A Killer by Design

Murderers, Mindhunters, and My Quest to Decipher the Criminal Mind


By Ann Wolbert Burgess

With Steven Matthew Constantine

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A vivid behind-the-scenes look into the creation of the FBI's Behavioral Science Unit and the evolution of criminal profiling, written by the pioneering forensic nurse who transformed the way the FBI studies, profiles, and catches serial killers.

Lurking beneath the progressive activism and sex positivity in the 1970-80s, a dark undercurrent of violence rippled across the American landscape. With reported cases of sexual assault and homicide on the rise, the FBI created a specialized team—the "Mindhunters" better known as the Behavioral Science Unit—to track down the country's most dangerous criminals. And yet narrowing down a seemingly infinite list of potential suspects seemed daunting at best and impossible at worst—until Dr. Ann Wolbert Burgess stepped on the scene.

In A Killer By Design, Burgess reveals how her pioneering research on sexual assault and trauma caught the attention of the FBI, and steered her right into the middle of a chilling serial murder investigation in Nebraska. Over the course of the next two decades, she helped the budding unit identify, interview, and track down dozens of notoriously violent offenders, including Ed Kemper ("The Co-Ed Killer"), Dennis Rader ("("BTK"), Henry Wallace ("The Taco Bell Strangler"), Jon Barry Simonis ("The Ski-Mask Rapist"), and many others. As one of the first women trailblazers within the FBI's hallowed halls, Burgess knew many were expecting her to crack under pressure and recoil in horror—but she was determined to protect future victims at any cost. This book pulls us directly into the investigations as she experienced them, interweaving never-before-seen interview transcripts and crime scene drawings alongside her own vivid recollections to provide unprecedented insight into the minds of deranged criminals and the victims they left behind. Along the way, Burgess also paints a revealing portrait of a formidable institution on the brink of a seismic scientific and cultural reckoning—and the men forced to reconsider everything they thought they knew about crime.

Haunting, heartfelt, and deeply human, A Killer By Design forces us to confront the age-old question that has long plagued our criminal justice system: "What drives someone to kill, and how can we stop them?"

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Author’s Note

To the reader:

TW: violence, murder, kidnapping, sexual assault, domestic abuse (including children and animals), sexism/misogyny, racism, mental health.

Please note that this book is an account of my work interacting with law enforcement officials, victims of disturbing crimes, and violent criminals. The conversations in this book come from transcriptions and recordings of true events as they actually happened. However, in instances when records were unavailable, I’ve conveyed conversations based on contextual documentation and the best of my memory.

Some of the content is graphic in nature, but it has not been sensationalized or embellished. I have made a point of remaining faithful to the reality of events as they occurred—so as not to undermine the true nature of the crimes or the trauma they inflicted. It is my sincerest hope that this book reminds us to never forget the victims, and helps honor and memorialize those whose narratives appear within its pages.


It Starts with a Test

One by one, I examined the photos sprawled out on the table in front of me. They were divided into three sets, each a standard forensic collection of overviews, midranges, and close-ups. In the first set, labeled “Danny 9.21,” the setting of the overviews painted an almost idyllic scene in the quiet Nebraska countryside. But the landscape was only for context. The real focus of the pictures was the small body hidden within them, partially covered by tall grass growing along an unpaved road. The midrange photos were even more unsettling. These depicted the lifeless male victim—a child or young teenager—bent backward in an unnatural slump. His wrists and ankles were bound with rope, and he was naked except for a pair of navy-blue underwear. Close-ups focused on the boy’s mutilated body: his sternum torn apart in a chaos of stab wounds, a deep laceration across the back of his neck, his hair matted in tangles of dirt and dried blood. There were flies everywhere.

