Read an Excerpt
Law & Disorder
By John Douglas, Mark Olshaker
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2013 Mindhunters, Inc.
All rights reserved.
Catch Me Befdre I Kill More
It was one of the most hideous and brutal murders in the history of Chicago, a city already notorious for the brutality of its crimes.
In the early-morning hours of Monday, January 7, 1946, an adorable, flaxen-haired six-year-old named Suzanne Degnan was snatched from her first-floor bedroom in the family's house at 5943 North Kenmore Avenue, in the Edgewater neighborhood on Chicago's north side. A poorly written ransom note demanded $20,000, warned her parents not to NoTify FBI oR Police, and instructed them to wAITe foR WoRd. A ladder was found outside Suzanne's bedroom window.
An anonymous caller instructed police to check sewers near Suzanne's home. Before nightfall, police had found her dismembered remains in several sewers near her home, as well as in a bloody basement laundry room, where her body was cut apart in an apartment house on nearby Winthrop Street. The cause of death was apparent strangulation in an unknown location between her home and the laundry room.
This all happened the year after I was born. By the time I got involved with the case, the confessed and convicted defendant had already been in prison thirty-three years.
After tours as a street agent in Detroit and Milwaukee, I'd been assigned in 1977 to the Behavioral Science Unit (BSU) of the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia, teaching applied criminal psychology to new agents, seasoned detectives and police brass through the National Academy program. The trouble was, many of these guys (there were very few women students back then) knew more about the cases being taught than I did, and every so often we'd get a chief or senior investigator who'd actually worked the case under review.
In an attempt to keep myself from looking uninformed, stupid or both before the veteran cops in my classroom, I decided to try to meet these violent predators face-to-face, to interview them and find out what was actually going on in their heads when they committed their crimes and what they thought of them afterward. My fellow instructor Robert Ressler and I did regular "road schools" for local police departments and sheriff's offices around the country, which I figured provided us the perfect opportunity to visit these offenders at their various institutions of long-term residence.
Out of those informal and unofficial origins, we began our original serial killer study, which ultimately led to a rigorous study funded by the National Institute of Justice (NIJ). I coauthored two landmark books with Ressler and Dr. Ann Burgess, of the University of Pennsylvania, entitled Sexual Homicide: Patterns and Motives and Crime Classification Manual, and solidified my career as the Federal Bureau of Investigation's first operational behavioral profiler.
Surprisingly—at least we thought so at the time—virtually every killer on our "wish list" agreed to talk to us. One of the earliest interviews Bob Ressler and I did happened to be with William George Heirens at Statesville Prison in Joliet, Illinois. As a seventeen-year-old, Heirens had confessed and pled guilty to murdering little Suzanne Degnan, as well as two adult women in the preceding months: forty-three-year-old housewife Josephine Ross and thirty-one-year-old Frances Brown, a former Navy WAVE who had served during World War II.
Brown's naked, bloodstained body was discovered in her apartment not far from Ross's home on the morning of December 11, 1945, when housemaid Martha Engels came to clean. She found Brown in the bathtub with a bullet wound to her skull and a butcher knife stabbed into her neck. On the living-room wall, scrawled in Brown's own red lipstick, was the apparent plea or, perhaps, mocking taunt:
Sake cAtch Me
BeFore I Kill More
I cannot control myself
By the next day's editions, Chicago's enterprising newspapers had a name for the unknown subject ("UNSUB" in our terminology) of this disgusting and horrific crime: the "Lipstick Killer."
Before the interview in Joliet, Ressler and I prepared by reviewing the case file and William Heirens's prison record. He had been a model prisoner throughout his incarceration and had become the first inmate in Illinois to complete a college degree. He'd since done graduate work.
Unlike many of the offenders we had or would study, there was nothing arrogant about Heirens, nothing "sinister," egotistical or overbearing. There was nothing intimidating about him; and unlike some we interviewed, he didn't give the impression of wanting to rip off our heads. He was polite and spoke well, but throughout the several-hour interview he insisted he was innocent. He maintained that he'd been intimidated by Chicago police into confessing and was railroaded by his attorneys into taking a plea deal that they had come up with in a bold attempt to keep him out of the Illinois electric chair.
