Science & Tech

Making Calculated Decisions: The Atlanta Child Murders

John Douglas

Lesson time 11:45 min

In this lesson, John explores the importance of taking calculated risks through analysis of convicted murderer Wayne Williams. He’ll challenge you to take calculated risks—even if that means making the same mistake twice. Fear of making decisions can stand in the way of doing groundbreaking work.

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Topics include: Case Study: The Atlanta Killer • Profiling the Atlanta Killer • The Killer Changes His M.O. • Reading the Evidence • Avoid Analysis Paralysis • Assignment


[MUSIC PLAYING] - I know quite a few people have a difficult time making, uh, decisions. I often been told that, Douglas, you're a risk taker. And the agents, when they're observing me do cases-- oh, you're a risk taker. How can you say that? I say, it's not risk taking at all. What I'm doing is calculated risk. What do you mean? Calculated risk means I'm taking information in from all around-- evidence collection and interviews. In your type of work, it may be your product and understanding your product, understanding your customer before you start advertising your product. So from outsiders, it may look like it's a high risk. But it's not. It's a calculated risk. In this chapter, I'll talk about how I used calculated risk taking to help catch the Atlanta Killer. [MUSIC PLAYING] Atlanta, Georgia. What began as just a few homicides of young children began to morph into a much, much bigger case. Young children were being found murdered at different parts of Atlanta. The numbers of victims started ticking up-- you know, six children, eight children, 10 children. And then, we even started getting up into the 20s. Now, how does the FBI get involved? The local police asked the FBI if we could provide assistance, you know, to them investigative-wise. We can use the local FBI office. I was the, uh, kind of like the Rodney Dangerfield when I went down there with the no respect look type of thing because here it's still early 1980s, dealing with the big police department here. And here, you're coming down to provide some type of behavioral, you know, assistance, uh, to-- to the case. First, I went down with another agent, Roy Hazelwood. And they wanted us to provide some type of analysis. They say there's a psychologist who wants to do some kind of psychometric examination of you. And I say, what the hell is that? He says he wants you to take a test as if you are the-- the killer. You're both going to take the test separately. But take it as if you are whoever this killer is. And we want to see what the results would be. Roy Hazelwood, also an FBI profiler, and I both took the test. And our responses were nearly identical and highly controversial. [MUSIC PLAYING] We believed that the killer was African-American. The case, though, was not racially motivated. And we also believed that not all these cases were related. The statistics said we should have been looking for a white male. But when we went down there and we looked where the children were being abducted, you know, from-- and we even did tests with this, uh, using, you know, white undercover police officers. They would be easily spotted in the community. So if it was white, it would be way too risk taking on the part of the offender to do something like that. So it was just, you know, logical and, really, deductive reasoning that I used to come up with this analysis. [MUSIC PLAYING] We believed we are looking for a Black ...

About the Instructor

Netflix’s “Mindhunter” was inspired by the FBI’s first criminal profiler, John Douglas. As chief of the National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime, he conducted groundbreaking interviews with notorious criminals such as Charles Manson and Ed Kemper, changing interrogative tactics forever. On MasterClass, he teaches you to use his methods in everyday life, unlocking your intuition to read people's motives.

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John Douglas

Legendary Special Agent John Douglas teaches how criminal profiling methods can help you predict people’s motives to benefit your everyday life.

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