The FBI has an appointment-only display called the Evil Minds Research Museum that displays the letters, art and artefacts of serial killers in an attempt to understand their psychology. There’s not much about it online but it is discussed in the second part of the two part FBI podcast about their behavioural science programme.
This is the part where head of the FBI’s Behavioral Science Unit, Greg Vecchi, describes the exhibit:
One of the most exciting research projects that we have, is we‚Äôve have started what we have labeled the ‘Evil Minds Research Museum.’ And what this is, this is actually a research museum where we are collecting serial killer and other offender artifacts.
And so these artifacts are like paintings, John Wayne Gacey paintings. Paintings that he was the Killer Clown back in Chicago several decades back, who would kill men and boys, and he would dismember their bodies and put them under his floor board. Well, after he was caught, well, he turned out to be a so-called killer of the community [NB: this is a transcription error, Vecchi actually says ‘pillar of the community’], and he would dress up as a clown and do gigs doing clown stuff for the kids. And so he would draw pictures or paint pictures of clowns, and he had clown paintings in the room where he dismembered the bodies. And he had clown paintings that he did after he got arrested and when he was basically on death row.
And so we got those paintings and we are studying those paintings. We want to look at the brush strokes. We want to look at what drives him, what changes, because the pictures are completely different. Before he was arrested, for instance, the clowns were Flippo the Clown, very happy clowns, very colorful; afterwards his paintings were very dark. It was basically a skeleton or a skull dressed up or painted up to be a clown.
We‚Äôve have got thousands and thousands of pages of correspondence between a number of serial killers. Richard Ramirez, the night stalker. We‚Äôve got Keith Hunter Jesperson, another famous serial killer, his complete manifesto of why he killed, written in his own handwriting. We have greeting cards, we have photos, we have serial killer art. But the museum itself, and here is where the value of it is, for the most part, almost all of the research of law enforcement is usually done interacting with the subject rather through an investigation, or, in what we do, more of a research-type of approach, where we would sit down with protocols and interview them like we do with the serial killers, or like we are doing with the hostage takers now. This is stuff that is taken out of their most personal possessions. Things that were not taken as law enforcement, but were taken on search warrants, or provided, maybe after they were executed, by their family. And so it gives a completely different perspective of their mindset‚Äîwhere they are coming from because this is correspondence to themselves, correspondence between them and their loved ones‚Äîtheir mother, their father‚Äîcorrespondence between them and other serial killers, and even correspondence between them and the many groupies that write to them and develop a relationship as a pen pal. And so this is a very exciting research, this research museum, where we are looking at their motivation and try to understand them from a perspective that, as far as we know, has never been undertaken.‚Äù
Although it’s not open to the public, you can apply to visit if you’re a genuine researcher with the visiting scholars programme.
One such visit is described in the latest issue of the Annals of the American Psychotherapy Association. You can download the magazine for free, although only in one 7Mb pdf. The article about the unit starts on page 14 and has pictures of several of the exhibits.
Interestingly, the article is followed by a museum advert which asks for donations of exhibits, although I have to say, it’s not the most tasteful piece of promotion I’ve ever seen as it looks more like a B-movie horror poster. Click here to see it in all its dubious glory.
By the way, did you know that the FBI’s Behavioral Science Unit has a student intern programme? If you’re a student and would like to apply the details are online.
Link to part 1 of FBI podcast on behavioural science.
Link to part 2 of FBI podcast on behavioural science.
pdf of latest Annals of the American Psychotherapy Association.
Link to details of FBI behavioural science intern scheme.