WOO IN REVIEW: Criminal Profiling Contest Results

The Criminal Profiling Contest is now closed. Thanks to everyone who participated. It was interesting to write the contest, and interesting to read your analyses.

I'll let everyone know who the winners are momentarily, but first I wanted to take another look at criminal profiling, and also some of the comments to the contest.tedbundy4

Firstly, I would no more “stop promoting” criminal profiling (even if it was totally false) than I would “stop promoting” ghost hunters, psychics, or mediums – because the only way I could possibly take a call to stop promoting such a thing would be to not mention the thing at all. And, as a critical thinker, that concept seems silly to me. If you are a critical thinker, it should seem silly to you, too.

For the record, I do not have enough information to make an informed decision on whether or not criminal profiling is an effective tool in investigations. I have a single set of statistics from the early 1990's and nothing more. If someone has another study, or anything beyond isolated information, I'd be happy to read it and become more informed on the topic. Please feel free to either leave a link in the comments or e-mail one to me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

However, isolated information (like the D.C. Sniper being eliminated as a suspect by profilers) is strictly that: isolated information. I can just as easily cite cases where K-9 units have failed (like this one), or where regular police work eliminated a true killer from a pool of suspects (like Ted Bundy, who was reported to police no less than four times as the potential culprit in the series of murders he actually committed, and yet was not investigated for years).

For those who were curious whether the contest was in support of or against criminal profiling – it was neither. I was simply curious to see whether or not the potential for it to work was there. And, from this very small sample, it appears to be. I am not a criminal mastermind, nor am I an FBI agent, so you might wonder at my ability to even create the contest in a realistic way.

Since I didn't have the opportunity to take an FBI crash course, I instead had five reference books.

The Criminal Mind: A Writer's Guide to Forensic Psychology by Katherine Ramsland

Criminal Minds: The Science and Psychology of Criminal Profiling by David Owen

Serial Killers: The Method and Madness of Monsters by Peter Vronsky

The Encyclopedia of Serial Killers by Michael Newton

Understanding Abnormal Behavior by David Sue

And, as a side note, to the individual who said that criminal profilers should leave the investigation work to professionals, and then equated them with psychic detectives: Criminal profilers are employees of the Behavioral Analysis Unit of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. They are trained in their field. They are Special Agents of the FBI. They can no more be equated with psychic detectives than toothpaste can be. All a psychic detective must do in order to become a psychic detective is sit around calling themselves psychic. A criminal profiler goes through rigorous training at Quantico.

While profiling is often shown on television as something strictly used to capture serial killers, there is a bit more to it than that. The Behavioral Analysis Unit has released response plans for a wide variety of things, including a Child Abduction Response Plan and a threat assessment of school shooters. They are a part of the National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime which, among other things, creates a database of violent crime throughout the country (ViCAP), researches and investigates crimes against children (CASMIRC), and analyzes behavioral patterns of repeat offenders, terrorists, arsonists, and bombers (BAU).

Profiling for serial killers is actually probably the weakest function of the BAU, and many times throughout all of my research materials, I have read that profiling is, in this way, more art than science.tedbundy1

So, though statistics on crimes are fascinating, if you fed statistics and biographical information into a computer, you would probably never have it spit “Ted Bundy” at you. He just doesn't fit in the basic ways, which is probably why police repeatedly ignored reports that it might be him – even when he was pulled over one night and an officer discovered rope, handcuffs, an ice pick, and stockings in his trunk.

Profiling, I have discovered in my reading, is supposed to be about figuring out what type of person would commit the crimes based on the types of crimes themselves. If you would like to read a fictional account of profiling that's pretty good, try out Caleb Carr's novel The Alienist.

And why do I keep mentioning Ted Bundy?

Well, because the crimes described in the contest were based on the true crimes of Ted Bundy, and the profile of suspect number 8 (Ted Schaefer) was based on his life.

Congratulations to Sven and mscotthokie! mscotthokie, please send me your e-mail address at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

At the time of this writing, there have been fourteen entries to the contest. The breakdown for the responses goes like this:

Eight individuals chose the correct response (Ted Schaefer) out of a suspect pool of ten.

Two individuals chose John Wayne Zodiac.

Two individuals chose Green River Ramirez.

One individual chose Richard Dahmer.

One individual chose William George Tylenol.

I have called off the bonus round due to a lack of entries (many individuals got at least one, but no one got them all), and here's the really interesting part – every single person that responded with an incorrect answer to the identity of the serial killer chose one of the individuals who was a part of the Bonus Round, and had committed or would commit another crime.

Here are the correct answers for the Bonus Round. Due to the cancellation of the Bonus Round, the Bonus Award has been given to mscotthokie, who submitted one of the most streamlined profiles ever.

Jeffrey Gacy (1) has committed or will commit drug crimes (most likely involved marijuana).

