Whoever Fights Monsters: My Twenty Years Tracking Serial Killers for the FBI

Whoever Fights Monsters: My Twenty Years Tracking Serial Killers for the FBI

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Face-to-face with some of America's most terrifying killers, FBI veteran Robert K. Ressler learned how to identify the unknown monsters who walk among us — and put them behind bars. In Whoever Fights Monsters, Ressler—the inspiration for the character Agent Bill Tench in David Fincher's hit TV show Mindhunter—shows how he was able to track down some of the country's most brutal murderers.

Ressler, the FBI Agent and ex-Army CID colonel who advised Thomas Harris on The Silence of the Lambs, used the evidence at a crime scene to put together a psychological profile of the killers. From the victims they choose to the way they kill to the often grotesque souvenirs they take with them—Ressler unlocks the identities of these vicious killers. And with his discovery that serial killers share certain violent behaviors, Ressler goes behind prison walls to hear bizarre first-hand stories from countless convicted murderers, including Ted Bundy, John Wayne Gacy; Edmund Kemper; and Son of Sam. Getting inside the mind of a killer to understand how and why he kills is one of the FBI's most effective ways of helping police bring in killers who are still at large.

Join Ressler as he takes you on the hunt for the world's most dangerous psychopaths in this terrifying journey you will not forget.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780312950446
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publication date: 03/15/1993
Series: St. Martin's True Crime Library
Edition description: Reissue
Pages: 304
Sales rank: 59,917
Product dimensions: 6.74(w) x 4.18(h) x 0.81(d)

About the Author

Robert K. Ressler (1937-2013) was a supervisory special agent of the FBI as a reserve colonel in the U.S. Army's Criminal Investigation Division (CID) before retiring. He later served as the director of Forensic Behavioral Services, a business dedicated to training, learning, consulting, and expert witness testimony. He is the author of Whoever Fights Monsters and the inspiration for one of the main characters in the Netflix Original Series Mindhunter.

Tom Shachtman is the co-author with Robert Ressler of Whoever Fights Monsters and Justice is Served. He's also the author of several books of history, including How the French Saved America.

Read an Excerpt

Whoever Fights Monsters

By Robert K. Ressler, Tom Shachtman

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 1992 Robert K. Ressler and Tom Shachtman
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-250-08499-6



Russ Vorpagel was a legend in the Bureau, six four and 260 pounds, a former police homicide detective in Milwaukee who also had a law degree and was an expert in sex crimes and bomb demolition. His job as Sacramento coordinator for the FBI's Behavioral Science Unit took him up and down the West Coast, teaching local police about sex crimes, and he had a lot of credibility to do so, because cops and sheriffs appreciated the depth of his knowledge.

On a Monday night, January 23, 1978, that local police confidence had translated into a call to Russ from a small department north of Sacramento. A terrible homicide had been committed, one that was far beyond the ordinary murder in terms of the violence done to the victim. David Wallin, twenty-four, a laundry-truck driver, had returned to his modest suburban rented home after work, about six on the evening of January 23, and found his twenty-two-year-old, three-months-pregnant wife, Terry, in the bedroom, dead, with her abdomen slashed. He ran screaming to a neighbor's house, and that neighbor called the police. Wallin was so upset that he could not talk to the authorities when they arrived. The first policeman who entered the home, a sheriff's deputy, was similarly shocked. Later, the deputy said that he had nightmares for months from viewing the carnage.

As soon as the police had seen it, they called Russ for help, and he called me at the FBI Training Academy at Quantico. Disturbed though I was about the murder, I was also intensely interested, because the case seemed as if it would provide me with an opportunity to use the technique of psychological profiling to catch a killer almost as soon as he had struck. Most of the time, when a case was sent to the BSU, the trail was long cold. In Sacramento, it was very hot indeed.

Articles in the newspapers the next day reported that Terry Wallin had apparently been attacked by an assailant in the living room of the house as she was preparing to take out the garbage. There were signs of a struggle from the front door to the bedroom; two bullet casings had been found. The dead woman was clad in a sweater-type blouse and a pair of pants; her sweater, bra, and pants had been pulled away from her torso, and her abdomen had been slashed. The officers at the scene told reporters that they could not determine a motive for the death, and that robbery had been dismissed as a motive because nothing had been taken.

In fact, the details were far worse than that, but, Russ told me, they were being withheld from the public so as not to cause a panic. Many people often think of the police as rather tough and heartless men who like to shove the public's nose into the dirt so taxpayers will know what the cops themselves have to deal with every day. Not in this instance; some details were kept in-house to spare the public unneeded agony and fright.

There was another reason for withholding information, as well: to keep private certain facts that only the killer would know, facts that might later prove valuable in an interrogation of a suspect.

