Pioneering criminal profiler Howard Teten (1932-2021)

Today, I received word of the passing of Howard Teten, the pioneering criminal profiler who plays a front-and center role in my upcoming true crime book, “ShadowMan: An Elusive Psycho Killer and the Birth of FBI Profiling.” His death was related to Covid complications. He was 88.

Yes, he was a pioneer and pioneers always have a special courage. We spoke many times during my research. He was always great company and still sharp as a tack in his late 80s. In fact, he spent his time teaching his friends in a nursing home how to use computers. He was remarkable in that way alone.

FBI SA Howard Teten (Ret)

In 1974, Teten and fellow FBI Special Agent Pat Mullany were thrown together almost accidentally at the FBI’s new training academy in Quantico.

Mullany was a former New York field agent—and oddly, a former Christian Brothers monk—with degrees in psychology and human behavior. And Teten was a cerebral ex-beat cop who’d joined the FBI with a fascination about why certain criminals committed certain crimes. Neither of them had been homicide detectives.

They shared a keen interest in criminal behavior—they both asked not just “Whodunit?” but “Why?” But they were two very different guys.

Mullany saw crime scenes from a higher altitude, and he tended to be more absorbed in human motives. Teten wanted to be up close, where he could see the tiniest, most telling details. Mullany believed abnormal behavior was rooted in unresolved sexual issues; Teten saw clues in body types. Mullany was philosophical, Teten was more cynical. Mullany knew heads; Teten knew hearts.

So, they had a novel idea: What if the physical evidence at a crime scene helped astute investigators to know the psychological and behavioral habits of the unknown subject (the UnSub, in Bureau-speak)? They’d call this new voodoo “criminal profiling.”

Once, I used that word—“pioneer”—in an interview. Howard pooh-poohed it.

“I just felt, you know, here’s a problem, what’ll we do? How do we fix this thing? It’s kind of like a fireman who asks, ‘How do I put this fire out?’ You know? Does that make him a ‘pioneer’? I really don’t know.”

I know. Howard Teten was a good man, and he was definitely a pioneer. He and Pat Mullany gave us one of the 20th century’s most fascinating forensic tools. The real work might not be as dramatic nor as infallible as Hollywood makes it, but it is useful to narrow the possible pool of suspects in a heinous crime, thereby focusing investigators on a smaller group and saving valuable time. It’s one more tool in the investigative toolbox.

Godspeed, Howard.

COVER IMAGE: FBI Special Agent Howard Teten, prominent figure in “ShadowMan,” coming March 1, 2022 and now available for pre-order ing.