Masterclass: John Douglas Teaches How to Think Like an FBI Profiler.

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As chief of the National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime, John Douglas conducted groundbreaking interviews with notorious criminals such as Charles Manson and Ed Kemper, changing interrogative tactics forever. Netflix’s “Mindhunter” was inspired by the FBI’s first criminal profiler, John Douglas.

Starting in the 1970s, John Douglas, a profiler for the American domestic intelligence and security service known as the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), sat across from hundreds of incarcerated murderers with the goal of understanding the ones still at large.

Born in Brooklyn, New York, and raised in Long Island, John grew up playing baseball and envisioned a veterinary career. After high school, he did a stint in the U.S. Air Force, eventually studying psychology at Eastern New Mexico University and the University of Wisconsin, and earned a doctorate in education from Florida’s Nova University

Chance Encounter

In 1970— just after leaving the air force—John struck up a conversation one day with a stranger at the gym. The man identified himself as a government agent; he knew of John’s educational history and accolades and asked if John was interested in the FBI. Their chat moved to the agent’s home, where John was able to compare the spacious house with his own dingy basement apartment. John decided to sign up.

In 1972, the bureau established its Behavioral Science Unit (BSU), which focused on criminal psychology and the mental condition of law enforcement officers. John joined in 1977; because of his degrees in psychology and his experience as a hostage negotiator, he began instructing agents and other law enforcement personnel on criminology.

When he retired in 1995, John had interviewed thousands of violent criminals and hundreds of serial killers. He and his craft would also serve as inspiration for several movies and TV series—Silence of the Lambs, Millennium, Criminal Minds, and The Profiler, to name a few—but John wanted to tell his story on his own terms. That year, he teamed up with author Mark Olshaker to write Mindhunter: Inside the FBI’s Elite Serial Crime Unit. Since the book’s release, John has written more than a dozen others, and Mindhunter was turned into a television series on the American streaming platform Netflix.

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