Science & Tech

Understanding the Perp and Victim: The Trailside Killer

John Douglas

Lesson time 12:23 min

David Carpenter, a.k.a. the Trailside Killer, was known for stalking and murdering victims on hiking trails near San Francisco. John shows us how he used empathy to analyze the offender and victims—a process that led to Carpenter’s capture. He discusses why empathy is an important tool in analyzing others.

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Topics include: Case Study: The Trailside Killer • Profiling the Trailside Killer • Using Deductive vs. Inductive Reasoning •


[MUSIC PLAYING] - To walk in the shoes of the killer or the victim, what I mean by that is that you try to experience what the victim, first of all, was going through. Try to visualize and imagine. How do you do that? Well, it's based upon after you analyze the crime, after you determine the method and cause of death. I have my own personal MO when I do cases like this. I don't-- I don't want to hear outside noises. I don't want people interrupting me. So I would go up to the third floor of the library. The top floor of the library is a law library. I would bring with me all the case materials, the photographs of the crime scene. Usually, it was 8-by-10 photographs. I would spread out those photographs. I would get the information concerning the victim. We call it victimology, which is a this is your life type of look at this victim. You don't want to have any suspect information in those reports. Many times they do have a potential suspect, so you don't want to have anything like that. You do a demographic analysis of the-- of the community to see, what's going on in this neighborhood? Crime rate. What types of crimes there are, what's being perpetrated. So then you lay it out and then you think about it. Now you walk in the shoes of the offender, of the unknown subject, how the crime took place. What weapons did he use to kill this particular victim? And you go through the method and manner of death. I need to put myself in the attacker's mind as he thinks, plans, plots, understand and feel his gratification as his pent-up fantasies finally come to life, and he is now in complete control to manipulate and dominate another human being. And I try to visualize based upon that evidence perhaps the reaction of the victim. For example, if you tell me this victim was tortured, then when I go talk to the family and the family says, our daughter would have been a compliant victim, she would not have fought this guy at all, why then did the killer decide to torture her when she in all probability would have been a compliant victim? So now you visualize that. And I go so far as to imagine what the victim was looking at, the eyes of the offender, what this victim saw for the last time because later on when I actually go do these interviews, I'm looking at the subject's eyes, imagining what he was seeing. And what was he doing? And why did he do these things to the victim? But even more important, I need to feel. I need to feel her pain as he approaches her, feel the pain as she is violated. You need to feel the terror and agony, knowing that as loud as she screams, no one will come to help and the perpetrator won't stop. At the end of the day, it's-- to me, it was easier to really leave and walk out of the shoes of the offender. But it was always very difficult emotionally and psychologically for me to walk out of the shoes of the victim. In this chapter, I'll show you how I use empathy to walk in the shoes ...

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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