Profiling The Zodiac Message Board: General Zodiac Discussion: Profiling The Zodiac

By Joe Harris (Joeharris) ( - on Tuesday, April 30, 2002 - 03:38 pm:

I've never placed much, of any, stock in the "science" of profiling. It's nothing more than a fanciful parlor game that can never substitute for good, old-fashioned detective work. Pounding the pavement, searching for clues at the scene of the crime (life's been good to me so far...uh, sorry...pure reflex), forensics, etc., all work together to solve crimes. Afterwards, detectives can compare their suspect in custody to the profile and have a few laughs. I also have to wonder how many true perps are overlooked and remain free because they don't fit the profile.

I've read all of John Douglas' books, and while I can't argue with his crime-fighting efforts, his passive-aggressive egomania sometimes makes his books a difficult read. He writes of his many successes, but I wonder how many cases have been compromised, even failed miserably, by a fouled-up profile. Douglas may think it's cute for detractors of profiling to refer to it as "the Voodoo Science", but that description may not be very far off. To me, any of us could use a ouija board and be just as accurate. Unless a profile can give us a perp's full name; Social Security Number; home and work addresses; home, work, and beeper numbers; birthday; height; weight; hair color; any scars and/or other distinguishing characteristics; favorite color; and his favorite Beatle, I just don't see it as a very viable crime-solving tool.

Douglas' chapter on profiling the Zodiac in "The Cases That Haunt Us" did not, to put it mildly, impress me at all.

Okay, having said that, does anyone believe that, with the information and contradictions we have at hand, a reasonably accurate profile of Zodiac can be put together by the FBI (or anybody)? Which suspect might it most closely resemble? (Everyone's own "favorite" suspect, I'm guessing.)

By Judy (Judy) ( - on Tuesday, April 30, 2002 - 03:54 pm:

Joe, who is your favorite suspect?


By Douglas Oswell (Dowland) ( - on Tuesday, April 30, 2002 - 04:39 pm:

See my essay at

By Jake (Jake) ( - on Tuesday, April 30, 2002 - 05:03 pm:

Joe Harris wrote:
"Okay, having said that, does anyone believe that, with the information and contradictions we have at hand, a reasonably accurate profile of Zodiac can be put together by the FBI (or anybody)? Which suspect might it most closely resemble? (Everyone's own "favorite" suspect, I'm guessing.)"

A tip of the square hood for pointing out the key factor of contradictions. Any profiler is going to have to decide what to accept and what to throw out, and that varies not only theory-to-theory, but also theorist-to-theorist.

If you're interested, Mike Kelleher's profile is posted over at my site.


By Joe Harris (Joeharris) ( - on Tuesday, April 30, 2002 - 05:51 pm:

Judy, I am still at the "if the suspect seems too good to be true, he probably is" stage. I can't shake the feeling that the real Zodiac just might be someone no one suspects, or is even aware of.

While there are moments I sincerely believe ALA is Zodiac, there are other moments I think, "Wouldn't it be too bizarre for words if Teddy K is the Zodiac?" Then, I'll come across someone's well thought out case for another suspect, which leaves me very confused. But with so much focus on ALA, he's usually the suspect I start with.

If this sounds too wishy-washy to you, Judy, think how I feel!

By William Baker (Bill_Baker) ( - on Tuesday, April 30, 2002 - 09:33 pm:

Joe, your remarks above regarding the role of profiling in criminal investigations betray your obvious ignorance of the subject. In short, you don't know what the hell you're talking about. Profiling certainly is not a substitute for good old-fashioned detective work; it's not supposed to be. And if you expect it to offer all you would ever need to know about a suspect in order to be a valuable crime-solving tool as you say, then you wouldn't need "good, old-fashioned detective work" at all, now would you? I have worked, and solved, scores of murder cases, including serial killings, the vast majority without benefit of a formal profiling of who we were looking for, using "good, old-fashioned detective work." Nevertheless, I have enormous respect for the profiling work of the FBI because I know it does, more often than not, yield valuable insight. It is an investigative guide or aid -- tool, if you will -- not a panacea, and certainly not foolproof. Read all the books you want (from the comfort of your armchair), form whatever uninformed opinions you care to, but don't speak about them in terms of how real detectives regard profiling unless you had the advantage of real experience in its use. Fanciful parlor game, indeed!

Sorry folks, its uncommon for me to let someone like this ------- get to me. I apologize, not to him, but to the rest of you. And Joe, don't bother trying to goad me into a pissing contest. For one, you'd lose. And for another, I won't waste my time arguing with an idiot.

By Ray N (Ray_N) ( - on Tuesday, April 30, 2002 - 11:39 pm:

Bill, you sounded like Dirty Harry just then! I was waiting for you to call him a punk.

