John E. Douglas
John Edward Douglas
June 18, 1945
Brooklyn, New York, U.S.
John Edward Douglas (born June 18, 1945) is a retired special agent and unit chief in the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). He was one of the first criminal profilers and has written books on criminal psychology.
John Edward Douglas was born in Brooklyn, New York. A veteran of four years in the United States Air Force (1966–1970), he holds several degrees: a B.S. in sociology/physical education/recreation from Eastern New Mexico University, an M.S. in education psychology/guidance and counseling from the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee, an Ed.S. in Administration and Supervision/Adult Education from the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee, and a PhD in comparing techniques for teaching police officers how to classify homicides from Nova Southeastern University.
Douglas joined the FBI in 1970 and his first assignment was in Detroit, Michigan. In the field, he served as a sniper on the local FBI SWAT team and later became a hostage negotiator. He transferred to the FBI's Behavioral Science Unit (BSU) in 1977 where he taught hostage negotiation and applied criminal psychology at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia to new FBI special agents, field agents, and police officers from all over the United States. He created and managed the FBI's Criminal Profiling Program and was later promoted to unit chief of the Investigative Support Unit, a division of the FBI's National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime (NCAVC).
While traveling around the country providing instruction to police, Douglas began interviewing serial killers and other violent sex offenders at various prisons. He interviewed some of the most notable violent criminals in recent history as part of the study, including David Berkowitz, Ted Bundy, John Wayne Gacy, Charles Manson, Lynette Fromme, Sara Jane Moore, Edmund Kemper, James Earl Ray, Sirhan Sirhan, Richard Speck, Donald Harvey, Gary Ridgway and Joseph Paul Franklin. He used the information gleaned from these interviews in the book Sexual Homicide: Patterns and Motives, followed by the Crime Classification Manual (CCM). Douglas later received two Thomas Jefferson Awards for academic excellence from the University of Virginia for his work on the study.
Douglas examined crime scenes and created profiles of the perpetrators, describing their habits and attempting to predict their next moves. In cases where his work helped to capture the criminals, he built strategies for interrogating and prosecuting them as well. At the time of criminal profiling's conception, Douglas claimed to have been doubted and criticized by his own colleagues. The efficacy of profiling remains unclear and debated as many studies have shown it is often too vague to be definitive enough to build a comprehensive criminal profile.
Douglas first made a public name for himself with his involvement in the Atlanta murders of 1979–81, initially through an interview he did with People Magazine about his profiling of the as yet unidentified killer as a young black man. When Wayne Williams was arrested, Douglas was widely reported as stating that Williams was "looking pretty good for a good percentage of the killings." This quote was taken out of context. “I said he fit the profile and added carefully that if it did turn out to be him, I thought he “looked pretty good for a good percentage of the killings.” The story hit the news wire, and the next day I was being quoted all over the country, on all the network news programs, in all the major newspapers, including a story in the Atlanta Constitution with the headline “FBI Man: Williams May Have Slain Many”. Douglas received an official letter of censure from the FBI Director for this. However, he attended the subsequent legal proceedings and helped the prosecution trap Williams into showing anger, which was key in showing the jury that Williams was the murderer. Douglas subsequently received a letter of commendation from the FBI and a cash award for prosecutive consultation during the trial of Williams.
Douglas’ profile was instrumental in the arrest and conviction or Robert Hansen. Douglas thought the killer would be an experienced hunter with low self-esteem, have a history of being rejected by women, and would feel compelled to keep "souvenirs" of his murders, such as a victim's jewelry. He also suggested that the assailant might stutter. This profile led investigators to Hansen, who fit the profile down to the stutter. Upon executing a search warrant “souvenirs” in the form of his victim’s jewelry were found at his residence.
Douglas has written extensively in support of Amanda Knox, presenting evidence supporting her innocence in his book The Forgotten Killer. In addition Douglas provided an analysis in the JonBenet Ramsey case and concluded that neither John, Patsy, nor their son were responsible for the death of JonBenet.
In January 2015, creators of the television show Criminal Minds confirmed that the characters of FBI profilers Jason Gideon and David Rossi were based on Douglas.
A screenplay adapted from the book Mindhunter: Inside the FBI's Elite Serial Crime Unit was picked up by Netflix. Mindhunter stars Jonathan Groff, who plays the character Special Agent Holden Ford, a lead character based on Douglas. Prior to the Netflix series, a TV documentary version of Mindhunter had run on MSNBC, in which Douglas interviewed other notorious serial killers such as Joseph Kondro and Donald Harvey. Many of Douglas' interviews in connection with Mindhunter subsequently featured in his books, including in The Killer Across the Table, in which Douglas provided detailed depictions of psychopathy particularly in the cases of Kondro and Joseph McGowan, who had targeted preteen girls whom they personally knew and were daughters of friends or neighbors, and of Harvey, one of the country's most prolific serial killers who used his position as a hospital orderly to commit dozens of murders of patients, yet generally without a sense of conscience or remorse for their crimes.