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Features — 10 April 2013

By Jillian Putnam

Cracking cold cases and evaluating criminal’s mental capacity is a normal day in the life of Richard Walter. He has 22 years of experience in interviewing thousands of convicted felons, and he created the Vidocq society, which specializes in solving cold cases.

On April 4, Walter, an internationally-known psychologist and criminal profiler, visited Albion’s campus in order to present his analysis on the “Jack the Ripper” case and discuss his profession to interested students.

“Jack the Ripper” occurred in 1888 around the Whitechapel district in England. There have been many speculations about the case and the identification of the serial killer, but Walter was able to analyze the various processes and conclusions.

How did you first get involved in your line of work?

I trained in psychology, did extra forensic jobs and then I got involved in the prison system in Michigan and worked there for 22 years. Soon, the Brits and the FBI  got interested, and I found myself traveling around learning and sharing what I knew. It seemed like I was young and learning, then I took a nap and I was old, and I was suppose to know stuff, and sometimes I did. I was fearful that I would lose my edge, so I stayed very active with teaching, traveling and working on cases, and will probably do so until I’m not longer relevant and alive.

Was this something you always wanted to do, or did you fall into it?

It evolved. I finally decided that I should stop doing things that everyone else wanted me to do and instead satisfy myself. I was willing to pay the price, and so I did. Many times opportunities are presented to us, but we don’t recognize them as opportunities, so we bypass them, but I decided it was wise to pay attention to those signs. One thing led to another. Did I even intend to do what I was doing? No. Did it evolved? Yes. Would I do it again if I had the chance? Yes.

Is there a part of your journey you liked the best?

I enjoy working cases and explaining the case to the detective. But mostly, watching their eyes light up when they recognize something, or see the light and can see their case in better focus. 

Would you suggest students to follow in your footsteps?

It can be a rough road, and there are sacrifices. Not too many are that successful at having a mobilized life doing this because it strips away a part of your life, and you see the world a little more bleakly if you chose to. This can overwhelm you and scar you. However, if you take your time and mature, and you deal with it, these scars may not be as great as they could have been. Is it worthwhile? I think so.

Do you have advice for people if they were to follow this career path?

I think you have pay attention to your own health before you dig too deep into others people’s sickness. It doesn’t do any good to identify with the problem. It’s much better to deal with the problem. Can it be a lonely road? Yes. Why? Because people don’t want to hear about it, and second of all, even if people did want to hear about it, they may not be ready to hear to whole story. Is it something that everyone can do? No. I happen to believe that it is not enough to exist, you have to be productive. And this job is something that I can be productive at.

What is the most challenging aspect of your job?

Translating to people the weight of the information, and getting them to benefit from it.

What is the most rewarding aspect?

Catching the bad guy. 

What did you learn during your time working in the prison system in Jackson?

There is a whole different world of culture, and values are different. In one sense, I earned the about innocence and health, but also the opera, baseball games and watching UF. Normal things in life. Later, I learned to call it the way it is and to be fair.

How did your career affect your personal life?

A lot. I became the person that was more serious and had responsibility, and sometimes I’m just that guy 24 hours. Across time that shapes you, attitude changes behavior and behavior changes attitude.

What do you like now about sharing your stories?

I like giving people the sense of reality, opposed to just the myth that everything is wonderful. There are bad people, but there are a lot of good people, too. People have to look for warning signs and know how to protect themselves, instead of advertising to be a victim. My advice is to look at the world you’re living in, and evaluate the risks around you. The best protection is a healthy life, and if you have that, your body will tell you if you’re in danger. Of course bad things can still happen, but you’ll have better resources to protect yourself.

Can you explain the Vidocq society?

This is a group of 82 members, made up of various professions in the forensic world and areas of expertise. We have decided to only work on cold case homicides. With that, if we accept a case, we will fly the detectives to Philadelphia in order to brief us on the case, and then we cross examine them to give suggestions in order to advance the case. It’s their case, and always will be their case, we’re just their to give them help in terms of resources. A relatively low rate of these lead to conviction, but that is not our purpose. Our goal is to aid and abet. We are successful about 85 percent of the time, and I don’t want to minimize that.

What do you have to say about TV shows like Cold Case and CSI?

It is entertaining and, at worst, fraudulent and misconstrued. They are designed to be exciting instead of accurate. 

What is your favorite topic in psychology and criminology?

Well when you’re old, you’re develop skills in a lot of different areas. But, one that I never intended to develop was to become an expert in sadism. That includes necrophilia, cannibalism and all that kind of stuff. I know my weak areas, which I will never share, but, I’m the expert to the expert.

Have you ever felt threatened by those convicted of crimes?

I don’t believe in being garrulous and naive to risks, but I’m simply not going to be intimidated.

Photo courtesy of WikiCommons

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About Author

Jillian Putnam

Jillian is senior graduating in 2014 with a double major in English and Anthropology and a member of Alpha Chi Omega. She has a passion for travel and culture, hoping to pursue a career with National Geographic one day. Until then, she enjoys writing, cooking, and playing with her hedgehog. Contact her at jmp15@albion.edu, @JillianPutnam .

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