Robert K Ressler

Robert K Ressler is a criminologist in private practice and the Director of the Forensic Behavioral Services, an organisation dedicated to training, lecturing, consultation and expert witness testimony. Mr. Ressler is an expert on violent criminal offenders, particularly in the area of serial and sexual homicide. He is a 20 year veteran of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), serving sixteen years in the FBI's Behavioral Science Unit as a Supervisory Special Agent and Criminologist, retiring in 1990. He innovated many of the programs which led to the formulation of the FBI's National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime. Mr. Ressler's work has been the inspiration for many books and films including The Red Dragon, Silence Of The Lambs, Copycat, and The X Files. Darren Rea spoke with him as the first three seasons of The X-Files were due to be repackaged and reissued on DVD...

Darren Rea: It's long been said that your work, while at the FBI, was the inspiration for Fox Mulder's character in The X-Files. How did you feel about that?

Robert K Ressler: Well, Chris Carter has stated on several occasions publicly, that my book was used as one of the basic inspirations for the concept of The X-Files idea. In other words the FBI Behavioral Science Unit, which I wrote about in Whoever Fights Monsters - which followed my experiences in the behavioural science unit - dealt in the types of areas of analysis and criminal profiling that Chris Carter took off on in The X-Files. He was very clever in that he didn't write his scripts along the lines of the Behavioral Science Unit, but to give him more freedom of expression he created The X-Files section of the FBI that is none existent. Although, I hasten to add that while I have been involved in criminal profiling, I've never investigated aliens or anything of that kind [laughs].

DR: Why is it that perfectly normal people seem to be fascinated by serial killers? It's something that they are repulsed by, but at the same time are strangely interested in. Why do you think that is?

RKR: I think it's the idea that it's a forbidden area that people are afraid of. I always equate it to moths around an open flame. If you've ever been camping you'll see that moths come closer and closer to the light and some of them keep spinning around the flame, others fly into the flame and I think those are your serial killers - they get too close and get hurt and their attraction is fatal.

DR: What was it that attracted you into this field?

RKR: As a kid I was really interested in horror movies - Frankenstein, the Wolfman, Dracula and all that X-Files sort of material. When I was a kid back in the '40s, a lot of that was kept away from you because there were age limits to stop kids from getting in to see these type of films.

As I got closer to adolescence, I became more interested in detective work and law enforcement. When I reached the university level I majored in Criminology, when I entered the US Army as a young man I immediately gravitated towards the Criminal Investigation Division (CID) and then from there I went to the FBI and while there I found myself getting into the FBI Behavioral Science Unit.

DR: You've interviewed many famous serial killers over your career, including Ted Bundy and Charles Manson, is there anything about these individuals that you admire?

RKR: Admire is probably not the word I'd use, but I am somewhat in awe of their ability to get away with their crimes for so long. It becomes a challenge for me, and people like me, to stop that cycle. You're not really admiring them as much as you are in awe that they are able to commit these crimes in sequence over a period of time.

DR: Do you find that when they are finally caught that a lot of them are relieved to have been captured, or do they not realise that what they are doing is wrong?

RKR: The ones that don't realise what they are doing is wrong - the ones I call the disorganised types - are basically psychotic individuals and are unaware of the difference between right and wrong. But the great majority of them are the organised types. These know the difference between right and wrong, and they know what they are doing is wrong and continue to do it.

DR: Is there any possibility of rehabilitation, or do you think that given half a chance these individuals would re-offend?

RKR: Absolutely. They would, because they have no capacity for remorse or guilt. The disorganised are mentally ill and the organised have psychopathic personalities and they know the difference between right and wrong, but they choose to do what is wrong. They do it for their own gratification, they feel that their satisfaction, sexual or otherwise, is paramount and transcends the rights of their victim.

People like this - the ones that are more candid and honest - I've had them tell me in interviews that there fantasies are still alive and well and that if they were released they would re-offend. One guy told me: "If society is stupid enough to let me go, I definitely will do it again."

A lot of these people, if they're caught in their 20's or 30's and are in prison in their 40's and 50's, I think the ones I've had contact with acknowledge the fact that they're not fit to live in society. They become institutionalised. They become comfortable in a penitentiary setting and they do very well.

DR: You must have experienced some things that would take most people to the edge of insanity. How do you cope with this?