By Douglas Oswell (Dowland) ( - on Wednesday, May 01, 2002 - 01:27 am:

Go ahead, Joe; I don't have any axes to grind. But no more insulting of innocent third parties, okay? You might hurt their feelings.

By Joe Harris (Joeharris) ( - on Wednesday, May 01, 2002 - 02:08 am:

Mr. Baker, first and absolutely foremost, I apologize for having offended you. Please believe me, I had no intention of doing so. And I have no intention of goading you into any kind of contest.

Just as you saw fit to state your opinion to my initial post, I'd like to react, as shortly and as sweetly as I can. Again, please believe me when I say this will be my absolute last word in my defense.

Of course, I don't believe for a second profiles are the sole, or main, criteria for arresting a suspect. I plead guilty to, perhaps, far too flip in my initial post. Profiles can be a terrific aid in eliminating suspects, or weeding out crackpot confessors. That alone makes a profile more valuable than many other pieces of evidence. My perspective is that the profile best comes into play, and is most useful, only after crime scene evidence and forensics begin to present a clearer picture of what happened. Again, my flippancy was unfortunate.

Please do not think I'm some kind of armchair Sherlock Holmes. Frankly, to assume that offends me as much, or more, than I obviously offended you. I did not want to get into these on this board, since it's quite personal, but it might matter to someone the next time I type something offensive.

Upon graduating from college, I moved here to beautiful suburban DC, where I accepted (gratefully, I might add) a position at the Department of Justice. After 15 years there, I moved over to the Pentagon (again, grateful and proud to assist my country in some small way), where I worked for 10 years. During these 25 years of service, I'll just say that tracking down "unfavorables" (usuallt by computer from our offices, I grant you), was a bug part of my job description.

Everything I said in my previous post about John Douglas are things I've said to his face, too. His co-author's mother-in-law lives in my apartment building. She asnd I have been good friends since practically the day I moved here out of college. Her daughter, son-in-law, and John visit whenever they get a chance, and I've gotten to lmow them well. John and I banter back and forth about profiling like we would banter about our favorite baseball teams. He's the expert, I work with profiling, too, and we just disagree about some of the finer points. But we never take it personally!!!

Look, I'm not searching for violins here, but when the plane crashed into the Pentagon 9/11, my office was dead center of the crash sight. Eight of my co-workers in my specific office died. I nearly died, as well. Four months in the hospital, rehab for God only knows how long, and so on. I already had diabetes, arthritis, and clinical depression, and they've conspired to prolong my physical and psychological pain ad infinitim. Both legs were crushed, my face had to be rebuilt from scratch, and a lot of internal damage was sustained. Every few minutes, it seems, I'm reaching for some of the 21 medicines I have to takre every day. Nothing, though, can take away the guilt and heartache inside me from watching all these people, my friends, die.

It's close to 5 AM, and I'm typing this response to you, Mr. Baker. Another sleepless night for me. I have to leave for rehab in about an hour.

I do not, and will never, consider you an -------, Mr. Baker. You have the right to consider me one, though. I will never think you may have overreacted in the heat of the moment to my earlier post, nor do I think you are unjustified in your opinion of me. I am an idiot, and I have a real note from one of my doctors verifying my brain damage. (I am NOT being flip here, The note is real.)

But I do hope you will take this information about me and consider it for a moment before you lash out at me. I am NOT trying to goad you into an exchange of any kind. I am just trying to give you some perspective on me. We BOTH have backgrounds in law enforcement, though yours is, obviously, hands on, while I've always been a desk guy.

I have no problem at all with you calling me any name you want, or dancing on my grave. I can't force you to respect my opinions, or me, for that matter. But, I am being completely honest when I tell you I am sorry for having offended you with the post. I was just tossing something out to the board about profiling. All I ask is please don't judge me too harshly without knowing more about me. I'm on your side, really, and I've got the broken body and broken spirit to show for it.

By Sylvie (Sylvie14) ( - on Wednesday, May 01, 2002 - 06:11 am:

I thought you started off a perfectly good post in the first place.
I think this portrays exactly why it is important to refrain from calling anybody anything derrogatory.
Good luck and God bless.

By Zander Kite (Zk) ( - on Wednesday, May 01, 2002 - 09:09 am:

I can see that I'm not the only one offended by the righteous clairvoyant known as the "over-profiler". Notice the "over". We don't even need to speculate: Let's look at some cases. GRK. The over eagerness to over-profile in that case is overly obvious. An obsession was created over this cabbie based largely on him fitting the profile. And when this guy injected himself in the investigation, well that really blew the detectives away, it had to be him, it's right there in the profile. So this guy is almost crippled and they've got him under surveillance, and there are still similar murders occuring at this time, but still they make excuses, because it just has to be him. In my opinion, this diversion allowed the real killer to go hog-wild. There were also some lawsuits in that case because the "overprofilers" bum-rushed this ""suspect"" in Gestapo fashion. I find this form of investigation offensive, because tea and cupcakes aren't at stake but peoples lives are.
Now look at the Unabomber case. Part of the "overprofile" read that the suspect was nearly without doubt around the age of 28 at the time of the first bomb(1978). Way off, of course. Kaczynski was already sitting on the suspect list, from the Chicago area and having taught at a college where two bombs were placed. I'm not saying that they would have reeled him in, but the "28" deal likely put him on the back-burner. But at least they would have had a chance at catching him thru shoe leather instead of relying on some "turn-coat" solution.

