Robert Ressler

Robert K. Ressler (February 21, 1937 – May 5, 2013) was a former FBI agent and author. He played a significant role in the psychological profiling of violent offenders in the 1970s and is often credited with coining the English term "serial killer".[1]

Early life

Robert Ressler grew up on North Marmora Avenue in Chicago, Illinois and graduated from Schurz High School,[2] Class of 1955. He was the son of Joseph, who worked in security and maintenance at the The Chicago Tribune, and Gertrude Ressler.[3] At an early age Robert became interested in killers, as he followed the tribune's articles on "The Lipstick Killer".[3] Ressler claims that he was more fascinated than afraid of this notorious killer, as other killers fascinated him in his later years with the FBI.[3] Ressler attended two years at a community college before joining the U.S. Army and was stationed in Okinawa.[3] After two years in the army Ressler decided to enroll in the School of criminology and police administration at Michigan State University. He graduated with a bachelor's degree and started graduate work but only finished one semester before going back into the army as an officer, having also completing an ROTC program at Michigan State.[3]

Military career

Ressler served in the U.S. Army as a provost marshal of a platoon of MPs in Aschaffenburg, as he states in his autobiography "Whoever Fights Monsters." He was in charge of solving such cases that were; homicides, robberies, and arson.[3] After four years in Germany Ressler decided to leave the position and was reassigned as the Commander of a Criminal Investigation Division (CID) at Fort Sheridan.[3] He then went back to Michigan State to finish his master's in police administration, paid for by the army, in exchange for two more years of service after graduation. After he got his degree he served a year in Thailand and a year in Fort Sheridan, where he finished out his career with the army as a major, and moved on to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).[3]

FBI career

FBI in 1970. Ressler was recruited into the Behavioral Science Unit that deals with drawing up psychological profiles of violent offenders who typically select victims at random, such as rapists and serial killers.

In the early 1980s, Ressler helped to organize the interviews of thirty-six incarcerated serial killers in order to find parallels between such criminals' backgrounds and motives. He was also instrumental in setting up Vi-CAP (Violent Criminal Apprehension Program). This consists of a centralized computer database of information on unsolved homicides. Information is gathered from local police forces and cross-referenced with other unsolved killings across the United States. Working on the basis that most serial killers claim similar victims with a standard method (modus operandi) it hopes to spot early on when a killer is carrying out crimes in different jurisdictions. This was primarily a response to the appearance of nomadic killers who committed crimes in different areas. So long as the killer kept on the move, the police forces in each state would be unaware that there were multiple victims and would just be investigating a single homicide each, unaware that other police forces had similar crimes. Vi-CAP would help individual police forces determine if they were hunting for the same perpetrator so that they could share and correlate information with one another, increasing their chances of identifying a suspect.

He worked on many cases of serial homicide such as Jeffrey Dahmer, Richard Chase and John Joubert.

Ressler retired from the FBI in 1990 and authored a number of books about serial murder. He actively gave lectures to students and police forces on the subject of criminology, and in 1993 was brought in to London to assist in the investigation into the murders committed by Colin Ireland.

Ressler's visit to Ciudad Juárez (in Mexico) to investigate the still-active femicides occurring there served as inspiration for the character Albert Kessler in Roberto Bolaño's novel 2666.[4]


Ressler died at his home in Spotsylvania County, Virginia on Sunday May 5, 2013 from Parkinson's Disease. He was 76 years old. He is survived by his wife Helen Grazer Ressler, his son Lt. Col. Aaron R. Ressler, daughters Allison R. Tsiumus and Betsy S. Hamlin, 3 grandchildren and 3 step grandchildren.[5]


See also


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