
The format for the information would be something like a public law enforcement Wiki or crime database.
Wiki for those unfamiliar with them are a growing form of Internet knowledge-sharing communities. Wikis, based on the Hawaiian word "wiki wiki" for "quick," grew out of programmer Ward Cunningham's desire for a new way to discuss software design. He launched the first Wiki in 1995. Thousands more followed, including Wikipedia in 2001. Wikipedia the internet encyclopedia is one example of a wiki.
An "Official" Wiki Crime Database, would be updated and maintained by the police, FBI, other law enforcement agenices, and deputized citizens authorized to enter data for specific cases. The public would have full access to the "open case files," but would not be able to input any data. Cases would go into the Crime Wiki whenever police thought the case was cold or whenever they felt public dissemination of information would help the investigation. A national law enforcement agency like the FBI would be responsible for web hosting and general maintenance of the Crime Wiki.
Police, of course, would reserve the right to withhold certain pieces of information that could be used to validate future suspects.
The goal would be one common internet location for all U.S. open/cold case murder information. This means a permenant website address for every open murder case. A valuable source of information for the public to use in helping law enforcement investigate crimes.
Yes - law enforcement agencies currently use the internet to post information about cold case investigations. The problem is that what they've done so far is very weak. Let's look at some examples:
If the police are too busy to post information regarding an open murder case they could probably find citizen volunteers (friends, family or fans of the victim) to assemble police information about a case and post it to a crime wiki.
The current television show "Cold Case" opens and closes with a scene showing an investigator moving a dusty box representing the cold case files out of storage or back into storage. Why does murder case documentation have to sit in a dusty box on the shelf once a case has gone cold in the twenty-first century?
BTK suspect doesn't fit many of the theories [Wichita Eagle, Mar. 6, 2005]
BTK suspect shakes credibility of profiles [Columbia Tribune, Mar. 6, 2005]
Ex-chief: Rader likely appeared on early lists [Wichita Eagle, Mar. 4, 2005]
BTK (Bind, Torture, & Kill) Strangler Info & Voice Recording [TJN]
Did Criminal Profilers Blow It in the Sniper Case? [Slate, Oct. 25, 2002]
As with Beltway sniper, FBI profile "not working" in Anthrax query [GreatestJeneration.com]
Cops 'wasted time' hunting white guy [WorldNetDaily.com]
Criminal Profilers in the Media
With the Sniper, TV Profilers Missed Their Mark [WashingtonPost.com]
Profiling Not Always Model of Accuracy [LA Times, July 18, 2002]
Career Guide to Criminal Profiling [Forensic Solutions, LLC]
updated: March 19, 2005