A Female Killer
Even in the mid-eighties, there was still a misconception in the FBI that profiling was based more on instinct than technique. It was hard for me to understand this stubborn insistence on ignoring the research involved in developing new methods of investigation. And it also made my job a lot trickier. Because, despite the fact that profiling was tallying up more and more successful cases—and despite how elusive each of those individual cases had been before the BSU got involved—the future of our work remained uncertain. Continued funding for our criminal personality study wasn’t guaranteed, and the Bureau’s upper brass remained noncommittal to both the research side of profiling and the act of profiling itself. And yet, in the three years since our initial success with the Joubert case, we’d seen an overwhelming increase in the number of requests from outside agencies asking for our help—starting with fifty in 1981, then doubling each year after that. There was clearly a need for our work, so why weren’t we getting support? Ressler’s answer was simple: “The Bureau has a habit of getting stuck in its own mess of red tape.”
For the most part, I learned to ignore the uncertainties surrounding the criminal personality study and simply focused on the day-to-day tasks at hand. After all, research in general—whether in academia, hospitals, or, apparently, the FBI—was uncertain by nature. There were never any guarantees. But the act of profiling itself was a different matter entirely. As word spread about the success of our methods, our small team faced growing expectations and pressure to help law enforcement build criminal profiles for their most pressing cases. It was all we could do to keep up with the requests. Add this to the unit’s already heavy workload of teaching, road school, and overall lack of resources, and something had to give.
Relief came in January of 1984. Finally, after an impassioned request from Unit Chief Depue, the Bureau stepped in and approved four new agents to join the team. But it wasn’t just agents we got. Leadership at the FBI also sent over a long list of questions: Could we make profiling more consistent? Could we speed up the process? Could we apply it to a wider range of cases? And although I wished I could say that my answer was a simple yes up and down the board, the truth was I had no idea. I believed in our work, and I believed in the agents. But profiling was unlike anything the world of criminal investigations had ever seen. The technique was still in its infancy. In my mind, the profiling process made sense because of similarities I saw between it and the techniques I used to diagnose psychiatric patients—all the clues for identifying the disease or condition were there, you just needed to know where to find them and how to connect them. New agents, however, would be coming from a completely different background. They needed their own way of thinking about how profiling worked—an evidence-based approach grounded in the insights gained from the criminal personality study. I realized the opportunity this presented. If Douglas, Ressler, and I played our cards right, we could create a training program for new agents that also helped validate the research side of profiling in one fell swoop. So, at the start of summer in 1984, I took a break from academia and gave my full attention to the team at Quantico and our development of profiling.
I didn’t have my own office in the subterranean depths of Quantico. But the agents didn’t want to distract me with their nonstop chaos of noise—shouting down the halls, constantly ringing phones, and the screeching of our new analog fax machine. So I was given a small desk in a large conference room at the intersection of two halls. The room was dominated by six industrial-sized filing cabinets that were each stuffed with chronologically arranged binders full of BSU case records and their connected newspaper indexes. The setup was perfect. It felt like here, in this space, I was at the center of the hive, surrounded by the collective investigative knowledge we had of serial killers and their crimes. I had everything I needed to untangle the cluttered mess of criminal minds and find the common threads among them. This was my chance to add nuance and depth to the criminal personality study and to then apply that knowledge to profiling in ways that would make the process faster and more consistent.
I started with the data. At that point, we’d recorded prison inter- views with more than fifty notorious killers—the thirty-six from the original study, plus the others we’d recorded since—and none of them had been shy about opening up. They readily talked about how they chose their victims, what happened during the assaults, what souvenirs they took, what role pornography played, what they did after the crime, what they thought about over the days that followed, and a whole range of other questions intended to shed light on their criminal predisposition. The consistency among their answers was fascinating. Studying these answers revealed common denominators among crime scenes and criminals that stayed true across time and distance and showed that these were far from individual acts of random violence. Fifty-one percent of the killers we interviewed, for example, displayed above-average intelligence, while 72 percent had an emotionally distant relationship with their father and 86 percent had a prior psychiatric history or diagnosis. This background data showed, for the first time, clear patterns in serial killers’ behaviors when compared to human behavior at large. And it grounded criminal profiling in measurable research that further validated our results.
When I first showed Ressler my findings, he sighed with relief. “I’ve got to tell you,” he admitted, “my biggest fear was that the data would be totally, diametrically out of kilter with what I’ve been doing here for the last couple of years.”
I knew exactly how he felt. The work we did, putting ourselves in the mind of an offender to understand the nature of their crime, came with serious risks. It was a raw confrontation with horror. Weight loss and chest pains were common among agents at the BSU, with Douglas being the most notorious example. He was working a case in Seattle in 1983 when a medical emergency caused him to be hospitalized, unconscious, with a near-deadly case of meningitis. It took months of rehabilitation at home in Virginia until he finally got back on his feet. “I felt it was payback for six years of hunting the worst men on earth,” he told me. After that, I made a habit of regularly meeting with the team to review the emotional toll of the cases we were taking on. We had to reassure and support each other in whatever ways we could.
That brought me to my second focus during the summer of 1984. It wasn’t just criminal psychology I was interested in understanding. I wanted to learn how the agents’ minds worked, too. If their goal was to think their way into an unsub’s head, then I needed to understand their exact step-by-step approach so I could better refine profiling as a methodological process. So, I paid attention. I focused on their individual patterns and behaviors, and I jotted down what I saw.
