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Publisher's Summary

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 to '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?”

©2021 Ann Wolbert Burgess and Steven Matthew Constantine (P)2021 Hachette Books

Critic Reviews

“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 best-selling 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 cohost of Jensen and Holes: The Murder Squad podcast)

“Countless investigators and detectives around the world do work every single day that is based on the research and discoveries of Dr. Ann Burgess - myself included. But here, for the first time, we are able to experience the fascinating - and often heart-wrenching - stories 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)

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What listeners say about A Killer by Design

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Interesting / Engaging Listen!!

First, the narration (which is a make or break for me):

I usually don’t like to listen to audible books on the 1x speed (it’s typically 1.5 or 2x) because most narrators read too slowly to keep my focus. However, the narrator for this story did a phenomenal job in reading and not being boring. Something about their voice really caught my attention and I actually wanted to listen at normal speed and hear their every word. The tone and voices for other people were great.

Now for the story itself:

I didn’t really know what to expect with the stories and the author themselves. I was only familiar with her via Netflix’s “Mindhunter” show. Anyways, the humanity that Anne Burgess (hopefully I’m spelling that right) brings to the retelling of cases that she worked on is a breath of fresh air. I’m so used to podcasts that tend to exploit the stories of victims, but I can tell that Anne really cares about making sure the focus is on the victims/she doesn’t glorify the killers. She knows what she’s talking about, is incredibly intelligent and well spoken.

The audiobook is great in bringing attention to her invaluable work that has helped many, many people and has shaped the course of the BSU/Profiling. It was also nice hearing a woman’s take on a male dominated field. Definitely a necessary listen if you liked “Mindhunter”, and are interested in behavioral profiling.

8 people found this helpful

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Best insider info of killers thought process

I’ve listened to many books about being “inside the minds” of serial killers. This book truly dug into a killers mind. It answered questions about these killers’ that often went unanswered by other authors. FANTASTIC book

7 people found this helpful

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Best Mindhunter Book in a Long Time

I’ve read most of the Mindhunter standards and was afraid that this would be still-another rehashing of the same turf. Ann Burgess brings her perspective as one of the pioneers of profiling and a closer look at underlying psychology that makes this book a standout. I like her views on how typical media treatments of serial killers have created false narratives by diminishing both their complexity and their capacity for unfeeling violent destruction. This book is not a sensationalized “gore fest” but also doesn’t pull punches on either front. I think that’s one of it’s greatest strengths. Narrator does a great job, too.

3 people found this helpful

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One of the Best books on profilers and their job

Story 5/5
Narration 5/5

Excellent recounting of the author's time of the FBI's Behavioral Sciences Unit as a criminal profiler.

Very interesting and informative!

The narrator's voice was both professional and pleasant.

Highly recommended if you're into this subject.

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  • 04-11-22

Gabra Zackman is ALWAYS awesome

I wish I could say the same thing about this book. This book is 70% the same old "hip hip hooray we criminal profilers are awesome" stuff you've probably read in the books by Ressler and Hazelwood, and 30% quite interesting case material (which, let's face it, is why most of us listen to true crime books in the first place).

2 people found this helpful

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Riveting book on profiling of serial killers

The book is about the beginning and progression of criminal profiling at the FBI. I had already seen the TV portrayal, Mind Hunters. The book is much less graphic than the show, which I liked. It was fun to remember how the show portrayed the different FBI agents and the early days of the BAU while listening to the first-hand version in this audiobook.
The book is fascinating and well-narrated. I usually don’t bother to do reviews, but I really enjoyed this book. I also really appreciate the amazing work the author has done to catch serial killers.

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Not a great performance...

Oof, I don’t know. The story seems like it might be okay, but the performance is painful. I don’t know if it’s only terrible editing or what, but the storyteller will frequently change pitch and tone mid sentence like it’s been horribly spliced together. It’s like fingernails on a chalkboard and I’m honestly not sure I’ll finish it.

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Excellent book

It was very interesting to here her scientific methods. Not boring at all, one can tell she cares about the victims along with her team
Well worth your time

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Excellent perspective

This a fine book with an exceptionally detailed perspective into the cases that I'm sure true crime fans are familiar with. I found the J. Douglas collection of books interesting for the most part, a bit repetitive but even though this author worked some of the same cases as Douglas in the early days of profiling, and does discuss some of them in this book, the understanding and dissection of the psychology is much more in depth here. The details from this perspective were fascinating, blew me away more than once, especially the interpretation of the little girl's drawings, I don't think I'll ever look at doodling the same way again lol. I hope Ms. Burgess has published work similar to this, I will be looking.

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Incredible!

This was a wonderful audiobook. I’m amazed by how much Ann and others at the BSU have learned about violent offenders and how to utilize that knowledge and data to help find justice for victims. Great story of how their work evolved with time and with the evolution of crime.

1 person found this helpful