The History of Criminal Profiling


Criminal profiling (also known as Criminal Investigative Analysis) is an investigative tool used by law enforcement agencies which consists of analyzing the crime scene and using the information to determine the identity of the perpetrator. Criminal Profiling identifies the perpetrator (or unknown subject) of a crime based on an analysis of the nature of the offense and the manner in which it was committed (Teten, 1996) By analyzing information at the crime scene, law enforcement agencies are able to create a profile of relevant information, that is useful to find the assailant. A criminal profile may include physical attributes such as: sex, age, ethnic background, height, and weight or personality attributes such as: psychological diseases, self-esteem, remorse or guilt, and aggressiveness. Criminal profiling is used in a variety of crimes including homicide, sexual assault, extortion, kidnapping, and obscene telephone calls. Crimes such as Motiveless fire settings, Lust and mutilation murders, Rapes, and Occult crimes are considered to be most suitable for profiling (Geberth, 1996; Holmes & Holmes, 1996). Criminal profiling is an effective tool enabling law enforcement agencies to enforce the law more effectively.


The origins of criminal profiling can be traced back to the early 1800s with the likes of Jacob Fries, Cesare Lombroso, Alphonse Bertiollon, Hans Gross, Ernest Kretschmer and others. All made small contributions to the present day field, however they are rarely considered are being in the “criminal profiling” field.

The first modern case of criminal profiling was the analysis made by Dr. Thomas Bond on the serial killer Jack the Ripper (Petherick, 2005). In the 1890s Dr. Bond, a police surgeon, performed the autopsy on Mark Kelly (Jack the Ripper’s last victim). From the autopsy, he deduced that the man had lacked the scientific and anatomical knowledge of a surgeon or butcher. In an attempt to understand what had occurred, he reconstructed the murder and tried to interpret the behavioral pattern of the assailant (Offender Profiling, 2006). After much examination, Bond came up with a profile for the police to pursuit. It included a quiet, harmless-looking man. He was physically strong, composed, daring, despite being a loner without any real occupation. Bond also concluded that all five crimes were committed by the same man (Petherick, 2005). Despite the Jack the Ripper case remaining unsolved, the field of Offender Profiling took a major leap forward, with Dr. Bond being widely regard as the first offender profiler (Offender Profiling, 2006).

Experts in the field

The next major case bestowed upon the field of criminal profiling was to behaviorally and psychologically analyze German Chancellor Adolf Hitler. In 1943, Office of Strategic Services requested Dr. Walter C. Langer, a psychiatrist to develop a profile of Hitler. By studying speeches, Hitler’s book Mein Kempf, and interviews of people who knew Hitler, Langer began to piece together key components of his analysis (Offender Profiling, 2006) His profile noted that Hitler was “meticulous, conventional, and prudish about his appearance and body.” (Offender Profiling, 2006). He was in good health, so it was improbable that he would die naturally, but he was deteriorating mentally. Langer’s profile made note of Hitler’s oedipal complex, with the result being his constant desire to prove his masculinity to his mother. The most notable account of Langer’s examination was the possible outcome following his defeat. Langer predicted that Hitler would likely commit suicide, which proved to be true following the end of World War II (Holmes & Holmes, 1996).

Much like Dr. Langer, Dr. James A. Brussel was a psychiatrist with no connotation to law enforcement before he was asked by the NYPD to develop a profile of the “Mad Bomber of New York” in 1956. After studying crime scene photographs and the bomber’s mail to the press, he developed a detailed description of the offender. He suggested that the offender would be ” a heavy man. Middle aged. Foreign Born. Roman Catholic. Single. Lives with a brother or sister.” Also adding ” when you find him, chances are wearing a double breasted suit. Buttoned.” (Geberth, 1996). Brussel’s profile turned out to be extremely precise, down to the clothing prediction. Dr. Brussel aided the NYPD from 1957 to 1972, and other investigative agencies. His work resulted in the arrest of Albert DeSalvo, The Boston Strangler (Offender Profiling, 2006).

Many other experts have influenced the modern field of criminal profiling, with three of the most prominent involved with the FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation): Howard Teten, John Douglas, and Robert Ressler. Teten joined the FBI in 1962, after working as a police officer in California. After joining the FBI, Teten was paired with FBI instructor Patrick J. Mullany, creating the FBI’s Behavioral Science Unit (BSU), (Offender Profiling, 2006). Douglas and Ressler became leaders in Offender Profiling for the FBI after Teten left in 1978. They developed the organized/disorganized method still in use today (Petherick, 2005). This methodology, along with the FBI’s BSU will be discussed in detail in the next section of the essay.

