Searchlight: John E. Douglas

Fans of serial killer fiction will instantly recognize the name Jack Crawford. Head of the Behavioral Science Unit in Quantico, Agent Crawford sent Will Graham off on the hunt for Francis Dolarhyde in Red Dragon, and let Clarice Starling pick Hannibal Lecter’s mind in Silence of the Lambs. Thomas Harris based Crawford’s character on his real-life counterpoint, John E. Douglas. Douglas, with writer Mark Olshaker, have written several books together, most notably, Mindhunter: Inside the FBI’s Elite Serial Crime Unit.

Using careful examination of crime scenes, as well as building up extensive reports of the perpetrators, Douglas looked for hidden patterns in their behaviors to help guess when and where they might strike again. At first, other agents and his superiors were skeptical of his methods. This was during the early 70’s, and while there was a ton of psychological evaluation used in the classrooms, it wasn’t so widely used in the field. Over time, the FBI and police came to realize that Douglas was on to something with all his profiles … that there was a way to study psychopathic and violent sexual behavior, and it could be used to stop and apprehend the perpetrators of such crimes.

During his tenure, Douglas interviewed many notorious serial killers such as Richard Speck, Edmund Kemper, David Berkowitz, Dennis Rader, John Wayne Gacy, and Ted Bundy, as well as Robert Kennedy assassin Sirhan Sirhan, and murder cult leader Charles Manson. Douglas was instrumental in breaking the Atlanta Child Murders during 1979 through the early 80’s. The killer, Wayne Williams, was initially dismissed as a police nut, a goofy guy who liked to hang around the police station, asking investigators questions about the murders. After a lucky break during police surveillance, Williams was stopped by police. Later, he failed three polygraph tests, then taunted the police while proclaiming his innocence. When they brought Douglas in to assist, he instantly became interested in Williams, knowing that some killers would often try to get as close to the investigation as they could, trying to hold on to some glimmer of fame knowing they were that close and literally getting away with it. Statements made by Douglas after Williams was arrested caused a media uproar, making it seem as though the FBI was claiming his guilt before the trial even started. Because of this, the director of the FBI censured Douglas through the trial. For the record, Douglas maintains that Williams probably killed many of the victims, though he does not believe he killed all of them, suggesting the truth may be far more disturbing than one could imagine.

On Friday, October 13th 2017, Netflix began a new series called Mindhunter. Produced by David Fincher (Fight Club, Se7ev, Zodiac), the show is taken from the case files in Mindhunter: Inside the FBI’s Elite Serial Crime Unit, with Jonathan Groff as Holden Ford, based on John E. Douglas. Already renewed for a second season, Mindhunter only proves that we are constantly fascinated by those who kill, and equally infatuated with their motives and how they operate. The world is full of monsters, and they typically wear their human costumes year-round to blend in with the rest of the world. But make no mistake, they are real, and they are consumed with obsessions most of us would never understand. If it wasn’t for men like John E. Douglas, many of these killers would still be roaming the night, on the hunt, looking for victims. Mindhunter: Inside the FBI’s Elite Serial Crime Unit, as well as the series based on the book, is about as close as anyone would ever want to get to these human monsters.




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