Luckily for criminals and unluckily for the rest of us, the advent of the Internet provided a new trolling ground for serial killers to scroll for victims. Millions of people are available at the click of a mouse on Internet dating sites. Easier, perhaps, then cruising the streets on the hunt. Easier to present a likeable, easy-going, good-guy image to potential targets. All in the comfort of your very own home.
John Robinson lures his victims from their computers into his life, perhaps never to return to their own. Wanting sex, a job, help with a child or pursuing their dreams, women accepted the illusion Robinson provided, unfortunately, to their peril. Nice to think that your knight in shining armor has instantly materialized to solve all of your problems. You have to wonder... what's in it for him?
John Douglas delves into the perplexing, twisted minds of friendly, charismatic men with hidden penchants for violence. Men who are married with children and no one suspects a thing amiss. Neighbors who express disbelief. Double lives shrouded in secrecy. People who kill because they enjoy it, not for money, passion or anger. They sometimes get away with it for decades. Douglas educates people on how to protect themselves from murderers lurking behind masks of normalcy.
Anyone You Want Me to Be: a True Story of Sex and Death on the Internet by John E. Douglas, 2003
I Love John Douglas's Work: There were few authors that completely captivated me when I was growing up, but John E. Douglas, psychological profiler of violent offenders for the FBI's Behavioral Science Unit (BSU), was definitely one of them. I was fascinated by the interface between psychology and crime, and John Douglas was the person who pioneered psychological profiling at the FBI. He helped it gain acceptance in the law enforcement community as a viable additional tool that law enforcement can use to apprehend violent predators.
Douglas has written many awesome books, including Mindhunter: Inside the FBI's Elite Serial Crime Unit in 1995. In 1983, unfortunately, the job got to him, and he ended up in a coma and almost died. He was working way too much since the demand for the BSU's services far exceeded the supply. Douglas retired in 1995, and he now serves as a consultant. He wants to educate the public about protecting themselves from dangerous people. He now speaks on college campuses to help people to prevent themselves from becoming victims. Douglas has an Ed. D., a doctorate in education.
Crime in Cyberspace: During the 1990s, the advent of the Internet created an entirely new venue for criminals to use to find victims of theft, sex and murder. Unfortunately, this created the ability for offenders to troll thousands of potential victims at the click of a mouse. However, the FBI was able to apply the same psychological profiling techniques that they have used for criminal investigations on Internet-related crimes. In 2000, the John Robinson case in suburban Kansas City became the first known case of a serial killer who prowled on the Internet for victims. He lured them into his control with promises of fulfilling their every need. People are definitely not always who they say they are online. John Douglas cautions:
"Be conscious of what your computer is capable of and whom it can connect you to. It has effectively invited the whole world into your home, but is everyone welcome?"
Dangers of the Internet: On the Internet, eye contact, body language and other aspects of communication that can clue people's intuition into the fact that something is not right are completely missing. Posting personal information, such as name, age, physical characteristics and credit card information on the Internet can be intercepted and used by hackers.
Dangers of Internet Dating: John Robinson met women through online dating sites, sent them a congenial-looking friendly cowboy picture, promised them a job and sex, put them up in hotel rooms, had sex with them, killed them, and some were found later in large barrels.
Steve Haymes, a parole officer, could not have been more thrilled when his phone rang in 2000 and someone finally wanted to speak with him about John Robinson. He was dying for someone to help stop the criminal behavior of Robinson that he had been suspecting for more than a decade. He has a file on his desk 12"-14" high on that very person's activities and missing women possibly associated with him between the years 1985 and 2000.
John Robinson's Life: I think that serial killers have something genetically amiss. John Robinson appeared to come from a loving, middle class family. John Robinson was born on December 27, 1943 into a nice family and he grew up into a friendly and harmless looking, overweight adult. As a 13-year-old, he was an Eagle scout who was considering entering into the priesthood, and he went to London to sing for Queen Elizabeth II. He had intense personal likes and dislikes and his behavior towards others was very calculated. When trolling for women on online dating web sites, he sent congenial looking photos of a friendly guy in cowboy attire (cowboy hat and blue jeans).
When he graduated high school, some suspected that he was involved in criminal behavior. Robinson embezzled money from a hospital he worked for to pay his pregnant wife's expenses. He was obsessed with human sexuality; he had many affairs with coworkers. The medical credentials that decorated his offices were complete fabrications. He gravitated towards disabled people and the medical profession because he wanted to identify vulnerabilities in potential victims. Robinson was very active in S&M circles, yet he kept up the facade of being a good father and husband.