Some were visual thinkers, crafting pictures in their heads about the crime. Some organized their thoughts into a series of mental checklists. And some started each session with an open mind, meticulously shaping an opinion as they challenged the analysis of others. Yet, despite these differences, the agents arrived at the same conclusions more than 80 percent of the time. It was uncanny.
For example, in trying to determine the size and weight of the unsub later identified as John Joubert, Ressler thought the suspect would be slim because he dropped his victim close to the road—the implication being the unsub couldn’t carry the victim any farther. Hazelwood also believed the unsub would be slim, but his reasoning came from observing that the suspect’s footprints were close together. Both agents described the unsub as “slight of build,” which he was, but their mode of understanding was different, likely because of different investigative experiences from earlier in their individual careers.
This convergence raised several questions: Which parts of profiling could be taught, which parts could be refined through experience, and how could we assess a potential agent’s aptitude for profiling? I wasn’t sure, but the timing was right to find out. With the second generation of profilers—Ron Walker, Bill Haigmier, Judson Ray, Jim Wright, and new recruit and profiler apprentice Greg Cooper—just starting to participate in active cases, we’d have our answers soon enough. Their development and contributions would have far-reaching implications for the future of profiling. If these newest members of the team could learn to successfully analyze, reconstruct, and classify the behavioral characteristics of an unsub based on the available information of their crimes, then we’d know that profiling could be a learned skill. It would set a precedent for how we trained new agents and law enforcement officers moving forward. This would be the blueprint.
For the moment, though, just having four additional agents and an apprentice around was a huge relief. Not only did they allow us to take on a greater number of cases than ever before, but they also broadened the scope of cases we could tackle. Up until then, all of our profiling work—both in the study and in active cases—had involved multiple killings by male offenders between the ages of eighteen and thirty-five, most of whom were white. The killers’ methods and motives showed a range of differences, but their demographics were largely the same. In part, this was simply the reality of known serial killers at the time. But it also spoke to a general shortcoming in the overall culture of law enforcement. In the late seventies and early eighties, cases with white victims were more thoroughly investigated than cases involving minorities. It was a shameful truth. And it was also a weakness, limiting our potential to understand the full spectrum of criminals and their crimes.
In my position, one of still only a few women at the Academy, I was perhaps more acutely aware of prevailing social issues than anyone else. I knew what it felt like to be the odd one out, and I’d learned to see the value in that perspective. This was something I often stressed to the team—explaining how agents with diverse backgrounds could help us better know and reflect the diversity within crime—and normally this would get me a couple of agreeable nods, but not much else. But that finally changed when Judd Ray joined the BSU as part of the second generation of profilers. Ray was the first Black agent on the team, and the two of us quickly became allies. He understood the importance of pushing the BSU out of its comfort zone. He agreed that profiling could be effective beyond just one narrow demographic of killers. We just needed to prove it. We needed a case that highlighted our technique and its novel reimagining of the investigative process, no matter how unexpected the killer’s identity might be. We needed a case to serve as undeniable proof of profiling’s transformative potential. That case landed on Agent Ron Walker’s desk one afternoon in 1984.
Six of us gathered in the bomb shelter early the next morning— I made sure Ray would attend—with Walker in the role of lead profiler. The room was set up when we arrived. And as he gave us a few moments to review key details of the case, I decided I’d treat this session differently. I wanted to focus as much on the specifics of the case as I did on the method itself. I knew that the agents each approached profiling from their own unique vantage point, but I’d never considered how these differences affected the end result. This context was crucial. By observing how agents asked questions, processed information, and oriented cases toward their own area of expertise, I could better understand profiling as a methodological process. In other words, the observations recorded by each agent were the nuts and bolts of how profiling sessions worked, and by seeing how each agent operated, I could piece together how they approached and analyzed the subject of a given session. The agents themselves were a point of data that needed to be considered within the greater work.
On Saturday, June 23, 1984, in the upper-middle-class suburb of Orinda, California, fifteen-year-old Kirsten C. was home alone, wait- ing for a ride to a secret initiation dinner to join the exclusive Bob-O-Links civic group, known locally as the “Bobbies.” The Bobbies were a big deal. Membership was a sign of social status that extended beyond just the immediacy of high school. So, when Kirsten’s mom had earlier received the call from an unidentified female who explained that the dinner was a secret and that she’d pick up Kirsten at 8:30 p.m., the whole family got excited.“This one might be a first for the team,” Walker said, pressing record on the tape drive to record our conversation for future reference. “There’s a witness who saw the attack. Apparently, the unsub’s a female.” He then clicked off the lights and aimed the projector at the far wall.
That evening, Kirsten’s parents and her twelve-year-old brother left the house to attend a baseball banquet, and Kirsten waited for her ride to show up. At 8:20 p.m., Kirsten’s mom called to wish her daughter good luck. Soon after, a car honked in the driveway, and Kirsten raced out the door and into the passenger side of a beat-up two-tone orange Ford Pinto. The Pinto cruised over to a nearby Presbyterian church and parked out front, resting for about thirty minutes with the two passengers staying inside. Then, Kirsten stepped out of the car and walked five hundred yards or so to the nearby home of family friends, the Arnolds, at the end of a cul-de-sac. Mrs. Arnold opened the door and listened intently as Kirsten explained her predicament: “Jell, my friend, is acting really weird and she won’t take me home.” She then asked if she could use the Arnolds’ phone to call her parents. At this point, Mrs. Arnold noticed a teenage girl with light brown hair standing on the sidewalk. It struck her as odd, so she invited Kirsten to come in. After calling home but failing to reach her parents, Kirsten accepted Mr. Arnold’s offer to drive her. They left at about 9:40 p.m.
