Offender profiling  

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"The man was highly intellectual [...] and also [...] fairly well-to-do within the last three years, although he has now fallen upon evil days. He had foresight, but has less now than formerly, pointing to a moral retrogression, which, when taken with the decline of his fortunes, seems to indicate some evil influence, probably drink, at work upon him. This may account also for the obvious fact that his wife has ceased to love him." -- example of 'offender profiling' by Sherlock Holmes in the "The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle"

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Offender profiling is a behavioral and investigative tool that is intended to help investigators to profile unknown criminal subjects or offenders. Offender profiling is also known as criminal profiling, criminal personality profiling, criminological profiling, behavioral profiling or criminal investigative analysis. Geographic profiling is another method to profile an offender. Television shows such as Law & Order: Criminal Intent, Profiler in the 1990s, the 2005 television series Criminal Minds, and the 1991 film The Silence of the Lambs have lent many names to what the FBI calls "criminal investigative analysis."


The origins of profiling can be traced back to as early as the Middle Ages, with the inquisitors trying to "profile" heretics. Jacob Fries, Cesare Lombroso, Alphonse Bertillon, Hans Gross and several others realized the potential of profiling in the 19th century although their research is generally considered to be prejudiced, reflecting the biases of their time.

The first offender profile was assembled by detectives of the Metropolitan Police on the personality of Jack the Ripper, a serial killer who had murdered a series of prostitutes in the 1880s. Police surgeon Thomas Bond was asked to give his opinion on the extent of the murderer's surgical skill and knowledge. Bond's assessment was based on his own examination of the most extensively mutilated victim and the post mortem notes from the four previous canonical murders.

In his notes, dated November 10, 1888, he mentioned the sexual nature of the murders coupled with elements of apparent misogyny and rage. Dr. Bond also tried to reconstruct the murder and interpret the behavior pattern of the offender: soon he came up with a profile or signature personality traits of the offender to assist police investigation. The profile said that five murders of seven in the area at the time the report was written had been committed by one person alone who was physically strong, composed, and daring. The unknown offender would be quiet and harmless in appearance, possibly middle-aged, and neatly attired, probably wearing a cloak to hide the bloody effects of his attacks out in the open. He would be a loner, without a real occupation, eccentric, and mentally unstable. He might even suffer from a condition called Satyriasis, a sexual deviancy that is today referred to as hypersexuality or promiscuity. Bond also mentioned that he believed the offender had no anatomical knowledge and could not be a surgeon or butcher. Bond's basic profile was:

“The murderer must have been a man of physical strength and great coolness and daring... subject to periodic attacks of homicidal and erotic mania. The characters of the mutilations indicate that the man may be in a condition sexually, that may be called Satyriasis”

In 1912, a psychologist in Lackawanna, New York delivered in lecture in which he analyzed an unknown criminal who was suspected of having murdered a local boy named Joey Joseph. Based on the postcards which had been used to taunt the Lackawanna Police and the Joseph family, the profile ultimately led to the arrest and conviction of J. Frank Hickey.

A version of profiling is thought to have been used in the 1940s, when investigations relied on mental health professionals to create a profile of an offender in order to aid the police investigation. Soon after, as discussed below, James Brussel was called upon to analyze the information on the Mad Bomber in New York City, and he created an accurate profile of the offender. This caught the attention of the FBI, who then worked to develop a technique for profiling, based on the process used by Brussel.

Profiling in popular culture

Several films focus on profilers investigating on criminal cases. For example:

Several television shows also focus on or feature profilers:

In Video Game culture:

  • Heavy Rain: One of the four playable characters is FBI agent, Norman Jayden. He is responsible for developing a profile for the main antagonist in the game, the Origami Killer.
  • Deadly Premonition: The main character, Francis York Morgan, is an FBI Special Agent whose profiling specialty involves killers of young women.

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Offender profiling" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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