RKR: I sat across the table from a man who was killing to drink human blood which he would mix with body organs in a blender. He would drink this brew in order to, he claimed, sustain his life. That one was organised and psychotic, but I interviewed another "vampire" who was a sexual psychopath and who would rape women and during the rape he would extract their blood with a syringe and put it into a cup and drink it. He claimed that the blood was an aphrodisiac. They all do things for different reasons, all of which are off the charts from normal reality.

DR: With killers like the vampire inspired murderers are any of them reliving a fantasy that they've seen on TV or in the movies? And if so do you think that the media is in any way to blame?

RKR: I don't think so. These people are pathological and anything will incite them, but some certainly have focussed on film to satisfy themselves and fuel their fantasies.

Jeffrey Dahmer, who killed 18 young men, told me that he was a great fan of the film Hellraiser. Unleashing the demons from Hell and maiming people and all that sort of thing, was very exciting to him. But that really came after his pathology. In other words it did not create it, it just fuelled the fires of his original pathology.

DR: Do you think that shows like CSI: Crime Scene Investigation and detective shows, which inform viewers how murders were committed and how criminals are caught, may aid a lot of serial killers in covering up their crimes for a longer period of time? That having some knowledge of how the establishment works can keep them one step ahead of the law?

RKR: There are different types of criminals and most of those that have become serial offenders are very strongly impulse driven and fantasy driven. The ones that I've had experience with - if there's anything in common, it's the fact that they believe that they are never going to be caught. For some reason they believe that they are above the law. I think that's part of their omnipotence that they develop - that they think they are smarter than everyone. These don't really study up on how to commit the perfect murder.

It's the one time offender, the one guy who kills his wife for example, who may well be inspired by that sort of thing. I've been to crime sites were attempts have been made to destroy evidence to confound the police. I know of one individual who felt compelled to bite his victims. But he knew enough about forensic evidence to cut away the bite marks to deny the police that piece of evidence.

I've seen cases where bodies have been set on fire to destroy DNA evidence and one individual, a serial killer who sexually assaulted his victims after he had killed them, would then bath the bodies in a bath tub to remove any forensic evidence. But guess what? He forgot to let the water out of the bath? And the evidence was there for the police to examine. Even the smartest ones can make mistakes.

DR: Which crimes in your eyes are the most difficult to comprehend?

RKR: I've worked on cases that involved vampires, cannibals, werewolves and people who thought they were possessed, as well as satanic and occult type cases. The ones that are the most difficult to deal with, are the ones were the killers seek out children as their victims and those that totally destroy the bodies.

We had a case in Chicago where William Heirens killed a six year old girl and cut her body up into a number of parts and deposited the arms, legs, head and torso in sewers in the neighbourhood. Some killers go so far beyond what has gone before that they transcend traditional murder and it's a little difficult to comprehend sometimes.

DR: Are you a religious man? Do you believe in God?

RKR: Yes, I believe in God. I also believe in Satan. Certain people believe in God, but they deny Satan - they believe in good, but deny evil. That's inconsistent. If you accept one you have to accept both. I have seen many cases that defy explanation on a normal, rational, human level and it can only come from Hell. I believe that evil possession is a very real possibility. If you look at movies like The Exorcist, and things like that, they all come from real life experiences.

DR: Do you think that you could commit the perfect crime and get away with it?

RKR: [Laughs] I think I could come close, but thankfully I don't even choose to fantasise about that. To be honest I don't think I'd want to be the one that got away with it.

DR: If you weren't in this line of work what would you be doing?

RKR: That's an interesting question. Er... I'd probably be a gardener - dealing with gardens and floral arrangements. I'm very interested in water gardens where the only predators are the herons that come to eat my coy. [Laughs] I don't know if you can equate that to the job I finally ended up doing.

DR: Thank you for your time.

With thanks to Nina Criswick at DSA and Bella Gubay at Greenroom Digital

Seasons 1-3 of The X-Files are being repackaged and reissued on the 11 October 2004

Buy season one of The X-Files on DVD for £24.49 (RRP: £34.99) by clicking here
Buy season two of The X-Files on DVD for £24.49 (RRP: £34.99) by clicking
Buy season three of The X-Files on DVD for £24.49 (RRP: £34.99) by clicking

Buy books written by Robert K Ressler by clicking here

Click here to visit Robert K Ressler's website

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