Katherine Ramsland

The Washington Post reported that Elliot Rodger “flew under the radar” when police checked on him in response to his family’s concern. The ranting, suicidal college student who killed six people and injured thirteen last Friday in CA before shooting himself, was out to punish girls for rejecting him and guys who had a better life than he did. It was a “day of retribution,” he said.

People around him knew how much he blamed women for his loneliness. Some anticipated he might become violent.

Rodger’s earlier erratic behavior and refusal to get help or take medication had concerned his family and they’d asked police to pay him a “welfare” call. Sheriff’s deputies visited Rodger’s apartment on April 30 and found him to be polite, courteous, and quiet. He assured them he was not going to hurt anyone or himself, and they concluded that he did not pose a threat.

However, trying to assess danger to oneself or others from a single visit is generally pointless, unless the person is in an obviously psychotic state. Those who plot mass murder are secretive and will mask their intent from anyone who they think might stop them. An isolated visit cannot provide sufficient tools for determining the threat of future violence.

Reportedly, Rodger had seen several therapists, and a social worker had even contacted the police. He apparently did not get on well with others, but nevertheless did not like feeling so isolated and alone. He did have a record of personal difficulties that the visiting officers could have consulted, and his family knew that he had a mental illness. Even so, there is more to threat assessment than a loose collection of issues.

Predicting the potential for violence should draw on multiple domains of information. It’s not an analysis of just how one is currently behaving. No cop should bear the responsibility of making such a difficult judgment call.

The idea of “dangerousness,” or risk of violence, has been a central issue in the legal/mental health arena for years. Mental health experts once relied on their best clinical judgment, committing potentially violent people involuntarily. However, these assessments were correct in just one of three cases, so there were many “false positives” – people committed who would not be violent – and “false negatives” – people freed who then committed violence. The error rate was unacceptable.

During the 1980s, studies were undertaken to develop instruments to improve the percentage of correct assessments. Instead of focusing on dangerousness itself, they emphasized a variety of “risk factors.”

Actuarial prediction identifies the criteria used – age, gender, race, IQ – and assigns statistical weights to each in terms of which is most significant. Devices have been developed to determine such psychological conditions as the degree of psychopathy, impulsivity, paranoia, substance abuse, tendency to blame others, and reactive anger. Character and mental disorders are examined, along with school and criminal records, and a past history of violence or threatened violence. Some scales also evaluate attitudes about weapons.

For example, the Violence Risk Assessment Guide (VRAG) was developed at the Oak Ridge maximum security psychiatric hospital in Ontario, Canada. It’s an actuarial instrument for the prediction of violent recidivism, which means it has tested variables relevant to prediction in relationship to an outcome variable (any new violent offense). Predictor variables numbered around fifty and reflected those for which there was any empirical support for associations with violence.

The Historical Clinical Risk Management Scheme (HCR-20) offers a way to combine individual case analysis with an actuarial assessment. It uses a checklist of 20 items that identify historical and clinical risk factors to decide whether the individual is at a low, medium or high risk of violence. It improves upon actuarial approaches in tailoring an assessment to an individual, which allows for unique circumstances or conditions.

I’ve written a lot about mass murder. Studies I’ve looked at find that they are often rigid in temperament, they resent others and blame them for their own issues, they want to punish others, and they’re often self-defeating or suicidal (all of which were present in Rodger). Rarely do they have personal insight. Significant influences have been some form of mental instability, coupled with an inability to absorb and deal appropriately with life’s disappointments. Quite often, they feel entitled.

Usually they’ve made threats in the past and/or had fantasies about using violence to get their way. They arm themselves in preparation and think about the satisfaction of seeing others die. Some seek international fame. What they do is the result of long-term planning, with an ultimate goal. People around them have seen the red flags, but they will hide their specific plan. They want no interference.

Using actuarial data that have been affirmed with more studies, coupled with a case-specific assessment, is superior to intuitive judgment, although any prediction of a violent act must be qualified within a time period and set of circumstances. No one can predict future risk of violence with unerring accuracy, not even police officers, who see more violent incidents than most of us.

Still, even if Rodger had been erratic on April 30, when officers went to check, they could not have stated his level of danger a month hence. Even our best assessments cannot accomplish this. They can only provide the range of factors that put him at risk and identify those for which intervention might be helpful.

If Rodger refused such help, which he reportedly did, there isn’t much anyone can do until he clearly posed a risk of doing something now. That’s the state of our laws.

Perhaps our ability to prevent these incidents needs a re-adjustment of our cultural attitudes. Because a violent act of extreme aggression involves a complex interaction of factors, we cannot expect that a superficial observation by law enforcement will ensure our safety from a person with deadly intent. To assess danger to others requires a more sophisticated approach, which costs a lot more than we currently want to spend.

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Dr. Katherine Ramsland has published 44 books and over 1,000 articles, and recently had a #1 bestseller on the Wall Street Journal’s nonfiction list. She teaches forensic psychology and criminal justice at DeSales University in Pennsylvania and offers trainings on psychological aspects of investigations. She writes a blog, “Shadow Boxing” for Psychology Today, speaks widely on serial killers and psychopaths, and is a frequent commentator on crime documentaries. She has appeared on 20/20, 48 Hours, Larry King Live, and numerous cable programs.

Criminal Minds: Where It Began

The FBI’s first profiles were basically shots in the dark that hit the target.

By Dr. Katherine Ramsland

They didn’t have computers when Howard Teten founded the initial efforts of what would eventually become the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit. They didn’t have much in the way of a database. They faced resistance from colleagues who viewed psychology as silliness and muddle. But they had good instincts.

Howard Teten and Patrick Mullany are credited with making the earliest behavioral analyses for difficult cases.

“By about 1960,” Teten says, “I had developed a hypothesis that you’d be able to determine the kind of person you were looking for by what you could see at the crime scene.”

To compile a collection for analysis and comparison, Teten had reviewed unusual homicides from several police agencies, as well as from the California Identification Officers Association. To test himself and develop his approach, he’d set up an experiment.

“When I received the information,” he said, “I would examine all the data and prepare a tentative description of the perpetrator. Then I would look at the individual found to have committed the crime and compare the perpetrator to my description.” To check himself on the details of psychological disorders, he consulted with two psychiatrists.

