SPARTANBURG, S.C. – Although the man charged in the assault and death of a Clemson University does not match the behavioral profile investigators released before his arrest, officials say the process of creating such a psychological sketch is helpful in tracking suspects.
"It's a tool," said Bo Barton, senior agent for the South Carolina State Law Enforcement Division. "It's not magic. It's a tool that we use. If it helps catch the bad guy, good. If it doesn't, it doesn't."
The profile of the man police said they were looking for in the slaying of Tiffany Marie Souers indicated that he was between 18 and 25. Investigators said the man likely was broken up over the crime and would begin to withdraw from family and friends.
They also said the suspect was dangerous and may have been sexually aggressive toward women in the past.
While computer analysis generated what investigators called a "cold hit" on the DNA evidence, police were swamped by hundreds of calls and tips on suspects that turned out to be false.
"A lot of times we're right," Barton said of the profiles. "Sometimes we're wrong."
Retired FBI agent Roy Hazelwood said people shouldn't see the process as worthless just because parts of it might be wrong.
"A profile is not meant to solve a crime," Hazelwood said. "The profile is intended to help the police track a particular type of person, not a person."
Hazelwood spent 16 of his 22 years at the FBI in the behavior sciences unit and served as a consultant for the movie "Silence of the Lambs."
"You're going to get more leads," Hazelwood said of releasing profiles to the public. "There's no question about that."
Profiles have been inaccurate in several recent high-profile cases.
In the 2002 Washington, D.C., sniper case, for example, investigators thought they were looking for a white man working alone. Instead two black men were ultimately arrested and sentenced to life in prison for the killings.
In Florida, before police arrested serial killer Aileen Wuornos, who was executed in 2002, they thought they were looking for a man.
Behavioral profiles predicted the killer of a half-dozen women in Louisiana in 2002 and 2003 was a white man. Derrick Todd Lee was black.
Hazelwood said profiles are an opinion.
"You're dealing with human behavior, and anytime you're dealing with human behavior you're dealing with a lot of unknowns," he said.
Sometimes, too, police only release fragments of a profile, withholding details that might tip off an offender.
But some investigators say the profiles do little more than generate bogus leads that keep law enforcement busy.
Many times, police profiles are based on stereotypes or textbook types of criminals rather than the specifics of an individual case, said forensic scientist Brent Turvey, secretary and treasurer of the Academy of Behavioral Profiling.
"That kind of crap doesn't solve cases," he said. "It's good PR, but at the end of the day, it hurts. The impact on the investigation is tremendous."