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Book Review   |    
Profiles in Murder: An FBI Legend Dissects Killers and Their Crimes
Kenneth E. Fletcher, Ph.D.
Psychiatric Services 1999; doi:
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by Russell Vorpagel as told to Joseph Harrington; New York City, Plenum Press, 1998, 300 pages, $26.95

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A blurb on the cover flap of this book promises, "You will learn more about the actual art of profiling than you hoped for." Nothing could be further from the truth. Not even a complete novice in the scientific art of profiling murderers would gain much from reading this muddled piece of writing.

The first author, Russell Vorpagel, is a retired member of the FBI behavioral science profiling unit. Between profiling murderers, Mr. Vorpagel apparently used to run training sessions for law enforcement officials across the country. A typical training session provides the frame for the stories in this book. Unfortunately, the second author, who actually wrote the book, has an excruciatingly unreadable style. Together the authors have cobbled together a fairly unreadable book.

Vorpagel repeatedly insists that only members of the FBI behavioral science profiling unit are qualified to profile murderers. Consequently, he reveals very little about actual profiling procedures. Instead, scattered throughout the book are such pithy observations as, "If a criminal profiler is told that a teenager is a bed wetter, plays with matches, and tortures animals, he can predict the potential for future sociopathic homicides." Elsewhere we are told, "Overkill or excessive assault to the face often is an attempt to depersonalize the victim. Destruction of the face may indicate the victim resembles or represents a person who has caused the offender psychological trauma." Nowhere does he present substantive evidence for such assertions, if, indeed, it exists.

Rather than explaining profiling in any depth, the authors decided to write a book of thrilling, true detective stories. Unfortunately, the book does not succeed even on that level. What little detective work gets described is often relegated to the background. Assuming the reader can get past the ghastly writing, the book becomes a series of grisly murder stories, accompanied by sometimes gruesome and frequently poorly developed photographs.

This book is not the place to learn anything about profiling murderers. And if you want to be thrilled, read a good murder mystery.

Dr. Fletcher is assistant professor of psychiatry and director of the behavioral sciences research core at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester.




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