In 1970, Teten offered his own first profile. The stabbing murder of a woman in her home had stymied local law enforcement. Teten considered the circumstances, looked at their documents, and said that it was the work of an adolescent who lived close to the victim. This boy would feel guilty and ashamed. When confronted, he’d immediately confess. To find him, they should just go knock on doors in the immediate neighborhood. This prediction turned out to be right.

Teten soon teamed up with Patrick Mullany, who specialized in abnormal psychology. Together, they initiated the criminal psychology program, a 40-hour course. They presented behavioral analysis as one among many investigative tools. As they acquired cases for demonstration, they were asked for assistance with a stalled investigation of a kidnapping.

Mullany describes the abduction of Susan Jaeger as their first real challenge. Despite how the TV shows and movies make this look easy, it was anything but.

Susan had disappeared during a family camping trip in Montana in June 1973. Someone had sliced through the tent fabric and grabbed the seven-year-old before she could cry out. It had been a bold abduction and the family was devastated, but the site had yielded no physical evidence to help with leads. When no ransom demand had arrived, local investigators had feared the worst. They’d called in the FBI. About 10 months later, Special Agent Pete Dunbar attended the psychology training and asked Teten and Mullany to take a look.

Mullany believed that the perpetrator was a local resident, a Caucasian male who’d spotted an opportunity. He would have an impaired history of relationships and would tend to stay to himself. He had military experience and he’d killed before, and possibly since. It was likely he’d taken Susan to kill her. He’d also collect trophies, i.e. body parts.

They looked at other murders and missing persons cases in the general area, but none was similar.

An anonymous caller had suggested David Meirhofer, a 23-year-old Vietnam veteran, but when questioned, Meirhofer had been polite, articulate, well-dressed, and helpful. He seemed an unlikely candidate to local investigators. Under the influence of truth serum, he’d taken a polygraph and passed.

Still, he had many of the traits and behaviors that the agents had described. Mullany and Teten were convinced Meirhofer was a cold-hearted psychopath who could lie easily.

“Pat and I discussed his profile,” Teten recalls, “and then advised the Montana agent that this type of personality can pass a polygraph. For this reason, he should still be considered a suspect.”

Their belief in Meirhofer’s guilt failed to find support, even with Dunbar, who’d invited them into the case. Still, they were determined to see it through.

They urged the Jaegers to keep a tape recorder by their phone, and this hunch was solid. On the first anniversary of the abduction, a man called the Jaegers to say that Susan was with him. Mrs. Jaeger surprised him when she forgave him, provoking tears. The trace failed and voice analysis indicated that this caller could have been Meirhofer, but it was not definitive.

A 19-year-old woman, Sandra Dyckman, disappeared in 1974 and Meirhofer was again named as a suspect. (She had refused a date with him.) Human bone fragments discovered on an abandoned ranch near where Meirhofer had worked launched a more thorough investigation.

In an attempt to throw him off balance, Mullany urged Mrs. Jaeger to travel to Montana and confront him.

She did so. Although Meirhofer still denied involvement, he called her again, pretending to be someone else. She recognized his voice and called him David. This greatly upset him. But the FBI had traced the call and was able to arrest him.

They now had enough evidence for a warrant to search his home, where police discovered human remains wrapped in packages labeled “Deerburger.” One contained a hand that was identified as Sandra’s.

The day before Meirhofer committed suicide, he admitted to four murders, including Susan’s. Teten and Mullany believed that his motive had been the thrill of killing for sport. They thought he’d had a comorbid condition, schizopathy – a mix of psychopathy and simple schizophrenia.

Despite doubts about Teten and Mullany’s behavioral profile, their approach was vindicated.

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Dr. Katherine Ramsland has published 44 books and over 1,000 articles, and recently had a #1 bestseller on the Wall Street Journal’s nonfiction list. She teaches forensic psychology and criminal justice at DeSales University in Pennsylvania and offers trainings on psychological aspects of investigations. She writes a blog, “Shadow Boxing” for Psychology Today, speaks widely on serial killers and psychopaths, and is a frequent commentator on crime documentaries. She has appeared on 20/20, 48 Hours, Larry King Live, and numerous cable programs.

Dr. Katherine Ramsland: Serial killers only

Serial Killers Only: A new digital quarterly on serial murder promises to entertain but also educate.

By Dr. Katherine Ramsland

One of my colleagues, Lee Mellor, got it into his head that someone needed to create a quarterly magazine devoted exclusively to serial murder. So, he did it, and it’s a stunner. Beautifully designed, this debut issue features case histories written like short stories of such people as Col. Russell Williams and the enigmatic Israel Keyes. Lee, the editor-in-chief, even wrote a feature about the final words and meals of these offenders.

The first issue comes out today! To introduce it, I asked Lee some questions, which he graciously answered below:

1. Please describe the concept for Serial Killer Quarterly and tell us what’s in the first issue.

Serial Killer Quarterly is an e-magazine, the first publication by Grinning Man Press. This issue includes the killers you named above, plus the DC Snipers and the Internet’s first serial killer, John Edward Robinson. We’ve also included some lighter sections to break things up, such as “Killer Flicks,” where we review films featuring real or fictional serial murder cases. Mr. Brooks is in the hot-seat this quarter.

2. What motivated you to found this magazine?

I was inspired by the true crime/detective magazines of the 20th century. Though popular in the first half of the century, by the 1970s, most had been forced out of print due to the high overhead costs of printing and distribution, along with competition from television and cinema. With the advent and increasing popularity of electronic books, Grinning Man Press wants to take advantage of the lower cost of e-publishing to resurrect the genre. We’re focusing exclusively on serial murder cases due to the immense and enduring public interest in the topic. Research has shown that 40% of true crime publications feature cases of serial killing.

That said, there were some elements of earlier true crime magazines that we do not wish to replicate. One example is the ubiquitous cover illustrations of scantily clad women being bound and gagged by hulking males. Not only are these images dangerously misogynistic and insulting to our female readers but many serial killers have admitted to having used them pornographically in late childhood and adolescence.