No matter how we approached the case or what we asked him, Heirens had a ready answer. Though he freely admitted to his extended career as a breaking-and-entering man, he swore he had an alibi for the nights of each of the three killings and wasn't even close to any of the scenes. He was so passionate about his innocence, so compelling in his insistence, I was convinced he could have passed a polygraph on the spot. As we left the prison, I was thinking to myself, Man, maybe this guy really got the shaft!
One of the ultimate mysteries of the human condition is what really happens between two people in any situation. When that situation is a murder, that mystery can intensify to the extreme. Is it possible that this given individual is capable of the worst act one person can perpetrate against another? And if not, then who is?
At its essential level, criminal justice is about assembling evidence, clues and other indicators to come up with, and then telling a logical, consistent and believable story. The investigator has to have one, and so do the defense and the prosecution. The version that the jury buys ultimately determines the outcome of the case. That's what I did and the current profilers still do at Quantico: apply our knowledge, experience and instinct to intuit a story about a known victim and an unknown predator. Like everything else in criminal justice, there are several ways of telling the rest of the William Heirens story.
* * *
I was so affected by Heirens's rational-seeming claims of his innocence after so many years in prison that as soon as I got back to Quantico, I dug out my copies of the case materials and reviewed all the critical points.
I took the file over to the second floor of the academy library, where I often went when I needed to concentrate. At my desk, the phone rang constantly and colleagues were always stopping by to ask questions or kibitz. Also, working in a field in which darkness and night are such prevailing metaphors, I liked having sunlight. At the time, Behavioral Science was housed in offices sixty feet underground, in space that had originally been designed as an emergency-command bunker, leading to our frequent quip that we were buried ten times deeper than dead people.
Sure enough, all of the incriminating facts were plain to see in Heirens's case file. He had the bad background I had come to expect from repeat predators: a risk-taking loner who had almost burned down the house with a chemistry experiment, and later jumped off a garage roof to try out his homemade cardboard wings; parents who had violent arguments and periodic money troubles; a string of burglaries going back at least to the age of thirteen; gun charges; and a record of being in and out of correctional schools. Based on stolen books found in his possession, including Richard von Krafft-Ebing's Psychopathia Sexualis, as well as a scrapbook he'd put together on the Nazis, he seemed to have an abiding interest in sexual perversion. He was even found to have his own portable surgical kit. The instruments were too small and delicate to have been used to take apart a body, but the interest it demonstrated in such things didn't exactly look good for someone who'd confessed to the postmortem dismembering of a child.
The confession itself was straightforward enough, except for the parts about a collaborator named "George Murman," who authorities decided was his face-saving alter ego who "drove him to it." George was Heirens's middle name, and Murman, they concluded, was short for "murder man." It appeared to be what our research would soon show us to be a classic case of escalation to murder through two opportunistic situations in which the owners of the premises happened to be home at the time of the break-ins, followed by a further escalation with the savage killing of the little girl. Heirens officially signed off on the confession not once, but twice, both times with attorneys present.
Other elements fit as well. The neighborhoods in which the murders took place were within the areas Heirens had burglarized in the past, what we would call his "comfort zone." He was apprehended in the midst of a burglary and attempted to shoot pursuing police officers before an off-duty cop happened to see what was happening and conked him on the head with a ceramic flowerpot, sending him to Bridewell, the medical lockup associated with Cook County Jail. Despite his checkered academic background, he was sufficiently intelligent to be accepted to the vaunted University of Chicago at age sixteen. In that, he equaled the feat of those other notorious Chicago killers, Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb, convicted of the thrill murder of Loeb's fourteen-year-old neighbor and distant cousin, Bobby Franks, and only saved from the death chamber by the impassioned defense of Clarence Darrow. The local press saw to it that none of these details was lost on the terrorized and news-hungry public. The Chicago Tribune labeled the Suzanne Degnan homicide: one of the most atrocious American murders since the Loeb-Leopold case.
Once enrolled in the prestigious university, Heirens majored in electrical engineering and continued to burglarize private homes, stores and apartment hotels. The meager cash, jewelry and odd objects he stole speak to someone who was more interested in the kick than in profitable criminal enterprise. If this kid was able to compartmentalize his life to that extent, then maybe the plaintive plea to catch him before he killed more made some sense. You could even explain the immature scrawl as a psychological attempt to separate the highly intelligent "Bill Heirens" from the sinister "George Murman."
