They had at least a week before they died of thirst. I'm innocent. If they died, it was because they decided not to free themselves.

Herman Kotchman, a.k.a. "The Premature Burialist", is a serial killer and abductor who was mentioned in the Criminal Minds novel Killer Profile.


Herman was born on a secluded rural farm in California, where he and his brother were abused physically and sexually by their stepfather. The boys' alcoholic mother was aware of the abuse but did nothing to stop it, believing that as long as her husband was preoccupied with the children, he would leave her alone. One night, the stepfather murdered Herman's brother when he tried to run away, and the family covered it up, burying the body in the backyard. Herman's stepfather would refer to the incident as "a terrible accident" and "our family secret". In 1966, Herman joined the army, barely making the cut, despite the lowered standards due to the Vietnam War. Shortly after enlisting, Herman was dishonorably discharged when he attacked a fellow soldier in the showers, claiming the man had been giving his penis a "funny" look. A year after his discharge, Herman, currently living in an apartment in Modesto, was called by his mother, who told him his stepfather had died, from what was later discovered to be cirrhosis of the liver. Herman's mother convinced him to help her bury her husband's body in the backyard and cover the death up, so she could continue to cash the dead man's social security checks.

Being back in his childhood home caused Herman, unstable since childhood, to snap and begin killing men who reminded him of his stepfather. Luring victims from gay bars and nightclubs, Herman buried them in homemade coffins in his backyard, giving them a small amount of water and a claw-hammer, which they could try and escape with. After killing four people, Herman was arrested when a would-be victim actually did manage to escape. Found guilty of four counts of murder, as well as kidnapping and attempted murder, Herman was sentenced to life in prison and placed in a California correctional facility. BAU profiler-turned-author Max Ryan (who, along with Gideon and Rossi, helped with the investigation) would go on to mention Herman in his book Serial Killers and Mass Murderers: Profiling Why They Kill.

Killer Profile

Copycat killer Daniel Dryden would later discover Herman through Max Ryan's book and copied his M.O., though the victim he buried, tracked down after Daniel's arrest, was saved in time. Like with all his copycat crimes, Daniel altered the M.O. in some way, in this case by not giving the victim water or a claw-hammer.


Herman completely disassociated himself from his crimes. While he admitted to the burials, he claimed no responsibility for the deaths of his victims, claiming that he gave them everything they needed to survive and escape and that it was entirely their fault that they died, going so far as to claim that the victims should have tried harder to get away and, because they did not, they evidently did not value their lives at all. Judging by his victimology (the victims all being males lured from gay establishments) and the reason for his military discharge (attacking a man for allegedly staring at his groin), it was possible Herman was a homophobe.

Modus Operandi

Finding his victims at gay bars and nightclubs, Herman specifically targeted men who reminded him of his abusive stepfather, so all the victims were balding, somewhat overweight, middle-aged males. The victims would be incapacitated and placed in a homemade coffin in the backyard of his childhood home. These coffins had a pipe attached to it, allowing the victim to breathe after they were buried. A few days worth of water and a claw-hammer, which the victim could use to try and escape with, would be left in the coffin with the victim, to give them false hope. Before completely burying his victims, Herman would say, "And another of his disciples said unto him, Lord, suffer me first to go and bury my father." This was a quote from the Book of Matthew.

Known Victims

  • Unnamed soldier (assaulted)
  • Four unnamed victims killed prior to his incarceration
  • Unnamed victim (attempted; he escaped)