Michael Cannell, Author of "Incendiary," on the History of Criminal Profiling | WYPR

Michael Cannell, Author of "Incendiary," on the History of Criminal Profiling

Jul 25, 2017

Credit Macmillan Publishers

Today, a conversation about criminal profiling and how it came to be standard procedure in police investigations.  Today, we take it for granted that when crimes occur, particularly serial crimes - think Ted Kaczyinski or David Berkowitz or Jeffrey Dahmer - that police will consult with experts who are able to provide a likely profile of these perpetrators so police can figure out who and where they are. Despite 19th century literary figures like Sherlock Holmes, who was fond of saying that identifying criminals was, ”Elementary, my dear Watson,” the field of criminal profiling is actually a relatively new phenomenon.

In the 1950s, New York City was terrorized by a bomber who set off explosions at places like Radio City Music Hall, Grand Central Station, and Penn Station. His rampage lasted 16 years; He exploded 32 bombs that led to 15 people being maimed or injured.

The “Mad Bomber” -- as he came to be known -- sent letters to newspapers explaining that he was upset with Con Edison, his former employer. For years, police were stumped, as New Yorkers became increasingly scared. The cops didn’t solve the case until they consulted with a relatively unknown psychiatrist who worked at a mental hospital in Queens. Tom's guest today is the author Michael Cannell, whose latest book tells the story of how Dr. James Brussell, working with a newspaper reporter and a science-minded police chief, helped identify and ultimately arrest the Mad Bomber. The book is called "Incendiary: The Psychiatrist, the Mad Bomber and the Invention of Criminal Profiling." 

Michael Cannell joins Tom from Argot Studios in New York.