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Cold, Vacant Eyes: FBI Profiler
Scott Nicholson. Photo by Marie Freeman.
Alan Brantley has looked into the faces of
some of North America's most ruthless criminals, first as
an Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) profiler and
now as a forensic behavioral consultant.
It was while he was
undergoing officer training in the military in 1972 that
Brantley first saw the FBI headquarters in Quantico, Va.
The headquarters were just being built as he trained
nearby, and he remembers thinking how nice it would have
been to be working there instead. He applied to the FBI
after earning a masters degree in counselor education,
but a hiring freeze led to his taking a job as a
psychologist with the North Carolina Department of
Correction. Brantley worked first at Dorothea Dix
psychiatric hospital, then later worked across the street
at Central Prison in Raleigh. He characterized that time
as one of relaxing attitudes toward metal patients, and
policy changes emphasized the release of many patients.
Brantley said he later saw many of the same people, only
this time they were in prison rather than a hospital.
Part of his job was conducting analyses
for prerelease or parole hearings, dealing with inmates
with mental problems, and putting out fires
by heading off potentially dangerous situations. After
six years there, Brantley saw a television ad in which
the FBI was looking for new agents, and he joined just as
the FBI was launching its behavioral science unit. He
said he was a beneficiary of good timing, because the FBI
was starting to hire people with diverse backgrounds. He
went through about three months of training in Quantico
with the goal of being a profiler. He worked under John
Douglas, FBI agent who was believed to serve as the model
for Thomas Harris's fictional profilers.
While the term profiler
conjures up images of the agents hunting serial killers
in movies and television shows, Brantley said that
wasnt the only role of the agency. He served with
the National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime,
which was originally focused mostly on serial killers,
but also on any criminal committing serial assaults, or
on any case where there was evidence or belief that the
perpetrator might repeat the crime.
In the beginning, the mission was
the identification and tracking of serial killers,
Brantley said. At some stage, theres a
display of behavior that will lead to clues.
He said serial killers were the original focus of the
unit because many police and attorneys didnt have
the experience dealing with such unexpected crimes.
They were so horrendous, and the probability of
them repeating was so high, that prevention was a major
factor, Brantley said. The police usually have a
suspect in mind, so profiles are only created if
the well has run dry. Race and age of offenders was
difficult to profile, and any wrong information can be
used later by defense attorneys.
Brantley worked on the case of Angel Maturino Resendez,
known as The Railroad
Killer, who in some ways was the antithesis of the
cunning madman portrayed in popular drama. Resendez, who
is Hispanic, broke the conventional-wisdom serial killer
mold that said such killers stick to their own ethnic
groups. In fact, Resendez was so disorganized he escaped
detection for a couple of years, allegedly killing nine
people in widely scattered areas. Resendez eventually
caught when a policeman noticed that a murder in his
state matched those in another, with each of the crimes
taking place near a railroad. He was caught in 1999 and
is currently on Death Row in Texas.
Brantley said the role of the behavioral sciences
expanded to embrace other types of crime, particularly
with the threat of terrorism and weapons of mass
destruction. The FBI has to wade through thousands of
letters, tips, and anonymous phone calls, many of which
are false. But none can be fully discarded until they are
checked. If you look at a crime or threat, you
compare that with your information and come up with a
probability, Brantley said. Theres
always that one exception you have to worry about. The
one thing I always thought was, Dont let it
happen on my watch.
One danger for investigators is to get complacent and
overlook evidence, or to rely on a profile and avoid
looking at all possibilities. Brantley said, for that
reason, the FBI is reluctant to deliver a ready-made
profile, instead studying evidence and case materials for
connections. The way the government handles major
investigations has also changed. Brantley helped with the
investigation into the Oklahoma City bombing of a federal
building in 1996, and said there were all kinds of
wild and crazy theories in the aftermath of the
tragedy. There was talk of rounding up all the fringe or
survivalist groups who might be suspects, but Brantley
and others favored a more measured approach, fearing such
action to stir the paranoia of anti-government groups who
might then react rashly.