Throughout the three-mile drive, Arnold noticed an orange Pinto that was clearly following them but keeping some distance back. He turned to Kirsten and asked her point-blank: “Is that the girl you were with?” Kirsten confirmed that it was but reassured him that everything was okay before calmly changing the subject to things about school and her friends. Once they arrived at the C. family home, Kirsten noticed that her parents still weren’t back yet. She told Arnold that she was going to wait at the neighbor’s house next door. Arnold said he’d watch to make sure she got inside safely. Moments later, though, through the passenger-side window, he spotted a female figure racing across the neighbor’s front lawn toward where Kirsten was standing at the entrance of the porch. Arnold heard an altercation and then saw Kirsten fall to the ground. Screams followed. Moments later, he watched the assailant run back down the driveway, jump into the Pinto, and hit a curb as she made a sharp U-turn before speeding away.
There were multiple witnesses to what happened next, but much of it was sheer chaos. Porch lights flicked on. Neighbors ran outside in the direction of the commotion. And Kirsten got up and stumbled past Arnold’s car, screaming for help, her bloody hands leaving thick crimson prints where she held onto the trunk of the car for support. Arnold took off after the speeding Ford Pinto, then reconsidered and drove back to the crime scene to see if Kirsten needed help. He saw paramedics rush Kirsten into an ambulance. Then he found a police officer and described the Pinto he’d been chasing and Kirsten’s comment about her weird friend.
In the midst of everything, the C. family arrived home. The scene turned from chaos to pin-drop silence, then back to chaos again as the family glimpsed their daughter on a stretcher in the back of an ambulance. She was covered in blood. Paramedics slammed the doors, blared their siren, and cut a path through the gathering crowd. They raced Kirsten to a nearby hospital, where an hour later, she was pronounced dead. It was 11:02 p.m.
The investigation started immediately, with the primary focus on the investigators’ main lead: the killer’s Ford Pinto. Police looked into over 750 yellow and orange Pintos, but they still couldn’t nail down any definitive evidence connecting one particular Pinto to Kirsten’s murder.
From there, the police searched for additional witnesses. They found three. The first was a neighbor of the Arnolds who saw the Pinto parked in the cul-de-sac while he was out on an evening walk. He observed that a female was driving the car and that she was upset, so he went up to the window to ask and see if she was okay. The driver waved him off, saying, “I’m fine, just leave me alone.” Their interaction ended with that.
The second and third witnesses were a young couple. They were also parked in the church’s lot—a local hangout for the area’s high school kids to party, smoke pot, and have sex—when they saw the Pinto pull in and park for about thirty-five minutes. Unfortunately, the couple said they didn’t recognize Kirsten or the driver, and they didn’t get a good look at what happened inside the car.
“That’s where the case stands.” Walker turned over the last page of his files and looked across the table at us. “It’s been months with no further leads. The case has gone cold. But let me just add that forensics shows five stab wounds and a defense wound to the right forearm. Two of the wounds went deep into the victim’s back and punctured her right lung and diaphragm.” Walker rapidly clicked forward a few slides on the projector. “Then there’s the autopsy. These photos show where one wound lacerated her liver. And the other two wounds on her chest, which are about fifteen centimeters long and penetrated her left lung. She seems to have choked to death on her own blood. There were no indications of physical or sexual assault.
“All right. Let’s open this up for questions.”
“What about the witnesses’ descriptions?” Ray asked.
“See, that’s part of the problem.” Walker shook his head. “Arnold isn’t much of a witness. He got completely overwhelmed. He couldn’t recall the license plate number, and he couldn’t give a description of the person that ran by his car. All he said was that she was female, with dirty blonde hair, dressed in what appeared to be jogging-type clothes. He couldn’t even give us an age, just that ‘she wasn’t old, she wasn’t young.’ They even tried to hypnotize the guy and he wasn’t able to come up with more than that. The other witnesses, the couple making out in their car, they were parked all the way in the far corner of the lot. They only saw the victim get out of the Pinto and walk away.”
“And you’re sure it was the Pinto?” Ray asked. “The same one that picked her up at her house and the same one Arnold chased after that?”
Walker flashed a look of frustration. “The car that picked her up was an orange Pinto. It was an orange Pinto seen at the church parking lot. It was an orange Pinto seen here, and here. It was the same car. If you need more proof, we have multiple witnesses describing it as banged up and dented looking. It’s not in good shape.”
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Douglas smiling. I knew what he was up to. He was going to crack a joke or make some other remark to smooth out the tension in the room.
“Geez, Walker. Now I’m a little afraid to ask the obvious,” Douglas raised both hands in a surrender-type gesture, “but was there even an initiation dinner that evening?”
