Many people have a dark and morbid fascination with true crime and the people behind these horrible acts. This curiosity often stems from questions that are difficult to answer: How does a person become a criminal? Are criminals born or made? Can anyone become a criminal? Criminal profilers use psychology, forensics, and neuroscience to try to answer these questions. They use this same knowledge to catch criminals. The hope is that with understanding, we can prevent crimes and deliver criminal justice more effectively.

By learning more about the lives and crimes of notable criminals, you may notice some patterns and traits they have in common. It’s also helpful to study neuroimaging and behavioral science to learn more about what motivates someone to commit the darkest of crimes.

  • George Metesky, The Mad Bomber: When this mysterious madman planted bombs around New York City in 1940, Dr. James Brussel created the first criminal profile to aid in his capture.
  • Why Did Lee Harvey Oswald Kill John Kennedy? An examination of Oswald’s behavior sheds light on what might have motivated one of history’s few American presidential assassinations.
  • Patty Hearst’s Shocking Words After Robbing a Bank: Patty Hearst went to trial for robbing a bank at gunpoint. Was she a bored young woman drawn to violence, or was she coerced? This was one of the first in-depth courtroom examinations of the concept of brainwashing.
  • The Guildford Four: What would cause an innocent person to profess to being guilty? This article describes how four men accused of IRA bombings in Britain were mistreated and falsely imprisoned for years.
  • Prosenjit Poddar and Tatiana Tarasoff: This murder prompted new laws regarding mental health patient privacy and situations in which therapists are required to report potential violence.
  • The Myth of the Twinkie Defense: Urban legend says that Dan White got away with murder because psychologists convinced a jury that his irrational behavior was caused by eating junk food. Learn the truth with this article.
  • John Wayne Gacy Jr.: He was known as the killer clown because of his “Pogo the Clown” performances at charities and fundraisers. Beneath the guise was a serial killer who murdered at least 33 people. This paper examines Gacy’s background and employs several psychological methods to examine what drove his behavior.
  • Excerpt From Psychiatric Evaluation of John Hinckley: John Hinckley Jr. was President Ronald Reagan’s would-be assassin. He’s also known for a bizarre obsession with actress Jodie Foster, whom he hoped to impress with the assassination. These excerpts from his psychiatric evaluations shed some light on what mental disorders might have been present.
  • Describing Ted Bundy’s Personality: This paper examines the behavior and characteristics of one of the most notorious sociopaths. He confessed to 30 homicides and was convicted for other crimes. Despite his heinous acts, he was often described as charming and charismatic.
  • Evaluating Jeffrey Dahmer: Dahmer was convicted for inhuman atrocities like murder and cannibalism. Could something in his childhood be at the root of this antisocial behavior?
  • How Cult Leaders Exploit Psychological Needs: Charles Manson earned a devoted cult of followers who were convinced to commit murders and other terrible acts. Find out what psychological tactics he used to earn such a devoted following.
  • A Case of Insanity: The Story of Ralph Tortorici: Tortorici was a college student who took 35 students hostage and injured two. Although he was judged competent enough to stand trial, he later committed suicide in prison. This article examines how sound his mental state really was.
  • The Twisted Minds of School Shooters: In the aftermath of tragedies like the Columbine and Virginia Tech shootings, psychologists have tried to understand the aggressors, prevent mass violence, and protect the public. This article is about the man at the forefront of the research.
  • Andrea Yeats: More to the Story: Andrea Yeats shocked and horrified the public when she drowned her children. Some context regarding her psychological state may prove that she was given an unfair sentence.
  • Al Capone: The Story Behind His Rise and Fall: How did Al Capone become a gangster? Maybe it was due to participation in gang activity from an early age. Follow the story of his career with this article.
  • Harvard and the Making of the Unabomber: After being subjected to psychological experiments during his time at Harvard University, it’s possible that psychology transformed Theodore Kaczynski into the Unabomber.
  • What Made Lizzie Borden Kill: Legendary killer Lizzie Borden murdered her parents with an ax long before criminal profiling was practiced. Now, we can only speculate on what may have motivated her actions.
  • The Spider-Man Burglar: Listen to Act One of this episode of This American Life to learn more about the motives of a serial burglar. It includes interviews with the thief himself.
  • In Cold Blood Family Breaks Their Silence: Truman Capote’s nonfiction book In Cold Blood explored the men behind the slaying of the Cuttler family. The extended family speaks out in this article.
  • Exploring the Why of Whitey: There have been several books written about notorious Boston mobster Whitey Bulger, as scholars, law enforcement, and psychologists try to understand the man behind a crime ring.
  • The Psychology of Bribery and Corruption: In 2011 and 2012, an FBI agent sold counterintelligence information to a childhood friend. This article examines how bribery and corruption can grow deep roots.
  • Where Do Murderers Rate on a Scale of Evil? A Columbia professor developed a scale with gradations of evil.
  • In the Mind of a Serial Killer: This article attempts to define the characteristics of a serial killer.
  • Criminal Profiling: The Reality Behind the Myth: Popular TV shows have given the public some false impressions of what criminal profiling is really like.
  • How to Become a Criminal Profiler: If you’re interested in this fascinating career, here’s how to get a job.
  • FBI Criminal Profiling: Find out how the Federal Bureau of Intelligence defines this field.
  • The Use of Offender Profiling Evidence in Criminal Cases: Learn more about how criminal profiling helps deliver justice.
  • Catching Killers: This video explains how profilers use psychology to find killers.
  • Inside the Mind of a Criminal: This article discusses what neuroimaging tells us about criminal brains.
  • Are Criminals Born or Made? The topics covered in the BBC documentary The Mystery of Murder: A Horizon Guide attempt to answer this question.
  • What Makes a Criminal Mind Different? A look at the physical characteristics of the criminal brain demonstrates key differences from non-criminals.
  • Criminal Profiling and Understanding the Criminal Mind: Learn how the field of profiling began and what tactics profilers use to study criminals.
  • The Criminal Brain: This study delves into the topic of whether criminals are created by biological or environmental factors. It also describes the criminal perspective and consciousness.
  • Secrets of the Criminal Mind: This professor believes that we must fight crime with biology.
  • Hacking the Mind of a Hacker: Cybercriminals belong to a league of their own. Learn more about the minds behind elaborate hacking schemes and cybercrimes.
  • Online Bachelor’s Degree in Forensic Psychology: Build a foundation to apply the science of the mind in the court system, corrections, social services, and private sector.