What the public was not told then were these details: The major knife wound was a gaping one from chest to umbilicus; portions of the intestines had been left protruding from it, and several internal organs had been taken out of the body cavity and cut. Some body parts were missing.

There were stab wounds to the victim's left breast, and inside those wounds the knife appeared to have been moved about somewhat. Animal feces had been found stuffed into the victim's mouth.

There was also evidence that some of the woman's blood had been collected in a yogurt container and drunk.

The local police were both horrified and mystified, and Russ Vorpagel was alarmed, too, because from what he knew of sexual homicide, it was clear to him—as it was immediately obvious to me—that we had to act quickly; there was a distinct danger that the killer of Terry Wallin would strike again. The high level of violence, reflected in the ghastly crime scene, made that almost a certainty. Such a killer would not be satisfied with one homicide. An entire string of killings might follow. I was due to go out to the West Coast to teach at one of our road schools on the following Monday, and we made arrangements that would allow me to arrive on the Friday before that (though on the same taxpayer nickel) and help Russ look into this crime. It was going to be the first time that I was able to go on-site with a profile, and I looked forward to it. Russ and I were both so convinced of the likelihood of the slayer striking again, however, that we shot back and forth a bunch of teletypes and I did a preliminary profile of the probable offender. Criminal profiling was a relatively young science (or art) then, a way of deducing a description of an unknown criminal based on evaluating minute details of the crime scene, the victim, and other evidentiary factors.

Here, in the original (and not entirely grammatical) notes written at the time, is how I profiled the probable perpetrator of this terrible crime:

White male, aged 25–27 years; thin, undernourished appearance. Residence will be extremely slovenly and unkempt and evidence of the crime will be found at the residence. History of mental illness, and will have been involved in use of drugs. Will be a loner who does not associate with either males or females, and will probably spend a great deal of time in his own home, where he lives alone. Unemployed. Possibly receives some form of disability money. If residing with anyone, it would be with his parents; however, this is unlikely. No prior military record; high school or college dropout. Probably suffering from one or more forms of paranoid psychosis.

I had plenty of reasons for making such a precise description of the probable offender. Though profiling was still in its infancy, we had reviewed enough cases of murder to know that sexual homicide—for that's the category into which this crime fit, even if there was no evidence of a sex act committed at the scene—is usually perpetrated by males, and is usually an intraracial crime, white against white, or black against black. The greatest number of sexual killers are white males in their twenties and thirties; this simple fact allows us to eliminate whole segments of the population when first trying to determine what sort of person has perpetrated one of these heinous crimes. Since this was a white residential area, I felt even more certain that the slayer was a white male.

Now I made a guess along a great division line that we in the Behavioral Sciences Unit were beginning to formulate, the distinction between killers who displayed a certain logic in what they had done and those whose mental processes were, by ordinary standards, not apparently logical—"organized" versus "disorganized" criminals. Looking at the crime-scene photographs and the police reports, it was apparent to me that this was not a crime committed by an "organized" killer who stalked his victims, was methodical in how he went about his crimes, and took care to avoid leaving clues to his own identity. No, from the appearance of the crime scene, it was obvious to me that we were dealing with a "disorganized" killer, a person who had a full-blown and serious mental illness. To become as crazy as the man who ripped up the body of Terry Wallin is not something that happens overnight. It takes eight to ten years to develop the depth of psychosis that would surface in this apparently senseless killing. Paranoid schizophrenia is usually first manifested in the teenage years. Adding ten years to an inception-of-illness age of about fifteen would put the slayer in the mid-twenties age group. I felt that he wouldn't be much older, for two reasons. First, most sexual killers are under the age of thirty-five. Second, if he was older than late twenties, the illness would have been so overwhelming that it would already have resulted in a string of bizarre and unsolved homicides. Nothing as wild as this had been reported anywhere nearby, and the absence of other notable homicides was a clue that this was the first killing for this man, that the killer had probably never taken a human life before. The other details of the probable killer's appearance followed logically from my guess that he was a paranoid schizophrenic, and from my study of psychology.

For instance, I thought this person would be thin. I made this guess because I knew of the studies of Dr. Ernest Kretchmer of Germany and Dr. William Sheldon of Columbia University, both dealing with body types. Both men believed there was a high degree of correlation between body type and mental temperament. Kretchmer found that men with slight body builds (asthenics) tended toward introverted forms of schizophrenia; Sheldon's categories were similar, and I thought that on his terms, the killer would be an ectomorph. These body-type theories are out of favor with today's psychologists—they're fifty years old and more—but I find, more often than not, that they prove to be correct, at least in terms of being helpful in suggesting the probable body type of a psychopathic serial killer.

