Thursday, October 12, 2017

Boston College Homicide Forum Talk 10.14.17

The Atypical Homicide Research Group was initially formed as the brainchild of a fellow scholar and man that became my mentor and friend. Leonard Morgenbesser, the anti-gun-violence advocate and researcher at the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision of Albany, sought to assemble a small group of academic researchers, mental health practitioners and law enforcement officers, to better understand the sexually violent offender. Leonard was distraught about the lack of a safe space for researchers to converse about topics that affect them on a professional or personal level. He wondered why he could not simply email a query to a group of experts willing to provide feedback. When I met Leonard at a conference in Binghamton, New York in 2011, the groundwork for such a collaborative had been in the process of forming since 2005 when Robert Ressler encouraged me to survey some of the top criminologists in the world during my internship at the FBI Academy. Before their passing, both Leonard and Robert had fostered in me the unwavering feeling that drawing upon expertise outside of my own limited viewpoint was an acceptable avenue to venture down.

Those surveys highlighted a huge problem in the field of atypical homicide research: a dearth of data or any effort to systematically control the quality of what had been gathered up to that point. Combating the antiquated viewpoints that had been built up would require hordes of data, some of which existed in many disparate formats across researchers that worked without interacting with one another. I set out to correct this deficit by convincing my fellow researchers to share their data with one another, an unprecedented act that called for a mix of ignorance and bravery. I quickly came to understand that the course of this path would be unpredictable and treacherous as factions had formed due to previous conflicts and distrust. Some of these obstacles may never be overcome as my recent research explores the biases often too ingrained in the personalities of those that study atypical killers. I knew that convincing others to buy into a reliance on technology to aid in understanding serial crime and mass violence through information sharing and discussion was critical but I became known as the “data pest” to many that openly criticized the use of such techniques. Being cognizant of my colleague’s fallibility required me to occasionally excuse their questionable behavior and take their deficits into consideration. Engaging in these processes helped me to mentally bypass much of the treatment directed at me over the years.

As my favorite fictional academic, Professor McGonagall, asks aloud after Harry Potter saves Ron Weasley from being poisoned, I too asked why these actions were necessary. Answering that question required some historical background and education about how atypical homicide research had been conducted to that point. In 1989, a behavioral analyst stated that ‘We know of at least 50 serial murderers out there. We have no idea where they are or what they’re doing or why they’re doing it.” Over the next 25 years, serial murderers would erroneously be typed as having a “compulsion” to kill for fun due to evilness and wickedness. Serial murder was said to be committed with a repetitive pattern as an emotionless, involuntary act with only one motivation and method used throughout the entire series. Past research attempts have been categorized as “dealing with narrowly defined acts and the most sensational cases.” Lack of reliable data has contributed to the slowing of research on serial crime and is a key obstacle. For decades, much of the study of atypical offenders took place among small teams in information silos using prototypical singular case studies like to Ted Bundy, John Gacy and David Berokwitz to inform about the entire population of offenders. Because each team defined atypical homicide in different ways, statements made by one researcher often conflicted with those made by others. Rivalries and adversarial relationships formed as researchers were not keen to share their insights since they generally served as the foundation for published works. One such book was fashioned into a show released on Netflix yesterday. David Fincher’s Mindhunter is based on a book by a former FBI profiler which chronicles his and a fellow agent’s journey into the minds of serial killers. These agents famously trumped the rules of their superiors and conducted a series of interviews with 25 confined serial offenders. Researchers in the audience might scoff at generalizing findings from an N of 25 to a population as diverse as serial killers, but findings from this study are still cited today 30 years later. The FBI still maintains purview over the investigation of serial homicide cases even without maintaining a dataset of serial killers. Instead, this criminal act has been exploited for entertainment value by shows like Criminal Minds and a recent miniseries on the Unabomber. Written by former agents, these efforts expand the lore of the agent’s heroic actions to further their own legend.

The myths and stereotypes that emerged from the self-reported statements of killers have gone unchallenged for decades. These unfounded sentiments have influenced public opinion, law enforcement procedures and even government policy. Police still consider homicides involving the strangulation and rape of young females to be perpetrated by psychopathic white, male, loners sublimating grudges against their mothers into the victimization of strangers. Serial killers are labeled as monsters even today, thought capable of acts inconceivable by normal men. In the late 1970’s, interest in the burgeoning phenomenon led some to falsely claim that the ‘crazed, serial sex killer’ was a new class of criminal; killing without motive and responsible for the countries’ thousands of unsolved murders. Serial killers still enjoy some measure of anonymity due to the misinformation generated at our expense. Fascination with serial murderers continues through the consumption of true crime books, movies and television programs devoted to the topic. Each source contains embellished accounts with great effort taken to provide audiences with caricatures of these offenders, celebrating their reputations and reducing serial murder to a consumable construct. Multiple murderers may be portrayed in this way to lessen our collective fear under the thinking that if we parody something, we maintain power over it. Labels often applied to serial murderers such as “evil” and “monster” may help us to reduce our anxieties, but they lure us into a false sense of knowing.

That being said, we now understand that serial murderers have a multitude of complicated motives ranging from expressive to instrumental. Offenders may not always derive enjoyment from the death of their victims, with some killing to eliminate witnesses. Others kill for satisfaction, pleasure, or sexual excitement, due to feelings of anger or loyalty, a desire for revenge, power, control or attention, for a criminal enterprise or financial gain, to terrorize or exterminate a group or because of hallucinations or mental illness. Considering the combinations of influences on serial murderers, it is inaccurate to describe their motives as one-dimensional. Motivation can be a synthesis of rationales and could include reasons known only to them. Some do not identify themselves as serial murderers or lack self-awareness, blaming dreams, depression or genetics for their crimes.

While it is not possible to know the true prevalence of un-apprehended serial murderers, it is important to note that we are not in the throes of an epidemic. Looking retrospectively, we see that there are approximately fifteen to twenty serial murderers captured each year, a large contrast to the estimates made during the mid-1980s of 500 active killers with 6,000 victims annually. The problem with estimation is the result of the ways serial murder has been defined - which paradoxically determines the data to be collected. Even now, the terms serial homicide and lust killer are synonymous, exacerbating definitional issues that have prevented the systematic study of serial homicide to this day. More academic research articles are written about the need to come to concordance on a definition of atypical homicide than actual quantitative analysis on the data that we do have. Even today, after what was dubbed 14 days ago by the media as the worst mass shooting in history, one noted criminologist and former FBI profiler referenced a case from 1966 – Charles Whitman, the Texas Tower Sniper – in the hopes of explaining the current killer’s actions. The use of a fifty year old case highlights how anecdotes have guided what we know about atypical homicide. The prevalence of contradictory statements also confuses and undermines research efforts. One researcher pleaded for the media not to focus on the total count of victims to avoid inspiring future shooters to break such a record but later states that the offender was especially unique for his use of an automatic weapon. In telling the reporter that this was the very first instance of an automatic weapon being used, had not a challenge been instantly issued to the next killer to outdo and excel beyond his predecessors in new and novel ways?

