John Douglas’ “Mindhunter” | Lit Legal Reads

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Greg Nahas’ Pick:

My first contribution is Mind Hunter by John Douglas. Douglas was the head and founder of the FBI’s Investigative Support Unit. What does that mean? He helped catch serial killers based on the creation of personality profiles derived from crime scene photos. If you’ve ever seen Silence of the Lambs, Clarice Starling’s boss, Jack Crawford, was based on the real-life John Douglas (author Thomas Harris took one of Douglas’ classes at Quantico, and actor Scott Glenn consulted with Douglas in preparation for the role – an experience that changed Glenn’s life – Douglas played recordings for him, that I have heard independently, and will never forget. I’ll say no more about that).

Douglas created personality profiles so accurate from the crime scene photos, he would give the color of the UNSUB (Unknown Subject)’s car. Don’t believe it? Read the series and find out exactly how he did. So, let’s try something. I’ve given this quiz a number of times, to a great number of people. The point of it is not whether you get the right answer, but the importance is how you came to the conclusion. This is from The Anatomy of Motive, the fourth book in Douglas’ series. If you’ve read the four books leading up to this quiz, this is actually very easy. So far, the only individual who has gotten this right for the right reasons without reading the books is my darling, beautiful, and really inconveniently perceptive fiancee, Heather. 

So what happened here? You have no facts other than those presented. Assume nothing not in the fact pattern. Let me know what happened, and more importantly, why, how and most importantly, how you came to your conclusions. And yes, this is a real case, exactly as it was presented to Douglas.


The profile coordinator from the Portland, Oregon FBI Field Office calls with reference to a kidnapping. These are always among the most difficult and emotionally searing cases for law enforcement, as it is very difficult not to project their fears for their own families into the case. 

It was Sunday morning, the second week in January, and Nicole Singer, twenty-one years of age, had just bundled up her two year old, Elizabeth, known as Elsie, into her coat, hat and mittens to visit Nicole’s new boyfriend, Tommy Rowan, a twenty-eight year old successful contractor and avid sailor.

As Nicole was passing by the kitchen of their garden apartment, she noticed a carving knife standing blade-up in the cutlery container on the drain board next to the sink. Fearing that if she didn’t put the knife away properly, Elsie might get hold of it and seriously injure herself, Nicole reached for it to place it in the drawer. But just as she did, her hand slipped and the knife sliced across her palm. 

The wound, while not deep, was a long cut and immediately began bleeding noticeably. Nicole sharply told Elsie to go wait for her in the living room, then rushed into the bathroom to tend to the wound. Although she didn’t lock the bathroom door, she closed it so Elsie wouldn’t see all the blood and become upset. At least twice while she was in the bathroom, Nicole called out to the little girl to ask if she was alright, and both times Elsie replied that she was, the last time complaining mildly that she was getting hot. Nicole told her to take off her hat and mittens and to unbutton her coat, but not to take it off, because they were already behind schedule.

By the time Nicole stopped the bleeding, cleaned the wound, and bandaged her hand, she figured 20-25 minutes had passed. She called Elsie, but received no answer. She looked for her throughout the apartment. The child wasn’t there. Now panic-stricken, Nicole went out the door and ran down the hallway, first in one direction, then in the other. She tried the stairway and the lobby, But Elsie was nowhere to be found. 

She raced back up the stairs to her apartment and dialed 911. She was bordering on hysterics. She told the operator that her “baby had been kidnapped.” Despite Nicole’s agitated state, the operator skillfully obtained the information she needed while attempting to calm her. Uniformed police officers were dispatched and arrived on the scene within six minutes of the call and immediately undertook their own search for the child, finding nothing. One of them noticed that the front door was ajar and asked Nicole if the door had been closed or ajar, locked or unlocked, during the time the child was waiting for Nicole to administer first aid to herself.  Nicole was still in an extremely agitated state, but said the door had definitely been in a locked mode, and that she thought the door was closed, but since she had gone out and left it open behind her, she could not be sure. When the other officer suggested that either someone came into the apartment and took the child or Elsie became bored and wandered off on her own, Nicole again became hysterical. The officers drove her to the nearest emergency room, where her hand wound was redressed and was closed with five stitches. 

A large man-hunt – composed of police and sheriff’s officers and many volunteers – combed the area, but no trace of Elsie or any evidence was found. When the FBI was brought into the case the next day, agents advised the police to administer a polygraph to Nicole and her boyfriend, Mr. Rowan. Both willingly agreed to undergo the polygraph. Mr. Rowan expressed deep concern for Nicole’s mental health, stating during the conversation with the FBI agent that he and Nicole had already started talking about marriage. Mr. Rowan had not been married previously. Both passed the polygraph, with Nicole’s examiner noting that she remained highly emotional throughout the test and clearly felt guilty about leaving the child alone for as long as she had.

Then on Wednesday, Nicole called the detective assigned to the case. In that day’s mail, a small package wrapped in brown paper arrived in the mail. There was no return address. When Nicole opened the package, she found one of Elsie’s mittens. When questioned by the detective and FBI, she said she was absolutely sure it was Elsie’s mitten and not a duplicate or similar looking one. She said she could tell because there was a snag in the fabric around the wrist and she had been meaning to repair it. 

No note or communication of any kind was included with the mitten. At that point, if you’re a profiler, you know what happened.

So…what happened, and more importantly, why, how and what brought you to that conclusion. The reasons are more important than the answers. The thought process is key. There is an answer, and I will share it with any interested.

Gregory Nahas, Esq.

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