So that's why I thought this was bound to be a thin and scrawny guy. It was all logical.

Introverted schizophrenics don't eat well, don't think in terms of nourishment, and skip meals.

They similarly disregard their appearance, not caring at all about cleanliness or neatness. No one would want to live with such a person, so the killer would have to be single. This line of reasoning also allowed me to postulate that his domicile would be a mess, and also to guess that he would not have been in the military, because he would have been too disordered for the military to have accepted him as a recruit in the first place. Similarly, he would not have been able to stay in college, though he might well have completed high school before he disintegrated. This was an introverted individual with problems dating back to his pubescent years. If he had a job at all, it would be a menial one, a janitor perhaps, or someone who picked up papers in a park; he'd be too introverted even to handle the tasks of a delivery man. Most likely he'd be a recluse living on a disability check.

I didn't include some other opinions in the profile, but I did believe that if this slayer had a car, it, too, would be a wreck, with fast-food wrappers in the back, rust throughout, and an appearance similar to what I expected to be found in the home. I also thought it likely that the slayer lived in the area near the victim, because he would probably be too disordered to drive somewhere, commit such a stunning crime, and get himself back home. More likely, he had walked to and from the crime scene. My guess was that he had been let out of a psychiatric-care facility in the recent past, not much more than a year earlier, and had been building up to this level of violent behavior.

Russ took this profile to the several police departments in the area, and they started pounding the pavements looking for suspects. Several dozen policemen rang doorbells, talked to people on telephones, and so on. Media attention on the case was high, and focused on two questions: Who had killed this young woman and—even more puzzling—why?

More details continued to surface over the next forty-eight hours. Sacramento is the capital of California; Terry Wallin had been a state worker, on a day off. That Monday morning, she'd cashed a check at a shopping center within walking distance of her home, and there was speculation that the killer had seen her do that and had followed her home. Her mother had called Terry's home at one-thirty in the afternoon and had gotten no answer, and the coroner's office said Terry had been killed prior to that time. The coroner's office also was of the opinion that some of the stab wounds had been inflicted prior to Terry's death, but that fact was not told to the public. The men in charge of the investigation put out the word through the news media that the killer probably had had blood on his shirt as a result of the crime and asked anyone who had seen a man with blood on his shirt to call a special number.

On Thursday, the north Sacramento area was jolted with the news of more grisly murders. At about 12:30 P.M., a neighbor had discovered three bodies in a suburban home that was within a mile of the Wallin murder. Dead were Evelyn Miroth, thirty-six, her six-year-old son, Jason, and Daniel J. Meredith, fifty-two, a family friend; in addition, Miroth's twenty-two-month-old nephew, Michael Ferriera, was missing and presumed to have been abducted by the killer. All the dead had been shot, and Evelyn Miroth had been slashed in a manner similar to Mrs. Wallin. The killer had apparently escaped in Meredith's red station wagon, which was found abandoned not far from the crime scene. Once again, there was no apparent motive for the crime. The house was reported as not having been ransacked. Evelyn Miroth had been the divorced mother of three children; one resided with her former husband, and another child had been at school when the slaying occurred.

Sheriff Duane Low was quoted by the newspaper as calling the murders "The most bizarre, grotesque, and senseless killings I've seen in twenty-eight years," murders that had "terribly disturbed" him. Evelyn Miroth had been a baby-sitter for the neighborhood, and many of the children and mothers knew her well; other children had gone to school with the six-year-old boy.

No one could think of any reason for anyone to have killed them. A neighbor who had been friendly with the dead woman told a reporter that she felt like crying, "but I'm scared, too. That's awfully close." Residents of the neighborhood watched the local television news to get what details were available, and then came out of their homes to gather in clusters on the street and discuss the matter. It was a foggy night, and, with the waiting patrol cars and emergency vehicles and the knowledge of murder in the air, many found it to be an eerie scene. Though the reports said shots had been fired, no one could be found who had heard any shots.

People were frightened. Although police were trying to keep the information about the killings from causing hysteria, enough of it had leaked out so that doors were being double-locked, window shades pulled down; some people were even loading up their cars, station wagons, and small trucks and moving out.

Russ Vorpagel called me as soon as he heard the news. We were alarmed, of course, but as professionals we had to put aside our sense of horror and decipher the puzzle—right away.