Some in this field promote the view that few can comprehend the actions of serial killers, convincing others that intervention requires insight only they possess. Because most known serial killers are incarcerated or deceased, direct study of these subjects can be difficult and categorizing them impossible. As such, researchers are forced to rely on secondary sources and gather data using only accounts from the news media. This approach has hampered our ability to elicit meaningful results from offender’s biographies as it is fraught with obstacles and biases. Greater access to primary sources and cooperation from law enforcement agencies is needed to ensure that data is timely and accurate. Even given these obstacles, we have been able to make some headway in learning more about serial killers. Our results indicate that serial murderers are not consistently performing the same crime scene behaviors throughout their series. These findings test the notions that these offenders consistently take souvenirs or leave signatures, escalate in their violence as they continue killing, improve their methods and change their strategies over their careers. Violent acts performed on a body such as mutilation or decapitation also does not automatically signal the presence of a serial murderer. They can be members of a gang, organized crime ‘hit men’ or convenience store clerk murderers. Most remain close to home during their series and some have even been known to kill acquaintances, family members and spouses. We now know that every other serial killer since 1995 has been African American and only eighteen percent of offenders match the old FBI demographic profile. Serial killers rarely abide by an identifiable set of routines or patterns, hardly ever use the same weapons throughout their series of crimes and do not consistently leave a unique calling card behind. The data demonstrates that serial murderers kill for a variety of motives from pleasure and excitement to profit and witness elimination. They are certainly not all products of bad childhoods or sexually sadistic psychopaths of above average intelligence. Most have never abused animals, wet their bed as children, consumed body parts or expressed a desire to be caught. The use of firearms constitute the majority of deaths at the hands of serial killers, a fact that directly counters those criminologists that insist serial killers need a hands on killer to feel satiated. This is one of the more important findings from the database as it helps investigators consider victims as part of a series that might have been previously overlooked if abiding by the “strangled, sexual assault victim” myth.

Our atypical homicide research community was established with the purpose of bridging the gap between current thought and practice through open communication, informed discussion and information sharing. Our secondary objectives are to facilitate the dissemination of research materials, solidify partnerships and foster connections amongst one another while building professional relationships on a foundation of trust and mutual respect. A major accomplishment of the collaborative is the open acknowledgement that the landscape of atypical homicide is changing partly due to naturally occurring phenomenon such as better technology - like ever present cellular phones and surveillance technology - to the purposeful education of potential victims of the threat that serial killers represent. Better law enforcement and stricter sentences have contributed to a reduction in the most prolific offenders over the past few decades with the most common offender being those that kill two victims. Our data demonstrates that there is a high number of people that killed, went to prison, came back out and killed again. With longer sentences, they are not out at an age when they would kill. The ubiquity of DNA makes it much easier to catch someone after one murder than it had been 40 years ago. Committing certain types of homicides like insurance fraud and killing patients in hospitals is more difficult now due to system wide safety measures. There are fewer targets today due to changing behavior patterns over the years. Some people believe that life today is far more dangerous when in fact the numbers indicate that it was not a safe period back then and many serial murder victims resulted from normal activities. People used to walk everywhere and ride their bike everywhere. Hitchhiking has all but been abolished but that was very common in the 1970s. Most people would call in to help a disabled motorist rather than getting out to help them. There is also a tendency for parents today to be helicopter parents where most actions are monitored. Kids are not allowed to walk to and from school, ride their bikes or go hiking and fishing alone. The Internet provides would-be offenders the opportunity to placate themselves without victimizing unwilling participants. Greater utilization of the underground sex trade and the likelihood of offenders warehousing abductees means they no longer need to kill to eliminate complaining witnesses as frequently. Efforts to educate the public about these offenders led to increased awareness that odd behaviors, stalking offenses, paraphilias and violent tendencies toward animals or others in youth are part of a larger group of warning signs.

The decline in serial homicide calls into question the image of the infallible, successful killer these offenders were once thought to be. Perhaps societies’ past ignorance of their means and motives allowed serial murderers freedoms they can no longer enjoy. While the desire to become a serial killer may not have dissipated, many of the aforementioned factors may have permanently displaced some offenders, forced others into altering their MO or into early retirement. Filling the gap are an influx of what some call would-be serial killers – those on their way to realizing their goal of killing serially if not for their premature apprehension. The presence of wannabes – those expressing the desire to kill sequentially but are arrested after severely assaulting someone or killing one person – has also increased.

The atypical homicide research group has always stood for something grander than the profit based agenda of whatever institution warehouses it: that is the full embrace of open science. While we are far from attaining that goal, I am proud of what we have accomplished over the years. The wide distribution of data we have facilitated ensures an equal playing field for young and old researchers alike. The atypical forum provides a voice and motivation for all to participate in the larger conversation of where our field is going. The community atmosphere allows those struggling with the effects of studying these phenomena to vent their frustrations and concerns. We have collectively contributed to the capture of serial killer Felix Vail who victimized his own wives over the span of several decades. We assist journalists worldwide in helping to understand these offenders, from Panama and Uganda to all over the US. We recently facilitated an open letter signed by 150 subject matter experts calling for the media to stop giving attention to mass murderers. We have prevented the early release of suspected serial killer Samuel Galbraith and Ripper Crew member Thomas Kokoraleis. We have laid the groundwork for the creation of a national cold case society to be formed and recently contributed to a project designed to document the status of long dormant rape kit evidence and hold law enforcement agencies in Ohio responsible.

As the world moves towards a future guided by artificial intelligence, we have tailored our recent work to create an electronic surveillance dashboard and adapt the technologies of Machine Learning, Networked Systems and Behavioral Sequence Analysis to better help understand serial homicide offenders. Human relationships will still be a vital aspect of these efforts, though, and remain at the forefront of our minds. Along that vein, we recently partnered with the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit and the Homicide Investigation Tracking System of the Washington State Attorney General's Office. The data resulting from these sharing initiatives will be monumentally important in increasing the validity of our data. We will continue to support the groundbreaking work of the Murder Accountability Project, whose data helps to identify potential serial murder victim clustering around the US. MAP is currently partnering with the Western University Cold Case Society to investigate a cluster of homicides in Atlanta, an initiative that may produce actionable leads for detectives or provide closure for families. A true highlight of our work was contributing to the Globe and Mail’s inquiry into the murders of indigenous women and helping them to identify the factors contributing to their victimization. As technical advisors on A&E’s “The Killing Season” docuseries, we strove to attain a sense of realism and helped ground the program in reality.

