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Killer hobby

Columbia College grad aspires to one day become a criminal profiler


Columbia College graduate student Kortnie Ford reads about famed serial killer Jack the Ripper.

March 11, 2010 | 12:00 a.m. CST

Kortnie Ford has a hobby. But it isn’t your run-of-the-mill photography or playing Ping Pong. Her hobby is researching serial killers.
Ford, a newlywed and former collegiate softball player, is obsessed with these murderous criminals. Countless books line her shelves, but none of them fairy tales. Her favorites are about Jack the Ripper. “I should buy stock in Barnes & Noble for all their serial killer profiler books I have,” she says.
Last fall, Ford, a Columbia College graduate student, teamed up with local freelance science journalist Mike Martin to collaborate on research about the Zodiac killer, a serial killer who terrorized parts of California in the 1960s and regained mainstream attention with the release of 2007’s Zodiac, starring Jake Gyllenhaal. Through cryptic messages, the Zodiac killer claimed he was responsible for 37 victims, but the killer’s identity has never been discovered. This intrigued Ford.
Ford immediately immersed herself in the topic during the little free time she had between working and a full class load. She and Martin started identifying similarities in old police reports and criminal profiles. They then presented them at national conferences. One thing they discovered was that each female victim had recently broken up with a boyfriend, leading them to believe the Zodiac was carrying baggage from a rocky relationship. Also, in each of the three murders that involved couples, the woman was older than the man. Martin says the case has been hard for to solve because of false leads and poor cooperation among police departments.
“There’s a lot of weird people out there,” Martin says. “(The case is) a magnet for kooks, and just last year two people alone claimed their relatives were the killer. It’s really considered the most famous unresolved case in the U.S.”
Ford first realized her passion for profiling serial killers and their crimes as an undergraduate student at the University of Central Missouri. After watching her best friend’s DVD set about serial killers, she became obsessed with the topic and began collecting nonfiction books and watching television shows such as Law & Order: SVU and Bones. Ford initally wanted to go to law school, but the text didn’t grab her interest, at least not the way criminal profiles did.“You stick one (book) about, say, (Jeffrey) Dahmer in there, and I’ll read it and read it and won’t let it go.”
Ford quickly switched her ambitions from law school to a criminal justice program. One day she hopes to work as a criminal profiler in the FBI. “I kind of see it as prestigious to have the kind of position where people depend on you to figure something out,” Ford says. “And I love to figure stuff out.”

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