Missing Women: In 1984, 19-year-old figure skater Paula Godfrey was hired by Robinson, the first of many women associated with him who went missing under suspicious circumstances. In 1985, Robinson met Lisa Staci, a 19-year-old unwed mother and her daughter, Tiffany, in a women's shelter. Robinson promised to help her get back on her feet, offered her a job, put her up in a hotel room, then she mysteriously disappeared. He ended up selling her daughter Tiffany, who was renamed Heather Tiffany, to his brother and sister-in-law, who could not get pregnant, for $5,500. He set up a sham organization to help unwed mothers specifically to find a baby to sell to his relatives. He was a con artist as well as a killer. In 1999, Robinson set Suzette Trouten up in a hotel. When relatives had not heard from her, they contacted police, who later found her beloved Pekingese dogs had been dropped off at a shelter and had new owners. One of his victims was an out-of-work clinical psychologist with a Ph.D. Another was a correctional librarian.
Antisocial Personality Disorder: Robinson exhibits many of the classic characteristics of the antisocial personality disorder (a full list of diagnostic criteria can be found in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders: DSM IV-TR). Antisocial personality disorder is one of the hardest mental health problems to treat; psychotherapy can be counterproductive because "psychopaths" simply learn better ways to manipulate people. This diagnosis does not excuse their behavior; they know that killing is wrong and is frowned upon by society, yet they continue to end people's lives. They are emotionally underdeveloped, unreliable and insincere. They study how normal people behave and emulate that; they know what is expected, and they say what people want to hear. They have an answer for everything, they blame others, and they show no remorse or guilt for their bad actions. Robinson found out what women's deepest needs and dreams were and then offered to fulfill those (Beverly Bonner, one of the missing women associated with Robinson, had a sense of adventure and wanted to travel; he said he would give her opportunities to do that.)
Douglas once spoke to psychologists and psychiatrists that were not thrilled to hear him speak. They told him that having criminal case information for their patients would prejudice them. Douglas disagreed, saying that lacking this material would make it impossible for him to perform an accurate psychological assessment. When I was a psychotherapist intern for psychiatric inmates, we were given no criminal case information and we were told that it was irrelevant to the treatment that we provided to the patients.
How to Catch a Serial Killer? According to John Douglas, serial killers are quite hard to apprehend because they often have no connection to their victims. The way that crimes in general, including murders, are usually solved is by looking at the crime scene, collecting items of interest, including DNA and fingerprint evidence. Then the police talk to people who were closest to the victim, such as family and close friends. They develop suspect lists from this information. Statistically, people are more likely to be killed by someone close to them. DNA and fingerprint evidence can be run through databases to determine if a suspect has already been fingerprinted or has previously been incarcerated. However, many serial killers have never been imprisoned, such databases are incomplete, and so a suspect list is necessary in order to apprehend these killers. Serial killers often choose victims who do not have many social supports, such as prostitutes, so that there will be less political pressure on law enforcement to solve their crimes.
Cooperation between law enforcement jurisdictions is vital to solving these cases, since these killers often move or choose different locations in which to kill in order to avoid detection. Territoriality and problems in communication between law enforcement jurisdictions can stymie effective criminal investigations. However, serial killers can make things worse for themselves if they cross state lines since that makes the case a federal one, and the FBI will become involved. I have been fascinated with these criminals because they do not kill because of anger (someone slept with their wife or ticked them off) or greed (they would like the insurance money). They kill because they enjoy the power of ending another person's life. Also, they are more successful than other murderers since they get away with killing multiple people.
At any one time, the FBI believes that there are 30 - 50 serial killers in the United States. Robinson, a con artist who committed sexual assault and serial murder, was the first known serial killer prosecuted for an Internet-related crime. The Violent Criminal Apprehension Program (ViCAP) is a software program that was created in 1999 to help share criminal information across police jurisdictions. In 2000, the FBI, the Department of Justice, and NW3C started the Internet Crime Complaint Center. There are 40,000+ URLs that contain child pornography, pedophilia, and pro-pedophilia material. Web surfers spent $970 million in 1998 to access sexual content on the Internet (Datamonitor Research Firm). These web sites are camouflaged with brand names designed to fool children (eg, Disney, Barbie, ESPN).
Douglas's Internet Safety Tips for Kids
- Do not reveal personal info about yourself or others on the Internet (age, sex, physical appearance, address, etc.)
- On the Net, certain words and symbols have sexual connotations. Stalkers target those who are not aware of these meanings.
- Do not include physical descriptions of yourself in online profiles. Use genderless screen names and do not flirt online.
- Save offensive messages and give them to your service provider. Report threats and/or attacks to the police.
- If an online conversation becomes hostile, do not confront the person. Log off.
- Meet online friends in person in public places with a friend.
- Don't believe everything you read on the web. People can say anything online; a 45-year-old man could be impersonating a teenage girl.
- Participating in chat rooms can cause you to receive unsolicited pornography, especially if you lack filtering software.
Douglas's Web Sites to Protect Kids Online
General Online Safety Web sites