The last thing Grinning Man wants to do is foster a new generation of Ted Bundys, so we take a more subtle, ominous approach to our illustrations. For example, “21st Century Psychos” features an image of Alaskan serial killer Israel Keyes unearthing his “hit kit” on a moonlit night. We’ve also replaced the earlier magazine’s tacky bright colors with a grittier more noir aesthetic.

3. What’s your vision for it?

Artistically, we aim to bring our readers nail-biting true life page turners that make for compelling reads without resorting to sensationalism. For readers who are interested in criminal psychology or criminology, we have also included a number of sidebars with descriptions of concepts such as psychopathy, sexual sadism, victimology, etc. However, this content is supplementary, and readers who are simply interested in a gripping story can ignore it. So the magazine is both entertaining and educational.

Also, I think there is a certain unwarranted stigma attached to reading true crime publications. Where I personally don’t mind sitting on the subway thumbing through a paperback on Richard Ramirez (great way to stop people from sitting beside you), I feel that a lot of curious readers are very self-conscious about how this would be perceived. By bringing true crime to our readers’ tablets, laptops, cell phones, and e-readers, they can enjoy this genre in public without having to worry about being unfairly judged by workmates or fellow commuters.

4. You’re laying out some issues by themes. What can we expect in the near future?

This year’s line-up is already finalized, and I am incredibly excited about it. Following our Winter 2014 issue “21st Century Psychos,” will be “Partners in Pain.” This issue focuses on serial murderers who kill in teams, including male-male couples (Burke & Hare/Duffy & Mulcahy/Lake & Ng), male-female (Clark & Bundy/Bernardo & Homolka), female-female (Golay & Rutterschmidt), and murderous teams of three or more people (Corll, Henley, and Brooks).

Issue #3, “Unsolved in North America,” will be published in the summer of 2014, with features on the “Servant Girl Annihilator” by the legendary Harold Schechter, with whom I had the pleasure to dine in NYC last summer, and Michael Newton’s look at the compelling case of the “Cleveland Torso Murderer,” which left a black stain on the career of the celebrated detective Eliot Ness.

The year will end with Fall 2014’s “Cruel Britannia” – an issue devoted to British serial killers. Burl Barer will write a feature piece on the infamous “Yorkshire Ripper” Peter Sutcliffe, Carol Anne Davis returns with a story about the grotesque Robert Napper ripper-murders, and you’ll be there with the horrific crimes and philosophies of “Moors Murderers” Ian Brady and Myra Hyndley.

5. What fresh angle on the topic does your publication bring?

As Serial Killer Quarterly is an electronic publication which can reach the world, we’re striving to build a magazine which truly reflects and respects our international readership. By the end of the year we will have featured killers from the United States, Canada, England, Scotland, Russia, and Mexico. So we’re hoping to broaden our reader’s knowledge of multiple murder as a truly international phenomenon.

We will hold off on the more notorious cases until at least 2015, as Bundy, Dahmer, Gacy, Gein and Jack the Ripper have already been done to death (no pun intended). Serial Killer Quarterly will present cases that are equally as fascinating, but have, for whatever reason, flown under the radar of the general public.

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Dr. Katherine Ramsland has published 44 books and over 1,000 articles, and recently had a #1 bestseller on the Wall Street Journal’s nonfiction list. She teaches forensic psychology and criminal justice at DeSales University in Pennsylvania and offers trainings on psychological aspects of investigations. She writes a blog, “Shadow Boxing” for Psychology Today, speaks widely on serial killers and psychopaths, and is a frequent commentator on crime documentaries. She has appeared on 20/20, 48 Hours, Larry King Live, and numerous cable programs.

Compliant journalism

I recently published an academic article about cold cases that featured the investigation of a family mass murder from 1959. This past December, the unsolved case had launched the exhumation of Dick Hickock and Perry Smith, the infamous killers of the Clutter family as featured in Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood.

My co-authors were Sally Keglovits, an expert on the Clutter case, and Gregg McCrary, a former FBI profiler who has taught seminars on cold case investigations.

To summarize, in 1959, all four members of the Walker family were killed in their home near Sarasota, Florida. During the half-century that has passed, numerous suspects were considered. Among them were drifters Dick Hickock and Perry Smith, who’d murdered the Clutters in Kansas the month before and who’d been in Florida during the time of the Walker assault. Their denial, supported by polygraphs and fingerprint comparisons, eliminated them.

However, in December 2012, they were exhumed from their graves in Kansas. Detective Kim McGrath had inherited the Walker case investigation and she’d zeroed in on Hickock and Smith as the most viable suspects. She hypothesized that Hickock had met the family in town and decided to rape Christine Walker, so he went out to their house and killed the whole family.

“I think my gut tells me that we’re on the right track,” McGrath stated. With her details in an affidavit, Florida officials persuaded the Kansas Bureau of Identification to exhume the remains and extract DNA for comparison with DNA from the scene. For some reason, this affidavit was sealed.

Still, some details were offered to news media. The case for exhumation seemed to have been made with a few items of class evidence and sketchy eyewitness memory, neither of which provides much substance. Reports also indicated that an unidentified polygraph analyst had dismissed 1960s-era polygraphs, so this had dissolved one hindrance to reconsidering Hickock and Smith. In light of more precise DNA analysis techniques, law enforcement decided that an exhumation was justified.

The samples were sent to a lab in Kansas last December, and a week ago, the KBI announced that the results were inconclusive. Thus, the Walker case remains open.

Since Hickock and Smith were not the only possible suspects, or the best, we wondered why they’d been singled out. As we looked at the available facts of the Walker case, we thought that still-viable candidates had been overlooked.

The decision to go forward with a cold case investigation, according to Gregg McCrary, is based on assessing likely risks and consequences to the community. These consequences may include the level of risk for additional violence if the violent offender(s) are at large, but they also include pragmatic considerations, such as a cost projection that includes methods, objectives, and manpower needs.

Costs are weighed against the probability of success, which depends on solvability factors, such as a good suspect, witnesses with new information, new evidence, or a once-intact relationship that has broken up. In some cases, new technologies can move a case up the solvability scale, as can something that was not utilized in the original investigation.

Top priority cases would have well-developed suspects and preserved evidence on which a new technology can be used. Cases with many unknowns, or those with high expenses and little foreseeable payoff, are relegated to the lowest priority.