By Drake (Drake) ( - on Wednesday, May 01, 2002 - 09:47 am:

Profiling is an art not a science, and as such, is open to interpretation. It is not to be used as a "'turn-coat' soulution." Only as a primer for law enforcement to look at regarding who MAY be responsible. I understand your point Zander, but don't throw the baby out with the bathwater. I'm sure you know that for every case you site there are myriad more that were solved based on a criminal profile.

By Peter H (Peter_H) ( - on Wednesday, May 01, 2002 - 10:12 am:

"Turn-coat"? Never heard that term. Except in reference to Benedict Arnold. What does it mean?

By Zander Kite (Zk) ( - on Wednesday, May 01, 2002 - 12:21 pm:

If I'm not mistaken "turn-coat" is a betrayal action, I was refering to Kaczynski being turned in by his family as a "turn-coat" solution. Just to properly explain myslelf, I don't have a problem with reasonable "profiling". Of course I believe detectives should use knowledge gained thru experience to move forward. I do have a problem when profiling becomes a romance, you know, we're gonna put a face on this ghost, thru the mist I can even see his reflection in the mirror. I do agree with Joes initial post that started this thread. That's a very sensible post. I would also like to see the voodoo machine known as the polygraph thrown right out the window. Drake, start naming those cases. Not to be sarcastic, but I can't think of any at the moment. Look at the Atlanta child murder case. A group of detectives experienced in serial murder went down there to help out. They suggested a stake-out of the bridges there, because the amateur-hour serial killer there had been puppeted by the press into "dependably" using a workable area of bridgework as a body-recovery site. The case was wrapped after that. They had a decent enough "profile" but shoe leather, unaided by any "profile", was necessary to end the 22-month case.

By Ed N (Ed_N) ( - on Wednesday, May 01, 2002 - 12:49 pm:

Now, my impression is that early attempts at profiling insisted that serial killers got their start in their teens or early 20's, couldn't hold down a regular job, had problems with women, had no higher education, etc, etc? Then we had TK, a college professor who got his start in his 30's. Then there is Ridgeway, the GRK. He held the same job for 32 years, and was married (and had kids? I don't recall). There was another serial killer in Seattle arrested a couple of years back for murdering prostitutes. He was in his late 40's and a family man. So, since these murderers don't fit the classic profile (in other words, they did not break but rather destroyed the mold, so to speak), it makes me wonder about how many killers got away with murder, Z included, because the early profilers made certain dogmatic assertions... or am I off the mark here?

By Zander Kite (Zk) ( - on Wednesday, May 01, 2002 - 02:40 pm:

No, Ed, I would say that you are right on the mark. Ridgway is a good example of a profile-breaker in many ways. I believe he has a teenage son, not sure ? What's funny is that he was seen, followed, and reported to the police after picking up and struggling with a prostie that was never seen again, right in the middle of some serious GRK activity. My guess is that the police put him to the back-burner because he did not fit the "profile" and/or they were focusing on other(s) that they felt better fit it. The other Seattle killer, you mention is probably Yates. He used a flashy Corvette as an abduction vehicle? Can't be the sharpest knife in the drawer doing that. Imagine if Zodiac had done that?

By Linda (Linda) ( - on Wednesday, May 01, 2002 - 03:24 pm:

Ed... TK started his known UNABOMBER episodes in his 30's... Pinpointed detail prior to that remains somewhat of a mystery...(and if the FBI knows, they're releasing very little)...

By Ed N (Ed_N) ( - on Wednesday, May 01, 2002 - 04:13 pm:

Quite right, Linda, however, anything he may have done prior to that (which includes presumed Z activity for those who adhere to that theory) is in the realm of pure speculation until something concrete is proven in a court of law. Since I won't engage in speculation regarding TK before he became the Unabomber regarding this line of inquiry (ie, classic profiling versus fact), but rather take into account the known facts for which he is currently spending a much-needed vacation in jail, TK breaks the mold because we know for a fact that he started his criminal career in his 30's. Even if TK were Z, he'd still break the mold, because he was in his mid to late 20's at the time, and a little too old for the classic profile.

