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Profilers weigh in on PhD student charged in Idaho murders


Published: 07:14 GMT, 31 December 2022 | Updated: 13:12 GMT, 2 January 2023

After police charged a criminology grad student with the murder of four University of Idaho students, the suspect’s choice of academic field is raising questions about whether his studies were part of a twisted criminal fantasy.  

Bryan Christopher Kohberger, 28, who was arrested early Friday, has a master’s degree in criminal justice, and was pursuing a PhD in criminology at nearby Washington State University at the time of the murders.

‘I suspect that Kohberger was well aware of his dark nature and homicidal ideation and endeavored to discover more about himself through his studies,’ said Enzo Yaksic, a criminal profiler and founder of the Atypical Homicide Research Group in Boston, in an email to

‘But pursuing an advanced degree to become a better murderer is a foolhardy exercise,’ he added, ‘as nothing more is learned about such tactics and strategies than can be found on a popular podcast or true crime book.

‘If Kohberger is an aspiring serial murderer who desired to commit the perfect murder, he quickly learned what many have discovered in the modern-age: it is far more difficult to get away with serial killing today than when Ted Bundy was active.’

Bryan Christopher Kohberger, 28, who was arrested early Friday in the murder of four college students, has a master’s degree in criminal justice, and was pursuing a PhD in criminology 

Atypical Homicide Research Group founder Enzo Yaksic (left), and former FBI agent Jonathan T. Gilliam (right) both spoke with about Kohberger’s background

Earlier this year, Kohberger appealed to criminals on Reddit, asking them to share their experiences to help him with his graduate studies 

Just five months before the murders, Kohberger carried out an anonymous survey of criminal offenders as part of his studies, probing their ‘thoughts and feelings’ and tactics in carrying out their crimes. 

‘I suspect we’ll find out he was becoming satiated for a period of time learning from these criminals — but once that wasn’t doing it anymore, he took it from fantasy to real life,’ said former FBI agent Jonathan T. Gilliam in a phone interview with

‘Quite often, a person evolves over time, and as their desires evolve, the only way they can get those things satiated evolves too,’ added Gilliam. ‘Every step of the way, he probably became a little bit more odd and a little bit more deviant.’ 

Last spring, Kohberger completed a master’s in criminal studies at DeSales University in Pennsylvania, where, according to the Daily Beast, he studied under famed forensic psychologist Katherine Ramsland, whose books include How to Catch a Killer and The Mind of a Murderer.

While he was at DeSales, Kohberger took to Reddit in May with a post seeking criminals to complete his survey about how they selected their targets and carried out offenses. 

‘Hello, my name is Bryan and I am inviting you to participate in a research project that seeks to understand how emotions and psychological traits influence decision-making when committing a crime,’ he wrote in a Reddit post in May.

‘In particular, this study seeks to understand the story behind your most recent criminal offense, with an emphasis on your thoughts and feelings throughout your experience,’ he said. 

Forensic teams and police work at the apartment of Bryan Christopher Kohberger, 28, on Washington State University on Friday

While he was at DeSales, Kohberger took to Reddit in May with a post seeking criminals to complete his survey about how they selected their targets and carried out offenses

Yaksic noted that the questions in Kohberger’s survey of criminal offenders seemed focused on ‘crowdsourcing the best ways to plan for and get away with crime.’

‘This line of questioning hints at an unsophisticated offender who was not confident in his own abilities,’ said Yaksic, the author of Killer Data: Modern Perspectives on Serial Murder.

At the time of the murders, Kohberger was in the first semester of his PhD program at Washington State, and Yaksic speculated ‘the arrogance inherent to being an academic’ may have contributed to his arrest. 

‘It has always been a myth that uber-intelligent serial murderers are able to avoid all obstacles and remain one step ahead of the police,’ the profiler added. 

‘This case perfectly encapsulates how even someone with a graduate degree is no better able to get away with murder than a common thug.’

Kohberger was apprehended at his family’s home in Pennsylvania nearly seven weeks after the November 13 slayings of Ethan Chapin, Xana Kernodle, Madison Mogen, and Kaylee Goncalves in Moscow, Idaho. 

The four college students were all stabbed to death in an off-campus house, likely as they slept, after they returned home late from a Saturday night out.

Kohberger was arrested on Friday at his parent’s home in the Poconos (above)

Kaylee Goncalves, Maddie Mogen, Xana Kernodle and Ethan Chapin, were murdered on November 13

Police reportedly tied Kohberger to the crime through DNA. 