As I placed these photos back on the table and picked up the next pile, “Christopher 12.5,” I was overcome by a sense of déjà vu. These pictures, taken just yesterday, showed the continuation of a pattern. They depicted a second male victim, indistinguishable in age and appearance from the first, whose body had been found in the same remote stretch of Nebraskan countryside as that of “Danny 9.21.” The similarities were striking. In this set, however, fall had changed to winter, and by closely inspecting the midrange images I could see a thin layer of snow coating the boy’s pale skin—just enough to cover his wounds and the features of his face so he looked something like a mannequin. Close-ups revealed puddles of frozen blood outlining the victim’s head and abdomen. The two photos from the autopsy—brightly lit and sharply focused on the small body draped across the examination table—were even more chilling. The first showed a deep incision where a knife had been pressed into the back of the victim’s neck and then wrenched, counterclockwise, for several inches, from the right ear to just beneath the chin. The second focused on seven lacerations along the victim’s belly and chest. It was hard to tell whether these cuts were random or were intended to convey some sort of meaning.

I took a sharp breath to collect my thoughts on that December morning. It was the early 1980s, and I was standing alongside five agents in a large underground conference room known as “the bomb shelter” in the heart of the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia. There were no pictures on the walls, no phones, no distractions. The only window was a small square of wire-reinforced glass that looked out on empty offices and an empty hall. This was an area of Quantico that few people knew about. It belonged to the FBI’s Behavioral Science Unit (BSU), and our isolation was a daily reminder of the controversial nature of our work. We hunted serial killers. Our job was to study them, learn how they thought, and find ways to catch them as quickly as possible. We did this through a novel technique called “criminal profiling”—a technique that, at the time, our colleagues throughout the Bureau regarded with varying degrees of skepticism or disdain. But criticism didn’t matter, only results. And we were determined to prove just how effective our approach could truly be.

Criminal profiling was the reason we had all gathered that winter morning. Special Agent Robert Ressler was working an urgent case out of Nebraska, and the previous night, he’d faxed each of us on the small team within the BSU a briefing and arranged for the room to be set up and ready to go by the time we arrived before the sun came up. We were waiting for Ressler himself to appear. And as we waited, we kept busy with the various documents that stretched across the massive table in front of us. There were case files, autopsy reports, witness testimonies, sketch artist depictions, suspect lists, and the collection of forensic photos I held in my hands. The whole array was equal parts horrifying and impressive.

At least, for me it was. Because, despite being part of the BSU for several months, and despite the lead role I’d taken in developing the core methodologies of criminal profiling, the agents kept me at arm’s distance. They didn’t know what to make of me. I’d been brought on as an expert in victimology and violent sexual crimes—something I knew the agents respected me for—but I was still considered an outsider, a wildcard, a break-glass-in-case-of-emergency type of resource. I may have been an expert, but I wasn’t an agent. And that’s why the morning’s session was so important. It was the first active case I’d been asked to attend. It was a test, a test to see if I could handle working alongside the agents as a member of their inner circle. For me, the session had already begun.

There were other factors at play, too. Not only was this my first active case as part of the team, but I also had to contend with the fact that I was the lone woman in the BSU, and one of only a very small handful within the male-dominated halls of Quantico. I could feel the intense scrutiny I was under. And I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t frustrated by the burden of my position from time to time. All I wanted was a chance to prove myself. I’d seen behind the curtain of one of the most closed-off agencies in the world, and I was ready to make my mark.

It’s simple, really. From the moment you walk through the doors of the FBI, the Bureau drills you to see if you’ll crack. You might be recruited on the basis of your skills, talents, and strengths, but you’re measured on the basis of your faults. That’s just how the culture works. It’s hard and reductive, in a way—this technique of assessing people based off their likelihood to fail—but it’s effective. And for the ones who last, for the ones who persist through a wave of trial by overwhelming pressure, they are initiated. They become necessary. They’re given a role and they’re expected to excel. That was how it had worked for the five agents standing beside me that morning, and that’s all I wanted for myself.

So, tuning out the thrum of speculation and suspense that hummed around me, I collected my thoughts and refocused on the individual sets of photos. I knew that each set held unseen details and hidden clues that could make or break the case. The answers were there. I just needed to find them.