Zander: why the cops sat on their hands while Ridgeway may have continued his murder spree elsewhere is beyond me. It seems that the GRK murders ended abruptly after Ridgeway was first questioned. While that may not have enabled them to pinpoint exactly who, it should have given them an idea. To wit (ca. 1984):

Cop 1: "Hey, did you notice that the GRK murders suddenly stopped the day after we questioned that Ridgeway guy?"

Cop 2: "And so what's your point? He doesn't fit the profile. He's married and has held the same job for over a decade, and everyone knows that serial killers aren't like that. Get with the program, dude. I think maybe GRK just burned out, was arrested for another crime or even killed by one of his would-be victims. Maybe he committed suicide. So, who's next on the list to interrogate and where are the donuts?"

OK, maybe it didn't go like that, but some alarms should have gone off and red flags should have popped up when they realized that no more murders attributable to GRK occurred in the months following his questioning. It wouldn't have taken a rocket scientist to figure that maybe they questioned the actual killer, one who didn't fit the profile, and scared him off, nor would it have taken a great deal of effort to figure out who they questioned in the preceding months.

We know that Z was essentially the first of his kind, and doesn't really fit nicely into any pigeonholes. While Kelleher and Van Nuys made some interesting observations regarding Z, I'm not certain that can be relied upon to build an accurate profile. When we compare GRK, TK and others to Z, I think that classic profiling doesn't work here. If such is the case, where does one go from here?

By Drake (Drake) ( - on Wednesday, May 01, 2002 - 09:52 pm:

To name a few off the top of my head: Richard Trenton Chase, Wayne Williams, Larry Bell, Ted Bundy, NYC's Mad Bomber...

By Oddball (Oddball) ( - on Thursday, May 02, 2002 - 02:51 am:

Joe: you're entitled to your opinions, and I don't think you had anything to apologize for. My best wishes to you.


By Judy (Judy) ( - on Thursday, May 02, 2002 - 04:24 am:

Joe, you don't sound "wishy-washy". There are
so many uhknowns, contradictions, etc in this case- it is hard to stay focused on just one

I agree with Oddball-afterall this is America, and you can express your thoughts freely- at least, in theory.

You certainly do not owe an apology to Det. Baker,
I think he owes you one. His response to your post
was way over the top.

I take issue with your doctor. I see no signs of
brain damage-your posts seem to indicate your
mind is functioning on a very normal level.

I don't pretend to know what you are going through. But, you seem to be a strong guy, and
although it will be a long, difficult journey- I
believe you will make it. You may never get over
the cruel blow that was dealt to you-but you will
get through it. You must keep the faith-even in
days that seem the most hopeless.

Joe, I will be thinking of you. Take care.


By Joe Harris (Joeharris) ( - on Thursday, May 02, 2002 - 04:59 am:

Thank you for the kind thoughts and words, everyone. They are truly appreciated. Life won't be easy for me anymore, but I'll give it my best shot. The kindness of strangers helps very much.

Thanks very much again.

By Douglas Oswell (Dowland) ( on Thursday, May 02, 2002 - 05:21 am:

Joe, the fact that you survived should serve as the focal point for a determination that it shouldn't have been in vain. You might take your cue from David Gelernter, who was badly maimed by Ted Kaczynski, but who is now an internationally-recognized figure, while Kaczynski wallows in prison.

By Peter H (Peter_H) ( - on Thursday, May 02, 2002 - 08:34 am:


Thanks for the clarification. I read your post as referring to profiling as "turn-coat". I don't know that authorities were _relying_ on someone betraying him: I think they may have thought it more likely that a more neutral party would recognize him from the publications and profile. That would include a far wider range of possibilities than betrayal by someone close.

By Zander Kite (Zk) ( - on Thursday, May 02, 2002 - 02:47 pm:

Drake, your entitled to your opinion, but I just don't see how profiles reeled in any of the killers you listed. I had just posted on Wayne Williams and how they staked-out the bridges in order to catch him in the act. Bundy was captured mainly because one of his victims escaped, combined with an arrest for possessing burglary tools. Chase was totally wacked out of his mind and left a lot of evidence. The Mad bomber was caught with the help of a disgruntled letter he sent and signed. I don't know who Larry Bell is. One of the problems with this argument though is that it becomes a word game on how broad a label "profile" is. For example, as part of a "profile" you might include this serial killer will continue "his thing" until captured or killed. Then you can say "AHA, the profile helped us catch Wayne Williams because it told us he would continue his activity and quite probably continue to use the bridges as "drop-off sites." That's a rather simple example and even a bad one, but I don't believe any serial killer has answered a knock on the door to see a cop holding a "profile" folder in his hand saying "We got you, now." The problem I have is when the police put things in a "profile" that are too much guesses. That's really what I mean by the term "over-profile". To sum it up: Sure, use knowledge gained thru experience and put together a list of likely qualities based on the behavoir of the killer sought etc.. But don't make guesses and then totally botch a case because of it.