FBI Crime Scene Analysis (CSA) Technique

The current technique used by the FBI today is called Crime Scene Analysis. This methodology of criminal profiling can be credited to the work of two men, Howard Teten and Pat Mullany. Through a large study in which they studied offenders regarding their backgrounds, crimes, crime scenes and victims (Petherick, 2006). They also spent much time focusing on court documents (such as transcripts), police reports, and psychiatric and criminal records. From this research they created a model known as Crime Scene Analysis. This profiling process consists of six parts: Profiling inputs, decision process models, crime assessment, criminal profile, investigation, and lastly apprehension (Criminal Profiling, 2006). The CIA methodology of criminal profiling is used extensively throughout the world (including Canada) (Criminal Investigative Analysis, 2005).

The first stage, Profiling Inputs comprises of gathering all available information about the crime, including “physical evidence, photographs of the crime scene, autopsy reports and pictures, witness testimony, extensive background on the victim and police reports.” (Meyer, 2000). This stage is often regarded as the most important because it serves as a foundation for the subsequent stages. It is also imperative that the profiler have no knowledge of potential suspects because this can comprise the accuracy by filling the profile with prejudice or by leading the profile to fit a certain suspect.

The second stage Decision Process Models, involves the profiler intensely organizing all of the information gathered in the previous stage (Petherick, 2005). By organizing the information this allows the profiler to further investigate the crime by asking questions such as: What type of the particular crime was committed? (in the case of homicides this could include mass murders, spree killers, and serial killers (Meyer, 2000)).

The third stage, Crime Assessment, entails an accurate reconstruction of the succession of events leading up to the crime and following (Criminal Profiling, 2002). Analysis of the behavior and traits of both the victim and perpetrator are examined during this stage as well, in attempt to contribute to the profile. By understanding the “role” of each, more meticulous information is added into the file of the perpetrator. They consider the motivation of the offender, selection of the victim, along with if the crime scene was staged (in attempt to mislead police) (Muller, 2000).

The fourth stage, Criminal Profile, is the finished product of the first three steps. This criminal profile includes: physical characteristics (race, age, general appearance), behavioral characteristics (organized/disorganized, significant possessions such as pornography), and mental characteristics (education, occupation). The profile also contains tactics outlining identification, apprehension, and interrogation of the offender (Muller,2000).

The last two stages, Investigation and Apprehension. involves using the profile to investigate and hopefully detain the offender. The investigation are often conducted by local law enforcement agencies, with privileged help (i.e. FBI or RCMP) in special circumstances. Unfortunately, “the rate of solved cases represent less than 50% of cases profiled,” (Petherick, 2005).


Studies have found that FBI profiling techniques are of some assistance in 77% of cases, provide leads for stakeouts solving cases 45% of the time, and actually help identify the perpetrator (or UNSUB, unknown subject) in 17% of cases (Teten, 1996). Despite the latter statistic suggesting that criminal profiling is ineffective, it continues to be a vital investigative tool used by law enforcements agencies throughout the world. It is useful based on one main fact – “Behavior reflects personality. And that is what profiling is all about” (ForPsych, 1997).

Works Cited

“Criminal Investigative Analysis.” RCMP. 2005. 1 June 2006 .

“Criminal Profiling”. 2002. 1 June 2006

“Forensic Psychiatry and Profiling.” 1997. 1 June 2006

Geberth, V. J. Practical Homicide Investigation: Tactics, Procedures and Forensic Techniques. Boca Raton: CRC Press. 1996.

Holmes, R. M., & Holmes, S. T. Profiling violent crimes (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications. 1996.

Meyer, C.B. “Introduction to Criminal Profiling.” 2000. 1 June 2006 .

Muller, Damon. “Criminal Profiling”. University of Melbourne. 2000. 1 June 2006 .

“Offender Profiling.” Wikipedia. 2006. Wikipedia. 1 June 2006. .

Petherick, Wayne. “Criminal Profiling: How it got started and how it is used.” 2005. Crime Library. 1 June 2006 < filing2/1.html>.

Teten, H. “Offender profiling.” Pp. 475-77 in W. Bailey (ed) The Encyclopedia of Police Science, 2e. NY: Garland. 1996.