So, during our research, we were puzzled that the news articles we found seemed to accept the viability of this exhumation without much probing. For example, I asked several reporters who the “expert” was who’d dismissed polygraphs from the 1960s. No one seemed to know. They also didn’t know if this expert had actually seen the polygraphs done with Hickock and Smith. Yet they accepted the “expert opinion” as reliable.

Even a friend of mine in forensics stated in print that evidence against Hickock and Smith was “good,” although he hadn’t seen the affidavit or evaluated the case. He’d read a reporter’s opinion.

I asked a Florida-based reporter whether the cost of such an investigation had been disclosed to the public, since I knew it would be considerable. She didn’t understand why cost was relevant. I sensed that she hadn’t researched cold case protocols and/or did not view herself as a protector of public interest.

Thus, as we researched the case ourselves and decided there were too many holes for a coherent narrative, let alone enough support for a double exhumation, we also noted the lack of probing journalism. It seemed to us that few reporters had tried to get the affidavit unsealed or had evaluated whether a detective’s “gut feeling” about the evidence supported the costs. There would be stonewalling by law enforcement, or course, but doesn’t good journalism demand finding ways around this?

Sally Keglovits’ father had been a crime reporter for many years, so she’d witnessed investigative journalism at work on a regular basis. “He believed that having a relationship of mutual respect does not preclude the press from asking the tough questions and demanding full information,” she said. “I remember hearing about a press conference where the police tried to escort him out of the room because he kept asking questions they didn’t want to answer.”

She spoke with several reporters, some from small papers and others from outlets with the clout to expose secrecy and demand details. She was surprised by the lack of assertiveness. Most published reports had just incorporated information from other publications – an easy thing to do in the Internet age.

“Journalism is not about accepting press releases as source information!” Keglovits asserted. “This is the fatal error in the Walker investigation. Interviews with lead detective Kim McGrath seemed little more than giving her an opportunity to expound on her beliefs. I didn’t see evidence of probing, follow-up questions about the investigation, such as why the affidavit was sealed or how to make sense of items that did not support the theory of Hickock’s involvement.”

Regardless of whether this investigation could have become a significant story, we were mystified by the passive acceptance of locked doors and vague data. There were many opportunities to at least try to dig deeper. Some journalists to whom we spoke were frustrated, to be sure, but most seemed to just accept the press statements from law enforcement.

Even with “inconclusive” results, we still want to know why this exhumation was worth the cost and effort. Surely NOW the affidavit can be unsealed. Citizens of Sarasota and relatives of the Walkers aren’t the only ones with an interest in this case. Anyone who has read In Cold Blood wants to know.

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Dr. Katherine Ramsland is a professor of forensic psychology at DeSales University in Pennsylvania, where she also teaches criminal justice. She holds a master’s in forensic psychology from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, a master’s in clinical psychology from Duquesne University, a master’s in criminal justice from DeSales University, and a Ph.D. in philosophy from Rutgers. She has been a therapist and a consultant. Dr. Ramsland has published over 1,000 articles and 46 books, including:

Snap! Seizing Your Aha Moments

Paranormal Forensics

The Mind of Murder a Murderer: Privileged Access to the Demons that Drive Extreme Violence

Inside the Minds of Serial Killers

The Forensic Psychology of Criminal Minds

The Forensic Science of CSI

The Criminal Mind: A Writer’s Guide to Forensic Psychology

True Stories of CSI

Beating the Devil’s Game: A History of Forensic Science and Criminal Investigation

Inside the Minds of Healthcare Serial Killers

Inside the Minds of Mass Murderers

The Human Predator: A Historical Chronology of Serial Murder and Forensic Investigation


The Vampire Trap

The Ivy-League Killer

Piercing the Darkness: Undercover with Vampires in America Today

Dr. Ramsland’s background in forensics positioned her to assist former FBI profiler John Douglas on his book, The Cases that Haunt Us, to co-write a book with former FBI profiler, Gregg McCrary, The Unknown Darkness, to collaborate on A Voice for the Dead with attorney James E. Starrs on his exhumation projects, and to co-write a forensic textbook with renowned criminalist Henry C. Lee, The Real World of a Forensic Scientist.

For seven years, she contributed regularly to Court TV’s Crime Library, and now writes a column on investigative forensics for The Forensic Examiner and a column on character psychology for Sisters in Crime; offers trainings for law enforcement and attorneys; and speaks internationally about forensic psychology, forensic science, and serial murder. She has appeared on numerous cable network documentaries, as well as such programs as The Today Show, 20/20, Montel Williams, NPR, Larry King Live and E! True Hollywood. For ID, she spoke as a recurring expert on the series, American Occult and Wicked Attractions.

Crime beat becomes crime tweet

A Philadelphia cop taps social media for crime control

Using social media doesn’t just mean mundane status lines and community games. Joseph Murray, a Philadelphia-based detective, has devised a unique way to combine Twitter with his neighborhood watch. As a result, he’s made his area a safer place. Hopefully, his idea will go viral. Imagine all these Twitter-communities keeping watch.

Murray is a third-generation police officer and long-time Philadelphia resident. He joined the force when he was just 19. Six years later, he became a detective. He started his online networking efforts with community blogs when he became a member of the Southwest Division. He wanted potential victims to be aware of danger zones – especially those that were presently in progress. Twitter provided a great tool, for both brevity and speed.

Murray opened a Twitter account in 2009 and identified himself as a detective. He’s @TheFuzz9143 (his badge number). He signaled that he would be posting tweets about crime patterns, suspects, and public safety. He asked people to let him know if he could be of assistance. It was an invitation to be involved.

“Everyblock is reporting a stranger rape on the 200block of 47th Friday night,” one Tweeter writes. “Nothing in news. Is this true?”

“Not true,” TheFuzz9143 responds. “Can’t find anything in any computer system we have here.” Followers can see the response and retweet it. If he gets an update, he can send it out at once, and the update quickly spreads.

In another tweet, Murray related a “great job done by a few citizens who called police when they spotted a guy who committed a robbery a few nights ago. Arrest made. Phone returned.”

As of today, he has acquired around 1285 followers, many of whom live in his area. He’s known some followers as long as 5 years, from the earlier message boards.