“Hey, Ann. How you holding up?”

The voice startled me. I put down the photos, all except for one, and turned to see who’d asked the question. Agent John Douglas was waiting for a response.

“Good,” I said. “But whoever this guy is, he’s starting to get more confident. Look at these lacerations.” I handed Douglas the picture of the second victim’s chest. “The cuts aren’t frantic anymore. He’s becoming more deliberate.”

Douglas nodded.

I knew he wasn’t interested in the picture or what I’d found. He was checking to see if I could stomach the case in all its graphic detail. I’d seen him do this before. Like the Bureau at large, Douglas and the other agents were constantly probing their colleagues for weakness—and they weren’t subtle about it at all. In fact, one of Douglas’s favorite tests involved a human skull that he kept prominently displayed on his desk. If someone came into his office and couldn’t look directly at the skull, they failed. The only way to pass was to acknowledge it and move on, as if the skull didn’t bother you.

I’d passed the skull test, and I’d passed a whole range of other tests, too. In fact, by the time Douglas and I were standing in the bomb shelter that morning, I’d proven myself enough times to have received a formal letter of recognition from the FBI’s acting director, James D. McKenzie, officially welcoming me to the BSU. But despite the Bureau’s unprecedented step of bringing me—an outsider and a woman—fully onboard, the agents themselves still weren’t completely convinced. They needed proof that I could handle seeing violence in its rawest form.

Passing this final test meant that I’d be able to join Douglas and Ressler on the secret project they’d been working on, informally, since earlier that year. They had a compelling idea that challenged investigative norms. For decades, law enforcement had dismissed certain crimes as acts of pure insanity beyond rational comprehension. But Douglas and Ressler thought differently. They believed that, by interviewing incarcerated killers to learn what motivated their behaviors, they might uncover insights about criminal behavior that could help investigators flip the script and use offenders’ own psychology against them. The Bureau saw enough potential in the concept to green-light Douglas and Ressler’s off-the-books interviews with incarcerated serial killers into an official FBI study on the psychology of criminal minds. But neither Douglas nor Ressler had much background in psychology. They needed help formalizing their approach and organizing their method of data collection so that they could make sense of their findings. That’s where I came in.

As an established psychiatric professional with a doctorate in hand, I understood both the psychology of disturbed individuals and the steps needed to develop this type of messy, nonnumerical research into a standardized study. I’d also been working with sexual assault and trauma victims for years, which meant I had direct experience handling the types of unspeakable violence we were sure to see in the days ahead. But, most importantly, I knew just what was at stake here, and I understood what a profound effect this work could have on society as a whole. It could save countless victims from being forced to bear the same horrific trauma as my former patients. It could break new ground in understanding criminal psychology. It could revolutionize the fight against crime like nothing the world had ever seen before. My job was to make sure that it did.

Chapter 1

When the FBI Calls

I cut my teeth learning about the violent side of human nature as a doctoral student studying psychiatric nursing. I was fascinated by the human mind, how it worked, and how its instabilities could lead to the most extreme forms of behavior. But as was typical in the 1970s—an era in which overt sexism was woven into the culture—men in charge often dismissed my interest in understanding what motivated these abnormal behaviors as “a phase,” “a novelty,” or, worst of all, “cute.” In those days, women who pursued a career in nursing were expected to conform to the “handmaiden” stereotype—doll-like figures in stark-white dresses, tall stockings, and pristinely starched caps. Our value was measured by how well we could carry out a physician’s orders, not by what we could contribute ourselves. But that wasn’t going to work for me. I wanted to make a difference. And I wanted to make it on my own terms, regardless of the archaic expectations that had long been imposed on my gender.

