The fact that there are high-profile cases such as the Washington, D.C. Sniper (also known as the Beltway Sniper) in which the profile was more erroneous than correct, have not helped to gain any notoriety of the right sort for the profession. Throughout this paper, with the use of books and the internet, an attempt will be made to explain the steps involved in building a profile for a criminal, as well as what was correct and incorrect about the profile in the case of the Beltway Sniper.
Psychological profiling, also known as criminal profiling and offender profiling, is the attempt to understand the mind of the criminal in order to predict what might happen next. In doing so the ultimate goal is, of course, to catch the criminal responsible and bring them to justice. Criminal profiling, though not widely publicized until recently, actually has a longer history than first thought; the first major case to use it was in the 1880s, when surgeon Dr. Thomas Bond delivered to Scotland Yard a profile on serial murderer Jack the Ripper (Ramsland, 2012). The process would gain in popularity over the years, into the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, going from an experimental area of the Federal Bureau of Investigation to a recognized and somewhat respected branch called the Behavioral Sciences Unit (Ramsland, 2012). Formed in 1974, its members still relied on informal studies, intuition, and common sense to see patterns in some of the most heinous crimes throughout the country (Winerman, 2004). Though by no means were the other branches and areas of criminal investigation discounted, it was found that in delving into the psyche of a criminal, some attempt could be made to recognize a pattern, which could then be used in an attempt to discern what might happen next (Ramsland, 2012). The field continues to evolve and be of use to investigators today.
It should be noted, however, that profiling is still considered more art than science. Part of the