“No, no initiation that night. That goes back to the Bobbies again. The club’s main officers were all out of town on an annual field trip to Hawaii. You’ve got to remember, this is as much of a civic group as it is a sorority of sorts. It’s a social club and social organization that provides assistance at the local hospital, sort of like candy striper–type assistance. The club itself is restricted to the in-crowd. And its members are generally wealthy. That’s what the field trip to Hawaii was all about and why the only ones left in town were the initiates and nonofficers, and that’s not a whole lot of them. It’s not a very big organization. Maybe twenty or thirty girls, and about half of those hold some sort of official position. So most of them were away while this was happening.”
“Tell us more about the weapon.” Ressler refocused the conversation. “Did they ever find it?”
“It was never found, no. Our best determination is that the weapon was a large, single-edged blade, probably a typical hunting knife. That’s unconfirmed though. The witness didn’t see the knife. We just have the coroner report, which attributes the wounds to a single-edged weapon of fairly good size—an inch and a half blade at least. Investigators found a butter knife at the scene, but that had nothing to do with the attack.”
“Besides the butter knife, did forensics recover anything else?” “Nothing useful,” Walker said. “They did find one bloody finger-
print on one of the porch rails at the site of the assault, and it wasn’t the victim’s. Unfortunately, it was just a partial, not enough to get any points of comparison off of.”
“Can we go back to the victim?” I pivoted. “What was her demeanor in all this? How did the witnesses describe her?”
“She wasn’t panicked. Arnold and his wife described her as worried and a little upset. That’s it.”
“And what about victimology and the victim profile?” I asked. “Let’s see.” Walker flipped through his notes. “What you have
here is a fifteen-year-old high school student. She’s very popular in school, belongs to the in-crowd, sort of a little princess in her own household, her every whim is catered to by her mom and dad. She does have other siblings in the family, but she’s the oldest daughter. She’s a very attractive young lady. Victimology-wise, there’s nothing in her background that puts her at high risk. She relates well to her girlfriends, she relates well to guys in the school, she relates well to adults. There’s no sexual promiscuity on her part that we know of. She’s described by her peers as being sort of a tease, the type who would lead the boys on in a way, but she always cut the guy off when things started to get serious. The only thing in her background that’s a little unusual—well, it’s not unusual for California, but typically would be unusual for a fifteen-year-old girl—is that she likes to toot some drugs every now and again. She also smokes marijuana and likes to drink a lot of beer, to the point of getting intoxicated. This is not habitual with her, but she does go to parties, she drinks beer, and she certainly never passes up the opportunity to toke a joint. Again, this isn’t unusual for the California high school kid. But it’s what she was into.”
“The guy that drove her home, Arnold . . . are we sure he wasn’t involved in this? It’s pretty unusual he couldn’t give a better description of the unsub after being so close to the attack,” Ressler said.
“He was just spooked. The whole thing was too much for him to handle.”
“See, that feels off to me,” Ressler continued. “It makes me wonder if he knew the unsub. Maybe it’s another high school kid he’s trying to protect.”
“Hold on a second,” I cut in. “Before this gets into profiling, can you clarify something? You said the victim was a popular girl, right? So, did she have any friends in the club that she talked to about the initiation? Wouldn’t they have told her that nothing was going on that night?”
“Now, that’s an interesting question,” Walker agreed. “The victim did call one of her friends to talk about the initiation. The friend, who also happens to be one of the Bobbies, knew nothing about the initiation. However, the victim and the friend sort of agreed that, well, there could be something going on, there could be an initiation, we just don’t know about it. It’s sort of a secret club, remember. So she agrees to go.”
“That makes our unsub one of the Bobbies,” Hazelwood said. “Or else why would the victim get in the car and go with her? Not to mention sitting in the parking lot with her for all that time.”
“So, we’re getting into profiling now,” Walker said. “That’s fine. But the problem with saying it’s definitely one of the Bobbies is that the original call went to the mom, not the victim herself. That strikes me as deliberate. That’s using a disguise of some sort. At the same time, we know that whoever made the call is someone who knows very intimately how the Bobbies set up their initiation process. So, yes, you’re probably right. Because it’s unlikely that the victim would have gotten in the car if she didn’t recognize the driver as a known member, since the Bobbies don’t use nonmembers as part of the initiation process.”
“This is how I see it,” Douglas laid out his theory. “It’s the opinion of this profiler that the victim and her assailant were acquainted and possibly shared an association unknown to the victim’s family and friends. A lot of what went on here indicates, as Walker pointed out very aptly, that the person was a member of or at least familiar with the Bobbies organization, so it must be a female. That the person is familiar with the area is very obvious, too, because the driver of the Pinto took the victim to an area frequented by the local teenagers. There’s obvious planning that went into the situation. A younger girl couldn’t do that, so maybe it was a high school junior or senior. Or maybe somebody recently graduated that’s still hanging around the town and feeling kind of angry about being stuck there but not part of things anymore. But what’s conflicting is that there was a lot of organization that went into the planning of the crime, but the way the crime went down was totally disorganized. Running up in front of a witness that’s sitting in the car and stabbing the victim and passing by that witness twice, once on the way to the victim and once on the way back from the victim. It’s thoughtless.”
“That element of planned but disorganized is important,” Hazelwood agreed, picking up on Douglas’s train of thought. “But you have to wonder what the unsub’s plan really was. I don’t think it was homicide, and the reason I say that is there was a lot of opportunity, at least thirty-five minutes while they were parked in the parking lot, plus the whole ride in the car before that.”
