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Robert K. Ressler (February 15, 1937 – May 5, 2013) was a former FBI agent and author. He played a significant role in the psychological profiling of violent offenders in the 1970s and is often credited with coining the English term "serial killer".
Life and career
Born in Chicago, he served in the U.S. Army before joining the FBI in 1970. Ressler was recruited into the Behavioral Science Unit that deals with drawing up psychological profiles of violent offenders who typically select victims at random, such as rapists and serial killers.
In the early 1980s, Ressler helped to organize the interviews of thirty-six incarcerated serial killers in order to find parallels between such criminals' backgrounds and motives. He was also instrumental in setting up Vi-CAP (Violent Criminal Apprehension Program). This consists of a centralized computer database of information on unsolved homicides. Information is gathered from local police forces and cross-referenced with other unsolved killings across the United States. Working on the basis that most serial killers claim similar victims with a standard method (modus operandi) it hopes to spot early on when a killer is carrying out crimes in different jurisdictions. This was primarily a response to the appearance of nomadic killers who committed crimes in different areas. So long as the killer kept on the move, the police forces in each state would be unaware that there were multiple victims and would just be investigating a single homicide each, unaware that other police forces had similar crimes. Vi-CAP would help individual police forces determine if they were hunting for the same perpetrator so that they could share and correlate information with one another, increasing their chances of identifying a suspect.
Ressler retired from the FBI in 1990 and authored of a number of books about serial murder. He actively gave lectures to students and police forces on the subject of criminology, and in 1993 was brought in to London to assist in the investigation into the murders committed by Colin Ireland.
Ressler died at his home in Spotsylvania County, Virginia on Sunday May 5th, 2013 from Parkinson's Disease. He was 76 years old. He is survived by his wife Helen Grazer Ressler, his son Lt. Col. Aaron R. Ressler, daughters Allison R. Tsiumus and Betsy S. Hamlin, 3 grandchildren and 3 step grandchildren.
Books by Robert Ressler
- Sexual Homicide: Patterns and Motives (with Ann W. Burgess, John E. Douglas, Ann Wolbert Burgess) (1988)
- Whoever Fights Monsters: My Twenty Years Tracking Serial Killers for the FBI (with Tom Shachtman) (1992)
- Justice Is Served (with Tom Shachtman) (1994)
- I Have Lived In the Monster (with Tom Shachtman) (1998)
- Crime Classification Manual
- FBI Method of Profiling
- Forensic psychology
- Investigative psychology
- Offender profiling
- John E. Douglas
- Robert Ressler's official site
- Article on Ressler at the Crime Library
- Robert K Ressler interview at www.sci-fi-online.com
- Robert Ressler obituary at Fredericksburg.com