This has been a personal journey for me, one where my investment has compromised some relationships and at times my judgment. In the hunt for notoriety and enhanced reputation I have clung to toxic people that exist merely to forward their own agendas of self-promotion, building them up while being torn down and used up myself. Too often, academia is about measuring individual contributions to science which results in the quest to attain certain scores or outpace colleagues. These metrics are given higher prominence than inspiring others to achieve their own greatness. We must remember first and foremost that we are profiting off the demise of those whose lives were taken from them. Our approach must be one of respect and candor not only for the victims but for each other. To the younger researchers out there, I urge you to remain undismayed from making inroads in this field as there is much to be done. My advice is to realize that many of us maintain some of the same qualities inherent in the offenders we study and help capture. These psychopathic tendencies may make us better pursuers of what lies at the core of the atypical murderers mind but fails to aid us in connecting to the hearts of those around us in any meaningful way. Some of us may never receive the credit we rightfully deserve for ushering in new paradigms or cultural shifts but true leaders learn to transcend these quests to satiate our egos. As the old guard is replaced by younger researchers, it is imperative that we shed the animosity that has accumulated over the years of rivalries with others. It is possible to leave your own legacy without overtaking the contributions of others and succumbing to the pettiness that oftentimes abounds in research institutions.

Although serial murder is in a period of decline, our desire to distance ourselves from these killers has contributed to their elevated stature. Until they are appropriately humanized and accurately represented, we will continue to be surprised to learn of their true nature after each capture. Since the primary mechanism through which serial killers are apprehended is details provided by the public, the more educated we are about serial killers and their personality types, the better equipped we will be to aid in their apprehension and punishment. We must learn that serial killers cannot be sought out or detected by applying preformed stereotypes to the general population. We must rise above the deplorable concept of murder as entertainment, continue to dismantle institutionalized mythology and treat each other with respect while doing so. Atypical homicide is a systemic problem that requires a broad range of solutions. In the end, the victimization of the helpless is a failure on each of us not just as researchers, mental health practitioners or law enforcement professionals but as fellow citizens that overlook our own impact on those around us.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

The Perpetual Influence of Dark Traits on Alienists: Dissecting the Use of Transgressive Behavior and Antagonistic Schemes to Obtain Esteem by Inhibiting Social Cohesion and Altering Functional Norms

The aggressiveness exhibited toward future colleagues by probationers from what Christin (2017) calls the expert fields – comprised here of law enforcement, journalistic and academic domains – typifies the character of those surviving rigors heaped upon them. Rites of passage perform as selection mechanisms that allow experts withstanding such rituals access to the sanctity derived from possession of credentials. The propensity to direct lingering animosity at associates after the passage of these trials, coupled with the inclination to lure others into the oppressive fray, compels trainees of the expert fields to behave in defective ways. Because the best are inevitably led astray by systems that gradually reward the wrong behaviors (Apple, 2017), such transgressions became tautologically linked to their professions. These transformations are now inextricably infused to the initiate’s temperament and served as the harbinger of the malevolent side of human nature to these sectors. The antisocial nature required to participate, flourish and thrive in these institutions may, as Muris, Merckelbach, Otgaar, & Meijer (2017) postulate, foster dark features in those encountering what Christin (2017) calls ‘strict barriers to entry”. This chapter will explore the heterogeneous and multidimensional (Kowalski, Vernon, & Schermer, 2017) dark characteristics that influence six dark personality-derived profiles [referred to hereinafter as profiles] specific to the expert fields: Phony Charlatans, Mystic Defenders, Harboring Imposters, False Mentors, Foraging Collaborators, and Disreputable Profiteers.

Beacons in the Dark?

Criminals receive undue attention from the expert fields as non-offenders – whose traits, attitudes and circumstances aid in a renouncement of unlawful behavior – are ignored (DeLisi, 2017). Society relies on the law enforcement officer (LEO), journalist and academic to function as beacons of order and knowledge in dark times, those marked by Kajonius, Persson, & Jonason (2015) as decreasing in empathy for others and contemporary culture. Although they continue to swear to abide by oaths of honor and integrity in their service to the public, the unmitigated power assumed by these disciplines has attracted some with nefarious intent (Barker, 2014). Given the centrality afforded to expert knowledge in modern society (Christin, 2017), when autonomy, relatedness and competence (Furnham, Hyde, & Trickey, 2014) come into dissonance with context, a transmogrification occurs that facilitates the utilization of behaviors such as wanton hostility, threats of excommunication and fear of rebuke to aid in obtaining stature and control. Future pro-social efforts to be truthful, honest, fair, sincere, and faithful (Muris et al., 2017) are enveloped once the dark traits are understood to carry minimal threat of negative psychosocial consequences (Furnham et al., 2014; Jonason, Webster, Schmitt, Li, & Crysel, 2012) and be beneficial to the possessor.

The dark tetrad of Machiavellianism, narcissism, psychopathy and ‘everyday sadism’ (Black, Woodworth & Porter, 2014; Paulhus & Williams, 2002) are evolved and adaptive strategies (Jones & Figueredo, 2013) consisting of inter-correlated personality traits (Paulhus, Curtis, & Jones, 2018) and exist in the framework of transgressive behavior (Muris et al., 2017). These enduring styles of thinking, acting and feeling are measured on a continuum of individual differences (Paulhus et al., 2018), often tied together with Social Dominance Orientation (Sidanius, Liu, Shaw & Pratto, 1994) and abundant among those that study and capture serial homicide offenders. No research addresses the commonalities across the investigative and social professions of the expert fields as Hare (2017) believes viewing clinical descriptions and empirical findings through a prism of dysfunction regarding these traditionally respected roles is difficult.

Hare (1980) undertook study of psychopaths around the time interest in serial murder compelled researchers and practitioners to invest in that construct. The terms became conflated (Sherretts, Boduszek, Debowska, & Willmott, 2017) due to the nature in which offenders treat their victims (Hickey, Walters, Drislane, & Patrick, 2014). The quest to understand how serial murder and psychopathy interface (Hickey et al., 2014) and questions regarding why individuals with characteristics and experiences similar to those of the multiple murderer do not commit serial killings (Schlesinger, 1998) required experts to begin studying this phenomenon from the perspective of the serial homicide offender (Culhane, Hilstad, Freng, & Gray, 2011). It has since been discovered that most perpetrators of homicide (Boduszek, Debowska, & Willmott, 2017; Sherretts et al., 2017) and serial homicide (Beasley, 2004; Hickey et al., 2014; Culhane et. al, 2011; Reid, 2017) fail to rank adequately high enough on the revised Psychopathy Checklist (Venables, Hall, & Patrick, 2014) to be considered psychopathic. This suggests that the difference in intensity of traits between forensic and non-forensic populations is not as pronounced as once thought (Boduszek et al., 2017). Although some argue that the core characteristics of psychopathic personality disorder are incompatible with successful functioning (Brooks & Fritzon, 2016), mediating violent drives with everyday sadism may allow the profiles to operate efficiently while venting anger and demeaning others for pleasure (Jones, 2017). These findings place the pursuers in closer proximity to the pursued as use of the dark tetrad has been identified as aiding in professional endeavors (Furnham et al., 2014; Jonason et al., 2012).