John Wayne Zodiac (2) has committed or will commit assault.

William George Tylenol (5) has committed or will commit a school shooting.

Green River Ramirez (6) has committed or will commit sexual assault.

Richard Dahmer (9) will commit suicide (since you interviewed him, it's probable he hasn't already. Also, attempted suicide is illegal in the state of Nevada as well as five other states, hence its inclusion here).

So, here's the odd thing – six out of ten of the individuals listed were or would be guilty of some crime. There were fourteen responses. Eight were correct, and the remaining six responders chose one of the remaining five individuals who was guilty of a crime.

In other words, no one chose an innocent person as the killer. Isn't that weird? If profiling is bull, well, you guys are really good at it. You were able to pinpoint the interviews where something was wrong, even if you could not identify precisely what it was. I think that's pretty amazing. And yeah, I know it doesn't mean criminal profiling really works because this is such a small sample and I am not a criminal mastermind, but it's still at the very least an interesting result.

Now to explain the answer...

The profiler in the fictional account was brought in because police work and forensic evidence had failed to further eliminate suspects. As stated within the contest article, the ten individuals listed all could have done it. I add this information because at least one commenter mentioned that the ten suspects could have been investigated more fully, from the standpoint of regular police work, to check alibis and so forth. Narrowing down the suspect pool this far using police work is actually kind of shocking. In the case of Ted Bundy's serial murders, there was at one time a list of 400 individuals who could have carried out the crimes. Using police work, they eliminated suspects and reduced the list to only forty individuals (and, unfortunately, knocked Ted Bundy off the list in doing so).

When I say that the individuals could have done it, I mean that they all had the vehicle in question, all fit the description, and all had the opportunity to carry out the crimes according to interviews already conducted by police. And yes, Green River's last name is “Ramirez,” and he still fits the description. (The names were actually all chosen because they are names of real serial killers, which is why one of them has the odd last name “Tylenol.”)tedbundy2

On to the real killer – and I'll go part with statistics, and part with the personality just to round it off nicely.

Ted Schaefer is twenty-nine years old, which means that he was twenty-four when he started killing (unless his birthday was in January), which puts him neatly in the range of the majority of serial killers for age. Like 81% of other serial killers, he has a record of petty theft.

Though the subjects of the interview are asked the same sorts of questions about their lives, Ted has put emphasis on his own achievements, and highlights the “fact” that he was kept from further achievements by circumstances beyond his control.

For instance, his school history shows that he was intelligent enough to at least get an interview at Harvard, yet he was kept from gaining entry to the school by an interviewer and had to settle. He chose a rare and exotic major for his studies, yet couldn't keep with it because the classes were “boring.” He reveals a cycle of blaming others for his failures in a standard interview with an FBI Agent, who probably couldn't care less if aliens beamed down and blocked him from entering Harvard by linking their arms across the front door.

Ted's failures extend to his employment record. He started dealing cards at a middle-upper class casino, worked very briefly at the highest-end casino, dropped to another middle-upper class casino after an incident with a rich attractive young woman, dropped further to a middle class casino, and is currently employed at a middle-lower class casino. Even though in all other aspects Ted has been explaining his cycle of failures as the fault of others, he doesn't in this instance. Why not? Because it involved failure with the type of woman he has difficulty connecting with – a young, rich one.

Because you gained this knowledge from another source, however, you are able to match the type of person Ted has difficulty dealing with and the types of victims you have found in Saline Valley.

By all appearances, Ted is confident and self-assured. He even considers himself an expert in areas where he has no right to expertise – like psychology, when he asks you about the profile of the killer. (Incidentally, many serial killers insert themselves into investigations in this way; by asking details about the killer rather than the victims, and about the psychology rather than the progress.)

Ted didn't share many details about his family life except to say that he came from a poor family – another way of blaming others for his own failures. He expresses no affection for either of his parents, and it is clear that his poverty is an embarrassment to him. Instead of giving his girlfriend, Linda, presents in private, he does it in front of all her co-workers. And his choices in gifts aren't ones that would be sane choices for an individual dealing cards at Monte Carlo. He chooses a gourmet meal over a takeout meal, a pair of Tiffany's earrings instead of Jared's earrings (which would be nicer for less money, but wouldn't have a Tiffany's stamp).

This is the type of person who is constantly pretending to be wealthier and more successful than they actually are. It is the type of person who would seek out rich young women – because the more he is able to obtain, the better he is himself.

Ted Bundy's goal in hunting the type of women he did was, according to him, “possessing them physically as one would possess a potted plant, a painting, or a Porsche.”

For the fictional Ted, it was not enough for him to abduct women at random and slaughter them. Instead, he had to use his charms to possess them – which is why the women, according to witness reports, seemed sober for much of their interaction with the man. Though he needed to drug the women to get them out of the dance clubs, our fictional Ted wanted to impress them enough to make them interact. He had a drink with them. He won them over.