“Makes sense.” Walker nodded in agreement. “Something happened in the parking lot that caused the situation to deteriorate. There was a confrontation of sorts. The victim leaves the Pinto and says something like: ‘The hell with this. I’m leaving. You’re weird.’ And so whatever transpired there is causing this driver of the Pinto a lot of grief, anxiety, anger, rage, to the point where she follows the victim home, gets out of the car, and assaults her.”
“It’s a very disorganized, impulsive type of act,” Douglas said. “All of this wasn’t planned for the purpose of murder, it was simply to be with this girl for one reason or another. Possibly with romantic intentions.”
“So if we’re building a profile around a high school–aged female, which it sounds like everyone agrees we are,” I looked around the room and counted several confirming nods, “then how does the hunting knife fit in? If it’s only a weapon of opportunity, why does a high school girl have it in her car?”
“Well, we don’t know if the driver owned the car or had the habit of borrowing it from friends or family,” Walker said. “And if it’s that second option, then the knife was likely there independent of the unsub or her intentions.”
“If we’re building on victimology, I think the vehicle’s age and condition are another significant factor here,” I said. “It points to a lack of economic capacity. That’s a big difference from the general affluence of the area in which the crime occurred. The condition of the unsub’s car signals a lower economic status, which probably adds to anxieties about not fitting in.”
“Let me say something I think is extremely important,” Ressler interjected. “Forget the car for a second. We’ve got an elaborate scheme to get this girl away from her home, and then she’s murdered with a knife—a weapon that would generally indicate a planned homicide. And yet we also have the victim and unsub alone for a considerable length of time, and there’s no trauma to the victim’s face or tearing of the clothing. But now some of you are saying it wasn’t a premeditated homicide, and therefore the weapon becomes a weapon of opportunity instead of a weapon of choice. That’s a hell of a differentiation to make when you have all that planning and a girl stabbed to death.”
“Maybe there’s something else involved we haven’t accounted for yet,” Douglas pushed back. “Something that could explain the time in the car and the impulsiveness of the attack.”
“Let’s focus back on the profile,” Walker switched gears. “We agree on the category of disorganized. We also seem to agree that the offender possesses at least a partial high school education and may well have been a student or recent graduate still living in the area at the time of the offense. If they’re part of the Bobbies, they have an average to above-average intelligence but may have had only a mediocre academic record due to a greater interest in social standing than their academic success. The assailant either resided or was employed in the area at the time of the crime. And although they must have had some capacity to relate to others—again, assuming they’re part of the Bobbies—their economics likely puts them on the lower end of the social spectrum, which adds a whole other layer to why they struggled to make any actual friends. I’d say this points to a likely history of recreational drug and alcohol use that also compensates for anxieties and lower inhibitions. I think age is enough to rule out any criminal history, other than maybe a misdemeanor drug offense.”
“That sounds about right,” Ressler said. “Although I wish we had a better read on what happened while they were sitting in the car. It had to be a pretty big confrontation between the two to trigger such a violent response.”
“Drug use,” Douglas repeated.
“Can we do a quick segue into post-offense behavior?” Hazelwood asked. “Ann, this part could really use your insights to help rationalize the psychology involved. You’ve got an advantage because, even after twenty years of marriage, I still have no idea how women think.”
The agents laughed, and I smiled along to play nice. Then I thought better of it. “Talk about your personal life on your own time, Roy. I’m more interested in solving this case.”
There was a brief silence before Hazelwood sheepishly and good-naturedly apologized.
“It’s a fair point, though,” Walker said. “Post-offense behavior is important in this one. The first thing to address is the issue of the weapon. Who wants to start?”
Ressler took the lead. “Based on how disorganized the attack was, it’s likely the unsub disposed of the weapon on her drive back home. She probably just threw the knife out the window to get rid of it without much thought. I feel very comfortable saying that the driver got back into the car and drove straight home. I say that because I don’t think this person ever committed an act like this before in her entire life, the assailant.”
“I’m with Bob on this one,” I agreed. “This was a traumatic act, and people not inclined to homicidal behavior—and I don’t think this girl was inclined to homicidal behavior—the first thing they do when they commit an act like this is they go someplace safe. They find a warm, supportive environment where they can shut themselves off from what really happened. In this case, if we’re looking for a high school girl, she would immediately go back to her family’s house.”
“That’s good,” Douglas said. “The knife gets tossed out the window on the drive home. So if police can come up with a list of suspects, they should be able to search the most logical driving routes and come up with the knife.”
“The driver would also clean up any trace of evidence inside the vehicle,” Hazelwood added. “This is particularly true if the vehicle was borrowed. She might even get up early to take it to a local car wash the next day.”
“That’s the key time period,” I said. “The unsub’s personal behavior would have changed noticeably immediately after the offense. She might not have seen anyone that night after she got back. But as a high school girl living with her family, she likely would have seen someone the next morning, and they might have noticed her becoming withdrawn and introverted for at least a few days after the offense. She could have appeared anxious, agitated, nervous, preoccupied with distant thoughts. Her normal daily pattern could have changed, including a change in eating and sleeping habits. Even her physical appearance could have noticeably changed. She could have been less clothes-conscious, less concerned with how put together she was or how she looked.”