Valuing the Principled Use of Dark Traits

Because dark traits – characterized by Kajonius et al. (2015) as entitlement, superiority and dominance (i.e., narcissism), glib social charm and manipulativeness (i.e., Machiavellianism), callous social attitudes, impulsivity, and interpersonal antagonism (i.e., psychopathy) and enjoyed cruelty (i.e. sadism) – are understood to be practical responses to everyday life they must be thought of as learned values. The exclusion of others is encouraged by leaders of the three domains viewing them as businesses. Individuals high on dark tetrad traits, craving stimulation, achievement, and power (Kajonius et al., 2015), are often heralded while supervisors mistake meretricious dominance as being effective and persuasive. The value systems maintained by employees of the expert fields are inconsistent with most simply due to the type of specialized focus and subject matter with which each contends. While repeated exposure desensitizes homicide investigators to death, some in the expert fields display empathy strategically to further goals and resort to surface and deep acting to depersonalize and distance themselves (Huey & Kalyal, 2017). Therefore, the darkness of the tetrad does not necessarily originate from some latent evilness but rather a difference in principles (Kajonius et al., 2015).

The rigid rule structure imposed upon staff at each of the three institutions has existed for hundreds of years, standing as a challenge to the most dark and imaginative to invent ways of circumventing such regulations and directives. The normalization of corruption in law enforcement organizations (Ashforth & Anand, 2003), entitlement in academic environments (Turnipseed & Cohen, 2015), elitism (Christin, 2017) and sensationalism in the news media (Parmley, 1995; Pauli, 2017) are byproducts of dark personalities learning boundaries and breaking rules. Muris et al. (2017) might categorize those in the expert fields as “living in circumstances under which they no longer observe rules”. While most occupations may not sponsor the use of transgressive behaviors to advance society (Muris et al., 2017), members of the expert fields that engage in violations of social norms and moral values are often seen as just, curious, creative and influential in retrospect, where narcissism is confused with self-confidence and antisocial personality disorder is a marker of decisiveness and courage (Furnham et al., 2014). Perhaps dark personalities intentionally activate facets of their character when advantageous to accomplishing goals or when course correcting after forced by hindrances to stray from their true providence. In response to hazards experienced during daily work routines of the expert fields, Paulhus et al. (2018) note that Machiavellians utilize relational aggression to establish social hierarchies or to assert power, sadists perform boring tasks for the opportunity to harm others, and narcissists show aggressive reactions to insults to their intellectual ability.

Fortunately, most activities begun by dark personalities progress no further than providing opportunities for the profiles to showcase themselves as these endeavors are often founded in myth (Beauge, 2013). For this reason, the dark personalities’ inclination to destroy others may appear trite or even conventional by modern standards (Paulhus & Williams, 2002). The tendencies common to dark personalities – self-promotion, emotional-interpersonal coldness and aggressiveness (Paulhus & Williams, 2002) – manifest through a common core of disagreeableness and inevitably result in overlap throughout current measures of the dark tetrad (Paulhus et al., 2018) and across career sectors (Kijak, 2016). While significant relationships exist between narcissism and leadership, Machiavellianism and competitive roles, psychopathy and positions of authority and power, Machiavellians in particular are suited to investigative (policing, journalism) and social (education) careers (Kijak, 2016). This review demonstrates that the profiles contain less of the psychopath’s erratic lifestyle and deficiencies in impulse control and more of their disinhibited, coercively parasitic orientation and bold but superficially conning natures, less of the Machiavellianist’s cynical disregard for morality and more of their long-term deliberate calculation and goal-directed strategic planning, less of the narcissist’s pursuit of gratification from vanity and more of their arrogance, egotism and exaggeration of attributes to appear superior.

Illuminating the Path Forward

Research is needed to discern if the dark tetrad concept is redundant with the variance in the dark personality traits contained in the Big Five factors of openness to experience, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness and neuroticism (Rantanen, Metsäpelto, Feldt, Pulkkinen, Kokko, 2007). This review followed the roadmap laid forth by Muris et al. (2017) which suggested future research focus on populations other than student samples, approaches beyond the cross-sectional and results produced from consideration paid to the dimensionality of personality and the proximal examination of the dark traits. Because individuals in community samples with dark traits tend to underreport negative behaviors (Paulhus & John, 1998), the paucity of factor analytic work using measurement instruments such as the Self-Report Psychopathy Scale–Short Form (SRP-SF) precludes any firm conclusions from being made regarding its dimensionality (Debowska, Boduszek, Dhingra, Sherretts, Willmott, & DeLisi, 2017).

The use of alternative observational methods was required in this review to gauge the existence and impact of dark traits among those that study and capture serial homicide offenders. Since self-report questionnaires may aid narcissists, Machiavellians, psychopaths and sadists in presenting themselves in a disguised way (Muris et al., 2017), ethnographers, as Christin (2017) notes, should be keenly sensitive to discrepancies between outward statements and private sentiments. Those under the employ of these three vocations are hyperaware of dark traits and would be less forthcoming about potentially latent characteristics lingering within themselves. The author, whose presence and work among the expert fields has spanned nearly two decades, acts as the primary informant and utilizes an ethnographic strategy as a means to bypass the observer effect, attribution errors and fake-good reporting biases. Because the traits and characteristics of these disorders are a product of complex interactions between biological and temperamental predispositions and social forces (Babiak, Folino, Hancock, Hare, Logan, Mayer, Meloy, Häkkänen-Nyholm, O’Toole, Pinizzotto, Porter, Smith, & Woodworth, 2012), it is important to frame this review as concentrating on those whose efforts to make inroads to become well established experts in their careers cause distress to others through use of transgressive behavior and antagonistic schemes.

Consequences of Transgressive Behavior and Antagonistic Schemes

Complaints regarding etiquette can appear unfounded given the seemingly positive impact dark traits have had on these sectors. Research demonstrates that serial homicide is declining as a result of alienists magnifying qualities shared with the pursued (Yaksic, DeSpirito, & Reid, 2017). But the psychopathic personality condition, which results in substantial destruction to the self and others (Colins, Fanti, Salekin, & Andershed, 2017) alongside the mercurial nature of many industry standouts has caused derailment (Furnham et al., 2014) to occur. Because older scientists champion the regnant paradigm out of emotional connection and prestige (Gobry, 2016) timeworn tropes and outmoded perspectives dictate much of what is known regarding serial murder. The use of structured and systematically collected data was explored (Yaksic, 2015) to combat the deleterious proliferation of myths overtaking the study and pursuit of serial homicide offenders due to the reliance on anecdata and obsession with archaic crimes (Evans, 2017; Haigney, 2017; Killelea, 2017; Notes, 2017) over the past half century. The abandonment and collapse of this initiative, which intended to freely offer information on serial murderers, is attributable to a multitude of factors – misplaced political affiliations, deep personal biases, open disdain for credit sharing and a commodification of the work of others for personal gain (Yaksic, 2017a). Such characteristics, indigenous to the realms of law enforcement, journalism and academia (Babiak et al., 2012), lead those composed of dark personality traits to unceremoniously obtain influence, collude with like minds to maintain power and prevent open and transparent discussion.