“I started Twitter,” he says, “because the neighborhood message boards were becoming irrelevant. I wanted to use the popular medium. You have to adapt or you’ll be left behind.”

He’s aware of the limitations of a few cops driving around a neighborhood: they can be in only one place at any given time. Citizens who join the effort to keep their neighborhoods safe offer more eyes and ears. It’s also a way to build trust and cooperation. Even Philadelphia’s mayor has posted tweets on Murray’s feed.

On a daily basis, he tweets where and when crimes are occurring (“just had a gunpoint Robbery on 47th Street”), and responds to queries. For example, they arrested a guy in the process of a car-jacking who couldn’t figure out a stick shift. Murray even tweets to criminals not yet arrested, warning them they’ll be in custody soon.

Murray is a face to which people can relate, a protector who listens. He’ll even comment on mundane things like what he’s eating or the billboard ads he notices. When things are quiet, he offers safety tips or posts a photo he just took. If someone wants to send a tip confidentially, Murray provides his private email address.

To spread the word, reporters have written about Murray’s efforts to lift the veil that often blocks the police from the community they serve. One Philadelphia journalist contacted residents to get their reactions, finding individuals who keep Murray’s Twitter feed on their home pages or who feel like Murray is a friend. This is positive community policing in action. One neighborhood watch group routinely checks Murray’s tweets before they go out on patrol.

Recently, bureaucracy slowed things down, as officials realized that policies must be in place before officers reach out in this medium. “Per a new directive,” Murray tweeted in January, “all personnel wanting to use social media under their official title must get approval from the commissioner.”

The Philadelphia Police Department recognizes the service Murray provides and they’re currently training 12-15 officers to exploit social network opportunities for community relations. It’s important to have consistency. The department itself has a Twitter feed, @Phillypolice.

The concept is simple: train officers to use Twitter, publicize their “beat” locally, and invite followers to provide information about things they observe. Also, provide followers with safety tips and updates (where possible) about local crime. It’s a terrific way to tap the networking power of social media. It’s not a replacement for 911, but it does connect a lot of people. It also makes them feel safer and more involved.

Let’s hope more towns and cities pick up on it. As Murray states, “It’s win-win.”

*Det. Murray’s image – Philly.com/TOM GRALISH / Staff

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Dr. Katherine Ramsland has master’s degrees in forensic and clinical psychology, a master’s in criminal justice, and a Ph.D. in philosophy. She has published nearly 1,000 articles and forty books, including The Forensic Psychology of Criminal Minds, The CSI Effect, Inside the Minds of Serial Killers, Inside the Minds of Healthcare Serial Killers, Inside the Minds of Mass Murderers, Inside the Minds of Sexual Predators, and The Human Predator: A Historical Chronology of Serial Murder and Forensic Investigation. She has been featured on numerous documentaries and such programs as 20/20, The Today Show, 48 Hours, Montel Williams, and Forensic Files, and she currently writes regular features for InSinc and The Forensic Examiner. She teaches forensic psychology and criminal justice as an associate professor at DeSales University in Pennsylvania and consults with death investigators and law enforcement worldwide on cases involving serial murder.


Dr. Katherine Ramsland: Post-Dahmer Stress Disorder?

Post-Dahmer Stress Disorder?

PTSD can be a scapegoat for poor judgment

by Dr. Katherine Ramsland

Jeffrey Dahmer killed seventeen men before he was arrested in 1991. An intended victim had escaped his personal killing field and returned with the police. Inside Dahmer’s apartment they found human heads, intestines, hearts, defleshed skulls, and dismembered torsos half-dissolved in a barrel of acid. Numerous snapshots depicted posed and mutilated bodies. With chloroform, electric saws, acid, and formaldehyde, Dahmer was killing men and preserving or dissolving their parts. Sometimes he cooked and tasted them.

The man who’d stopped him was Tracy Edwards, still wearing the handcuffs that Dahmer had used to restrain him. Later in court, Edwards gave a description of how Dahmer had transformed into a monster that night and threatened to kill him. “He said he was going to eat my heart,” Edwards testified in a quavering voice. “He laid across me and put his head on my chest and was listening to my heart.”

Now Edwards has been in court for his own sentencing for a homicide. During an altercation with a homeless man, Johnny Jordan, Edwards helped another individual to throw him over a bridge into a river. Jordan drowned. Edwards’ attorney threw part of the blame on Dahmer, stating that Edwards’ troubles are the result of PTSD from his ordeal in Dahmer’s apartment. On the bridge, two decades later, he had “shorted out.”

PTSD is an anxiety disorder that can be acute, chronic, or delayed. It can happen to anyone, but we don’t know why some suffer more than others. The symptoms range all over the place, and a positive prognosis relies on therapy and a good support system. Supposedly, the impact of trauma can diminish over time, but here we are, twenty years later (almost to the day), and an attorney is offering Edwards’ horrendous past experience one night as a mitigating factor.

Is it just an excuse? The attorney is not a mental health expert and he didn’t bring one to court to support his opinion. In addition, Edwards is not the only person to have endured and survived torment from a serial killer. In fact, a number of others have been treated far worse, but most haven’t harmed or killed anyone.

So, is this alleged post-Dahmer stress disorder, which seems to have pushed Edwards into a mess of trouble over the years, just another designer defense?

The goal of designer defenses, which have taken many forms since the so-called (and poorly named) Twinkie defense in 1979, is to transfer responsibility from perpetrators to external factors. Many rely on the notion of temporary psychosis or use a twist on a more traditional disorder. We’ve seen “black rage,” “Matrix confusion,” “cyberspace addiction,” “gay panic,” “9-11 syndrome,” “mother lion,” and “urban survival,” among others.

Such defenses are devised when full-blown psychosis cannot be proven and they generally tap into some subconscious social force, such as sympathy for abused individuals, to sway a judge or jury. Whether or not a defense can win an acquittal (about 8-10% have), it can result in a hung jury or mitigate the severity of the punishment. A study of nearly 200 cases that used some type of designer defense reveals that about 50% succeeded in some manner. Most often, the defendant receives a reduced sentence, especially if he or she is more likable than the victim, is female, or is particularly sympathetic. Attorneys don’t even need to use clinical experts to persuade fact-finders to accept the disorder.

