Review of The River Murders (2011)

I chose The River Murders (2011) as a movie to review for FBI policy and procedural accuracy because it features an FBI profiler investigating a case involving missing and murdered women. I knew I could ask my colleague and former FBI profiler Julia Cowley to help me out and that she would be happy to consult on my review.

First, here’s the premise:

While investigating a series of murders, a homicide detective becomes the prime suspect when the FBI uncovers his close personal ties to all the victims.

I had interviewed Julia Cowley on Episode 242: Golden State Killer, BAU Profiler. Before I share her expert consultation, let me say that it is my professional opinion that the FBI profiler character played by Christian Slater is a prick. He’s rude and condescending to the local police detectives working on the case.

The profiler character perpetuates two of the top twenty cliches about the FBI covered in my book, FBI Myths and Misconceptions. The FBI doesn’t play well with others and FBI profilers hunt serial killers.

Now here’s what Julia had to say about the movie:

“An agent from the Behavioral Analysis Unit would never be the lead agent on a serial murder investigation, or any investigation, for that matter.

The role of a profiler is to serve as a consultant. The BAU does not take over investigations.

Rather, they review all the available facts and circumstances of the cases(s) and offer observations as to the behavior exhibited therein. Depending on the investigation, profilers might provide a profile of the unknown offender, linkage analysis (connecting two or more cases together), investigative suggestions, media strategies, interview/interrogation strategies, and more.

At the request of a state or local agency, a serial murder investigation (306) may be opened by the FBI in order to provide assistance to that agency. They are opened by the FBI field office in which the crimes are occurring. For example, in the Golden State Killer case, Sacramento opened a 306 investigation in order to provide assistance to the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Office.

The lead agent would be assigned to the local field office, and not an agent from the BAU.

An agent from BAU would never meet with a suspect. However, agents from BAU do meet with investigators and task forces to provide their analyses.

Also, the “profile” offered by Christian Slater’s character, Agent Vuckovitch, was not very useful and pretty weak – very serial killer cliche. He needs to go back to profiling school! He offered no opinion about the more interesting aspects of the murders such as the foreign object insertion or the brutality on the part of the offender, as evidence by all the bruising on the victims – particularly their faces.”

Thanks Julia for your opinion on The River Murders! The film is currently streaming for free on Prime Videos. Watch the movie trailer here.

To listen to Julia’s Cowley’s analysis of true crime cases, check out her podcast – The Consult.

To explain a bit more about how and when the FBI enters a serial murder case, here’s a brief excerpt from my book, FBI Myths and Misconceptions:

The FBI’s involvement in serial killer cases has evolved under federal law. For example, the Bureau was authorized to investigate violent crimes against interstate travelers in 1994 and serial killings, specifically in 1998. The FBI may investigate only when requested to do so by an appropriate law enforcement agency. The Bureau is also authorized to provide a variety of support services, from laboratory to crime statistics collection and the sharing of criminal identification information and history through our longstanding services and systems.

Besides Julia Cowley’s Episode 243, you can listen to more case reviews about serial killers here.


Jerri Williams

View posts by Jerri Williams
Jerri Williams, a retired FBI agent, author and podcaster, jokes that she writes about the FBI to relive her glory days. After 26 years with the Bureau specializing in major economic fraud and corruption investigations, she calls on her professional encounters with scams and schemers to write police procedurals inspired by true crime FBI cases in her Philadelphia FBI Corruption Squad crime fiction series featuring flawed female FBI agent Kari Wheeler. Jerri’s FBI for Armchair Detectives nonfiction series enables readers to discover who the FBI is and what the FBI does by debunking misconceptions about the FBI in books, TV, and movies. Her books are available as ebooks, paperbacks, and audiobooks wherever books are sold. She’s also the host of FBI Retired Case File Review, a true crime podcast with more than 300 episodes available on all popular podcast apps and YouTube.

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