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November 1, 2012

New class at Blinn brings serial killers under scrutiny

40-year police veteran unpacks the mysteries behind the minds of society’s worst offenders

Blinn College sophomore Aaron Acosta still gets a chill down his spine when he thinks about the story shared by Instructor Edgar Feldman in Acosta’s criminal justice class a few weeks back.
Feldman, the former College Station Police Department (CSPD) chief, asked the class if they had ever met the devil.

Not one hand went up.

“I have,” he said.

Feldman described interrogating a murder suspect, right down to the vacant gaze, the flat monotone voice. Those memories are still etched in the veteran officer’s memory, decades later.

“The way Mr. Feldman portrayed the suspect left me with an empty, shocked feeling, and it’s still stuck in the back of my mind,” Acosta said. “I was taken aback by it.”

That reaction has happened a lot to students in Blinn’s contemporary issues course this semester as the focus of the course turns to serial killers.

“Being in law enforcement 40 years, I’ve seen just about everything,” Feldman said. “The mind has always fascinated me, especially when you get into the sexual predators, mass murderers and serial killers. What’s going on that influences people to do these things? Profiling these types of people has always interested me.”

Feldman was one of the first officers in the CSPD to study at the FBI Academy. In 1980, Feldman spent three months in Quantico, Va., studying abnormal behavior. Many of his instructors during that time are cited in the textbook Feldman uses with the course, “Serial Murderers and their Victims,” by Erik W. Hickey.

Feldman said he came across one or two serial killers during his career.

“It makes a big difference when you bring that to the classroom. That’s what this is all about,” Feldman said. “I can relate things that actually happened, hands-on cases that we worked and that I know about first-hand, and bring that into the classroom and make this book come alive to a certain extent.”

Feldman’s reputation for bringing his classroom material to life is one of the primary reasons sophomore forensic psychology major Sarah Sullivan enrolled in the course. This is the first semester Blinn has offered the class with a focus on serial murderers.

“I looked him (Feldman) up on RateMyProfessor.com and he had an almost perfect rating,” she said. “One of the reviewers even said they changed their major to criminal justice because of just one class with him.”

Sullivan said this course ties together the things she previously learned in her forensic psychology classes. The classes inspired her to look into earning a criminal justice bachelor’s degree and a career profiling criminals.

The class examines serial murderers and their victims, profiling some of the most prominent serial murderers and describing the biological, psychological and sociological reasons for serial murder.

“Is there something there that caused this to happen – that made this person a serial killer? Usually what you find out is that there are factors throughout this person’s life that probably had an impact, but there are no easy answers,” Feldman said.

While students often know at least a little bit about the subject based upon television and movies, they also come into the class with misconceptions popularly portrayed through the media.

“Sometimes they think you can run a test that they saw on CSI and get it back in 30 minutes and solve the case, but that’s not reality,” Feldman said.

Perhaps the most important lesson he wants his students to take away from the class is to take basic safety precautions and to be aware of their surroundings. It’s a lesson his students have found they can’t help but take away.

“The door is locked every night now,” Sullivan said. “I don’t scare easily, but reading these chapters at night, I definitely double-check the locks now.”

Even Acosta, a criminal justice major who wants to become a police officer after graduation, took away lessons about personal safety.

“This class has been above and beyond what I expected,” he said. “It really has opened my eyes to what police deal with and why they act the way they do. If you think they’re being rude or gruff, it’s because they don’t know who they’re dealing with – there is no profile for what a serial killer looks like. This class will keep me on my toes and a little more aware of my surroundings.”

Feldman, who retired from the CSPD in 2005, has taught at Blinn for 23 years. He received a scholarship to play football and baseball at Texas A&M, but instead embarked on a pro baseball career that took him as high as Double-A. When he returned to College Station following the 1965 season, he got his degree and began teaching part-time.

“I’ve loved every minute of it. The students keep you in touch as a law enforcement officer, and I think it’s important that officers know how what we do affects young people,” he said. “This, to me, is not a job. It never has been. That’s how much I enjoy it.”

Blinn’s Criminal Justice Program offers an Associate of Arts in criminal justice, and Associate of Applied Science degrees in criminal justice and law enforcement. It also offers a certificate in corrections and a peace officer academy through a partnership with the Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service (TEEX).

For more information on Blinn’s criminal justice program, visit www.blinn.edu/twe/crimjustice or call Program Coordinator Janet McNutt at 979-209-7375.