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To catch a killer

Busting myths about serial killers, Pat Brown helps investigative agencies solve crimes through profiling, writes DEEPA KANDASWAMY.

"We serial killers are your sons, we are your husbands, we are everywhere. And there will be more of your children dead tomorrow." Ted Bundy (notorious serial killer in the U.S.)

WHEN we hear the words "serial killer", movies like "The Silence of the Lambs", "Seven" and "Kiss the girls" come to mind. We think a serial killer is an intelligent, sick person who targets his victims carefully like Dr. Hannibal Lecter played by Anthony Hopkins. But is this portrayal accurate and are serial killers only to be found in the west?

"No. Hollywood movies have created myths about serial killers. The killers are not always always male, white, smart or loners. There are women who are serial killers too and famous serial killers in other countries," says Pat Brown, an investigative criminal profiler, Chief Executive Officer of Sexual Homicide Exchange (SHE), author and American TV show host.

Born in 1955 in New Jersey, USA, Pat was an ardent reader as a child. Like most children, she was fascinated by Sherlock Holmes and wanted to become a detective. However, she graduated with a liberal arts degree and was perfectly contented to be a stay-at-home mother of three children till they left for college.

Unusual circumstances led Pat to become a criminal profiler. In 1990, she rented a room to a man whom soon suspected of a rape and murder of a young woman that occurred in her neighbourhood, just four weeks after he moved in. Though she provided evidence and information, the police ignored her, and so the unsolved crime went quickly into the cold case file. Pat was determined not to let this go. "It took me six years to get the case reopened and this man is now the only suspect in the murder of 22-year old jogger," she said.

In 1996, Pat Brown started SHE to respond to the problem of unsolved homicides and the abysmally low closure rate of sexual homicides. It is a non-profit, Pro-bono profiling organisation. Either the family of the victim or by law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and other countries contact SHE to work on the case. Pat then flies to the location and spends days with the police investigators at the police department. At times, material is sent to her for a detailed analysis. SHE does not charge for its profiling services, consequently making Pat, the most active independent profiler in the U.S. It is her full-time job.

SHE is one of few profiling organisations that believe police investigators should learn to do their own profiling. According to Pat, "Profiling is not some nearly unattainable skill requiring 10 years of Ph.D. studies. We believe if police investigators have useful profiling skills and serial homicide methodologies, they will close more cases. Who better to know how to profile than the first detective actually handling the case?"

In her book, Killing for Sport: Inside the Minds of Serial Killers, Pat manages to debunk many Hollywood and media myths about serial killers and the way they operate. "I don't believe I've ever seen an accurate portrayal of a profiler on television or in the movies. These myths, oddly enough, weren't only created by fiction writers but by profilers and the police themselves!" she says. "They are a detriment to solving serial homicides because the investigators, profilers, and public continue to use these ideas in trying to catch killers and, consequently, fail to be successful in doing so."

SHE has launched a new serial homicide-training programme called Coalition for Apprehending Predators through Using Resources Effectively (CAPTURE) in the U.S. with the goal of reducing the number of serial murders. Police of other countries can also be trained using the CAPTURE method. She also runs the Pat Brown Criminal Profiling Agency, which does work for hire.

In 2003, the crimes against Indian women shot up. Cluster rapes and murders in the metros and the delay in apprehending the criminals, makes one wonder if there could be serial killers involved. When asked Pat says, "There're undoubtedly serial killers loose in India because they are there everywhere. There are two main reasons that serial killers don't get caught. One, they kill people when no one is watching; therefore, no witnesses. Two, they're usually strangers or mild acquaintances to the victim, making it difficult for the police or community to connect a suspect to the crime."

Although a gang sometimes attacks women in public, serial killers and individual rapists almost always attack when no one is watching. Pat recommends that women travel in groups to protect themselves. While feminists and women's rights groups may yell foul, Pat Brown says, "Your rights aren't the one in question — it's what he thinks his rights are. Besides, it is better to be safe than dead."

According to her, there is a difference between an unknown killer and a known killer at large. Recently, in the U.S., suspected Olympic bomber, Eric Rudolph, was unexpectedly "caught" by a local police officer after a five-year manhunt. After reviewing the "evidence", Pat concluded that the authorities knew all along where he was; they just didn't want to "find" him until they had better evidence to bring him to trial. She says, "Some known killers are very elusive and it does take years to hunt them down. Other known killers are known only to the police department who hasn't enough evidence to actually link him to the crimes. This is where a profiler can help."

Pat Brown believes it is possible for police, profilers and women's rights groups to work together across geographical boundaries. "As a profiler, I'm interested in the reduction of crime and victims in all parts of the world. As a woman, I'm particularly sensitive to the victimisation of women and children because even self-defence courses do little to save the lives because of larger assailants," she says. "There is often fear in police departments that a profiler will make them `look bad'. A lot of the reluctance to use profilers comes from the mistaken idea that the profiler `solves' the crime as opposed to the police solving the crime. I've done some profiling for police departments outside the U.S. by post or e-mail though I've never actually worked on site in another country."

Though Pat has travelled extensively in Europe, Central America, Mexico and Africa, she has never been to India. However, she is big fan of Indian movies, both Bollywood and Tamil movies. Her favourite actors are Shahrukh Khan, because of his willingness to try anything and Kamal Hassan, who she thinks is a superb actor. Though she has her own TV show, Pat doesn't watch American TV. She has a collection of over 100 Indian movie DVDs. The movie she enjoyed the most recently was "Kananthil Muthamittal" for it touched a personal chord as one of her children is adopted.

She loves Indian clothes and has a large collection of salwar kameezes and lehengas. She has been studying Indian dance, both a regional/Bollywood style and takes Kathak classes. Pat Brown hopes to visit India in the near future, for either pleasure or work, or better yet, a combination of the two.

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