The profiler diaries by Gérard Labuschagne – reader impression

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Title: The profiler diaries
Author: Gérard Labuschagne
ISBN: 9781776095827
Publisher: Penguin

This reader impression was written and sent to LitNet on the writer's own initiative.

Dr Gérard Labuschagne, a former head profiler of SAPS’s specialised Investigative Psychology Section (IPS) and an expert on serial murder and rape cases, wrote The profiler diaries to recollect some of the 110 murder series and weird crimes he investigated during his time (nearly a decade and a half) in SAPS.

Psychologically motivated crimes typically have no external (usually financial) motive and include serial murder, serial rape, sexual murders, muti murders, child sexual offenders, intimate-partner murders, child abductions and kidnappings, mass murder, spree murders, cold cases and equivocal death scenarios, to name but a few. (33)

As a police psychologist, Labuschagne was also involved in high profile cases like those of Oscar Pistorius, the Van Breda family murder case, the Griekwastad family murder case, the Inge Lotz murder investigation and the Leigh Matthews kidnap and murder case, to name but a few. He writes about Jose da Silva, the quarry murder series, the Muldersdrift serial rapist, the Brighton Beach axe murders and womb raiders.

Labuschagne tells in the first few chapters of The profiler diaries how he became a psychologist, trained investigator and profiler. He cautions:

If you are the kind of person who needs the approval and appreciation of others, then policing is probably not going to be a good fit for you. You will have to rely on self-satisfaction and maybe the occasional thank you from a victim or their family, but don’t expect much acknowledgement from your seniors. (120)

As an experienced profiler, he knows the shortcomings of the system all too well. He highlights the challenges he and his team had to deal with over the years, such as a lack of resources, office politics, political interference and low salaries, and then proceeds to recall some interesting cases he has worked on during his career. “I wanted to write this book before I forgot the finer details.”

The author does not mince his words when it comes to the gory details of his investigations. He speaks of the smell of a decomposing body – “a smell I have never become used to” (60) – and hails the forensic pathologists and other staff who are in the mortuary environment every day. He shares information like:

Suspects don’t usually make much effort to clean up after themselves, as it is too high risk to spend any amount of time with a body or at a crime scene after you have killed the person. The murderer usually wants to get as far away as possible, as soon as possible, from their victim. (61)

People often ask about using DNA or dental records as a means of identifying someone, but the problem is that there is no national database of DNA or dental records. You have to have an idea of who the person may be and then compare the deceased’s DNA to the DNA from his or her toothbrush, or hair from his or her hairbrush, or family DNA. (61)

Sometimes, if the body is decomposed but not mummified, and skin-slippage starts to occur (when the outer layer of the skin literally starts to slop off), you can slide off the skin of the fingers and slide it over your own (gloved) fingers. The outer layer of skin contains the fingerprint ridges, so then you roll “your” fingers in fingerprint ink and onto a piece of paper. (107)

As a reader (and writer), I find the interviews Labuschagne conducted with suspects most interesting, as they afford one rare glimpses into their worlds and the way they saw things. Labuschagne shares his riveting analyses of the cases and mentions the court proceedings. There are also several colour photos to remind the reader that this book is a true account of police case files. The profiler diaries is a gripping, terrifying and necessary read. It is quite sobering to be reminded that real-life monsters do exist among us. One also gets a sense of how overwhelmed the police force is, how insurmountable the shortcomings of the system seem to be and how desperately needed trained professionals are. That said, one wants to take off one’s hat to those dedicated personnel in the police force who – under very difficult circumstances – apply their skills and expertise to keep criminals off our streets.

More about the author: Besides having been the head of SAPS’s IPS, Dr Gérard Labuschagne is also a clinical psychologist, criminologist, homicide and death investigator, hostage negotiator, US-certified threat manager and advocate of the High Court. He is a director of L&S Threat Management, an honorary associate professor in the University of the Witwatersrand’s Department of Forensic Medicine and Pathology and the founder president of the African Association of Threat Assessment Professionals. He has given training to the Behavioral Analysis Units of the FBI and the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department and advised foreign law-enforcement agencies on their cases. Labuschagne is a regular speaker at international conferences and has published extensively in professional journals and textbooks.

See also:

First sip: Profiler diaries by Gérard Labuschagne

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