We might think of the material in accredited forensic online psychology degree programs field as the stuff of television – criminal profiling in the national imagination as the work of Fox Mulder in the X-Files, or Clarice Starling who interviewed Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs. But forensic psychology is often so much more than that. Here are seven real life crimes that were solved with forensic psychology.

Andrei Chikatilo

 Andrei Chikatilo was Russia’s most infamous serial murderer. In the space of 22 years, he murdered at least 53 women and children. Chief Investigator Viktor Burakov asked psychiatrist Dr. Alexandr Bukhanovsky to draw a psychological profile of the type of man who could commit these crimes: a sexual deviate between 25 and 50, suffering from sexual inadequacy. Chikatilo blinded his victims – Burakov believed this was so they could not look at him. After hearing this profile, Chikatilo confessed in 1990.

Alieen Wournos


Aileen Wournos is the inspiration for the movie, Monster, was spurred forward by a need for affirming a relationship with her girlfriend, Tyria Moore. Each of her seven murders, occurred at periods during which Wournos was afraid she would lose Moore.

 

John Wayne Gacy Jr.


There was no question that John Wayne Gacy Jr was behind the murder of 33 young men whom he had buried under his house. The question was why. Gacy attempted to use the insanity defense, claiming that he was not in control of his actions during the time of the murders. Forensic psychology proved that several of the murders were premeditated: these were not accidental killings.

Ted Bundy

Ted Bundy was the last person you’d expect to commit a string of at least 35 murders. He was handsome, successful, educated. But when love went sour, and his girlfriend left him, he began a killing spree targeting women that looked like the girlfriend that had left him, hopping states even during the years that followed. A current girlfriend ended up filling in the psychological holes after she turned in photographs of him after a sketch had appeared in the newspaper: bondage fantasies, sexual interest waning, a secret life in California.

Radio City Music Hall Explosions

This case was integral to the development of the FBI as we know it today – dozens of explosions through the forties and fifties occurred without any evidence about the perpetrator but for the angry rants sent by the bomber. Dr. James Brussel created a criminal profile describing the man behind the explosions as an engineer who once worked at Con Edison, living with a maiden aunt or sister in the Northeast. Using this profile, the police were able to find George Metesky in Connecticut, living with two unmarried sisters. The successful profiling shaped the future of FBI criminal profiling for years to come.

The Vampire of Sacramento

In 1978, a woman was murdered in her home under particularly ghastly circumstances: she was eviscerated, and her blood had been drained. Forensic psychologists were able to ascertain that the aggressor was small, the recipient of disability money, disorganized, undernourished, and likely a paranoid psychotic. Because there were bloody footprints left at the scene of crime, they decided he was without a car, and local. The killer struck once more, three days later, killed three more people. From this profile, police were able to arrest Richard Trenton Chase, an unemployed, carless man with a history of institutionalization. According to his calendar, Chase had intended to murder another 44 people, because he believed his blood was turning to sand, and he needed the blood of others to survive.

Stewart Wilken

South African killer Stewart Wilken also targeted two particular groups of victims: children and adult female prostitutes. But it was only through psychology that the two groups were connected to one killer. Sergeant Derrick Norsworthy of the Murder and Robbery Unit of the South African Police, who had been trained in psychological profiling, had brought Wilken in for questioning after the death of Wilken’s daughter, Wuane. Wilken was transfixed by the picture of Norsworthy’s daughter on his desk. As Norsworthy continued the line of question, telling Wilken that he knew that he had killed both of the children, he did not break eye contact with the picture. Finally, Wilken confessed.

By the end of Wilken’s trial, it was discovered that he had murdered at least ten people. Forensic psychologists have determined that he targeted children because he had been abused as a child, and was allegedly hoping to save children from that same abuse by sending them to God, and prostitutes, because his mother had abandoned him, and his wife had turned to prostitution after Wuane’s birth.

Criminal profiling is, of course, not a perfect art. But then again, the human mind isn’t perfectly fathomable either. As the above demonstrates however, forensic psychology is an important element of law enforcement – and if it saves even one life, isn’t that worth it?

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