Offender Profiling, Serial Killer and Silence of Lambs

Hannibal Lecter: First principles, Clarice. Simplicity. Read Marcus Aurelius. Of each particular thing ask: what is it in itself? What is its nature? What does he do, this man you seek?

Clarice Starling: He kills women…

Hannibal Lecter: No. That is incidental. What is the first and principal thing he does? What needs does he serve by killing?

Clarice Starling: Anger, um, social acceptance, and, huh, sexual frustrations, sir…

Hannibal Lecter: No! He covets. That is his nature. And how do we begin to covet, Clarice? Do we seek out things to covet? Make an effort to answer now.

-Silence of Lambs

In June 1973, Jaeger family had gone for a camping trip. During night their 7 years old daughter was kidnapped from tent, her parents were sleeping and were unaware about what happened during night.

Case was handed over to FBI. FBI agent Byron Dunbar, who was handling the case decided to take help of Behavioural Science Unit of FBI.

Behavioural Science Unit was formed in 1972. Two FBI agents Howard Teten and Patrick Mullany who were part of this unit were working on a profiling technique called offender profiling which consists of using profiling techniques of psychology to design profile of unknown offender.

Tetan and Mullany were keen to put their technique into practice and they decided to use it Susan Jaeger case.

Teten and Mullany after talking to parents and visiting the site came to conclusion that kidnapper was white male, in mid twenties, who liked to mutilate his victim and would keep organs of victim with him as souvenirs.

Dunbar felt that it was likely that kidnapper would call Jaegar family to know how investigation was progressing, so he asked Jaegar family to record all the calls that they received. On 25th June 1974 exactly one year after Susan was kidnapped, Jaegar family received a call, the caller told them Susan was with him and was currently in Europe. In September he again called Jaegar family. Both calls were recorded by Susan’s mother Marietta.

Dunbar identified caller as David Meirhofer. David was 25 years old white male.


David Meirhofer was arrested and he confessed that he had killed Susan and burned her body but had kept her head. He also confessed that he had committed three more murders. He had killed two boys Bernard Poelman and Michael Raney. He had also killed his ex-girlfriend Sandra Dykman Smallegan in February 1974 and like Susan he burned her body after killing her but preserved her hands by keeping them in freezer.

This was first time offender profiling was done resulting in serial killer Meirhofer getting arrested.

After confessing his crime Meirhofer committed suicide by hanging himself in jail.

This technique is now popular and is widely used in finding offenders.


In 1991 a film was made called Silence of Lambs, in film a FBI agent Clarice Starling ( played by Jodie Foster) from FBI’s Behavioural Science Unit is asked find serial killer nicknamed Buffalo Bill. In this she is helped by a prisoner called Hannibal Lecter (played by Anthony Hopkins) who is brilliant psychiatrist and cannibalistic serial killer. He helps Clarice in profiling the serial killer.


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