Profiler to share insight on criminal mind

Ex-FBI expert interviewed well-known murderers

January 02, 2004|By Laura Barnhardt | Laura Barnhardt,SUN STAFF

For years, John Douglas was a frequent visitor to the Maryland Penitentiary and the state medical examiner's office downtown. As a criminal personality profiler for the FBI, Douglas found Charm City's gruesome murders and violent psychopaths a rich source of information for his attempts to probe the criminal mind.

In the late 1970s, Douglas spent hours with Baltimore-area serial killer Charles W. Davis Jr., who, before his arrest, liked to spend time with rescue squad workers and was said to have accompanied them to the scenes of murders he had committed.

Douglas also researched cases under the late Dr. John E. Smialek, Maryland's chief medical examiner from 1986 to 2001 and a national authority on forensic pathology.

Now an author who inspired the FBI supervisor's role in the movie Silence of the Lambs, Douglas will be back in the area next week - this time to talk about what he has learned over the years.

"I'm not out to scare people. The purpose really is education," said Douglas, who will speak at the Towson library at 7 p.m. Tuesday. "I think when I talk about cases, people realize that you really do have to be careful. ... I also enjoy talking to people - seeing what's on their minds. I think it's my teaching background.

"I'll probably outline a crime scene for the group and see what they can figure out from the clues."

The list of criminals Douglas has interviewed reads like a Who's Who of American killers: Charles Manson, Richard Speck, John Wayne Gacy, David Berkowitz ("Son of Sam") and James Earl Ray.

From those interviews and others he developed psychological profiles that are used to catch criminals. His profiling work led to the arrest of Wayne B. Williams, who was convicted of murder in the deaths of two young blacks who were among 28 children and young men killed over 22 months in Atlanta in the early 1980s.

Douglas spent 25 years with the FBI and headed the bureau's National Center for Analysis of Violent Crime before retiring in 1995. He now is host of a talk show on a Los Angeles radio station, has a cable program in the works and consults on several dozen cases per year.

Among the cases with which he has been involved: the civil lawsuit brought against O.J. Simpson by the family of his slain former wife, and the Jon Benet Ramsey killing.

More recently, during the Washington-area sniper killings, however, Douglas - a Virginia resident - would not offer a profile of the shooters, despite repeated requests from print and television reporters.

"The reason I refused to do the shows was because I didn't have any specific information about the case," Douglas said. "And I could see that whoever was responsible for the shootings was following the press closely.

"One of the so-called profilers out there said [the sniper] thinks he's God, and sure enough, the very next day, the young boy was shot outside the middle school and the tarot card was left: `Call me God.'"

Profiling is more than just creating psychological composites of unidentified killers, said Douglas, 58, the father of three. It's recognizing patterns, realizing certain crimes may be connected. Frequently, the profiles are most helpful in interrogating suspects, he said.

"It really requires a lot of experience and training," said Douglas. "You learn to walk in the shoes of the victims and the subjects."

Douglas' books include The Cases That Haunt Us, The Anatomy Of Motive, Obsession, Journey Into Darkness and Mindhunter, all written with Mark Olshaker. His most recent book, Anyone You Want Me To Be, co-written with Stephen Singular, looks at the Internet's first serial killer.

Baltimore County public library officials say Douglas' popularity has continued to grow over the years, especially with the success of TV crime shows such as CSI.

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