Though he has no criminal record that would put his DNA on file, investigators were able to match genetic evidence to a family member of the suspect using genealogy databases, CNN reported, citing a source. 

Gilliam, the former FBI agent, said the details that have emerged of Kohberger’s life led him to believe that the suspected killer had developed a fixation on dominating others that evolved over time. 

After struggling with weight issues, Kohberger reportedly became an extremely strict vegan, to the point that he insisted his family toss out any pots that had previously been used to cook meat. 

A high school classmate, Thomas Arntz, described Kohberger as a ‘bully’ who would happily note his friends’ ‘flaws and insecurities’ in order to distract from his own weight struggles.

‘He did that to me all the time,’ Thomas told The Daily Beast. ‘He would go after my intelligence. He would basically insinuate that I’m kind of slow-witted and that I’m forgetful and that I lack the intelligence to be his friend.’

At the time of the murders, Kohberger was in the first semester of his PhD program at Washington State

Thomas finally cut off the friendship after the continuous bullying. He noted that Kohberger’s father, a maintenance worker, and mother, a substitute teacher, were ‘genuinely kind people.’ 

‘I have a feeling there was something wrong when he was young,’ said Gilliam, the former FBI agent. 

‘He was a heavy set kid, and then he was a bully, and turned himself into an extreme vegan and a very dominant personality,’ he said. ‘You do start to see a gradual increase in violent behavior and particularly dominance over other people.’

By Jennifer Smith, Chief Reporter For Dailymail.Com and Andrea Cavallier For Dailymail.Com

SWAT teams descended on a sleepy residential community in Pennsylvania in the early hours of Friday morning where they arrested Idaho murder suspect Bryan Kohberger more than a month after four university students were slain in their beds.

Kohberger, 28, was taken into custody by the Pennsylvania State Police at a home in Albrightsville, a small town in the heart of the Poconos Mountains more than 2,000 miles from where the gruesome killings took place on November 13. 

Latah County Prosecutor Bill Thompson said investigators believe Kohberger broke into the students’ home ‘with the intent to commit murder.’ 

Kohberger has a masters in criminal studies and was onto his PhD. He was studying 15 minutes away from where the murders took place

He was taken into custody in Albrightsville, Pennsylvania, a small town in the heart of the Poconos Mountains more than 2,000 miles from where the gruesome killings took place

Kaylee Goncalves, 21, Madison Mogen, 21, and Xana Kernodle, 20, were stabbed to death along with Xana’s freshman boyfriend, Ethan Chapin, 20, in Moscow, Idaho last month.  

Police say DNA evidence links Kohberger to the scene. Kohberger was a PhD student in the Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology at Washington State University, which is a short drive across the state line from the University of Idaho.

Friday’s arrest is the first major break in the case – with Kohberger asking if ‘anyone else was arrested’ when he was taken into custody. An extradition hearing is scheduled for Tuesday. 

Kohberger is a registered Libertarian, although does not appear to have had any active social media profiles at the time of his arrest. 

A relative told The New York Post Kohberger is ‘OCD’ about his eating habits and forced his family to buy new pots that had never been used to cook meat. 

‘It was above and beyond being vegan. His aunt and uncle had to buy new pots and pans because he would not eat from anything that had ever had meat cooked in them. He seemed very OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder)’ the woman said.

Flowers and yellow police tape outside the Moscow, ID property where four University Students were murdered

The crime took place six weeks ago, 2,500 miles from where Kohberger was arrested 

During a press conference on Friday authorities confirmed that a white Hyundai Elantra was discovered in the search – with sources saying it was towed from outside Kohberger’s home.

Law enforcement sources told CNN that his DNA was discovered at the scene of the crime – with officers managing to track down who owned the car seen in the area of the slayings.

However, Kohberger has no prior arrests, according to public records, so it is unclear how officials got hold of his DNA. 

Authorities then discovered that he had left the area and traveled to Pennsylvania, where an FBI surveillance team had been tracking the 6ft tall man.

He was kept under surveillance, with the FBI watching him for four days, while investigators from Moscow Police and Idaho State Police worked to get an arrest warrant.

Authorities are still appealing for anyone with information on Kohberger or the quadruple murders to get in touch.

Moscow Chief of Police James Fry refused to rule out that the killer had an accomplice, adding: ‘We have an individual in custody who committed these horrible crimes.’

Details of the killings, and the motive for them, are yet to be released with law enforcement saying a sealed arrest affidavit will be released once Kohberger is extradited back to Idaho.

He is currently in custody at Monroe County Jail in Pennsylvania until a hearing on January 3.

