- - Monday, June 10, 2019


By John F. Douglas and Mark Olshaker

Dey Street, $26.99, 352 pages

Who knows why a person rapes, tortures and kills countless men, women and children without empathy or remorse?

Well, former FBI profiler and author John Douglas has a fair idea, having studied and interviewed numerous serial killers and other murderers for nearly 50 years, often sitting about three feet across the table from the killers in a prison interview room.

In “The Killer Across the Table: Unlocking the Secrets of Serial Killers and Predators with the FBI’s Original Mindhunter,” Mr. Douglas and co-author Mark Olshaker take a close look at four predatory killers while detailing the profiling process and strategies used to solve some of the country’s most complicated and heinous cases.

Mr. Douglas, an FBI profiler who became famous as the inspiration for the film “Silence of the Lambs,” the network TV series “Criminal Minds” and the Netflix series “Mindhunter,” has been involved in thousands of violent crime cases over the course of his 25-year-career as an FBI special agent and later as a private consultant. Along with Mr. Olshaker, he previously published “Mindhunter,” “The Anatomy of Motive” and “Law & Disorder.”

Although the four murderers interviewed and analyzed in “The Killer Across the Table” are not as infamous as Ted Bundy and other more notorious serial killers, Mr. Douglas reflects on his past encounters with some of the country’s most notorious murderers, such as Ed Kemper, Charles Manson, the “BTK Strangler” Denis Rader and David Berkowitz, known as the “Son of Sam” killer, and compares their actions and motives with the four lessor known killers covered in this book.

“This is a book about the way violent predators think — the bedrock of my twenty-five as an FBI special agent, behavioral profiler and criminal investigative analyst, as well as the work I’ve done since my retirement from the bureau,” Mr. Douglas writes in the book’s introduction. “But it’s really conversations I had. After all, conversations are where it all began for me, conversations in which I learned how to use what a predatory criminal was thinking to help local law enforcement officials to catch him and bring him to justice. For me, that was the beginning of behavioral profiling.”

Mr. Douglas states that he began to interview incarcerated violent offenders as a desire to understand the underlying motivation behind criminals. He recalled that early in his FBI career he attended a two-week course in hostage negotiation at the FBI academy at Quantico, Virginia. The course was taught by FBI Special Agents Howard Teten and Patrick Mullany, whom Mr. Douglas credits as the original champions of behavioral science in the FBI. The two FBI agents taught Applied Criminology, which was an attempt to bring the academic discipline of abnormal psychology into crime analysis. They saw hostage negotiation as the first practical use of the applied psychology program.

Before Mr. Douglas completed the course, he was offered a position in the FBI’s Behavioral Science unit. The primary task of the unit’s nine agents was teaching, although the FBI academy’s “three-legged-stool” model of teaching, research and consultation soon took shape.

The main issue of criminal investigators was motive. Why do offenders do the things they do, in what way do they do them, and how can understanding this help catch them? Special Agent Robert Ressler built on the work of Special Agents Teten and Mullany, bringing the discipline of behavioral analysis closer to something of value to criminal investigators.

As Special Agents Ressler and Douglas were on the road instructing local police, Mr. Douglas said he had the idea of interviewing violent criminals in prisons.

“Why not see if we could meet and talk with some of them, find out what a crime was like through their eyes, get them to recall and tell us why they did what they did and what was going on in their minds when they did it,” Mr. Douglas writes.

In “The Killer Across the Table” Mr. Douglas is hired to interview and consult on four killers. Joseph McGowan was convicted of murdering a seven-year-old girl. Joseph Kondro was convicted of murdering an eight-year-old girl in 1985 as well as a 12-year-old girl in 1996.

Donald Harvey was a medical orderly and nurse’s aide who pled guilty in 1987 to murdering 37 people, although he claimed to have killed far more. Harvey was called the “Angel of Death,” as he claimed to have ended the misery of his elderly and chronically ill victims. And Todd Kohlhepp pleaded guilty to murdering seven people, as well as chaining a woman inside a shipping container for two months until she was rescued.

“The Killer Across the Table” is a well-written, interesting and illuminating look into the mind of murderers.

• Paul Davis covers crime, espionage and terrorism.

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