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WHO done it? and WHY?

Excerpted from

The Anatomy of Motive: The FBI's Legendary Mindhunter Explores the Key to Understanding and Catching Violent Criminals

By ,

Let's look at two relatively simple, straightforward crimes. On the surface they appear very similar, but they're really very different. They even happened near each other, and in one of them I was the victim.

It wasn't long after I retired from the FBI, while we were redoing our house.

We're practically camping out, sleeping on the floor for weeks. I joke to my wife and kids that they're starting to get a sense of how the Manson family lived. Most of our furniture and nearly all of our possessions are being stored in the garage. Finally, when it's time to do the floors, we have to move out into a nearby motel.

One night the FBI gets a call from the local police; they're trying to track down Special Agent John Douglas. When they find me, a detective gets on the phone and says, "We found some of your property during an arrest here."

I say, "What property? What are you talking about?"

He says, "Well, we don't have all of it that was taken. We found a wooden box with the FBI seal on it."

"Yeah, that's mine," I confirm. It contained a special presentation Smith & Wesson .357 magnum with my credential number engraved on it, commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of FBI agents carrying service weapons. A number of special agents had them. "You have the gun?" I ask anxiously.

"No," he says. 'The gun's not here."

Oh shit, I'm thinking. Even though it was a commemorative piece, it was still capable of firing. Readers of Mindhunter may recall that shortly after I began my Bureau career as a street agent in Detroit, I lost my Smith & Wesson Model 10 revolver-had it stolen right out of the glove compartment of my Volkswagen Beetle. This was one of the worst things you could do as a new agent, especially while J. Edgar Hoover was still alive. And now, here I am, retired after what I think is a distinguished twenty-five-year career, and I'm still unwittingly supplying weapons to the enemy!

I didn't even know anything was missing. I ask the name of the suspects, and two out of three immediately ring a bell: they're the teenage sons of two of the men working on my house. One I don't know much about, but the other is a nineteen-year-old college freshman who'd been a standout high school athlete. I'm surprised, disappointed, and pissed off.

The cops ask me to go home and inventory what's missing. In addition to the gun, the missing items include a TV, a stereo, that kind of thing. Even if the suspects hadn't been caught, we'd know these were small-time amateurs from what they took. The arrest came after the police figured out a pattern: all of the people reporting similar types of burglaries knew one another. These three were stealing only from places they knew and felt comfortable in. When the cops executed a search warrant on the apartment they shared, they found much of the stolen stuff.

The motive: they wanted to furnish their apartment.

As I said, I was angry, but not as angry as the father of the nine-teen-year-old.

He tore into his son. 'Are you nuts! Not only is this man my client, he's an FBI agent. He's licensed to carry a gun and knows how to use it. What if he came home at night while you were there? You could have gotten yourself killed!"

"I wasn't really thinking," the young man sheepishly replied. The oldest of the three was the ringleader and it was clear to me that this guy just went along.

When the cops questioned him, he swore that they'd gotten worried about my .357 and thrown it into the river. The rest of the property was returned. He pleaded guilty, made restitution, and, I think, got the crap scared out of him.

From a criminal profiling perspective like mine, when you're investigating a break-in the first thing you ask, as the police did here, is, what was taken?

If it's the normal stuff-cash, credit cards, and jewelry on one level, TVs, stereos, and VCRs on another level-then you've got a straight criminal enterprise burglary and the only thing you're going to be able to do is determine the sophistication and experience of the burglar based on his choice of target and the loot taken. If you haven't already picked him up. you're not going to catch him until he surfaces in connection with another theft, as happened in my case.

Contrast this, though, with another breaking and entering, which took place only a few miles away.

In that case, a woman reported that her apartment had been broken into, and when police questioned her about what was taken, all she could determine was missing was some of her underwear. Shortly before this, there had been several incidences of women in the same garden apartment complex suspecting that a Peeping Tom had been staring into their windows. On some of the occasions in which the cops came out to investigate, they found evidence that someone had been masturbating just outside the windows in question.

Two eases of breaking and entering. The first offender (or in that case, offenders) took a gun and some valuable property. The second one didn't. And yet, while neither one of these crimes makes us happy, most of us are going to realize instinctively that the second is more dangerous. But how do we know this?

Because of motive. And how do we know from his motive - even though we haven't apprehended him and learned his identity and personal details-that he poses the greater danger? Because of the research we've done and our experience with other similar types of offenders.

A criminal enterprise burglar-someone who steals with a profit motive in mind, or in our case, simply because he wants merchandise someone else owns-is either going to persist in his unlawful pursuit or he isn't. I didn't feel this kid would. He'd faced the consequences of getting caught, and that clearly was not the turn he wanted his life to take.

On the other hand, police all too often dismiss panty thieves, or fetish burglars, as nuisance offenders-and all too often they're not. This second guy didn't take women's underwear to fence it, or because he couldn't afford to buy any of his own. Clearly his motive had to do with the sexual images it conveyed and the charge it aroused. The motive had to do with fantasy. And if we stop to consider that the evidence suggests this guy has already graduated from voyeurism to breaking and entering and theft-a far-higher-risk enterprise-there is no reason to assume he is going to be satisfied at this level. A fetish burglar is not likely to stop on his own.

Sometimes nearly identical crimes, such as burglaries, are actually the result of vastly different motivations on the part of the offenders. Recognizing these motivations is key to understanding the crime and the criminal and to evaluating the danger to society. Consider the case of one burglar I came across in my career. We'll call him Dwight. At sixteen, he, too, was arrested for burglary, and the motive was clearly the desire for money. But Dwight had also been arrested recently for assault. In fact, his first arrest came at age ten, for breaking and entering. By the time he was fourteen, his rap sheet included more B&E charges, as well as aggravated assault and grand theft-auto. He stole his first car before he was even old enough to be eligible for a learner's permit, much less a driver's license. Sent to a juvenile facility, he was consistently judged a behavior problem. Therapists and counselors described him as hostile, aggressive, impulsive, lacking both self-control and any sense of remorse. He repeatedly blamed others for his own problems and wrongdoing. He admitted using both alcohol and marijuana. He was labeled an antisocial personality.

Whereas "my" burglar came from a stable two-parent home with a mother and father who were horrified to learn of their son's crime and got involved immediately in getting him back on track, Dwight's home life was considerably more problematic. He had been left by his mother with her parents, who formally adopted him when he was four months old. The mother kept one son with her but for some reason left Dwight behind. His grandfather was in the Air Force, so they moved around a good deal; but when Dwight was nine his grandparents separated, and he stayed with his grandmother, which left him with no male role model.

He had frequent trouble in school and was suspended several times from junior high. Sadly, in his case, time would bear out a prediction many could have made from observing him early on-after years of run-ins with the law, he was ultimately sentenced to death for a horrific rape-murder.

Similar burglaries, but vastly different perpetrators. One did it because it seemed easy and he didn't think much about it. The other did it because he felt that no one else mattered.



Tags: Mental Health