Pete Klismet ~ Writing Authentic Characters, Part 1

Pete Klismet served two tours in Vietnam on submarines, attended college in Denver, then was a police officer in Ventura, California for ten years. He was appointed a Special Agent in 1979 and retired from the FBI in 1999 after 30 total years of law enforcement service. He was one of the original ‘profilers’ in the FBI, serving in four FBI offices. He was named the 1999 Law Enforcement Officer of the Year by a national organization.Having recently retired as a college professor, Pete and his wife Nancy live in Colorado Springs, CO.

As many of our readers are novelists I want to pick your expertise a bit and ask you some questions that will help us authentically write in the areas of criminals and profiling.  If a novelist wanted to write a criminal profiler as a main character what major things would be important to include in the characters abilities or tendencies to make the character realistic?
There is one common thread I’ve seen in the best criminal profilers I’ve ever worked with, including two of my mentors – Robert Ressler and Roy Hazelwood.  Bob was one of the brightest and quickest people I’ve ever known.  Bob was a brilliant guy who had the foresight to see into the future and understand the potential of criminal profiling.  Bob’s approach was somewhat ‘shoot from the hip,’ but the neurons in his brain operated at a speed unlike anyone I’ve ever seen.  

Roy, on the other hand, was like a pit bull, doggedly determined, patient, methodical and thorough, almost to a fault.  They were two of the best ever, yet completely different personalities.  The one thing I saw as being common to both Bob and Roy was ‘common sense.’  John Douglas completed the triangle of what I still call the ‘Top Three.’  Douglas was probably the best ever, but was not someone who was personable, perhaps even a little aloof, not an instructor as I recall.  

John, however, possessed an ability to see things very few could see, and using great common sense, could determine the ‘why’ of a crime better than anyone.  He’s still called the “Modern Sherlock Holmes.”  Deservedly so.  The character Jack Crawford in “Silence of the Lambs,” was based on John, who himself has authored quite an impressive number of books. 

Having said that, let me illustrate what I mean:  In Atlanta in the 1980’s, young black boys were being killed at an alarming rate.  Ultimately the death toll reached 33.  During the investigation, Roy Hazelwood was brought down in an effort to provide a profile of this prolific serial killer.  The common belief was the killer was white, probably a member of the KKK.  Roy was with 3 detectives, looking around the area where most of the kidnappings occurred.  All of the detectives happened to be black.  

Suddenly, Roy noticed that all activity stopped and people were looking at the four of them.  He asked a detective what that was about, and the reply was “There’s a white guy (Roy) in the area.”  From that, Roy concluded the killer had to be black, a person who could move around freely without being noticed.  This was not a popular opinion, but it turned out to be correct when one Wayne Williams was arrested and ultimately convicted for the murders.

During the investigation, John Douglas came to Atlanta to help Roy.  After the coroner made a public statement that they were getting good forensic evidence off the bodies which had been found, John made a prediction to investigators.  He said, “The next body will be found in a body of water.”  So, surveillances were established in likely places.  Sure enough, about a week later, an officer on surveillance under a bridge over the Chattahoochee River, heard a big splash.  He then saw a car leaving and stopped the driver.  

With no further evidence to go on, the officer took the driver’s information and description of the car.  A day or so later, the body of Nathaniel Cater was pulled from the river.  Sure enough, the person who threw the body over the side of the bridge was Wayne Williams.  This was the critical link in breaking the case, and all because of a criminal profiler’s experience, knowledge, and the common sense involved in his assessment of the overall situation.