Of course, I wasn’t the type to make things easy on myself. In addition to the cultural hurdles I faced, I also had to contend with the reality that psychiatric nursing was a largely unknown concept at the time. In fact, the specialty itself had only become a required part of professional nursing education in 1955—a response to the end of World War II and the growing need for qualified professionals to care for returning service members with psychiatric needs. Couple that with the fact that nursing had reached the highest possible degree level only a few years prior to my graduation, and it all added up to me being one of a very small number of known experts in an even lesser-known field. I was in uncharted territory.

My first opportunity to help patients with psychiatric needs came via graduate work at Spring Grove State Hospital in Maryland. It was a large institution, but its psychiatric units were overcrowded and underfunded, so I was given the freedom to work with “whichever patients you can help the most.” Initially, I was drawn to the female patients suffering from mental illness. I realized almost immediately that the vast majority of these women hadn’t been born with mental illness, nor had they developed it at a young age. The common thread tying most of these women together was that they were victims of sexual assault. These women had been attacked, stigmatized, and then forced to manage the trauma of their experiences on their own, silently, or face the likely consequence of being blamed for instigating their own vicious assault. It was an impossible burden. It took a continuous toll. And once they could no longer bear it, they ended up in a hospital ward.

One patient in particular stood out to me. Her name was Maria, she was in her early twenties, and her husband had cruelly divorced her immediately after discovering that she’d been raped. When I first met Maria, she spent her days rubbing her hands together and mumbling as she paced back and forth across the hospital’s long wooden halls—wide-plank pine floors that were faded and somewhat bluish from the small impact of countless steps. I paced alongside her in support, hoping that she’d eventually open up to me. This went on for several weeks, until one day, after racing after her as she shuffled faster and faster up and down the hall, I leaned closer to hear what Maria was mumbling. She looked straight at me, and with all the chaos of a hissing teakettle, sputtered, “Stop following me, you goddamn red-headed bitch.”

I did stop—right in my tracks. Something about Maria’s words clicked. Up until that moment, it hadn’t even crossed my mind that two people could interpret an event so differently, each with their own starkly opposed realities playing out inside their heads. In my mind, I’d been comforting Maria and offering her companionship. But to Maria, my proximity and relentless insistence had seemed almost predator-like. I realized that this dynamic, to a much larger degree, was also a core element in violent interactions. I’d been so focused on the victim’s experience that I hadn’t considered the fact that there was a whole other person involved in these attacks, one that I’d simply dismissed as cruel or domineering or sick. I realized that if I wanted to fully understand the nature of a crime, I’d have to see both the victim and the perpetrator as two halves of the same story. I needed to learn why offenders behaved as they did and what was going on in their minds as they carried out such unspeakable acts of violence.

That experience with Maria marked a turning point in my career. In the weeks that followed, I switched from working with female patients suffering from mental illness to concentrating on the male patients in the psychiatric unit’s forensic ward—where individuals with court-related matters were placed until their cases could be heard. Many had committed serious offenses such as sexual assault or rape, and, for that reason, not even the doctors paid them much attention—and certainly no one talked to them about their crimes. But that made these men all the more compelling to me. I wanted to know how they thought about their crimes and their victims and to see what I could learn from them. To be clear, my interest wasn’t in reforming these men. I simply saw them as an opportunity in the nascent field of criminal psychology to gain insights from perpetrators that might prove useful to helping victims later on. I had nothing to lose. So, I began meeting with them using an interview-based approach that focused on their early childhood and adolescent history and that facilitated a complete retelling of their crimes in their own words.

My interest and my interview approach seemed to surprise the men I spoke with. They’d been treated like pariahs from the moment they’d been admitted to the ward. And yet, as they slowly opened up—sometimes cautiously, sometimes amusedly, sometimes aggressively as they relived each and every moment of their crimes—they exposed a deeper behavioral commonality, too. They all had the same habit of staring at me with great attention to see how I’d respond to the explicit details of their violence. They wanted to see if I’d squirm. It appeared to be a strange yet near universal obsession with control. And although they’d each been characterized as having some sort of underlying mental illness—schizophrenia, psychotic depression, or one of myriad other common diagnoses that were catchalls for conditions poorly understood at the time—I could tell that something else was going on. Something worth pursuing.