From a crime-scene analyst's standpoint, the second group of killings provided important new information and verification of what we believed we already knew about the killer. At this second crime scene—again, these are details that were not immediately made public—the man and the boy had been shot but had not been molested. Meredith's car keys and wallet had been taken from him. In contrast, Evelyn Miroth had been even more badly molested than the first female victim. She was found nude on the side of a bed, shot once through the head, and with two crossing cuts on her abdomen, through which loops of her innards partially protruded. Her internal organs had been cut, and there were multiple stab wounds all over her body, including cuts on the face and in the anal area. A rectal swab showed the presence of significant amounts of sperm. In the playpen where the visiting baby was normally kept, a blood-soaked pillow and an expended slug were found. In the bath, there was red-colored water, as well as brain and fecal matter. Blood appeared to have been drunk at this location, too. Also important was that the stolen station wagon had been found not far away, with its door ajar and the keys still in the ignition. The baby had not been found, but the police were fairly certain from the amount of blood in the playpen that he would not be alive.

Using this new information, and with a mounting sense of urgency and the certainty that if not caught this man would kill again—and soon—I refined the profile that I had put together just a few days earlier. The sexual connection of the crimes had become more overt. The number of victims at a single crime scene was growing. The violence was escalating. I was more convinced than ever that the slayer was a seriously mentally disturbed young man who had walked to the crime scene, and walked away from the spot where he had abandoned the car. I translated these convictions into a revised profile that indicated the probable offender was "single, living alone in a location within one-half to one mile from the abandoned station wagon." To my mind, the slayer had been so disordered that he had no sense of hiding anything, and had probably parked the station wagon right near his own house. I also reinforced the notions as to his unkempt and disheveled appearance, and the slovenliness to be expected at his residence.


Excerpted from Whoever Fights Monsters by Robert K. Ressler, Tom Shachtman. Copyright © 1992 Robert K. Ressler and Tom Shachtman. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Title Page,
Copyright Notice,
1. The Vampire Killer,
2. "Whoever Fights Monsters …",
3. Interviews with Murderers,
4. Childhoods of Violence,
5. Death of a Newsboy,
6. Organized and Disorganized Crimes,
7. What Plus Why Equals Who,
8. Staging: Pattern of Deceit,
9. To Kill Again?,
10. Tightening the Net,
11. Two for the Show,
12. Broader Horizons,
St. Martin's Paperbacks Titles by Robert K. Ressler and Tom Shachtman,

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Whoever Fights Monsters: My Twenty Years Tracking Serial Killers for the FBI 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 12 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I found the author to be highly narcisstic and the book seemed more designed to brag about his accomplishments than to teach about serial killers and profilers. Save your time and read John Douglas instead I find his work to be much better.
Guest More than 1 year ago
It was difficult to tell whether the focus of the book was serial killing or showcasing the author's career and accomplishments. Parts of the book were tedious to read through, and it was not that well written. I enjoyed it in spite of that, but I was not at all interested in Mr. Ressler's military career. I also found his 'I did this, I did that' at every turn a bit excessive. If he wants to write a biography, he should do that separately.
Guest More than 1 year ago
A very good book as far as true crime and profiling goes. A must read if you are interested in serial killers. Ressler's ego is noticeably big and its often irritating to hear how smart he thinks he is. But I have to definitely recommend it anyway.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Say what you want about Ressler but Long Island could've used someone like him in the Long Island serial killer case. 
M-Pritchard More than 1 year ago
If you are able to read through Ressler's enormous ego, this is a WONDERFUL true crime book! One of the best!!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is a must-read for all true crime fans. I couldn't put it down. It is very informative and intriguing, I highly recommend it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I had to read this book for an Introduction to Forensic Psychology class I took. At times it was so deep that I did have to put the book down, to breathe that is. It was difficult to get used to reading it because every story I came across, I had a full-color mental picture for. You can't help but take yourself there. Excellent read!
ague on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
7/10. Did not finish reading it. Got too dense and boring. Needed better writing and editing. But, it is by Robert K. Ressler, the original FBI profiler. And also written with Tom Schachtman.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
Ressler does an excellent job of holding the reader's attention throughout the book. Each chapter is dedicated to a serial killer and the information Ressler gathered during his interviews. Some of the murderers profiled include Ted Bundy, Charles Manson, David Berkowitz 'Son of Sam,' Jeffrey Dahmer, John Wayne Gacy, and Edmund Kemper. No other person has as much experience dealing with, and profiling, serial killers than Ressler. He combined his 20 years of service in the FBI and his years of service in the military to become one of the most well known criminal profilers in the world. I had the opportunity to attend a criminal profiling seminar given by Ressler entitled 'Through the Eyes of a Profiler.' I reccomend anyone in the criminal justice field to go to his seminar when it comes to your area!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was so good I couldn't put it down. It's so well written and so informative it was great. I'm a criminology student myself so this book really helped me out. I went a conference hosted by Robert Ressler on criminal profiling as a career.. he's a great speaker and the conference was outta this world. Anyone who is interested in any kind of psyhcology or crimology should def try to see one of his conferences.