The Truth About FBI Profilers and Serial Killers

Knife & Blood

Although serial killings are relatively rare, books, movies and TV shows can give the false impression that throughout the country there are teams of FBI profilers peering into the minds and behaviors of violent serial killers to determine what they’re thinking and what they may do next.

If only that were true.


We can definitely blame the fascination with serial killers and FBI profilers on Thomas Harris’s Silence of the Lambs.

Since the book and film Silence of the Lambs came out, there has also been a number of authors who have created whole series around FBI agent characters who hunt down serial killers. Author Lisa Gardner wrote a 6-book FBI profiler series featuring Special Agent Pierce Quincy and his FBI agent daughter Kimberly Quincy. Author Steven James has a 9-book series featuring Special Agent Patrick Bowers. And of course we have to mention the TV show – Criminal Minds. They all offer great entertainment value, but are they accurate? Is that all FBI profilers do?

In episodes two and three of the new podcast – FBI Retired Case File Review with Jerri Williams – retired agents Jim Fitzgerald and Ray Carr are interviewed. Jim worked as an FBI profiler in the Behavioral Analysis Unit (BAU) at the FBI Academy in Quantico, VA and Ray, who served most of his career in the Philadelphia Division, was trained as a profiler in the field. Both agents talk about some of the intriguing cases they worked with the full participation and cooperation of local and state law enforcement partners.

The FBI currently has approximately 13,500 agents and jurisdiction over violations of more than 200 categories of federal law. “Movies and TV shows can give the false impression that hunting down serial killers is a major function of the FBI,” said Fitzgerald. “The reality is that at any given time there are only 15 to 20 full-time FBI profilers assigned to the BAU.”

As stated in the Criminal Investigative Analysis: Practitioner Perspectives – The primary goal of criminal investigative analysis is to examine all of the behavioral information and provide advice to the requesting agency, rather than become involved in the actual investigative process.

“The primary goal of criminal investigative analysis is to examine all of the behavioral information and provide advice to the requesting agency, rather than become involved in the actual investigative process.”

During their respective FBI Retired Case File Review interviews, retired FBI profiler Jim Fitzgerald and retired agent Ray Carr provide realistic behind-the-scenes looks at what it means to analyze behavior, motivation, language and demographics in order to help connect the dots and assist in the identification and apprehension of an unknown suspect. Their  interviews can be found in the Podcast section of and are also available for free subscription on iTunes and Stitcher.

For specific information about the FBI’s actual involvement in serial killer cases, I recommend you visit the FBI website and read about the birth of Behavioral Analysis in the FBI. Here’s an excerpt:

The FBI’s involvement in serial killer cases has also 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 and behavioral analysis to crime statistics collection and the sharing of criminal identification and history information through our longstanding services and systems.


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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