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The Vidocq Society: Solving Murders Over Lunch

The Vidocq Society sounds like something straight out of a Sherlock Holmes novel.

Once a month, the members of the 20-year-old club -- mostly detectives and forensic experts -- meet at an old Victorian dining room in the middle of Philadelphia to eat lunch and solve crimes that have perplexed investigators for decades.

"I think of it as CSI to the 10th power but real," says journalist Michael Capuzzo. There are profilers and pathologists, experts in white-collar crime, terrorism and sadism. They have Interpol represented, and a captain from the Egyptian army -- and for good measure, they even have a psychic.

Capuzzo has spent years becoming intimately familiar with the Vidocq Society, which is named for the 18th-century criminal-turned-crime-fighter Eugene François Vidocq. Capuzzo's new book, The Murder Room, details how the three founding members gathered crime experts from around the world to solve cold cases. He also profiles some of their more famous investigations.

Both Capuzzo and Richard Walter, a forensic psychologist considered to be the father of criminal profiling, join Dave Davies for a conversation about how the monthly lunchtime meetings turn into round-table discussions about possible motives and murder suspects.

Walter describes one case, the brutal 1984 murder of a night manager named Terri Brooks in Falls Township, Pa. She was stabbed inside the Roy Rogers restaurant where she had been working. The extremely violent attack -- her head was wrapped in cellophane, and a knife wound had punctured her throat -- was perplexing to local officers. The safe inside the restaurant had been manipulated, so investigators thought the murder was the result of a "robbery gone wrong."

For 14 years, the case went unsolved -- until the case was brought to a Vidocq Society meeting. After listening to officers from Falls Township describe the case, Richard Walter stood up and told the officers that this wasn't a robbery gone wrong -- and that Terri Brooks had been targeted and murdered by someone she knew.

"When you looked at the body, when you looked at the crime scene itself, it was obvious that it was not a robbery," Walters explains to Davies. "What robbery suspect would stab someone so viciously that the knife enters the tile floor and wrap the head in cellophane? A robber is simply not going to do that. It's not efficient. There's no value in that kind of an activity. So you have to look how he spends his time and his interest by what's there and by what's not there."

Walter thought the staged robbery was simply a red herring staged by the suspect to throw police off his trail. The police then asked Walter to create a profile of a potential suspect.

"Given the amount of violence at the scene and how it was personalized to the victim," Walter suspected that the murderer wasn't a stranger. "Also, the victim had to let the suspect in, and so, therefore, the presumption is that she knew him. ... There's extreme hostility, and you see that he doesn't really care when the victim dies. He cares when his anger has been sated. ... So it was simply a matter of watching and plugging in the bits and pieces along the way. In this case, it was reasonable to assume by police that a boyfriend may be involved."

Members of the Vidocq Society talked to Brooks' parents, asking them about any possible boyfriends. They remembered one, a man they thought was named O'Keefe. The detectives scoured arrest records and articles for any mention of an O'Keefe, and found nothing -- until they looked at the funeral guest book for Terri Brooks.

Sure enough, a man named Alfred Scott Keefe had signed in to Brooks' funeral registrar. Police officers obtained a warrant to get Keefe's DNA -- from cigarettes he threw out at the curb. It matched DNA from the crime scene. After an interrogation, he confessed. Sixteen months later, he was sentenced to life in prison without parole.

Walter says members of the Vidocq Society try to look at cases -- like the murder of Terri Brooks -- from all angles.

"I think that many times, we tend to look at things linearly on a straight, flat line and don't see a relationship between evidence," he says. "I try, particularly when humans and people are involved and motives and all of these sorts of things, to look at the evidence on a differential plane. And so you get a sense of depth and insight into [the crime.]"

Interview Highlights

On interviewing a suspect

Richard Walter: "In terms of interviewing an anger-retaliatory type, one of the things that must be understood by the detectives is, contrary to popular opinion, the perpetrator does not feel any guilt for committing the killing. When they leave the killing site, they many times have a sense of well-being and a sense of relief and a sense of charm because they've just had 50 pounds of emotional baggage taken off their shoulders. Police don't expect that."

On sadists who show up to hear Walter give lectures

Richard Walter: "Years ago, I was in Topeka at a conference, and I had been at the police department and was going to give a lecture on sadism. The detective who had been with me [at the police department] showed me a suspect in a murder case [and] came up to me just before I went up on the platform and said, 'You know that guy that I pointed out to you at the police department? I just flushed him out of your audience.' ... I've had other places where if I'm lecturing on rape or whatever else, rapists will sneak into the audience."

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