Towson officer's probes into patterns of criminals yield profiles of suspects

January 02, 1991|By Deborah I. Greene | Deborah I. Greene,Baltimore County Bureau of The Sun

In a cramped office at Baltimore County police headquarters in Towson, Lt. Sam Bowerman searches a path to the dark corners of a killer's mind through a paper trail of police reports and pictures of bloody crime scenes.

He looks for suspects without names or faces, people with the methods of murder and character defects of others encountered in the six years he has spent analyzing the heinous deeds of criminals.

For some officers overwhelmed by daily doses of violence, one more murder means just that: another victim, another crime unsolved. But for Lieutenant Bowerman, one of a handful of criminal profilers in the country, solving a murder is to "walk in the shoes of the killer."

It is the thought of one more murder that gives meaning to the lieutenant's difficult task. Because of it, he says, he does his job "out of a sense of justice for the victims, although they may never know it on this earth."

Using information gleaned from interviews with convicted criminals, their painful childhood memories and adult tragedies exposed, Lieutenant Bowerman develops profiles of suspects who are likely to commit violent crimes.

He considers the murderer with an abusive past, the arsonist who craves attention, the rapist in need of control, as he creates a sketch of a diabolical personality to help investigators understand why an attack took place and prevent it from occurring again.

Profiles can provide useful clues to a suspect's life, including race, sexual behavior, marital status, schooling, type of job and how a suspect portrays himself in public -- looking slovenly or obsessively neat, for example.

"The public has this idea of what a child molester or a killer should look like -- a man in a trench coat hiding behind a tree," Lieutenant Bowerman said. "But unfortunately,most killers look very ordinary. . . . Nice people do bad things every day."

John E. Douglas, director of the criminal profile division of the FBI's National Center for the Investigation of Crime, said skeptics initially viewed criminal profiling the way witchcraft was looked upon centuries ago.

"But criminal profiling is just another tool of investigation," said Mr. Douglas, who trained Lieutenant Bowerman and about 25 other profilers working for local police departments in the country.

He said that in the mid-1970s, the FBI was the only police agency that analyzed criminal behavior -- and at that time, it merely "dabbled in profiling."

"Police would discuss a case, and just from experience of hearing about previous cases we would develop a thumbnail sketch or profile of the suspect," Mr. Douglas said.

"Most of the time we were right, and our success was something akin to being a psychic," he said.

Mr. Douglas cautioned that criminal profiling did not fit the "Dragnet" school of police work.

"You give your opinion based on experience and analytical data. Like a doctor practicing medicine, we offer a diagnosis of an offender based upon analyzing a crime scene. This is not normal police procedure," he said. "J. Edgar Hoover probably would roll over in his grave."

A veteran investigator who joined the department in 1973, Lieutenant Bowerman's profiles of criminals are frequently right on the mark. It is a rate of success that hinges as much on prayer and luck as it does on the stacks of analytical data, books and files he keeps within arm's reach, he said.

Among his cases are the 1987 slayings of two Baltimore County women, in which Steven H. Oken has been charged with murder.

Oken was captured in Maine after a spree of sexually related attacks. He was convicted of murder there, and he goes on trial here next week.

In his study of the Baltimore County slayings, Lieutenant Bowerman surmised that the assailant would have sexual problems that would make it difficult for him to sustain relationships with women.

Betty Romano, the mother of the 20-year-old newlywed slain in the spree, said she put "all her trust and faith" in Lieutenant Bowerman's ability to profile the killer of her daughter, Dawn Marie Garvin.

Their relationship -- which began as the mother sought some hope in the soft-spoken investigator who attended Ms. Garvin's funeral -- blossomed into a heartfelt friendship. Long after his work is done, Lieutenant Bowerman remains in touch with Mrs. )) Romano as well as the families of other victims.

There are other cases that haunt Lieutenant Bowerman long after they have been resolved.

Behind the door of his tiny, dimly lighted office he keeps the shovels from a dig to unearth the body of a 17-year-old boy -- eight years after he was killed and buried in a shallow grave in Patapsco Valley State Park.

That one, said Lieutenant Bowerman "was nothing short of a miracle." Although the courts convicted Michael Whittlesey and sentenced him to 25 years for the robbery of Jamie Griffin, they could not charge him with murder without a body.

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