Psychopaths and sociopaths are popular psychological terms when describing violent monsters which haunt our worst nightmares. In modern culture, characters such as Hannibal Lecter from the movie “Silence of the Lambs” and even Norman Bates in the Alfred Hitchcock classic “Psycho” have painted an image of what real monsters could look like into our minds. But what makes them who they are? And can we learn from them to prevent or capture the serial killers of tomorrow?
In the 1970s, the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) started a specialised unit to monitor and record the behavioural characteristics of serial killers. Since then, the art and craft of criminal profiling has become a household name, largely due to books, documentaries and the recent television hit show “Mindhunter”. Currently showing on Netflix, the show is based in part on the writings of best-selling author Mark Olshaker and legendary FBI profiler John Douglas.
Douglas was one of several pioneering FBI agents who basically invented computer-based, modern-day criminal profiling in the 1980s. His research has aided law enforcement across the globe in capturing some of the world’s most dangerous killers. But could it solve the most infamous cold case in the world?
The Jack the Ripper murders were a series of prostitute killings that took place in London, England, in the autumn of 1888. Nobody knows for sure just how many victims the Ripper claimed, but his usual calling card came in the shape of a horrifically mutilated corpse. The murders created a scandal that struck right at the heart of the British establishment and for over 100 years, a mountain of research and countless books have attempted to unmask the elusive fiend – but to no avail.
In 1988, John Douglas and Roy Hazelwood of the FBI were asked to use their acquired knowledge and collected data to prepare a psychological profile of the Ripper, made especially for the television documentary “The Secret Identity of Jack the Ripper”.
Taking all the known evidence, eyewitness statements and police reports, they looked once again at the Jack the Ripper murders. They concluded the following features of the profile:
What is interesting about the profile is that it closely resembled another profile carried out at the time of the murders by Dr Thomas Bond. In 1888, Dr Bond, who had carried out the autopsy on the Ripper’s final victim, Mary Jane Kelly, also looked at the previous victims and wrote down his thoughts about the type of individual that the police should be looking for.
His report on 10 November 1888 described the following features of the murderer:
It is perhaps unsurprising to find small differences in the profiling from 1888 and 1988. At the same time, certain features in the perception of what sort of person Jack the Ripper was have remained the same.
It would seem from the expert’s point of view that Jack the Ripper was an unremarkable middle-aged man and a resident of the Whitechapel area. He kept himself to himself, had no real close ties with people and his behaviour, although considered odd by those who knew him, would not be enough to arouse suspicion. His brutality and hatred lay buried beneath a mask of normality until he suffered from a low bout of self-esteem and on more than several occasions, gave way to murder.
When faced with a criminal profile of the Ripper, it becomes clear why the police of 1888 were unable to catch him. They were searching for an obvious looking madman, but the real killer was quite the opposite.