Skepticism about the quality and quantity of information held in datasets is a healthy exercise (Long, 2017) in the era of big data but one often viewed as setting the stage for adversarial relationships. Few support open science or the confrontation of errors (Oransky & Marcus, 2017) in order to keep data hidden and protect against the discovery of its limitations and flaws. The non-rational psychological mechanisms of psychic numbing, pseudoinefficacy and the prominence effect (Slovic & Slovic, 2015) impact efforts to provide meaning to data as the profiles ensure that the good of the few outweigh the needs of the many. Consortiums among the expert fields serve as feedback chambers rather than true exchanges of ideas because public sector employees are less likely to involve others in work activities and have a weaker social presence than those in the private sector (Furnham et al., 2014). The depth and length of teamwork determines the speed in which alliances deteriorate and fail, leading to what Black et al. (2014) call short-term exploitative relationships as the realness of colleagues is divulged after the need to feign empathy wanes. Results of the present author’s collaborative experiment (Yaksic, 2015) demonstrate that the cognitive importance, perception of resemblance and positive emotional valence associated with belonging to the in-group is central to the self-concept (Sherretts et al., 2017) of the expert fields. Resultantly, faction forming, segregation and disavowal of other’s work are the chosen methods of dealing with viewpoints counter to the mainstream. For example, the theory regarding the decline in serial homicide (Yaksic et al., 2017), which would taper the wild exaggerations behind the estimations of serial homicide victimization (Fridg, 2017; Gellatly, 2017; Whiffen, 2017; Montgomery, Rice, & Cummings, 2017; Dumcius, 2017) and effectively curtail the agendas of profit seekers, is at the mercy of such obstacles and may culminate in negative backlash directed towards the authors.

Refracting Light Upon the Dark Archetypes

Behavior enabling ruthless subjugation has become commonplace in the 21st century as those in power exercise their will over others regardless of consequence. Power, domination and control play a large part in the lives of serial homicide offenders because serial murder is about the practiced masking of true intentions through use of duality and presentation of self to exert masculinity. Although “pro-social” dark personalities behave similarly, they remain unchecked and insulated by status and rationalizations while spouting support for the victims and their families. The emergence of the profiles coincides with the witting utilization of strategies and reliance on fiendish tactics to accomplish nefarious goals to forward reputations, increase stature, garner awards and collect payment.

Members of the profiles attempt to halt the process of impermanence by carving out niches, altering origin stories, rewriting histories and protecting legacies. The battle to starve off irrelevancy parallels the journey embarked upon by serial homicide offenders to avoid capture, the associated pitfall of obscurity and the forced consideration of the scope of their wake. The continuous distribution of some aspects of the profiles ensures their dimensional, as opposed to categorical, classification. The idea that psychopathic personality traits in adults are best viewed on a continuum was posited by DeLisi (2009) even in the context of the popular opinion that psychopaths are inhuman and qualitatively different from other individuals. Babiak et al. (2012) concur, asserting that there is a range between highly psychopathic persons to those with the same number or fewer traits in a milder form. Because the expert fields exercise immense control over their turf and care fanatically about structure of positions within these spaces (Christin, 2017), navigating antagonistic personalities within these subclinical worlds involves being aware of the components of which each is comprised.

The Phony Charlatan (PC) plies inspirational platitudes and peddles false hope to a victim’s surviving family (Ferak, 2017) to manufacture celebrity by proxy. Forming symbiotic relationships with successful individuals and attaching themselves to high profile cases grants these professional connections access to aggrandizing quotations later used as promotional material for merchandising opportunities such as tomes detailing the life experiences (Mains, 2017) of these dissemblers. Experts at self-promotion, PCs deceive themselves with unrealistic perceptions of their “superhero” quality (Paulhus, 1998). Lacking requisite talent, PCs cast aside contrary judgments and garishly thrust their way into the mainstream. PCs prioritize the practice of appearing on media forums willing to host their unrelenting yet empty pitch messages of redemption in the face of adversity ahead of generating actual meaningful contributions as they yearn for virality (“TV show”, 2015). PCs exist as a packaged set of goods and services as their wares must be presented to migrating audiences in a readily consumable format. PCs are masters at advancing their commercial stature but sacrifice integrity on a quest to attain the wealth to which they feel entitled. Cultivating a besotted, sycophantic fanbase and pandering to those spectators aids PCs in alchemizing their once obscure status to that of ‘living legend’ but sometimes requires harnessing misfortune and any semblance of personal connection to tragedy.

The Mystic Defender (MD) calls attention to an ongoing war of good against evil proclaimed to be waged throughout society. MDs scoring high on dark traits are seen more as “warriors” (Muris et al., 2017) with an unchallenged messianic complex and assure themselves of an eventual triumph over sinister forces. These fabulists are the embodiment of fantastical thinking and invent elaborate stories that serve as mechanisms to inject themselves into the chronology of others’ lives (Beauge, 2015). MDs are supremely capable of persuading others to believe a deluded version of reality where intervention requires insight only they possess as few can comprehend the actions of criminals as they are able. MDs wish to be trumpeted as visionaries and demand that others bask in the glory of their creations. Their trajectories remain aimed towards favorable outcomes regardless of the preponderance of voices clamoring for evidence of such masterful deeds. For example, MD’s frame unresolved homicides as stories without finite endings in an ingenious ploy that absolves them from any expectations of providing a conclusion. To MDs, bringing attention to cases is enough of a contribution as blame is placed on LEOs for any stall in momentum. Inactivity is interpreted to be the byproduct of a territorial workforce (Ferak, 2015) whose burdens can be alleviated by taking advantage of the consultation services offered by the MD and their cadre of ‘super friends’ (Brandolph, 2014). Imagery is broadcast as propaganda to indoctrinate, instill a sense of valor and boldness and be emulated by underlings because MDs desire to subvert preexisting cultures and transition herds to higher plains of existence (Hiller, 2013). Without acknowledging the often complex network of circumstances that affect outcomes in the criminal justice system, MDs erroneously assume that the dedication of will and attention can conquer all problems.

The Harboring Imposter (HI) capitalizes on their target’s benevolence and requests assistance traversing the landscape of the expert fields only to jettison their guides once they establish their own foothold. HIs can be classified as prototypical “users” intent on fulfilling personal agendas under the guise of acting on the instruction of larger entities such as media conglomerates, newspapers or television companies. HIs are characterized by a compulsive need for limelight by generating “look-at-me” reportage (Nazaryan, 2017) and attempting to bring literary aspirations to true crime (Miller, 2017). An unwavering belief in their superiority causes HIs to wield others as pawns to attain the endless litany of awards reserved for those whose offerings outmatch their peers (Clarion-Ledger, 2017). These individuals precipitate narratives and nurture timelines that serve to place the storyteller at the forefront (Quinn, 2017; Smith, 2017) using modern techniques such as doublespeak or the humblebrag.