There is no set time scale for how long his extradition from Pennsylvania to Idaho might take. If Kohberger doesn’t contest it, it’ll happen relatively quickly.

Sunday, November 13 2022: Kaylee Goncalves, Madison Mogen, Xana Kernodle and Ethan Chapin were stabbed to death at their home in Moscow, Idaho in the early hours of the morning, sometime between 3am and 4am.

Earlier that evening, Mogen and Goncalves were captured on a Twitch livestream close to a food truck while waiting for an order of pasta carbonara. 

A sorority driving service drove the young women home around 1:56am. 

Kernodle and her boyfriend Chapin had returned from the Sigma Chi frat house around 11 minutes earlier.

Two other female roommates who survived the attack went to bed around 1am and didn’t wake up until the next morning.

Goncalves called her ex-boyfriend Jack DuCoeur seven times between 2:26 and 2:44, her sister Alivea said. He was quickly cleared as a suspect. 

A 911 call was made at 11:58am that mornig.

At 2pm, students were told of the murders by the University of Idaho, with staffers urging them to ‘shelter in place.’ 

Monday, November 14 2022: Moscow Mayor Art Bettge said the killings were a ‘crime of passion,’ only to later backtrack. He said that theory was one of several under consideration. 

Tuesday, November 15 2022: Moscow Police called the killings an ‘isolated, targeted attack’ and added that there was ‘no imminent threat to the community at large.’ 

But angry locals  – as well as the four victims’ families – slammed what they described as contradictory statements from investigators. 

Wednesday, November 16 2022: Moscow PD Chief James Fry disclosed the fact that two roommates at home had survived. 

He said there were no signs of forced entry, but refused to say who had made the 911 call, and why it had been made an estimated eight hours later. 

Fry angered locals by backtracking on an earlier claim their was no danger to the wider community. He warned them to ‘please stay vigilant.’ 

Thursday, November 17 2022: The killings are officially ruled homicides by stabbings by Latah County Coroner Cathy Mabbutt. 

She said all four victims were likely attacked as they slept, and that each had multiple stab wounds. 

Distressingly, some victims were found to have defensive wounds – suggesting they’d woken up while being attacked – but there were no signs of sexual assault. 

Sunday, November 20: exclusively reveals a local dog was skinned and filleted three weeks before the killings, sparking fears of a connection. 

Cops later insisted this was not the case. They added that Goncalves’ dog was home at the time of the slayings. 

November 22 2022: Cops admitted Goncalves had been followed around a supermarket around a month before the killings, but said they were unable to verify claims she had a stalker.  

November 30 2022: Kaylee Goncalves’ father Steve said his daughter and friend Maddie Mogen had been sleeping in the same bed when they were stabbed. 

Latah County Prosecutor Bill Latah claimed one of the victims was ‘undoubtedly targeted.’ 

Hours later, Moscow Police Department contradicted that claim, only to admit that they did consider the crime a ‘targeted’ one the following day. 

Six people are ruled out as suspects: A man seen close to Goncalves and Mogen at the food truck; the driver who took them home; Goncalves’ ex-boyfriend; the surviving roommates and another student who’d moved out of the property several months earlier. 

December 5 2022: Goncalves’ dad Steve slammed cops ‘absurd’ approach to the case, claiming Moscow Police Department had been too quick to clear potential suspects, and rule out links to other cases 

December 7 2022: Cops make their first appeal for a white 2011 to 2013 Hyundai Elantra spotted at the crime scene around the time of the murders.

A white Hyundai Elantra is said to have been towed from suspect Bryan Kohberger’s home in Scranton, Pennsylvania on December 30 after he was arrested.

December 12 2022: Steve Goncalves reveals Kaylee had ‘big open gouges’ as a result of the deadly attack. 

He branded cops ‘cowards’ for not sharing more information, and said his daughter’s wounds were more severe than Maddie’s.

December 18 2022: New footage emerges showing Goncalves and Mogen hours before their killings, walking through downtown while discussing a man named Adam.

Goncalves’ family lawyer later clarified that the Adam in question is a bartender. 

December 27 2022: More leaked footage shows Goncalves and Mogen inside the Corner Club bar in Moscow shortly before returning home.

December 30 2022: Cops announce they’ve made an arrest in connection with the killings in Scranton, Pennsylvania. 

The suspect is named as University of Washington criminology Ph.D student Bryan Christopher Kohberger.

Kohberger was nabbed at his home by SWAT teams, and arraigned the same morning. He now awaits extradition back to Idaho.