Updated: Dec 30, 2020
Way back at the beginning of 2018 Teraphenia released its first ”official“ episode, “The Mind of the Monster”; a 2 part history lesson on the birth and evolution of applied behavioural sciences in criminal cases. We spent over 2 hours across both episode parts discussing John Douglas and Robert Ressler, the founding fathers of the Behavioural Science Unit (now called the Behavioural Analysis Unit) of the FBI based in Quantico, Virginia. The study of the criminal mind is a very important topic to us here at Teraphenia, and the work of Douglas, Ressler and their teams informs a lot of our discussion of crime and criminality in the podcast, so of course we would jump at the chance to attend a talk about exactly that.
And so it is that in the Sue Townsend Theatre, Leicester - basically as far from Quantico as you can get - we got to enjoy an informal talk by one of Ressler’s acolytes, the Leeds police officer-turned freelance criminal profiler Paul Harrison. We were asked not to take photos during the talk so you’ll have to make do with my words for this one I’m afraid, dear readers.
The Sue Townsend Theatre has had almost as many name changes as the Behavioural Analysis Unit since its original opening as the Phoenix Theatre in 1963, so it seems only fitting that this would be the forum in which one of the analysts who got into the minds of some of the worlds most famous serial killers would then recount those same adventures, or misadventures as the case may be.
Upon entering the theatre hall, we were greeted by a large presentation screen bearing the title of the talk, and in front of that on the left of the stage there stood a small podium (obviously for our guest speaker to stand at). But it is what was to the right of the stage that really stood out and marked the hardcore crime nerds in the room out from the interested amateurs - a small grey plastic chair with metal legs, like the ones which many of us sat in at school with a little doll sat upright in it.
The doll, no bigger than a new-born, had clearly been very carefully posed so he was facing the centre of the audience, and he watched us with an unblinking red and white grimace on his face. His huge ruffled collar and half red/half red and white pinstriped onesie were both alien and familiar to many of us in the room. This tiny piece of nightmare fuel, as some of us guessed, and all of us would later find out, is called Gacy and he is Harrison’s constant companion (much to the amusement of many-an-airport security guard, as we were later told).
Harrison himself is a reasonably tall, square built fellow with a wicked sense of humour and a charming way about him. He carries himself in an unassuming but somehow authoritative manner and in spite of the years of travelling, both around the UK and in Europe and America, he still has the twang of a Yorkshire accent, especially when he’s getting excited about a topic (as many of us Northerners do).
He started his talk by regaling us with some details about himself, and how he came to be in an American motel room fending off disturbing night terrors of the clown that wanted to be his friend. He also told us what going on to death row to interview an inmate is like, stating that death row inmates “switch off emotionally” and become almost “living zombies” - putting meaning behind the title of his lecture for the evening.
He told us about what it was like going to work for “those weirdos in the basement”, as most of the staff at Quantico used to refer to the BSU and how he learned the hard way to compartmentalise and “wear a mask” when he investigates cases and interviews killers, especially the particularly brutal or heinous ones.
For him, criminal profiling is as much about putting yourself in the victims shoes (and sometimes the literal position they died in) as it is getting inside the mind of the perpetrator(s), and there’s no case where that was more true for him than the Yorkshire Ripper case. Being of Yorkshire descent and a police officer in the area, the events that occured between 1975 and 1980 in Leeds and Bradford are figuratively and literally some of the most defining in Harrison’s career. The story he tells about being completely unable to contain his rage when an extremely smug Peter Sutcliffe (The Yorkshire Ripper) invited him to interview him in prison is both blood boiling and heart breaking in equal measure, and I’m proud to say I’ve shaken the hand of possibly the only man to scare the Yorkshire Ripper.
The whole 2 hour talk, hosted by Funzing Talks was enthralling, fascinating and entertaining in equal measure. As one the audience laughed at tales of John Wayne Gacy’s desperate attempts to take Harrison as a friend, collectively shuddered at the face of pure evil as he told us about his meeting with Rosemary West, and nodded in agreement at the idea of Charles Manson as the perpetual performer.
I won’t go into any more detail as Harrison is performing this and many other talks across the UK and it is well worth checking out when he’s next in your area and hearing the details first hand.
Paul Harrison is a gifted author with several titles, both fiction and non-fiction, under his belt. To purchase any of his books or other merchandise, or to find out when he’s doing a talk near you - you can visit his website or his facebook page