The False Mentor (FM) molds conscripted lieges into loyal subjects while using this oftentimes uncredited talent to sustain their own interests. Youthful energy is syphoned by FMs as the student’s naivety and willingness to contribute is misused. Because mentor relationships are parasitic and transactionary alliances conducted under the equivocal façade of loyal friendship, the eventual realization that such manipulation occurred leads to a deterioration of the relationship. Future career prospects are hampered when the relationship becomes irreparable because the student’s network is comprised of individuals recommended by FMs. Wary of heirs to claim their kingdom, valid suggestions are often unheeded due to the FMs fragile sense of self. Although FMs have poor follow through, the mistakes of their henchmen are seldom overlooked. Refusal to allow others to validate the work of FMs inspires siloed teams, resulting in unbalanced projects loaded with errors and missing data (Anonymous, 2017). Some lives are defined by achievements and the inflated stature garnered from work done by others, perhaps encouraging the intellectual theft, blatant plagiarism and ethics violations in the expert fields.

The Foraging Collaborator (FC) feigns loyalty and respect when offering their services only to disappear after periods of dormancy. The intelligence amassed by FCs is traded to competitors to increase their stake in the next in-group. FCs are acutely aware that titles equate to worth and build reputations intended to be enamored by those outside of their expert field. FCs pledge allegiance to themselves, alienating those that helped them acquire reverence. Oftentimes trained by FMs, FCs come to view relationships as transient, ephemeral and disposable. Inhuman metrics meant to judge individual competency fuel the FC’s search for partnership but the process of leveraging connections sanitizes all meaningful interactions and trumps any measure of authenticity. The FC’s miniscule contributions, transformed by politics, can surpass those of the primary investigators in the eyes of outsiders.

The Disreputable Profiteer (DP) gains from the suffering and pain of victims and their surviving family, being careful to avoid any missteps that affect the marketability of their products and complete their mission no matter the cost. DPs develop a meritorious attitude where both adulation and compensation are deserved with no mode of monetization beyond their grasp. The golden age of true crime (Stewart, 2017) relieves the DP from concerns that the denigration of victims should be regarded as anything more than a wayward interest (Beck, 2014; Flynn, 2017; Owen, 2017) but closer inspection demonstrates how exploitative this pastime of murder tourism can be (Bennett, 2017; Miller, 2017; Nicholson, 2017). DPs flout limits and expand their reach into taboo areas (i.e., necrophilia) as a means to channel the fleeting attention of true crime connoisseurs. DPs are without serious credentials and instead deploy methods devised to cloak those deficits by means of misdirection (e.g., artificial padding of H-Indexes, outright plagiarism, focus on niche markets or use of anecdotes instead of data). These techniques often lead to struggles over a subject’s purview while DPs uphold the status quo by answering serious inquiries with carbon copy, assembly line responses (Gross, 2017; Montgomery et al., 2017). DPs maintain a predisposition to embellish facts, a defect directly attributable to the same weak core tenets and underpinnings responsible for the formulaic mainstay of befriending serial killers solely to profit from the demise of others (Bonn, 2014; Phelps, 2017).

An Unspoken Kinship Between the Pursuers and the Pursued

Many professions are populated with those nurturing some proportion of the dark traits – discourteous physicians, rude bus drivers, impolite waitresses, ill-mannered executives, disrespectful bartenders, uncivil engineers, ungracious insurers, unscrupulous attorneys, lurid personal trainers, egotistical models, antisocial social workers and vile truckers – but dark personalities emerge only when callousness and manipulation function as one. To be considered intentionally harmful, one must be simultaneously dishonest and lack concern for others (Jones & Figueredo, 2013; Paulhus et al., 2018). The duties of LEO, journalist and professor are given to those with high levels of cognitive abilities, extraversion and agreeableness – characterized by Muris et al. (2017) as trustworthiness, straightforwardness, altruism, compliance, modesty, and tender mindedness – but the profiles often deceive to ensure that their subjects (e.g., informants, sources or research assistants) cooperate while remaining apathetic to considerations for their long-term wellbeing. Huey and Kalyal (2017) add that those with high emotional intelligence can display emotions they do not genuinely feel, giving a perceived authenticity to their emotive labor and empathetic appearance. Dishonesty is inherent across all dimensions of the profiles and in tune with the pervasiveness of grandiosity, callousness, competitiveness and the lack of adherence to moral rules and values found in the expert fields. Here, the absence of honesty and empathy converge across the profiles and constitute the malevolent personality representing a ‘dark core’ of covariance (Jones & Figueredo, 2013). These three industries also employ creative and narcissistic individuals (Muris et al., 2017), each with high levels of verbal fluency, originality and speed of processing which concurrently enable them to produce more credible lies and contribute to feelings of entitlement and engagement in unethical behaviors as the benefits of deceptive behaviors (Sarzyńskam, Falkiewicz, Riegel, Babula, Margulies, Nęcka, Grabowska, & Szatkowska, 2017) are recognized.

There is an invariable parallel between the mechanisms directing the behavior of the serial murderer and those of the profiles. Each enacts plans after a series of past successes while accommodating a level of social disengagement alongside feelings of ‘otherness’ (Hickey et al., 2014). Stalwarts of these vocations cannot insert bias as they keep the general public at arm’s length while protecting, quoting and studying them. But those from the profiles fostering sentiments of discontent and their doppelgängers (i.e., serial murderers) rely on callous-unemotional features to readily bend the narrative to fit their worldview. The anticipation and attainment of reward motivates both while each operates at the behest of the antisocial dimensions of psychopathy (Hare, 2017) and commit their offenses in a secretive, highly compartmentalized manner (Hickey et al., 2014). Levin and Fox (2008) argue that sadistic serial killers do not differ from other people in terms of their ability to exercise empathy, manage the impression they make on others, compartimentalize and dehumanize. Instead, killers merely lack a position of dominance in the legitimate system. The same proneness to deviancy that serial murderers express during their progression towards enactment (Hickey et al., 2014) conversely aides some in the expert fields to make strides after attaining appointments laden with esteem. The expert fields demand excellent memory retention as does a serial homicide offender’s ability to recall facets of crimes decades afterwards. Novel ideas often arise in the expert fields as intrusive thoughts along the same wavelengths that inspire offenders to act at the insistence of knowledge gleaned during periods of introspection and imaginative thinking. Investment in reputation is as crucial to the expert fields as the serial murderer’s need to control how they are portrayed. LEOs, journalists, professors and offenders are consumingly self-aware and share mental processes beyond the detestable outcome of violent phases and acts. 

