Books by Robert K. Ressler

Released: June 1, 1997

More of the gory details from the former FBI profiler who coined the phrase ``serial killer.'' Among the other murderers he examines here, Ressler continues from Whoever Fights Monsters (1992) his discussion on John Wayne Gacy and includes new information on Jeffrey Dahmer. He reconstructs his interviews with the two; they're tough going, yet fascinating: Both men express having experienced real surprise when they—as they put it—``[woke] up next to a dead guy,'' and both insist that they don't remember what really happened. Gacy even asserts that his construction crew did most of the killings. But it's clear they do remember, and Ressler, a master of the interview, gets them to admit exactly what they did (for the tenacious, strong-stomached reader only) and, less clearly, why. Ressler is not so much interested in what made these men start killing as in the origins of the feelings of exuberance and omnipotence that wouldn't let them stop. He clearly and persuasively outlines the beginning of Dahmer's and Gacy's careers as killers, but does not provide an adequate explanation as to why these men, suffering deeply from anomie, killed others rather than commit suicide. Ressler's understanding of his subjects, however, is genuine, and he creates convincing portraits of them as evil, cruel, yet somehow pitiable. While the book also deals with some international cases (South Africa's ABC Murders, the Wimbledon Commons murder in England, the Aum cult in Japan), it's obvious that Ressler's heart—and massive ego—belongs to American killers, who started the whole serial-killer industry in the first place. A disturbing catalog of facts lacking a strong context but terribly jarring just the same. (Author tour) Read full book review >
JUSTICE IS SERVED by Robert K. Ressler
Released: Sept. 1, 1994

Retired FBI agent Ressler, who again teams up with Schactman (Whoever Fights Monsters, 1992), reveals here that modern American justice is served very, very slowly. When Ressler moved to the Cleveland office in 1974, he was handed an ``old dog,'' FBI slang for a hard case to close. Cleveland's king of X-rated motels, Owen Kilbane, was suspected of violating racketeering laws by moving his prostitutes between states. But Ressler was less interested in the prostitution ring than in Kilbane's lawyer, Robert Steele. Five years earlier, Steele's wife had been shot dead in her suburban home while she slept. Almost immediately, the police had suspected Steele, then a prominent judge who'd been having an affair and was known to have inquired about finding someone to murder his wife. Steele resigned from the bench when details of his adultery emerged, but no witnesses came forward, and because of a celebrated case in which the conviction of a doctor for killing his wife had recently been overturned on appeal, the police hesitated to push for an indictment without iron-clad evidence. Gradually, Ressler gathered information about Kilbane's criminal activities and cultivated informants. With tips from disgruntled prostitutes and a confession from the shooter, who was jailed for another murder, Ressler built a case. After three years of dogged pursuit, Kilbane and his brother Martin, as well as Steele were convicted of arranging Marlene Steele's murder. The problem here is that, while Ressler's detailed account of his pursuit is the sign of a dedicated agent, it's not necessarily the sign of a good writer. This reads like a case file—a litany of details spiced with pinches of bravado but without any real surprises. The moral of this true crime tale is, if there's a will, there's a way, which may be needed encouragement for readers plowing through Justice Is Served. Read full book review >
Released: May 1, 1992

The FBI agent who coined the term ``serial killer'' boasts about his exploits—and for good reason. Modesty isn't Ressler's strong suit, as even the subtitle attests, but his career is packed with so many amazing episodes- -well related here with the help of Shachtman (Skyscraper Dreams, 1991, etc.)—that the chest-beating is forgivable. Ressler's major contribution to criminology has been his pioneering work in psychological profiling, which he developed by visiting prisons and talking to scores of convicted killers. His accounts here of interviews with Charles Manson, Richard Speck, Ted Bundy, John Wayne Gacy, and others are told with a fine flair for drama—e.g., of being locked in a cell with 6'9'', 300-pound mutilation-killer Ed Kemper, who, when it was clear that guards weren't answering Ressler's call to open the cell door, threatened to ``screw off'' the FBI man's head. Myriad tales of how Ressler tracked down killers complement the jailhouse yarns and offer much insight into serial killers' minds. Of primary importance is to determine whether a killer is ``organized'' or ``disorganized,'' stresses Ressler, who goes on to explain that all serial killings are classified as ``sexual homicides,'' because at their root is a ``sexual maladjustment'' that ``drives'' the ``fantasies'' that are played out in death. As deeply as Ressler gets into killers' heads, though, he refuses to reveal much of his own here, offering no explanation other than ``fascination'' and ``interest'' for why he's devoted his life to a calling so dire and soul-wearying that, as he emphasizes and as the title quote from Nietzsche concludes, one who follows it risks becoming ``a monster himself.'' Gibbering horrors brought to heel, secrets of the serial- killer unveiled: a true-crime bonanza, though a bit more self- introspection would have iced the cake. (Sixteen-page b&w photo insert—not seen.) Read full book review >