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Who Is John E Douglas? the Real-Life 'Mindhunter' Character Who Created a Profiling Program

Manuela Cardiga
Feb 06, 2021
08:55 A.M.

John E Douglas is the man who created profiling and is the inspiration for hundreds of popular crime movies and novels, and profiling series like "Criminal Minds."

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The TV series "Manhunter" is based on the book "Mindhunter: Inside the FBI's Elite Serial Crime Unit" written in 1975 by FBI agents John E. Douglas and Mark Olshaker. Douglas literally created the concept of profiling in order to understand what motivates killers.

Douglas studied and interviewed notorious serial killers including Charles Manson, Edmund Kemper, Ted Bundy, and Dennis Rader, the “BTK Killer.” His work was the inspiration for hundreds of ever-popular movies and series about profiling and serial killers.

Criminal profiler John E. Douglas at SiriusXM Studios in 2019 in New York City | Source: Getty Images

Criminal profiler John E. Douglas at SiriusXM Studios in 2019 in New York City | Source: Getty Images

THE FIRST PROFILER

Douglas became an FBI agent in the 70s and became a hostage negotiator. He was transferred to the FBI's Behavioral Science Unit (BSU) where he taught FBI agents and police officers hostage negotiation and applied criminal psychology.

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While he traveled around the country from state to state with his partner, Douglas obtained permission to interview serial killers and sex offenders and started compiling a database with their life history and particulars.

Fans of series like "Profiler" and "Criminal Minds" (...) take these terms and concepts for granted, but they were all developed by Douglas.

HUNTING MONSTERS

The phenomenon of the stranger killer, the apparently motiveless multiple murderers was on the rise in the 60s, leaving law enforcement and authorities baffled. These killers were dubbed as "serial offenders" but little or nothing was known about them.

Douglas painstakingly interviewed men like David Berkowitz, Ted Bundy, John Wayne Gacy, Charles Manson, Edmund Kemper, Gary Ridgway, and Joseph Paul Franklin among others in order to try and discern a pattern to their pathology.

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CREATING PROFILING

Douglas then studied each interviewed killer's crimes and crime scenes, correlating what he knew of their psychological makeup and patterns of behavior in order to create a template that could help predict an unknown subject's behavior.

Fans of series like "Profiler" and "Criminal Minds" and police procedural programs take these terms and concepts for granted, but they were all developed by Douglas, who gave law enforcement an invaluable tool.

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Douglas compiled the information from his interviews in two books "Sexual Homicide: Patterns and Motives," and the "Crime Classification Manual" which earned him two Thomas Jefferson Awards for academic excellence.

The agent first became interested in understanding serial killers when he was lecturing experienced agents and police officers who often disagreed with their teacher's whose academic point of view clashed with their hands-on experience in the field.

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THE ACCIDENTAL AGENT

Douglas had first worked in the field as a part of a SWAT team after he joined the FBI. He had wanted to become a veterinarian, but he dropped out of college and was drafted into the army. After that, he was recruited into the FBI.

Douglas showed aptitude and became a hostage negotiator, and worked in Detroit, a city that then had one of the highest crime rates in the country. In 1977, at the age of 32, Douglas became the youngest teacher at Quantico.

MAKING HISTORY

Douglas' work led to the creation of the FBI's Criminal Profiling Program and he later became unit chief to the Investigative Support Unit. He was the first man to look at a crime from a killer's perspective in order to catch him. He said:

“It was considered innovative, but to me, it was basic. If you want to learn about violent crime, talk to the experts: the criminals perpetrating rapes, arsons and serial homicides."

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PROVING HIS CASE

At first, Douglas alleges, his fellow law enforcement officers doubted the accuracy of the profiles he created. Then in between 1978 and 1981, 28 people, mostly children, and adolescents were murdered in Atlanta.

All the victims were African American, and due to the fact that most killers kill within their own ethnicity, Douglas profiled the killer as being Black and in his early 20s -- which proved to be spot on when 23-year-old Wayne Williams.

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CRIMINAL MIND

Douglas' insight into the mind of Williams helped the prosecutor of the case trigger the defendant's anger on the stand, and show the jury his murderous rage. Williams was condemned for two of the killings, and the murder spree ended.

Douglas' work was validated, and today there are thousands of men and women around the world who apply and refine his methods to catch the vicious predators who hunt in the shadows.

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