Whatever spawns the initial attraction to investigate serial murderers, the expert fields come to find qualities intrinsic to serial killers commingled with their own personalities. Curiosity regarding the amount of tethering and overlap between the pursuers and the pursued often reveals the path towards self-revelation but concomitantly undoes most internal progress. The absence of morality and reliance on excuses, rampant in the expert fields, makes connections to others counterfeit in soulless and bankrupt self-serving ventures. Methods used by the expert fields – such as crafting clever origin stories meant to assist in preying on targets – are unabashedly disingenuous and matched only by fraudulently questionable motives. The collateral damage caused by the profiles is often outright ignored, belatedly celebrated or quickly justified; in turn preventing them from comprehending that such a myopic pursuit of grandiosity diverged from the orthodox. Like serial murderers, the profiles institute ruses and concoct façades to avoid criticism and are often confused by those in opposition to their messages. The profiles experience anxiety regarding the desperation to advance and are acutely aware that judgment may arrive from those peering under the surface to penetrate their veneer. Each in the expert fields is described as working towards missions believed to be accomplishable by them alone due to their cunning and devious ways. The influence of other’s goodwill is insignificant to the profiles as each remains convinced that their success materialized solely due to their own knowhow. 

Displays of high antagonism and low conscientiousness are hallmarks of the disorder of psychopathy but may be extreme levels of normally distributed personality traits (DeLisi, 2009) similar to those sustained by serial murderers. To persist in the expert fields requires a falsification of entire features of one’s persona. In presenting a forward facing image, the profiles cajole others to believe that they are adept at meeting the demands of participating in teams, meanwhile securing their individual vested interests. Implementing moral disengagement (Egan, Hughes, & Palmer, 2015) allows the profiles to capitalize on their standing to ardently protect territory, destroy the prospects of others, falsely claim credit and authorship over the ideas of others, injudiciously refuse to collaborate, exploit the good will of colleagues, emanate false confidence, demean the contributions of others and control the narrative. As social media amplifies the ability to share branded messages beyond unhealthy levels (Clemente, 2017), members of the profiles shun mutualistic social strategies in favor of antagonistic ones where others are regarded as objects to be abused or rivals to be defeated (Jones & Figueredo, 2013). Those with dark personalities thrive when presented with opposing goals, relying on dubious practices and evoking gamesmanship rules to steal the advantage from their nemeses.  

A Dark Playground Entrenched in Lore

According to Branson (2013), to secure funding for the mission of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), agents of the Behavior Science Unit invented the existence of super predators to be uniquely dangerous villains (Jenkins, 2002) stoppable only by a law enforcement agency equipped with the prognostication method of criminal profiling.[1] FBI agents, acting as advisors to the works of author Thomas Harris, romanticize the idea that a damaging interplay occurs in interactions between interviewers and their subjects. Interviewers are pulled from the brink of insignificance and receive meaning from killers filled with implications for cases and, by extension, their own lives. This folie à deux arises as retired agents are coaxed to form symbiotic relationships with offenders via unorthodox methods that eventually decimate their life. Because of the congenital appeal the presumed infectious madness has on those in extended close proximity to serial homicide offenders, such iconography continues to spawn fictional works (Gardiner, 2017) which have precipitated a legion of dogmatic references to the necessity of becoming a monster to catch one. Exaggerations in Kevin Williamson’s The Following, Neil Cross’ Luther, Eric Overmyer’s Bosch, Nic Pizzolatto's True Detective, Stieg Larsson’s Men Who Hate Women and Joe Penhall’s Mindhunter pale in comparison to Jo Nesbo’s The Snowman which adheres to all of the fabled trappings designed to placate fans: a completely insane killer that is never going to stop taunting or playing games with the damaged detectives.

Due to these depictions, the uninitiated perceive the process of meeting a serial murderer as involving great sacrifice since interviewers allow offenders to occupy their headspace. It should be noted that examiners do not become disgruntled or disfigured by their respondents and even form friendships with these killers (Bonn, 2014; Phelps, 2017). Some interrogators are gleeful at the importance their work provides them and the effect such dealings have on their friends and family (Williams, 2017). Society must determine if it owes a debt to those claiming to possess unique insight – garnered not from a systematic analysis of data (Northeastern University Atypical Homicide Research Group, 2017a) – often based on speculation (Byrne, 2017) or classified as erroneous (Gerber, 2017). Such covenants have become profitable dalliances to promoters with fictitious titles such as ‘criminal profiler” (Gerber, 2017; Mains, 2015; Snierson, 2017; X-G Productions, 2017), experts that command respect and expect adulation for shouldering the supposed burden of exposure to serial offenders. By securing access to multiple murderers, members of the profiles have transformed this arena into an exclusive province and safeguarded their positions as experts. DeLisi (2009) praises criminologists for their ability to study antisocial behavior without expressing contempt or making value judgments about offenders but, because those that study and pursue offenders are so intertwined with killers, such condemnations would stand as an indictment of the shared attitudes maintained by the latter and echoed by the former.

Turning Perception Inward

Few are employed to understand the abject suffering of others like LEOs, journalists and professors. These groups may have initially gravitated towards dark personalities to discern the meaning behind some undeveloped yet detectable qualities within themselves but the observance of such a dichotomous phenomenon as serial murder may have inadvertently imprinted parts of the pursued upon the pursuers. Fallon (2014) pioneered the idea of turning perception inward to unveil the commonalities shared between researchers and psychopathic criminals. The belief that some might become murderers without the proper structures in place has been further explored by others that claim all have a latent capacity to kill under the right circumstances (Phelps, 2017). Some in the expert fields may indeed rival serial murderers in feeling attracted to death (Malizia, 2017) and experiencing excitement garnered from the discovery of illicit images or stories of murder but symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (Chopko, Palmieri, & Adams, 2015; Kopel & Friedman, 1997), burnout and compassion fatigue (Sollie, Kop, & Euwema, 2017) may be induced in investigators not equipped with a dark personality. Psychometric testing might uncover an immunity held by those harboring aspects of the profiles by deciphering how they became hardened to human suffering (Sollie et al., 2017), unresponsive to the intrusive memories, avoidance, negative changes in thinking and mood, alterations in physical and emotional reactions (Center for Substance Abuse Treatment, 2014) and ignorant to the instinct of being repulsed by death (Malizia, 2017) experienced by the general population.

But not all involved in the study and apprehension of serial murderers stay the course. Some criminal justice students yearn to find themselves on the hunt for the whereabouts of such offenders but most researchers move on to other topics after publishing one or two articles on the topic (Dowden, 2005). Although leadership roles on serial murder taskforces are avoided by LEOs[2], even tangential exposure to this environment could engender a subsummation of dark qualities (e.g., lack of empathy, assertion and egocentrism, use of manipulation and being unconcerned by the negative consequences of actions). More research is needed to coax out which triggers and stressors urge dark personalities to cope with trauma by responding with hostility. It is doubtful that other professional fields of inquiry stimulate such inharmonious dispositions, duplicity and discordant functions within operatives like in the expert fields. Professors must collaborate with others while also generating enough unique ideas to be considered independent investigators, LEOs are paid to actively deceive others to meet their objectives and journalists are to remain secretive of their sources while expecting others to trust them implicitly. Perhaps those that have retired from the expert fields were cognizant that transformations can produce anxiety such as loss of structure and isolation (Turnage, 2017). Those dedicating their time to understanding serial offenders may have self-actualized and come to accept that present in them are traits shared with killers. Reveling in the gore and most gruesome aspects of death suits the expert fields, folks rarely committing to projects for altruistic purposes, the love of science, or the advancement of self-discovery. Such processes were the last vestiges before the expert fields surrendered to the burgeoning entertainment complex.