Most compelling was the physical evidence: Heirens's fingerprint showed up both on the ransom note and in blood on a doorjamb in Frances Brown's apartment. The ransom note print was eventually questioned as not having the necessary number of points of comparison (this one had nine; the FBI required a minimum of twelve). But the one from the Brown murder scene was unimpeachable.
In this context, the reality of the case became clear. Sitting in prison all those years with endless time to think about it, the intelligent and introspective Heirens had let himself psychologically off the hook and convinced himself that while he was an inveterate serial burglar, he was innocent of the three murders to which he had confessed.
We taught the William Heirens case for years after we included it in our Criminal Personality Research Project, the first organized study that actually correlated each step of a violent crime with what the offender was thinking and doing at the time. That study formed the basis of a discipline that has proven accurate and useful in finding and trying serial murderers, rapists and other violent, predatory criminals over more than forty years, through many thousands of investigations and prosecutions.
In 1987, nearly ten years after my interview with Bill Heirens, a detective from nearby Arlington County, Virginia, named Joe Horgas, came calling at Quantico. Through years of persistent investigative work, which I can only characterize as brilliant and inspired, Horgas thought he had linked bold break-ins, violent rapes and horribly vicious rape-murders that had taken place in Arlington, neighboring Alexandria and down in the Richmond area over a period of years. Others in the various police departments didn't buy the connection. However, Horgas was positive. In his mind, the series of crimes went back to the murder of Carolyn Hamm, a thirty-two-year-old attorney, in Arlington in 1984.
After hearing the detective's presentation and considering everything—from timing and method of entry to physical and behavioral evidence, choice of victims and lab reports—we agreed the cases were almost certainly related. There are very few absolutes in our business, and none in profiling, but this was a pretty damn good matchup.
Then Horgas sprang a major curveball on us. "Hamm is actually a closed case," he explained, "because an individual has been arrested, tried and convicted."
He told us about David Vasquez, a Hispanic male who was thirty-seven years of age when the Arlington Police Department arrested him two weeks after the murder. He'd been living with a friend in Hamm's neighborhood and had been witnessed around her house by two individuals. When detectives searched his room, they found pornography involving bound and gagged women, as well as peeper photos he'd taken surreptitiously of women in various stages of undress. He couldn't be linked to semen samples found on Hamm's body or clothing, though some hair samples were suggestive. But the slam dunk was that he had confessed!
"Do you think there's more than one person involved?" Horgas asked.
This wasn't an idle question. Because Vasquez was demonstrably of very marginal intelligence and the crime was criminally sophisticated, there was some compelling thought that the Hamm murder might have been the work of two offenders, the UNSUB being the dominant one and Vasquez more of a compliant partner. We'd seen a number of examples of this over the years; so while rare, it wasn't beyond the realm of possibility. Normally, there are some pretty strong indicators at the crime scene, with elements representing both organized and disorganized aspects.
But at no point had Vasquez mentioned anyone else, nor was there any reference in his confession, nor was there anything from the Hamm case or any of the others that looked to us like a two-person crime. In fact, from what he told us about Vasquez, it didn't seem that he had the intellectual capability or the experience to have pulled off something this criminally sophisticated.
The fact that the crimes had stopped in Northern Virginia at a certain point, and then similar ones started occurring around Richmond three years later, established a pattern that was highly suggestive: Since this type of offender rarely stops on his own, we speculated that he had been picked up for some crime, like a burglary, which carried a three-year sentence, then was put on some sort of work release in Richmond.
Horgas pursued this idea, following up on every record of someone who might fit the pattern. He went back to the Arlington neighborhoods where the early crimes took place. Before long, he recalled a troubled African-American teenager named Timothy Wilson Spencer, whom he'd once investigated for a burglary. Several computer checks confirmed a bull's-eye. Spencer was twenty-two when he had been arrested in 1984 for burglary in Alexandria and was released to a halfway house in Richmond in 1987. Once Spencer was targeted as a suspect, everything started falling into place. Most important, his DNA matched three of the murder scenes and several of the rapes.
Though he never confessed, Spencer was convicted of murder in the first degree in three separate trials, and sentenced to death in all three. His convictions represent the first successful use of DNA evidence in the United States. After the failure of all of his appeals, on April 27, 1994, Timothy Wilson Spencer was executed in the electric chair of the Virginia State Penitentiary in Jarratt.
Excerpted from Law & Disorder by John Douglas, Mark Olshaker. Copyright © 2013 Mindhunters, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.