One of Brantleys last major cases was the D.C.
sniper hunt, when two men were arrested after a shooting
spree that killed 13 over a three-week period. That crime
really had a major effect on people in the three-state
area where the shootings occurred. Brantley was preparing
to testify in the trial of teen sniper Lee Malvo when a
plea agreement was reached.
The randomness of victimization is what scares
people, he said. If someones killing
prostitutes, people think Im not a prostitute
so I dont have to worry. But when the
victims are random, people perceive the crimes
differently and are more likely to project themselves as
potential victims. The sniper case was also an example of
the deluge of misleading tips that led to flawed
eyewitness accounts and descriptions, which hampered the
investigation and further added to the panic.
Though Brantley was in Quantico when portions of
Silence of the Lambs were filmed there, he doesnt
watch modern crime shows. He spends enough time reading
case material, so he avoids the field in his spare time.
As a researcher, Brantley had the opportunity to
interview a number of killers. Theyre not all
Dr. (Hannibal) Lector, he said, referring to the
fictional cannibalistic genius in Silence of the
Lambs. I would sit across from people who are
just plain evil, bad apples, with cold, vacant
He said most criminals are psychopathic, though some can
flip a switch and turn on the charm if
needed, but the switch can just as easily reveal the
raging face of a killer. He interviewed one man convicted
of killing two people. He had no expression other
than rage, Brantley said. I never felt
comfortable in his presence.
That same man had his case reviewed again through the
efforts of a group of death-row opponents. One of the
group members, a woman, went to the prison and told the
man about the review, thinking she was delivering good
news and would receive a show of gratitude. The killer
was separated from her by security glass and spoke to her
from a telephone. He told the woman, If I could get
my hands around your throat, I would kill you.
Brantley interviewed the killer shortly afterward, and
the killer said the woman had laughed in response, yet
the killer was serious. There was this anger in his
face, Brantley said.
Bundy, who confessed to 28 murders and may have killed as
many as 100, Brantley said the killer went undetected for
so long because in those days law enforcement agencies
didnt communicate with one another, and criminals
could escape detection simply by going to the next state
or even the next town. Brantley said Bundy wasnt
the suave genius the press sometimes made him out to be,
though he did possess an instinct for self-preservation
and self-aggrandizement. Brantley said Bundy tried
numerous different tactics when killing, even delving
into cannibalism or sexual deviation, in his search for a
Brantley said it is often such thrill-seeking that leads
serial killers to repeat their crimes. Its a
popular misconception that killers are tripped up because
they want to get caught. Brantley said most
of them dont want to get caught because they want
to continue killing. Brantley learned that most criminals
simply take advantage of opportunity, and such basic
security features as lights and barking dogs can deter
most of them. The best way to avoid being a victim is
simply locking the door, he said.
Brantley also believes that serial killers werent
an invention of the twentieth century. He said myths of
vampires, demons, and werewolves grew from gruesome
murders, with people consigning the deaths to
supernatural forces because that was easier to
understand. They couldnt accept that another
human being could do that, he said.
--Copyright 2005 by Scott Nicholson
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Nicholson is publishing books and comics though Haunted
Computer Books, serving as U.S. imprint of Ghostwriter
Publications. Check out their titles at http://hauntedcomputerbooks.blogspot.com. He has signed copies of The
Skull Ring or Drummer Boy for $9.95 plus $2
shipping, as well as other books available through
www.hauntedcomputer.com. His e-books The Red Church,
The Skull Ring, Burial to Follow, Ashes, The First,
and Flowers are available through Amazon and
Smashwords.com. Digital comic books, including the Dirt
and Grave Conditions series, are available through
his Web site and DriveThru Comics. The novels Drummer
Boy and Disintegration will be released in
April and May 2010. For writers, he operates the freebie
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