“Do you know if the local police noticed anything unusual at the funeral, Walker?” Douglas asked. “We’ve seen this before where the killer attends and exhibits an inappropriate lack of emotion. Usually, they leave the service early too.”
“The police have to know who she is,” Ressler insisted. “They can’t have that many suspects. They probably already interviewed her within the course of their investigation and noticed that she was more anxious and upset than some of the other kids. Maybe she even offered to help in the investigation. What aren’t you telling us, Walker?”
“All right, everyone.” Walker wrapped things up quickly. “That should be enough. I’ll write up the profile and send it back to the Orinda police. We’ll debrief if there’s an update.”
That was it. When the session ended, these agents, who were well practiced in these types of transitions, simply flipped a mental switch
to click back into their own individual worlds. They jumped from an analysis of violent stabbing in all its graphic details to chatting about weekend plans with the family or politics around the office or what Joe Gibbs was doing with the Redskins. It was startling in a way, but it was also part of what the FBI recruited for. Despite their differences, each agent within the BSU had an ability to empathize without being affected, to compartmentalize the disturbing without becoming disturbed themselves. They had ways of staying detached in order to survive.
My experience was different. Working with victims of sexual violence hadn’t numbed me to such horrific acts. Rather, it helped me understand the nature of violence more fully—it helped me recognize patterns and designs. I did this by connecting with victims, relating to their stories, and analyzing the underlying psychology at work. This gave me a unique insight into the victim side of profiling. It was something the offender-focused agents appreciated, particularly because it helped clear up inconsistencies in how repeat offenders treated victims over a series of crimes. I was often brought in on these types of cases to explain the interpersonal dynamics of a crime—such as how victims might fight back or give in as an act of self-defense—or to offer my opinion on how different scenarios could stimulate or upset an offender. But my approach also left me more vulnerable to the emotions of the cases. They stuck with me. I’d often find myself replaying the details and nuances of a crime to better understand what motivated an offender and who they might be. And when profiled offenders were finally captured, I felt proud of our work—but more than anything, I felt relieved.
This was especially true of the Bobbies case. Of the dozen or so profiling sessions the team had worked on since the start of the 1980s, this was the first female-on-female case. If we got this one right, it would serve as a resounding yes to the Bureau’s as-yet unresolved question: Can profiling be applied to a wider range of cases? The answer came a few months later, in December of that year. Walker told me that an arrest had finally been made. He added that he was scheduling a debriefing with all the agents involved in the original profile, and he suggested I join them.
“So, here’s what I didn’t tell you at our last session. Even before we started profiling this one, the investigation had a pretty narrow suspect list. They even had one suspect who had access to an orange Pinto, was a friend of the victim, attended the same high school, was a member of the Bobbies, and had an unexplained absence from her house for the two-hour period that encompassed the event.” Walker quickly cut us off before anyone could respond. “I know, I know. But they ruled her out after passing a polygraph examination, because there wasn’t a single deception noted on the results.”
“What was the alibi she gave for the missing two hours? Did the polygrapher ask her about that?” Douglas asked.
“She said she was babysitting. That’s how she got access to the car—the Pinto was her older sister’s, by the way. She conned her sister and parents with the babysitting story.”
“Clever,” Ray muttered.
“Here’s the thing, though. When I heard about the polygraph, I asked them to fax a copy and had it reviewed by one of our own guys. And he said it was a lousy test. He said that, if the questions had been asked differently, or if the right questions had been asked, the results would have been inconclusive. That alone would have been enough to keep the suspect on the list.”
“Clearly, the local boys in blue don’t see a lot of murder investigations,” Douglas observed.
“So the next step was to put together our profile so I could show it to the investigators and point out all its overlaps with the suspect they’d ruled out. But the problem would be the suspect herself. By then, she’d have had enough time to rationalize the attack. She’d feel justified in the killing. We’ve seen it before. The unsub goes through a psychological self-defense mechanism, with thoughts like: ‘She deserved what happened to her, she’s a brat, she’s a snob. I don’t give a shit about her. She deserved to die.’ ”
“Devious,” Ray remarked.
“That’s why I wanted Ann’s help with the post-offense behavior in our last profiling session. I knew I could get the investigators to interview the unsub again. But we needed something to get her to crack. We had to walk her back through everything that happened that night, including her own thoughts and actions, even the ones she’d kept exclusively to herself. Otherwise, the investigators had nothing. We needed this girl to come out and fully confess.”
“So you do listen occasionally.” I laughed.
“I gave the investigators the profile. The investigators found the suspect again. And she agreed to come back for a second polygraph that upcoming Friday evening. Here’s what was strange, though: it’s a four-hour pre-polygraph interview, followed by the polygraph itself, and then, even after all that, the girl was reluctant to leave. She kept hanging around and wanting to talk to the polygraph examiner. And when she finally did, she said to him: ‘I think you believe I did it.’ And he says: ‘Yes.’ And then she asked for his name, and he says: ‘Ron Hilly.’ “Anyway, the test showed deception in two key areas and was inconclusive on a number of others. But there still wasn’t enough for further investigative action.”
“You were right,” I said. “She had enough time to build up her defenses and justify to herself what she’d done.”
“That’s what I thought on Friday night after the results were in and the girl finally went home. But what happened next—I only learned about
this after the fact—was that Saturday and Sunday, the girl kept trying to talk to her mom, but her mom was too busy to give her any time. Then on Monday morning, as the girl got ready for school, she pointed to a note on her dresser and said, ‘Mom, you better read that while I’m at school.’ It was a signed confession for the murder of Kirsten C.”
