John Douglas was one of the FBI's first profilers.
Douglas joined the FBI in 1970, and his first assignment was in Detroit, Michigan. In the field, he served as a sniper on the local FBI SWAT team and later became a hostage negotiator. He transferred to the FBI's Behavioral Sciences Unit (BSU) in 1977, where he taught hostage negotiation and applied criminal psychology at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia to new FBI Agents, field agents, and police officers from all over the United States. He created and managed the FBI's Criminal Profiling Program and was later promoted to unit chief of the Investigative Support Unit, a division of the FBI’s National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime (NCAVC).
While traveling around the country providing instruction to local police, Douglas and his colleague Robert Ressler began interviewing serial killers and other violent sex offenders at various prisons. Some of the most notable violent criminals in recent history were interviewed as part of the study, including David Berkowitz, Ted Bundy, John Wayne Gacy, Charles Manson, Lynette Fromme, Arthur Bremer, Sara Jane Moore, Edmund Kemper, James Earl Ray, Sirhan Bishara Sirhan, Dennis Rader, Richard Speck, Monte Rissell, Donald Harvey, Joseph Kondro, and Joseph Paul Franklin. The result was the book Sexual Homicide: Patterns and Motives, followed by the Crime Classification Manual (CCM). Douglas later received two Thomas Jefferson Awards for academic excellence from the University of Virginia for his work on the study.
Douglas examines a crime scene and creates profiles of perpetrators, describing their habits and predicting their next moves. Ultimately, when his work helped snare the criminals, he can help build strategies for interrogating and prosecuting them. Douglas was instrumental in the capture of numerous serial killers and for years he attempted to catch the Green River Killer in the Seattle, Washington metro area. The Green River case nearly cost him his life, when his stressed and overworked body was unable to fight off viral encephalitis.
Following his retirement from the FBI in 1995, Douglas has gained international fame as the author of a series of books detailing his life tracking serial killers and has appeared numerous times on television. His books are considered to be some of the most insightful works written on the minds, motives, and operation of serial killers and the methods and lives of those who track them. He also works as a consultant, most notably in the JonBenét Ramsey murder. His controversial analysis concluded that the Ramseys were not responsible for the death of their daughter. This was the first case in Douglas's career where he was requested to consult for both the prosecution and the defense. In July 2008, the Ramsey family were cleared as suspects after an analysis of DNA found on their daughter's undergarments did not match them. Douglas was consulted in yet another controversial case known as "The West Memphis Three". In 1993, three eight-year-old boys were murdered and police and the prosecutors' office claimed the children died as a result of a Satanic sacrifice. Three teens were later tried and convicted. Douglas concluded the case was not satanic but rather a personal cause homicide. The three were released as part of a deal in 2011 when new exculpatory evidence was uncovered.
John Douglas pioneered "criminal profiling"; at the time of criminal profiling's conception, Douglas claimed to have been doubted and criticized by his own colleagues, until both police and the FBI realized that he had developed an extremely useful tool for the capture of criminals.
Douglas has also written text books for criminal profiling classes. He is the author, along with Mark Olshaker, of several books. There is also a screenplay being written for the book, Mindhunter: Inside the FBI's Elite Serial Crime Unit.
Douglas has joined College Tonight's board of advisers.