The business of self-deception

Criminal profilers, based on their success rate, should be grouped with tarot card readers and psychics.

Most people, I think, find criminal history interesting. Whether it be Bonnie and Clyde, the history of the Mafia or how cocaine cartels control entire countries, the lives of criminals can often be an entertaining escape from our regular, law-abiding lives of paying bills and stopping at stop signs.

I’ve always been fascinated by the mystery of Jack the Ripper, the serial killer who stalked London’s east end in the autumn of 1888. He was the first modern media killer, committed unspeakable crimes and not only escaped capture, his identity is completely unknown even to this day.

It was with some interest then that I watched a documentary about Saucy Jack a few nights ago; on the show was a retired FBI profiler who gave his expert opinion about the killer. The FBI expert stated Jack was likely not the smartest cookie in the carton. In fact, our former behavioral expert noted Jack wasn’t much more than a lucky moron.

Criminal profiling is the so-called science of examining evidence left by an unknown criminal and then creating a “profile,” said to be an uncannily accurate description of the culprit which will assist police in catching him or her. Criminal profilers, though, tend to fool themselves with broad generalizations that could apply to virtually any person, not just the culprit in question. Most skeptics consider criminal profiling no better than tarot card fortunes or palm reading.

The FBI stated Jack the Ripper eluded capture by the largest, best equipped and best trained (for the time) police department, the London Metropolitan Police, simply because he was lucky. They claim the Ripper was impetuous, selecting his victims on public streets, killing five women in horrendous manners but escaped caught because fortune smiled on him. I beg to differ.

Real detective work would reveal that it wouldn’t be impetuous to approach victims at night in London’s east end circa 1888 because of the vast number of people living and working there, even late at night. As well, the Ripper was likely a resident of the area, not as so many conspiracy theorists feel a member of royalty etc,. slumming in Whitechapel while he slaked his homicidal appetites. As a resident, Jack would have known the streets and alleys of the area like the back of his hand, allowing him to pick secluded areas to take his victims and make very quick escapes. Also, as a resident of Whitechapel, Jack’s presence wouldn’t have alerted others. Whoever he was, he belonged there.

There’s another famous case that criminal profilers failed to solve: the Unabomber. This was a fellow in the early 80’s who mailed bombs to random people in order to draw attention to a bizarre anti-technology philosophy. As it turns out, a portion of the Unabomber’s manifesto was printed in a newspaper, and the bizarre rant was recognized by a Unabomber family member. Said family member phoned police and told them where Ted Kaczynski could be found. Before the family member came forward the FBI had no idea who the Unabomber was.

Robert Todd Carroll, a well-known skeptic and operator of The Skeptic’s Dictionary, pointed out the ridiculous mistakes an FBI criminal profiler made in trying to create a profile of the Unabomber: “The FBI said the Unabomber would be in his late 30’s or early 40’s. Kaczynski was 53 when caught. The FBI said he’d be 5’10” to 6′ tall, 165 pounds, with reddish-blond hair, a thin mustache, and a ruddy complexion. Kaczynski was 5’8″, weighed 143 pounds, had brown hair, pale skin, and was bearded. The profile predicted he would be a blue-collar worker with a high school degree. Kaczynski hadn’t had a job in 25 years and earned a Ph.D. in mathematics from the University of Michigan in addition to being a graduate of Harvard University.” The FBI was wrong on every count.

Maybe the FBI should have hired a psychic to help the profiler.

Stu Salkeld is the new editor of The Leduc/Wetaskiwin Pipestone Flyer and writes a regular column for the paper.

 

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