The FBI Behavioral Science Unit's Evil Minds Research Museum.
Subject: Museums (Services)
Author: Vecchi, Gregory M.
Pub Date: 12/22/2009
Publication: Name: Annals of the American Psychotherapy Association Publisher: American Psychotherapy Association Audience: Academic; Professional Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Psychology and mental health Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2009 American Psychotherapy Association ISSN: 1535-4075
Issue: Date: Winter, 2009 Source Volume: 12 Source Issue: 4
Topic: Event Code: 360 Services information
Product: Product Code: 8411000 Museums & Art Galleries NAICS Code: 71211 Museums SIC Code: 8412 Museums and art galleries
Organization: Government Agency: United States. Federal Bureau of Investigation
Geographic: Geographic Scope: United States Geographic Code: 1USA United States
Accession Number: 216961282

The FBI Behavioral Science Unit (BSU) founded the BSU Evil Minds Research Museum in 2008 with the mission to "study serial killer and other offender artifacts for the purpose of developing a deeper understanding of offender motivation, personality, and intent in order to assist and enhance investigative strategies and techniques." Simply put, the vision of the museum is to assist in mitigating and preventing future victimization through understanding the meaning behind offender behavior.

The BSU Evil Minds Research Museum is located in the basement of the FBI Academy. Access to the museum is limited to law enforcement personnel, special guests of BSU, or other designated persons by appointment only. This approach is used--first and foremost--out of respect for the dignity of the victims of these horrible crimes and to ensure that the offenders are not glamorized.



In December 2008, Dr. Gregory M. Vecchi, unit chief of the BSU, received a call from a man, who was not involved in law enforcement, who claimed he had been studying serial killers for over 25 years and had a valuable "collection" of serial killer items such as paintings, artwork, and correspondence that he wanted to donate to the BSU. After several telephone conversations, Dr. Vecchi made arrangements to have the items picked up from the man by local field agents. Upon receipt of the items, it was discovered that the serial killer artifacts were indeed one-of-a-kind items, including clown paintings by John Wayne Gacy (the killer clown), greeting cards from Lawrence "Pliers" Bittaker (sexual sadist killer), a manifesto, and thousands of pages of written correspondence from a dozen serial killers, including Danny Rolling, Ottis Toole, and others.

A cursory review of the items revealed a fascinating realization: this was correspondence between the serial killers and their friends and family, rather than information traditionally obtained through interactions with the police (i.e., interviews, interrogations, research, etc.). The materials provide unique insights into the killers' motivations, personalities, and the meaning behind their behavior simply because when corresponding with friends, family, and themselves, there was no apparent reason to put forth a certain socially desirable image; whereas, in their interactions with the police and other authorities, the killers were more likely to feel compelled to present a certain image and demeanor.




Law enforcement agencies, the public, and other entities are encouraged to donate unneeded evidentiary items, personal effects, or other items of interest that have the potential to provide insight into the minds of serial killers and other offenders. Donations are accepted at the sole discretion of the BSU. Unless otherwise directed, all donors will be recognized by a plaque in their honor within the museum. Moreover, all donations will be preserved for research purposes, and, as appropriate, displayed within the museum.

Visiting Scholar Program

The BSU has established the BSU Evil Minds Research Museum Visiting Scholar Program (VSP) for the purpose of analyzing and interpreting serial killer and other offender artifacts. The VSP seeks established scholars with strong research skill sets in handwriting, content, and statement analysis, oil painting and artwork interpretation, paint brush stroke pattern analysis, psycholinguistics, and related specialties. All candidates must be able to pass an FBI background investigation. Travel expenses and lodging will be provided based on available funding.



Contact Information

For further information, please contact the Museum Curator and Deputy Unit Chief Mr. Steven R. Conlon at (703) 632-1153, or BSU Unit Chief Dr. Gregory M. Vecchi at (703) 6321132,

Victim Advocates Work to Impede The Sale of 'Murderabilia'


Serial killer John Wayne Gacy produced clown paintings from prison that generated a reported $100,000 in income before his execution in 1994. Although many consider the sale of this art to be disrespectful and offensive to the families of his victims, there is demand for serial killer art and artifacts. Wisps of hair, nail clippings, and even tchotskies from murderers' homes are sold online to collectors daily.

Andy Kahan, director of the crime victims division of the Houston mayor's office, dubbed these items "murderabilia." For nearly a decade, he has been working to get these items off the market--and to keep criminals and their associates from prospering from the sales.

Kahan has long been pushing for a federal statute that would prohibit criminals from selling murderabilia through third parties on the Web. "Currently, eight states have passed their version of what I call The Notoriety for Profit Law," Kahan said. The federal bill, which originated in 2007, was sponsored by Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas and has languished in Congress. "The federal bill never received a hearing and hopefully wilt be refiled this year," Kahan told Annals.

Getting the message heard has been an uphill battle because many consider the bill to be a contradiction to First Amendment rights.

New York passed "The Son of Sam Law" in the mid-70s to prevent serial killer Sam Berkowitz from profiting by selling his story to publishers. In 1991, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the New York law on the grounds that it violated free speech.

"When you're convicted of a heinous crime, as these individuals have been, you forfeit some of your rights," Sen. Cornyn told Houston Public Radio. "And one of those rights that you forfeit is the right to profit from your crime. And that's exactly what this legislation would be designed to do, is to prevent them from profiting, or anyone really, not just the criminal but anyone from profiting from that crime."

By Gregory M. Vecchi, PhD, CFC, DABCIP, DABLEE
Gale Copyright: Copyright 2009 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.