No Fear of the Dark

Several fixtures of popular culture – Harry Potter, Iron Maiden, The Legend of Zelda, Twin Peaks and Stranger Things – have juxtaposed light and dark, each remarking on those dual influences on the inhabitants of those universes. Society has slowly awoken to the existence of what lies in wait through these mediums. The expert fields of this world have been trying for decades to engineer an interest in crime as recreation and cultivate a desire to connect to its storytellers. In necessitating an attraction to serial offenders, the expert fields fleshed out their careers long before movie stars attached themselves to serial murderers when reclassifying their roles from novice newbies to serious actors (Ford & Kit, 2017; Lovitt, 2016; Stack, 2017). Fascination with the devastation wrought by violent offenders may be explained by a need to satiate the call from within to locate likeminded people and capitulate to an equal sense of belonging. The urge to form a fanbase dedicated to the exploits of murderers and rapists (Bond, 2016) suggests that the origins of psychopathy extend beyond biology and heritable genes: the disorder may be a learned response to contagious external stimuli. The communicable spread of dark characteristics does run counter to the established myth of the solitary disposition attributed to the offenders at the center of such fawning.

Some measure of dissonance enables fans to label offenders as otherworldly beings, celebrate the actions of dark personalities and avoid direct comparison with their own commensurate behavior. As originators of monetizing the expedition for higher status, many in the expert fields openly embrace the creation of games (Britto, 2017; Sykes, 2017), true crime summer camps (Pettler, 2017), “profiling” classes (Mellor, 2017), escape rooms (Moss, 2017), tangible merchandise (Hafford, 2017), conventions (Fitzpatrick, 2017), podcasts (Palmer, 2017) and homicide hunk type personalities (DiscoveryID, 2017) – exploitative services purposely catering to an ever widening collective eager to ingest anything related to the criminal justice system, even if most products merely repackage criminal cases from past eras for new audiences. The ubiquity of podcasters and cold case “analysts” endowing true crime aficionados with titillating tales on the pitfalls suffered by prior homicide victims under the guise of providing actionable advice arises from our need to have complex topics reduced to consumable constructs (Colin-Thome, 2017). Only the darkest personalities can mine the experiences of those whose lives were taken to highlight potential mistakes. The worst and most desperate attempts to placate fans, though, result in feigned existential crises meant to enhance the author’s account of near consumption by the abyss (Kaplan, 2017; Mallie, Aguiar, Mendez, & Clark, 2017; McNamara, 2018; Williamson, 2017; Quinn, 2017). If authors were scarred by such proximal distance to depravity, why traumatize the public by subjecting them to these accounts if not to appear heroic for emerging unscathed?

Calling for Consideration as the Old Guard Mounts to Ensure It Does Not Come Up Again

Since culture is the byproduct of clashing personalities and differences, the mores and customs beset by those shaping a field in its infancy are often more indelible than at Fortune 500 companies. Nowhere are there more confrontational encounters and conflict than among stakeholders in making murder profitable. Several members of the expert fields have lent their voice to efforts that reinforce the tropes related to how serial murderers function and operate, dutiful servants reflexively progressing archaic theories with the expectation that such stagnant ramblings are owed renown. But these actions allow the ethos surrounding serial killers to endure beyond the current age of myth busting and stereotype dismantling. Those that mold and shape how offenders are scrutinized fortify their standpoints with the fierceness and solemnity reserved for those answering to a self-imposed higher calling. Within such an insular world, Edwards and Roy (2017) wonder what kind of profession is being creating for the next generation as perverse incentives and hypercompetition have given rise to misconduct and a reduction of scientific progress. Those without what are deemed proper qualifications are segregated and forced to prove their worth through meritorious service frequently benefiting the arbiters.

Up to this point, retention of talented and spirited members of the expert fields has depended upon the interplay between their willingness to continue traditions rooted in legend and their own resilience when treated improperly. The Northeastern University Atypical Homicide Research Group (NUAHRG) was created to correct decades of misinformation and construct deep collaborations to supersede those begun by the profiles (Northeastern University Atypical Homicide Research Group, 2017b). Adventurous investigators should be given opportunities to explore novel techniques (Yaksic, 2017b) and avenues (Keatley, Marono, Reid, Yaksic, & Clarke, 2017) in interstitial science (Greenleaf, 2017) without the threat of reprisal from colleagues. Instead of struggling to reincorporate emotional intelligence into callous brains (Hagerty, 2017), the NUAHRG forum comforts those with vulnerabilities that were initially drawn to and subsequently exploited by dark personalities (Black et al., 2014). The application of dispositional empathy is critical when enticing prospective contributors to overlook a history of mistreatment. Gobry (2016) calls for the career track for science to be delivered back to mavericks from the elder careerists so often rewarded for forcing the youngest scientists to kowtow to their theories to avoid professional risk. Without the injection of new and righteous energy, the expert fields will be in dire straits for decades to come.

Society is banding together to hold industries accountable for their erroneous ways and salacious behaviors (Reader, 2017). It is time for the expert fields to celebrate those challenging regnant paradigms and embodying the spirit of science (Gobry, 2016), to do away with the bias of hostile attribution (Paulhus et al., 2018), to admonish those writing exhibitionistic and superfluous memoirs (Miller, 2017) and abolish the profiles, scrubbing the historical record of their abuses. Psychopathy is more prevalent in community samples than once hypothesized (Sest & March, 2017; Paulhus et al., 2018) meaning that it may be the dominant trait of the dark tetrad and hold a superordinate position over the malicious yet subordinate features of narcissism and Machiavellianism (Muris, et al., 2017). Since almost two thirds of the publications on the dark tetrad appeared in recent years (Muris et al., 2017), this area of inquiry remains fertile ground for new discoveries such as the role influences such as circuit dysregulation (Hosking, Kastman, Dorfman, Samanez-Larkin, Baskin-Sommers, Kiehl, Newman, & Buckholtz, 2017) or enhanced potency to lie (Shao, & Lee, 2017) might play in the maladaptive decision making process of psychopaths. To properly address the identity crisis discussed in this review, the expert fields must disentangle from the pull of the dark traits and ironically give into the period of darkness called ‘via negativa’, a silence and fasting of the soul allowing for new growth and maturation of the human spirit (Seaward, 2014). A former agent of the FBI stated that arrogance and narcissism were fatal traits held by many killers that led to their demise (Gerber, 2017). The expert fields may be doomed to suffer the same fate by repeating patterns from the past and being unwilling to reform.

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[1] The fabled abilities of this organization are so ingrained into societal fabric that it has been intimated that the Long Island Serial Killer case languished unresolved because the FBI was initially shut out (Killoran, 2016).
[2] Andreu, N. (5 May 2017). Research assistance. Message posted to NUAHRG electronic mailing list. Archived at