I was intrigued. It felt like I was on the brink of grasping a vitally important insight that could help explain the dynamics between victims and offenders. This was exactly the type of difference-making work I’d been looking for. My colleagues, on the other hand, weren’t the least bit interested. They preferred to dismiss sexual violence as indecent, a fringe part of society, or a “women’s issue” that shouldn’t be discussed—as if men weren’t even involved.

That stance, however, was thoroughly out of touch with the facts. Forcible rape was one of the four major violent crimes perpetrated in the United States. It was a large-scale problem—with 37,990 cases reported in 1970 alone—that was compounded by a lack of treatment options available for victims who struggled with the psychological aftermath.

“You’re missing the point,” I said, whenever my colleagues waved me off. “This is an opportunity to understand a unique type of human behavior that’s never been studied before. It’s unmapped research. It’s a chance to do something that’s equally important as it is good.”

They all answered the same way: “Let it go. It’s not worth the damage it could do to your career. Don’t you want tenure in the future?”

I couldn’t believe it. These professionals—many of them friends and mentors I worked with daily and looked up to as leaders in the psychiatric field—were complicit in perpetuating the exact stigma I wanted to expose. They either didn’t get it or they didn’t want to get it. Either way, they were making the problem worse.


That realization was defining for me. When it became clear that my colleagues at the hospital would never understand the importance of taking a closer look at this type of behavior, I quit my job to start a new career in academics. I knew how important it was to help patients one at a time, but I wanted to effect change on a systemic level. I wanted to break down barriers that kept victims from getting the treatments and supports they deserved. Academia was that next step. It allowed me to continue my research aimed at more fully understanding the psychology of offenders in crimes of rape, sexual assault, and sexual violence. And it created an opportunity to change the larger cultural perception that served to enable the proliferation of these types of crime, which were still stubbornly entrenched in an outdated blame-the-victim mentality.

Whereas my female patients at Spring Grove State Hospital had taught me the importance of seeing victim and perpetrator as two halves of the same story, my male patients, I’d come to realize, had shown me how far-reaching the element of control really was. Control—or, rather, a lack of feeling in control—was the reason why so few women came forward to report or talk about their trauma. And it was the reason why the psychoanalytic view of sexual violence—the prevailing theory that rape happened because of the clothing women wore or because they fantasized about being raped—had gone unchallenged for decades, despite making no sense at all. Control caused stigma, and stigma kept the whole problem strictly buttoned up. After all, no one ever asked what the victims thought.

That’s what motivated Lynda Lytle Holmstrom and me to launch an interdisciplinary research project that focused on the victim response to rape. Lynda was a sociologist colleague of mine whom I’d met shortly after taking a psychiatric nursing faculty position at Boston College. The goal of our research was to better understand the emotional and traumatic effects of sexual violence, which often far outlasted the physical effects of the act itself. We hoped our research would not only help clinicians recognize and understand the signs of rape trauma but also lead to more widespread services for victims. Our method worked like this: over the course of a year, every time a victim of rape was admitted to the Boston City Hospital Emergency Room, the triage nurse immediately called me and Lynda, and we were allowed to interview the victim right away. Our approach was strikingly different from how typical research was done at the time. Rather than enlisting a large group of investigators to indifferently analyze subjects in a clinical manner—as if victims were simple data points to be observed—Lynda and I met patients on their terms, often in the privacy of their own hospital cubicles in the emergency room. We treated them as individuals. They shared their stories, and, in turn, we provided them with crisis intervention counseling; this was at a point in history when few victims were receiving this type of specialized care. The exchange was nonmonetary: we neither paid victims nor were we paid for our services. But the insights both sides gained were invaluable. Our approach helped us better connect with victims, and it gave a name—for the first time—to the concept of rape trauma syndrome: the psychological trauma victims experience after an attack. Most importantly, it worked. In all, we interviewed 146 individuals from the ages of three to seventy-three and collected twenty-nine hundred pages of notes to be cataloged, analyzed, and interpreted. We gave these victims a voice.

