It’s with deep sadness that I share the news of Robert Ressler’s passing, who died in his sleep this morning at the age of 76. Officially, Robert was known as a “former FBI agent, author, and lecturer,” but he was so much more than that: he was a founding father of what’s now known as the Behavioral Analysis Unit. He was instrumental in constructing, and contributing to, the knowledge base of serial offender behavior in the early days of criminal profiling.
While Robert coined the phrase “serial killer,” to me his most significant contribution was the creation of VICAP, the Violent Criminal Apprehension Program. VICAP is a computerized database designed to link seemingly disparate crimes across the United States; law enforcement agencies, large and small, are encouraged to complete a multipage form detailing aspects of the homicide they are currently investigating. This data is then correlated with other, similar crimes in other cities. The significance of this is that a violent murder committed in a small town in Idaho, for example, can be linked to another murder that occurred in New Mexico ten years earlier. Prior to the creation of VICAP, a killer who killed in one town and then moved to another to evade detection could remain at lodge for decades, continuing to claim victims, because important clues he left behind at one crime scene would never be associated with other evidence he left at another.
I only spoke with Robert twice, but he worked with my friend, FBI profiler Mark Safarik, for many years. For the two decades that I’ve known Mark, he’s spoken very highly of Robert, both as a person and as a criminal profiler. He was an irreplaceable talent. After learning of his passing, I suggested that the FBI name a wing of the Academy after him–or perhaps change VICAP to the “Ressler VICAP.” Whatever they decide to do, something should be done to memorialize the groundbreaking work that Robert Ressler did in the field of violent crime–and criminal apprehension.
On a personal note, I will always cherish his comments about The 7th Victim: “As one of the founding fathers of the FBI profiling unit, I can unequivocally state that The 7th Victim sets a new standard for serial killer novels. Like Silence of the Lambs did 20 years ago, The 7th Victim redefines the genre and brings it into the 21st century. With meticulous research and dead-on accuracy, Alan Jacobson has not only written a gripping, twisting thriller, he’s created a must-read book.”