“That’s interesting,” I said. “It’s as if she handled the confession in a way that still gave her some element of control. She couldn’t get her mother’s attention earlier, so she created a scenario where her mother was forced to get involved. Can we see the note? I bet that spells out her motivation to confess pretty clearly.”
Walker nodded, then picked up a piece of paper and started to read. “ ‘Dear Mom and Dad. I’ve been trying to tell you this all day, but I love you so much it’s too hard. So I’m taking the easy way out. The FBI man . . . thinks I did it. And he’s right. I’ve been able to live with it, but I can’t ignore it. It’s too much for me, and I can’t be that deceiving. Please still love me. I can’t live unless you love me. I’ve ruined my life and yours, and I don’t know what to do and I’m ashamed and scared. P.S. Please don’t say how could you or why,
because I don’t understand this and I don’t know why.’ ”
On the morning of December 12, 1984, after reading her daughter’s note, Bernadette Protti’s mom raced to school, picked up her daughter, and drove her to the Miramonte police station. Sixteen-year-old Bernadette refused to speak to anyone except polygraph examiner Ron Hilly, with whom she’d established a rapport the previous Friday. In her confession, Bernadette explained that she hadn’t planned the murder, that it was a misunderstanding, and that all she’d ever wanted was to fit in.
According to Bernadette’s confession, everything revolved around a party planned for the night of June 23. Bernadette hadn’t been invited, but she knew that Kirsten C. had been, which inspired her to concoct the scheme of a Bobbies’ initiation night to get Kirsten out of her house. Bernadette explained that she thought if she showed up at this really in party with one of the most popular girls at school, she would finally be accepted.
So, after the two of them arrived at the church parking lot and it eventually became obvious there was no initiation, Bernadette said, “Well, I guess there’s no initiation. I know of a great party. Let’s go to that.” And although Kirsten initially agreed, something transpired in those moments—something that was never fully explained or made clear—that caused her to change her mind, to call Bernadette an asshole, and to get out of the car.
That’s when Bernadette decided she had to do something about Kirsten. She was afraid that Kirsten would tell everybody at school that she was weird because she wouldn’t get high, and she couldn’t handle the thought of rejection from her peers.
As for the knife, Bernadette explained that her older sister had left it in the car. The sister had originally put the knife in the car before going with some friends to a sub shop. The sister used it to cut the subs in half, and she just forgot to take it out of the car afterward. That was her explanation, anyway, believe it or not.
At the end of the debriefing, I asked Walker if he had a minute to chat. He was still new to profiling and the BSU, and I hoped I could learn something by hearing his perspective.
“That was a good outcome,” I said. “It will give the family a little peace.”
“They probably wouldn’t have caught her if she didn’t give herself up.”
“Maybe. But it’s hard to say how much of an impact your re-interview strategy had,” I continued. “That’s not what I wanted to talk about, though. I’m curious about your overall impressions of the case. And why’d you choose to focus on her in the first place?”
“There were things in her polygraph that stood out,” Walker said. “Especially that one question she asked, the thing about ‘Do you consider the publicity is more important than the murder,’ that jumped out at me. It was like she felt justified in her actions and used that emotion to help her pass the polygraph. Which, by the way, I found out that Ron Hilly ran a ‘check attention’–type polygraph, asking specific questions only the perp would know and then watching for a reaction. Those aren’t easy to pass.”
“Makes sense. What else do you think?” I pushed him to continue. “Was this simple jealousy and fear of rejection?”
Walker tipped his head back slightly and paused a moment before answering. “I think there are parts that don’t add up. But that’s for the courts to figure out. My opinion doesn’t matter anymore.”
“It does if we can still learn something from it. It might matter a lot to the next case we see.”
“All right,” Walker said, choosing his words carefully. “I think— and this is looking at it in retrospect—I think there’s a lot we still don’t know. Take the confession, for example. The subject describes the victim taking marijuana out of her purse, but the victim’s parents said she wasn’t carrying a purse that night. Also, look at the alibi from the eighteen-year-old sister. The sister lied. She tried to cover for the subject during the time she was out of the house. I think the subject also lied about the knife. I get the impression that the parents lied, too. But not because they knew anything about their daughter commit- ting murder, they lied because they knew she’d been driving without a license. My guess is that, when the parents initially got a call from the police, they thought their daughter might have been in a traffic accident. They covered for her without knowing what she did.”
“So, what do you think really happened?” I asked.
“Honestly? I think the girl did take the knife out of the kitchen and put it in the car that night. How else would she have just found it under the front seat? That’s bullshit—sorry for the language. But I also don’t think she intended to commit murder. I think what she did was she, because of her envy and the jealousy she felt, I think she maybe wanted to frighten the victim or scare her by using the knife as a big display. But it’s easy to guess what happened next based on the subject’s patterns of behavior. Her fear of rejection controlled her. The only thing that mattered was fitting in.”
“Why didn’t you mention any of this in there?” I asked.
“Because those guys are all veteran agents. The subject in this case wasn’t a big-name serial killer. It was just a one-off. They’ve got bigger fish to fry.”