However, we must keep such claims in perspective, as did the judge in the Edwards case. Although extreme trauma might erode cognitive abilities, it does not hijack judgment altogether. Edwards is now 52. Nothing in his mental state blinded him to the fact that pushing a man off a bridge was reckless, dangerous, and potentially fatal. The judge was right to say that, despite his past ordeal, Edwards should have known better.

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Dr. Katherine Ramsland has master’s degrees in forensic and clinical psychology, a master’s in criminal justice, and a Ph.D. in philosophy. She has published nearly 1,000 articles and forty books, including The Forensic Psychology of Criminal Minds, The CSI Effect, Inside the Minds of Serial Killers, Inside the Minds of Healthcare Serial Killers, Inside the Minds of Mass Murderers, Inside the Minds of Sexual Predators, and The Human Predator: A Historical Chronology of Serial Murder and Forensic Investigation. She has been featured on numerous documentaries and such programs as 20/20, The Today Show, 48 Hours, Montel Williams, and Forensic Files, and she currently writes regular features for InSinc and The Forensic Examiner. She teaches forensic psychology and criminal justice as an associate professor at DeSales University in Pennsylvania and consults with death investigators and law enforcement worldwide on cases involving serial murder. Her latest books are The Mind of a Murderer: Privileged Access to the Demons that Drive Extreme Violence and an ebook called Psychopath.

Dr. Katherine Ramsland: Seeking Serial Killers

Seeking Serial Killers: Real-life Lecter helps hunt monsters

by Dr. Katherine Ramsland

Like Hannibal Lecter in “Silence of the Lambs,” Ted Bundy once enlightened a task force on the motives and movement of an elusive killer. They learned a lot about Bundy as well. Now a unique new crime show, “Dark Minds,” will engage in a similar process.

True crime author M. William Phelps created the series with criminal profiler John Kelly. Their aim is to reopen some cold cases that involved serial murder and view them from a different angle — that of another serial killer. They’re working with an unnamed (and unpaid) offender, referred to as “13,” who reads the case notes and calls in his analysis on the show.

I asked Phelps to tell me about this provocative production. First, and foremost, I wanted to know why “13” wants to assist.

“John Kelly is 13’s gatekeeper,” Phelps told me. “Kelly has worked with 13 for 10 years and says 13 wants to give back. According to 13, it is an act of remorse and penance, which we know, psychologically speaking, is very rare for a serial killer. I think, however, it is also stimulating to 13 and feeding his fantasies, which all serials harbor, in prison or out, and in some way, helping us allows 13 to continue the game. Serial killers live through their fantasies.”

The first episode, “The Valley Killer,” focuses on a series of murders in Connecticut. “Between 1978 and 1988,” Phelps said, “seven women were brutally stabbed and dumped in the woods of the Connecticut River Valley up through New Hampshire and Vermont. It’s a cold case that hasn’t seen any sort of attention in years. In the episode, I interview the Valley Killer’s only known survivor. She has seen his face and can identify him — she was stabbed 27 times and lived. In the episode, I bring her a person of interest, and her reaction to the photo I present is physical (she begins to tremble and shake), as opposed to oral (in other words, she didn’t say, ‘Oh, yeah, that’s him,’), which tells me a tremendous amount about the credibility of the identification. I also introduce her to, and interview, this person-of-interest’s son. The meeting and interview is chilling.”

When Bundy analyzed the Green River Killer, I said, it was often more about him than about his subject. I asked Phelps if 13 might be engaged in something similar.

“Absolutely not,” he assured me. “13 is deeply engrossed in helping us. He truly wants to prove he knows what he’s talking about. He’s not paid. His crimes are never discussed. No one knows who he is or what he’s done. He gets no glory, no media attention. I also think Bundy just wanted to continue the cat-and-mouse with cops and lie his way into trying to become some sort of quasi-profiler. Bundy never had any intention to help, whereas, I feel 13 definitely does. 13 studies the cases we send him very seriously and confidently. There are times when his insight is so spot on it’s scary to think that he came to a specific realization because he’s done it — he’s killed people. He’s been there! He’s hunted human beings. You cannot get that type of analysis from anyone else. Viewers of ‘Dark Minds’ will be repulsed, riveted, scared, entertained, and, we hope, encouraged to call in to a tip line if they know anything about a particular murder case we’re investigating.”

In fact, it’s ultimately what Kelly and Phelps aspire to achieve. “We want to expose cold, stagnant murder cases, shining a light on their importance and, hopefully, reigniting the investigation. I also want to provide answers to families of murder victims, if I can. The series will also introduce true crime fans to the inherent psychological nature of the serial killer’s mind — what is he really thinking? People think they have an understanding of the socio/psychopath, but they really don’t. Most people watch cable news and hear talking heads speak of the sociopath in ways that simply aren’t true. We speak to a psychopath and he reveals his most inner thoughts as they pertain to active murder investigations. For the first time, essentially, viewers will walk in the footsteps and begin to think as a serial killer would. That’s not only unique, it’s groundbreaking for television.

I asked if such an intimate connection with a killer has been disturbing. “I do broach this subject throughout the show,” Phelps affirmed. “It was, at times, a struggle for me whether I was shaking hands with the devil and jumping into a sandbox with him. I’ve had a loved-one murdered. I know what pain is. John Kelly, who is also a forensic psychotherapist, helped me work through this. I began to understand that fighting fire with fire is sometimes necessary for the sake of what we want to achieve. And as it turned out, 13’s help was at times invaluable. He tells us things about the killer I’m hunting that no one else but a killer could know. You have to set aside your personal feelings regarding the darkness in order to get closer to the light. It was extremely difficult for me emotionally, no doubt.”

Since serial killers are often deceptive, I wondered if Phelps had ever caught 13 lying?

