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Getting Inside a Murderer’s Mind

How did a forensic and psychiatric nurse transform the way that the FBI studies, profiles, and catches serial killers? In this week’s episode of Book Dreams, Julie and Eve speak with Dr. Ann Wolbert Burgess, the inspiration for the psychological expert, Wendy Carr, on one of Eve and Julie’s favorite Netflix series, “Mindhunter,” as well as her co-author Stephen Matthew Constantine.

In the 1970s a small team of agents in the FBI’s Behavioral Science Unit decided to interview convicted serial killers in an attempt to begin to understand their motives. However, the agents weren’t trained in research methods or psychology, and there was concern that all they had were recordings of “a bunch of sickos fantasizing about their crimes and not offering much else.” Impressed by Dr. Burgess’s revolutionary research into the offenders and victims of sexual crimes, they sought her advice. Initially the only woman in the unit, she directed their methodology and spent the next two decades helping to develop what became the FBI’s system of criminal profiling.

Ann and Steven discuss her new memoir, which Steven co-authored, A Killer by Design: Murderers, Mindhunters, and My Quest to Decipher the Criminal Mind. They talk about some of the earliest instances–and validating successes–of profiling serial killers like BTK; how the team’s methods allowed them to predict key characteristics of the killers with astonishing detail; and why a focus on the victim often plays a pivotal role. Ann also describes what serial killers are like in person and how she was able to overcome the gruesome nature of the crimes and remain focused on the work.

Dr. Ann Wolbert Burgess is a leading forensic and psychiatric nurse who worked with the FBI for over two decades. She's received numerous awards nationally and internationally for her professional work. She's currently a professor at the Boston College Connell School of Nursing, and she lives in Boston, Massachusetts.

Stephen Constantine is the assistant director of marketing and communications at the Boston College Connell School of Nursing. He holds an MFA from the Bennington College Writing Seminars, and he lives in Boston, Massachusetts.

A Killer by Design: Murderers, Mindhunters, and My Quest to Decipher the Criminal Mind




“Of all the colleagues I’ve worked with, Ann is one of the sharpest—and one of the toughest. Ann’s behind-the-scenes work had a profound impact on the FBI’s Behavioral Science Unit, since she taught us how to harness the chaos of serial killers’ minds and helped us decipher the undecipherable. I’d recommend that everyone read A Killer By Design; not only is it a great page-turner, but it’s about time Ann’s story was heard.”―JOHN E. DOUGLAS, former FBI criminal profiler and bestselling author of Mindhunter

“My career was shaped after reading the seminal text on sexual homicide co-authored by Dr. Ann Burgess—one of the original Mindhunters. Now, in A Killer By Design, Burgess shows how she helped refine the criminal profiling process, with an acute eye for detail and heartwarming compassion for the victims. This book has quickly become a permanent fixture on my bookshelf and is a must-read for anybody who wants to understand the history of exploring the predator's mind. Burgess is truly a hero in the fight against evil.”―PAUL HOLES, FBI Task Force Officer, retired cold case investigator, and co-host of Jensen and Holes: The Murder Squad podcast

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