In that moment, I wanted to tell Walker that his case mattered for exactly the reasons he thought it didn’t. For every big-name serial killer that the BSU tracked down, there were hundreds, if not thousands, of one-off cases that never got solved. By sheer numbers alone, these were the cases where we could make the biggest impact. And for profiling to work on that scale, we couldn’t limit ourselves to one way of thinking or one simple approach. We needed to throw everything we had at these cases: our different backgrounds, experiences, perspectives. Because that was the real key to methodological profiling. We were at our best when we came together as a team. We solved cases by reducing them to their smallest details, then putting them back together based on every- one’s unique understanding of the behaviors involved. Our collective analysis evened out any unknown biases we might have as individual profilers. Collaboration was the BSU’s greatest advantage and something we’d need to rely on more and more as new cases came in that stretched us to our limits. Profiling was more than the sum of its parts.
“Every case matters,” I told Walker. “They’re all important.”
On April 1, 1985, Bernadette Protti was found guilty of second-degree murder for taking the life of Kirsten C. She received the maximum sentence of nine years, during which she was denied parole twice before the state Youthful Offender Parole Board released her on June 10, 1992, in a two-to-one decision.
In many ways, the Bobbies case was exactly what the BSU needed. It was prominently publicized, it had a successful outcome, and it proved that profiling could be an investigation’s big break, regardless of who the subject was or how many crimes they’d committed. Even throughout their coverage of the trial the media—often critical of the FBI as a whole—was unusually complimentary of the Bureau’s “new investigative technique.” This positive media attention was another turning point for the BSU. Publicly, it set in motion a new narrative in which profiling was considered a valued part of how the FBI combated violent serial crimes. But internally, where it mattered most, the significance was much deeper. Coverage of the case helped validate our work in the eyes of higher-ups within the agency’s echelon—people with decision-making ability, budget oversight, and departmental authority.
The case also helped highlight the importance of collaboration among the lead profilers, agents, and local investigators. These relationships are critical to the development of a solid profile. Information needs to be clear, comprehensive, and unbiased. And there has to be a constant dialogue between everyone involved. This level of transparency and cooperation was almost unprecedented for the time. It was thrilling. And at the same time, we were flooded with more calls than ever before from investigators who needed our help. There were child killings in Atlanta, highway slashings in Chicago, and a series of dismemberments along the California coast. The list went on and on.
The Bobbies case was influential in an operational sense, too. Even with the addition of four new agents, the BSU had only ten active profilers on its team. And none of those ten was profiling full-time— they did so in addition to their teaching responsibilities, training programs, or whatever else they were asked to do in their capacity as agents. But the successful impact profiling had on this case and others like it was becoming too hard to ignore. If the higher-ups wanted profiling to get faster and more efficient, they had to give us the time, space, and resources to really focus on it. Frustrated and nearing a breaking point, Ressler pressed then FBI Academy director James McKenzie about instituting a national center to continue our work. McKenzie moved the idea up the ladder, and later that summer, the Bureau formally announced its establishment of the National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime (NCAVC).
NCAVC officially became operational in June of 1985. In a way, the establishment of this new center spoke to the BSU’s success. Because, as is the case in any governmental bureaucracy, the more success a department has, the bigger and bigger it gets and the more units are added. NCAVC was simply a new name for an overarching entity that allowed the BSU to split into an investigative support unit and a research unit. The center was officially tasked with understanding and finding solutions for violent crimes: conducting research and development initiatives, establishing training programs, expanding criminal personality profiling, and maintaining the Violent Criminal Apprehension Program’s catalog of violent crimes. But at its core, we were still the same old BSU. All that really changed was that, after years of being isolated, we were finally getting access to greater resources that helped us integrate into the Bureau as a whole. It made us more efficient. And for time-sensitive cases, efficiency could be the difference between life and death.
Order the Book
With Steven Matthew Constantine
Lurking beneath the progressive activism and sex positivity in the 1970-80s, a dark undercurrent of violence rippled across the American landscape. With reported cases of sexual assault and homicide on the rise, the FBI created a specialized team—the “Mindhunters” better known as the Behavioral Science Unit—to track down the country's most dangerous criminals. And yet narrowing down a seemingly infinite list of potential suspects seemed daunting at best and impossible at worst—until Dr. Ann Wolbert Burgess stepped on the scene.
In A Killer By Design, Burgess reveals how her pioneering research on sexual assault and trauma caught the attention of the FBI, and steered her right into the middle of a chilling serial murder investigation in Nebraska. Over the course of the next two decades, she helped the budding unit identify, interview, and track down dozens of notoriously violent offenders, including Ed Kemper ("The Co-Ed Killer"), Dennis Rader ("("BTK"), Henry Wallace ("The Taco Bell Strangler"), Jon Barry Simonis ("The Ski-Mask Rapist"), and many others. As one of the first women trailblazers within the FBI’s hallowed halls, Burgess knew many were expecting her to crack under pressure and recoil in horror—but she was determined to protect future victims at any cost. This book pulls us directly into the investigations as she experienced them, interweaving never-before-seen interview transcripts and crime scene drawings alongside her own vivid recollections to provide unprecedented insight into the minds of deranged criminals and the victims they left behind. Along the way, Burgess also paints a revealing portrait of a formidable institution on the brink of a seismic scientific and cultural reckoning—and the men forced to reconsider everything they thought they knew about crime.