“No. It’s not like that,” he assured me. “13 really cannot lie. We don’t allow him to talk about himself or his crimes. We just allow him to give us insight into the cases we send him to study. He stumbled a few times when we hit a subject he wasn’t comfortable with, but again, he talked his way through and ended up providing insight that was utterly disturbing and fascinating. For example, we ask him in the ‘The Valley Killer’ episode, ‘What type of vehicle do you think our guy is driving?’ He thinks about it and says, ‘Van. Mini-van.’ Kelly says, ‘Why do you say that?’ He says, ‘Because I would.’ He talks about stabbing a person as something akin to ‘no other sensation.’ Now, where can you get that kind of psychological insight when building profiles and hunting serial killers? As it turns out, our person of interest drove a vehicle very similar to a van. 13 didn’t even know we had a person of interest.”

I’m looking forward to this series, which starts this Wednesday, January 25, at 10:00 PM, on Investigation Discovery. A lot of us miss the crime shows that Court TV used to air, but the ID network is becoming a solid replacement.

The next episode of “Dark Minds,” THE EASTBOUND STRANGLER, airs Wednesday, February 1st, 10pm.

* ID network images

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Dr. Katherine Ramsland has master’s degrees in forensic and clinical psychology, a master’s in criminal justice, and a Ph.D. in philosophy. She has published nearly 1,000 articles and forty books, including The Forensic Psychology of Criminal Minds, The CSI Effect, Inside the Minds of Serial Killers, Inside the Minds of Healthcare Serial Killers, Inside the Minds of Mass Murderers, Inside the Minds of Sexual Predators, and The Human Predator: A Historical Chronology of Serial Murder and Forensic Investigation. She has been featured on numerous documentaries and such programs as 20/20, The Today Show, 48 Hours, Montel Williams, and Forensic Files, and she currently writes regular features for InSinc and The Forensic Examiner. She teaches forensic psychology and criminal justice as an associate professor at DeSales University in Pennsylvania and consults with death investigators and law enforcement worldwide on cases involving serial murder. Her latest books are The Mind of a Murderer: Privileged Access to the Demons that Drive Extreme Violence and an ebook called Psychopath.


A Century of Female Cops

Dr. Katherine Ramsland has published 37 books, 16 short stories, and over 900 articles. She is professor of forensic psychology and criminal justice at DeSales University, and her latest books are Inside the Minds of Sexual Predators and The Forensic Psychology of Criminal Minds.

A Century of Female Cops

Just in time for the centennial commemoration of female police officers, historian Allan T. Duffin has published History in Blue: 160 Years of Women Police, Sheriffs, Detectives, and State Troopers (Kaplan). While there’s dispute over whether the first actual female police officer was Alice Stebbins Wells in 1910 in California or Aurora “Lola” Baldwin in 1908 in Oregon, it’s close enough to recognize the accomplishments of both. During this time, Duffin shows, there were movements in a number of large cities to expand the law enforcement functions of competent females.

While Francois Vidocq in Paris actually gave women their first shot when he employed them around 1811 as paid undercover operatives, America wasn’t quite as progressive. Right around the time when Edmond Locard was establishing the first private crime lab (also in France), America was reluctantly recognizing female police officers. However, this was thanks mostly to pressures from women’s organizations, not to men. It’s rather disheartening to see how frightened these supposedly brave men were of females entering their domain. They tripped them up in many different ways, ridiculing them, challenging them, undermining them, depriving them of needed equipment, limiting their range of powers, and even prohibiting training. However, this mean blue line is the single pathetic thread running through this otherwise enlightening tome.

The movement began when religious women entered penal institutions to offer comfort and religious training to female inmates. By the 1840s, the role had evolved into that of prison matrons, who took on the care of female, mentally ill, and juvenile prisoners. In 1893, police widow Marie Owens was given the title, “patrolman” although she never wore a uniform or walked a beat. Since pensions were nonexistent, this designation provided for her after her husband died. But things were changing. During the first decade of the twentieth century, self-empowering women’s groups exerted pressure to give females in law enforcement real duties.

Duffin, an adjunct professor of American history and a television producer, discusses their ongoing battle for equal rights and recognition. The subject grabbed his attention while working on a documentary about the first women in the Army’s MP corps. To his surprise, he found little beyond academic tomes about female cops and that, until about 1970, women comprised only about 1% of the entire police force. “More people need to read about this,” he thought.

He looks at the story from several angles, specifically assumptions made about male and female abilities. He also explores the tools and technology involved, and provides rare photographs of pioneers, such as NYC’s Mary Shanley, who intimidated pickpockets, and Captain Edna Pickton, who tested a bulletproof vest – by wearing it! There’s a great photo of women in long dresses and stylish hats going through weapons training.

Unfortunately, women had to repeatedly fight for the right to go on patrol, even if their capabilities were superior to males, simply because the men in charge did not believe them (or didn’t want to look foolish by hiring a woman). For example, in 1912 Lillie Williams, a dexterous bicyclist and motorcyclist with seven competition medals, applied to become the first female motorcycle cop. She could also ride a horse, swim, and fence. “I just want a chance to prove myself,” she said. She even offered to pay for her fuel. (Duffin fails to say whether she got her wish.)

Despite their skills and ambitions, most women allowed into police work were assigned the “morals beat.” They walked around looking for compromising situations, such as a sexually suggestive stage play or a place where young girls wore too much make-up. (Truly, policewomen had to compare girls going into restrooms at the Newark train station to what they looked like coming out, and tell them to go back and wash their faces.) They also acted as social workers.

However, there were dangers, to be sure. In one situation in Manhattan, Mary Hamilton was told to escort a delusional woman to her home. On the subway, the woman pulled a gun and declared that she would commit suicide right then and there, and would take Hamilton with her. Thinking fast, Hamilton agreed that dying was a good idea, but thought they should do it in a more appropriate place, with poison rather than a gun. The woman went along with her, which bought her time to get some help.

This same officer was also the butt of a hazing ritual which involved a corpse, but she turned it around and made a name for herself as a pioneer in fingerprinting. However, when she tried to fingerprint a gorilla as a publicity stunt, she paid a price.

Television shows in the 1980s played no small part in making female cops more socially acceptable. Cagney and Lacey was the first semi-realistic show, offered on CBS, although the show’s producers had to replace one actress with the more feminine Sharon Gless. As more shows featured female cops, they gained a harder edge and viewers accepted it. This exposure, along with some bestselling novels, helped to open doors for women who wanted to be cops.