In 1973, we published our findings in the American Journal of Nursing as “The Rape Victim in the Emergency Ward.” And in 1974, we followed up with a second major paper in the American Journal of Psychiatry titled “Rape Trauma Syndrome,” which expanded our reach beyond nursing to a psychiatric audience. One of the biggest takeaways from our study was that sexual violence was more about power and control than the act of sex itself. This novel understanding of the victim’s experience had a dramatic ripple effect. It helped to systemically validate victim trauma by bringing new awareness, and a demand for change, to how law enforcement interacted with victims, how healthcare institutions responded to victims’ needs, and how the legal system processed rape cases. But the ripples from this study extended much further than I could have ever anticipated. They took on a power and momentum all their own, upending not only the systemic perception of sexual violence but also the course of my career.

That study put me square in the sights of the FBI.


Independent of our research, the FBI had already noticed a sharp increase in violent sexual crimes in the late 1970s. Part of the Bureau’s mission was to understand and confront new trends in violence. This meant that, as reports overwhelmed local law enforcement offices, the epidemic of sexual violence became the Bureau’s problem to solve. Initially, the Bureau responded with their standard approach: they assigned agents in the Training Division of the FBI Academy the task of educating law enforcement departments across the country on how to better understand and respond to these types of crimes. And they assumed that this trend, like all trends, would eventually pass. But there was a problem. No one at the Academy knew anything about sexual violence. None of the agents had the background or expertise to speak about issues of sexual assault, rape, sexual homicide, or victimology. They simply couldn’t engage with the issue or educate other officers of the law.


