From a pioneer of behavioral analysis, a look at notorious murder investigations marred by controversy.
Well-known FBI profiler Douglas has co-authored several books with Olshaker on this specialty (The Cases that Haunt Us, 2000, etc.). Here, he focuses on diverse cases that share one commonality: Either the investigation developed around false leads with disastrous results, or the actual killer was targeted yet saw justice confounded by similar procedural issues. “The role of the profiler is to redirect or refocus an investigation and to help police narrow and analyze their suspect list,” he writes. The cases he discusses here are those he did not address as an active-duty agent, and he often wonders if he would have fared better as an investigator. In at least two cases, he reluctantly argues that wrongful convictions led to miscarriages of justice. William Heirens served a life sentence as Chicago’s “Lipstick Killer,” yet Douglas believes him innocent: “I would have considered him too young to…make the leap from petty burglaries to violent rapes and murders.” He also argues that Texas executed Cameron Todd Willingham for the arson murders of his children based on scientific theories that were disproven well before the execution. The author devotes long sections to two notorious cases: the murder of JonBenet Ramsey and the wrongfully convicted West Memphis Three. He consulted in both cases and remains convinced that shoddy evidence management, prosecutorial overreach and media frenzies led to false accusations with dreadful consequences. Douglas remains fascinated by the nitty-gritty of advanced investigation, and he smoothly explains key evidentiary details and psychological twists, though he becomes impatient with those who question his conclusions. Yet, his thesis remains bifurcated: He both agonizes over the prospect of an innocent person being executed and strongly argues that the death penalty ought to protect society from the “worst of the worst,” sadistic repeat offenders like Ted Bundy.
The prose is mostly workmanlike, but in a culture besotted with serial killers, Douglas can claim a rare authenticity regarding the evil that men do.