Although harassment and discrimination remain, lawsuits have forced changes that in turn have influenced social views. More than two-thirds of today’s male students in criminal justice programs support female officers, more male officers accept females as partners, and new female academy graduates take up rigorous assignments, including SWAT training.

Some agencies make a point to recruit and promote women, and there are now many more national and international organizations that educate and support them. Although female representation in law enforcement remains small, it has grown. A good way to celebrate would be to read a book like History in Blue and get acquainted with what woman in policing have accomplished.

D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier

Twelve policewomen graduate the L.A. academy in 1957. Their pay ranged from $440 – $516 per month. Each policewoman was issued a .38 caliber snub-nosed revolver and was promptly assigned to work as a jail matron, or to the juvenile detail.

A Century of Female Cops

Dr. Katherine Ramsland has published 37 books, 16 short stories, and over 900 articles. She is professor of forensic psychology and criminal justice at DeSales University, and her latest books are Inside the Minds of Sexual Predators and The Forensic Psychology of Criminal Minds.

Neurobiology and the Psychic

On April 9, 2005, the Appalachian News-Express reported that a psychic had located a missing person in a surprising way. Lynn Ann Maker, a “psychometrist” and “psychic detective,” was contacted by the family of Greg Wallace, who’d gone missing while commuting to his job in March. His car was found near a pond, with the keys inside and the hood raised. The police had searched the pond but found nothing. The man’s whereabouts remained unknown and the family was frantic.

At her own expense, Maker visited the place from which Wallace had disappeared. She held one of his shirts and said that she sensed he was submerged. Just then, she “felt the need” to go into the pond. After taking a few steps, she stopped. A body floated to the surface. She recognized the deceased from photos as Wallace and called 911. The Georgia Bureau of Identification affirmed that the dead man was Wallace and said that Maker’s “find” was a coincidence.

She said to reporters that she did not know how Wallace had died. It’s a common misperception, she added, that psychics know everything. She just takes whatever she gets. “It comes to me and I relay it.”

Other psychics have made similar comments, and one person who claims to possess second sight (and did not wish to be named) offered a description:

“From what I’ve experienced the images are quite often too fleeting. Sometimes I will get an image that is strong and sometimes only a hint of what happened. It’s like when you first walk into a building with an unusual smell and as your body becomes attuned to the smell you can no longer smell it. It requires walking away, then coming back to revive the senses. I find this is the same with me when I get to an area where the senses start to work over something that happened… I have to let go and try again sometimes. It’s not always the case that a person gets anything, either, if the aura energy left over isn’t strong enough.

“For instance, a person may be rendered unconscious before the stabbing and cutting began, therefore lessening the impact of what the aura energy could have told a person. The greater the fear and pain experienced while conscious, the greater the amounts of aura energy left behind. If a [psychic] person was to stand or sit on the spot where someone was actually murdered, they might see some fleeting images of faces but more likely the battle itself. When one knows they are dying, they are more intent on the survival aspect and not the person’s face who is killing them.”

While psychic “flashes” may be helpful in some cases, there is no way to determine in the midst of an investigation if one will be fruitful, so investigators are justifiably cautious. (In fact, aside from this “find” for Maker, she had logged no other success stories on her now-defunct website.) Police who have used psychics know there are both hits and misses, with more of the latter, generally, than the former. Still, if abilities like Maker’s are genuine, one would think that today’s precision brain research could prove it. That is, as she stepped into the water in response to her impression, some measurable brain process should have activated.

Psychologists Stanley Krippner and Harris Friedman apparently think this idea is worth checking out. They have edited an anthology, Mysterious Minds, which is dedicated to neurobiological studies of psychics, mediums, and “other extraordinary people.” Krippner is professor of psychology at Saybrook University, and among his interests are the dreaming brain, identifying deception in paranormal investigations, hypnosis and healing, and shamanism. Morris Friedman, a research psychologist, has focused on cognitive impairment and behavioral neurology. As a team with solid credentials, they’re open to anomalous experiences while also alert to fraud, spurious claims, and the need to corroborate statements with evidence.

Among the book’s topics are laboratory evidence for ESP, electrical activity in the brains of “sensitives” during a trance, and psychokinesis. Some of the articles require scientific or medical background to fully understand, but the editors provide a readable introduction and postscript. This is serious stuff, not for fans of mindless entertainment shows who believe everything they see or hear about ghost hunters and mediums. The authors take nothing at face value. Instead, they seek to verify subjective reports of psychic impressions with brain research methods (although they admit that the correlation of EEG and fMRI readings with psychic experiences does not necessarily prove anything).

The first article presents an overview of the research to date in psi phenomena, and several others confirm that brain activity associated with ESP and similar experiences appears to be centered in the temporal and occipital lobes. Some researchers believe we need “more adventurous” designs, since current research results are only “suggestive” at best. In fact, little in this book lives up to the enticing title, unless you take the advice of one pair of scientists who advocate the use of psychedelic drugs. The brain’s own DMT chemical certainly offers possibilities, as people who’ve taken laboratory samples of it have reported seeing angels, demons, aliens, and dead people. This may open some interesting doors.

Unfortunately, no one in this book discussed the intriguing experiment in Switzerland in 2006, in which an area stimulated in the brain of a female patient induced the sensation of a ghost standing near her. “His” position mirrored hers and she was able to discern his intentions. This was the sort of research I’d hoped for in this volume, but it leaned instead toward mapping brain correlates of psychic impressions. Yet I was glad to see that among the “extraordinary people” were Brazilian healers with their remarkable trances, and the chapter devoted to them is quite provocative. However, my hope for revelations was dashed.

To the editors’ credit, they include an article that covers the areas and methodologies that researchers of paranormal phenomena must address if they expect to mainstream science to take them seriously. However, that same article pretty much demonstrated that psychic research in a scientific venue has a long way to go.

In the end, this compendium offers little to investigators who want to scientifically affirm the use of a psychic. At best, it’s just a start, so the nature of what psychics usually provide will continue to be controversial. Even the case of Maker finding Wallace had less fanfare than one might expect. Skeptics dismissed it as logic and luck, while psi believers claimed it as an example of psychic success. If it is truly the latter, you’d think it would have garnered headlines far beyond the Appalachian News-Express. As the researchers in Mysterious Minds admit, proof just isn’t there yet.