His feelings of self-doubt are only apparent in what his girlfriend says about him – that he doesn't consider himself attractive. Ted doesn't believe he actually has the qualities to possess these women for lengthy periods of time, but if he is able to connect with them even briefly, then he has won.

His need to possess also shows itself in the method of killing, and again, if graphic violence sits badly with you, go ahead and stop here.

He destroys the obvious way the women are “better than” he is by mutilating their faces. He removes the status symbol represented by their clothing without getting blood on it, because he respects the money spent. For the same reason, he cannot steal their jewelry.

He suffocates them with a plastic bag, which is an extremely personal mode of death. He is able to watch their faces, to exercise his power over them, and to start and stop the killing at his own volition, which makes him feel even more powerful. He further objectifies them by forced object rape rather than actually having sexual intercourse with them. They are not lovers or partners. They are objects.

And this is something that is revealed in conversation with his girlfriend, Linda, as well. Linda notes that Ted is “more affectionate” during their camping trips in Death Valley. Serial killers often revisit the scene of their crimes for sexual release.

Three other individuals listed as suspects seem to have an issue specifically with women, which is where the profile of this serial killer leads us.

Jeffrey Gacy has a complaint against him for domestic abuse, which he says was an accident. The women he objectifies are objectified in a way that indicates extreme confidence as well as sexual objectification. The ex-girlfriend he shoved he probably really did shove on accident – because he wasn't thinking of her as an actual person with actual feelings, but as a receptacle for his own desires and an appendage to his own greatness. He would never drug a woman because he would see no reason to do so. He has an amount of confidence that leaves him believing he can have whatever he wants whenever he wants without any outside influence like rohypnol.

John Wayne Zodiac exhibits the behavior of an individual with an addictive personality. He has issues with gambling, with alcohol, and with women. He comes from a broken home, and has resentment toward his mother. His relationship failed because he was unable to control his own behavior. He is unstable, and the only place he can find where he is happy is one where he is pretending to be someone else (a clown). He has gone to great lengths to hide his addictions, including lying to you during the interview, though he had no reason to do so. If confronted by any of his shortcomings, he might fly into a rage, but he does not have the capacity to plan out several organized killings.

Green River Ramirez perceives himself as a failure, which is similar to the real killer's self-image. However, Green is more likely to act out against women he believes are beneath him than ones he believes are better than he is. He married his assistant. He has sexual intercourse with fangirls. He objectifies women, but only in the sense of making himself feel more powerful than he is by subjugating those he believes are less than he is. If rejected, he might commit sexual assault in order to feel powerful, but he would not choose rich young women as his targets, and the assault would immediately follow the rejection.tedbundy3

Thank you again to everyone who participated, and congratulations once more to Sven and mscotthokie!

For those of you interested in further information on how the contest was created, see the information below and also check out the further reading.

The real-life Ted Bundy had many similarities to the fictional Ted Schaefer, and here are a few of them:

  • Ted Bundy had a long-term girlfriend during the time of his killings named Liz. Ted Schaefer has a long-term girlfriend named Linda.
  • Ted Bundy often made Liz gourmet meals, including bouillabaisse. Ted Schaefer often made Linda gourmet meals, including vichyssoise.
  • Ted Bundy came from poor roots. Ted Schaefer came from poor roots.
  • Ted Bundy failed out of Stanford, a private research university, in 1967 following a break-up with a woman he perceived as above his station. Ted Schaefer failed during his interview at Harvard, a private university, after a confrontation with a woman he perceived as above his station.
  • Ted Bundy pretended to have more money than he did by borrowing his neighbor's car when taking women out on dates. Ted Schaefer pretended to have more money than he did by buying gifts for his girlfriend that were too expensive considering his income.
  • Ted Bundy only killed rich, attractive young women. Ted Schaefer only killed rich, attractive young women.
  • Ted Bundy killed women with brown hair that was parted down the middle. Ted Schaefer killed women with short, blonde hair.
  • Ted Bundy talked to his victims at length in public places before leading them to his car, where he disabled them with a blow to the head. Ted Schaefer talked to his victims at length in public places before disabling them with rohypnol and leading them to his car.
  • Ted Bundy strangled women to death with stockings. Ted Schaefer suffocated women to death with plastic bags.
  • Ted Bundy committed object rape on his victims. Ted Schaefer committed object rape on his victims.
  • Ted Bundy cut off the heads of his victims. Ted Schaefer mutilated the faces of his victims.
  • Ted Bundy kept the bodies of his victims in the same general area. Ted Schaefer kept the bodies of his victims in the same general area.
  • Ted Bundy visited the area where he disposed of the bodies of his victims with his girlfriend. Ted Schaefer visited the area where he disposed of the bodies of his victims with his girlfriend.


The Stranger Beside Me by Ann Rule