  • “Of all the colleagues I’ve worked with, Ann is one of the sharpest—and one of the toughest.  Ann’s behind-the-scenes work had a profound impact on the FBI’s Behavioral Science Unit, since she taught us how to harness the chaos of serial killers’ minds and helped us decipher the undecipherable. I’d recommend that everyone read A Killer By Design; not only is it a great page-turner, but it’s about time Ann’s story was heard.”—JOHN E. DOUGLAS, former FBI criminal profiler and bestselling author of Mindhunter
  • “My career was shaped after reading the seminal text on sexual homicide co-authored by Dr. Ann Burgess—one of the original Mindhunters. Now, in A Killer By Design, Burgess shows how she helped refine the criminal profiling process, with an acute eye for detail and heartwarming compassion for the victims. This book has quickly become a permanent fixture on my bookshelf and is a must-read for anybody who wants to understand the history of exploring the predator's mind.  Burgess is truly a hero in the fight against evil.”—PAUL HOLES, FBI Task Force Officer, retired cold case investigator, and co-host of Jensen and Holes: The Murder Squad podcast
  • “I will never forget the first time I heard Ann Burgess speak about her work to a large audience at Penn. We all were mesmerized. Ann brought forensic nursing and her ground-breaking research on crime victims and trauma to the university. She completely upended how law enforcement thinks about victims of trauma and abuse, all while challenging long-held assumptions of American culture. Her story needs to be heard.”—CLAIRE M. FAGIN, Former Dean, Professor Emerita of the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing and Interim President 1993-1994
  • “As a young FBI criminal profiler walking the halls of the renowned FBI Behavioral Science Unit, I quickly realized that to be successful it was critical to identify professional mentors who possessed the knowledge, skills, and abilities that I aspired to. Ann Burgess was then and still stands out as an icon for me.”—GREGORY M. COOPER, Executive Director of the Cold Case Foundation, Former FBI Profiler
  • “As the FBI Behavioral Science Unit (BSU) grew and evolved in the late 1970s, Ann Burgess led the way for the Unit’s training, research, and operational work to reach out to mental health professionals beyond the typical investigative/prosecutive perspective. She helped the BSU to add this new perspective and insight to its understanding of the behavior of both offenders and victims. Ann’s new book, A Killer By Design, tells the behind the scenes story of her long term work with the BSU from her unique perspective. I highly recommend this book.”—KENNETH V. LANNING, 20-year member of the FBI BSU and author of Love, Bombs, and Molesters: An FBI Agent’s Journey
  • “Countless investigators and detectives around the world do work every single day that is based on the research and discoveries of Dr. Ann Burgessmyself included. But here, for the first time, we are able to experience the fascinatingand often heart wrenchingstories behind these facts, figures, and procedures alongside Ann as she worked the cases that would serve as the foundation of criminal profiling. This is a riveting book and will become a staple on the shelves of both experts, and armchair detectives.”—SARAH CAILEAN, Criminal Behaviorist
  • “With her keen insight, decades of groundbreaking research in a male-dominated field, and relentless commitment to the victims of the worst imaginable crimes, Dr. Burgess has been a bona fide trailblazer in the forensic arena. This poignant, gripping, and long overdue account will soon prove a classic of the true crime genre.”—MICHAEL H. STONE, M.D. & GARY BRUCATO, Ph.D., authors of The New Evil: Understanding the Emergence of Modern Violent Crime
  • “One of my jobs at the BSU was to get the data that Dr. Burgess was analyzing in Boston to my Police Fellowship Program. I’d compare what the police fellows said on cases with what Dr. Burgess said. The foundational profiling tools we brought into the mix—which helped develop a well-defined, disciplined, and logical approach to the field of criminal profiling—stood the test of time. In A Killer By Design, readers get a behind-the-scenes look of what it was like to be at the forefront of such important work, and it’s a must-read for anyone who wants to know what criminal profiling is really like, outside of movies and tv shows.”—JUDSON M. RAY, M.S., M.Ed., FBI Profiler (ret.)
  • "An empathetic, insightful behind-the-scenes look at criminal profiling... [which] offers a refreshing perspective."—Library Journal
  • "Forensic and psychiatric nurse Burgess debuts with an affecting memoir about her crucial if largely unknown role in helping the FBI develop criminal profiling tools."—Publishers Weekly
  • "In a revelatory book that is brimming with the fascinating coupled with the macabre, Burgess details the inner workings of the depraved mind. The killers profiled vary in scope, from kidnapping murderers in Nebraska to Denis Rader, the BTK killer, though all the crimes are horrific. A Killer by Design shows how the BSU's evolving work has forever changed the law enforcement landscape."—Booklist
  • "A page-turner I devoured across a single day... Burgess’ book excels in a number of ways, filling in details in the history of how the F.B.I. came to study and understand serial killing and sexual violence, revealing her private thoughts about her own profound contributions."—Psychology Today
  • "Captivating and chilling... With A Killer by Design, Burgess takes center stage at last, offering important, fascinating new context and details about the history of crime-solving in America. It's an inspiring and meaningful story, too, with its up-close look at people who have dedicated their careers to catching murderers and pushing for justice."—BookPage
  • "The book provides a fascinating glimpse into the development of the FBI’s Behavioral Science Unit as well as the minds of serial killers. The excellent narration by Gabra Zackman provides the appropriate intensity and suspense... A great addition to the true-crime library that offers a unique perspective."—Library Journal

On Sale
Oct 18, 2022
Page Count
336 pages
Hachette Books

Ann Wolbert Burgess

About the Author

Dr. Ann Wolbert Burgess, DNSc., APRN, is a leading forensic and psychiatric nurse who worked with the FBI for over two decades. She is currently a professor at the Boston College Connell School of Nursing, and she lives in Boston, MA.

Steven Matthew Constantine (cowriter) is the assistant director of marketing and communications at the Boston College Connell School of Nursing. He holds an MFA from the Bennington Writing Seminars and lives in Boston, MA.

Learn more about this author