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THE SERIAL KILLERS' CONFIDANT FBI AGENT BILL HAGMAIER HEARS SOME TERRIBLE TRUTHS

TED BUNDY was a notorious serial murderer who is believed to have killed more than 30 young women, decapitating some of his victims and in many cases having sex with the women while he strangled them.

John Michael Staphanie was Minnesota's "Weeping Killer." He would telephone police in tears to tell them he was about to murder someone. Then he'd call again a few hours later -- still sobbing -- to tell them where to find the body.

These are the men FBI Special Agent Bill Hagmaier travels around the country to visit.

"During his last days, Ted Bundy called me his best friend," Hagmaier said. "I don't know how I feel about that. Here you have a guy giving you a warm handshake, and you're thinking, 'This is the same hand that held a hacksaw while he cut off a young girl's head.' "

Hagmaier was in Buffalo this week -- not to talk to killers, but to tell police officials about his experiences as one of the nation's leading investigators of serial murders and crime sprees. He gave a lecture to more than 600 police commanders at a retraining conference sponsored by the FBI Training Academy. The conference ended Wednesday.

Hagmaier is one of the cops behind the national headlines. A member of the FBI's elite Behavioral Science Unit, he is called in as an expert on cases like the Bundy murders, the Puerto Rico hotel fire that took 97 lives in 1988, the "Night Stalker" murders in Los Angeles and the 50 unsolved Green River killings in the Seattle area.

A 42-year-old Pittsburgh native who worked as a school guidance counselor before joining the FBI 12 years ago, Hagmaier looks more like an earnest young priest than a hard-bitten murder investigator.

"It's a strange way to make a living -- traveling around the country looking at pictures of the most heinous crimes you could possibly imagine," Hagmaier said. "If not for my wife and two kids, I don't know if I could handle it. We've had people in our unit who had to leave because of the emotions involved."

Far and away, the Bundy case attracts more attention than any other Hagmaier has investigated. Hagmaier is already booked for engagements to speak about Bundy as far off as 1995.

The agent is not really proud of his "friendship" with Bundy, but he is proud of the insights he gained from spending more than 200 hours with Bundy during the killer's final days. At Bundy's request, the two met and discussed murder techniques while Bundy was on death row in a Starke, Fla., prison.

During the last week before Bundy's execution on Jan. 24, 1989, Hagmaier spent up to 20 hours a day hearing the killer's confessions. Included in the discussions were shocking, intimate details about the victims, and how Bundy stalked and murdered them.

Bundy went to the electric chair for the murder of a 12-year-old Florida girl, but Hagmaier said he is convinced Bundy murdered at least 29 others nationwide. Other investigators think Bundy may have killed 100 or more, all women.

"He confessed to 30 murders. Here we had a serial murderer who was willing to re-create, step by step, his crimes and his methods. Hopefully the information he gave us will give us a little better understanding of the serial killer. Maybe we can use the insight to catch someone in the future.

"Bundy told me: 'I'm going to take you inside a murder. I'm going to take you where no policeman has ever gone before.' And he did."

The agent said Bundy told him the quest for power over his victims motivated him to kill women. Unlike many serial murderers who prey on prostitutes and elderly women, Bundy meticulously chose, pursued and got to know his victims, mostly attractive women from good, stable families.

"Ted Bundy never jumped out of the bushes and killed somebody. He took great pride in how he selected, lured and, from his perspective, seduced his victims. He told me he was a predator and that he only killed women he considered worthy prey.

"Bundy told me, 'I became their God.' He felt that when he killed somebody he took over their body and soul, and no force on heaven or earth could stop him."

The most chilling details revealed by Bundy were unspeakable, Hagmaier said.

"He told me some things which I will never repeat, out of respect for the victims' families," Hagmaier said. "Let's just say that he did some things to the bodies that were just as horrible as they could possibly be."

One useful thing Hagmaier said he learned from Bundy is that there is some truth to the police adage that criminals return to the scene of their crime. He said Bundy told him he considered each murder site to be "hallowed ground," and that he revisited the sites whenever possible.

Bundy was described by some Florida newspapers as the most hated man in America, and thousands came to the prison when he was executed. Vendors sold refreshments and "Burn Bundy" T-shirts outside the prison.

"The day he went to the electric chair, I was in there with Bundy. He was reading the Bible, and you could hear people outside chanting, 'Burn Bundy, burn Bundy,' " Hagmaier recalled. "Bundy said to me, 'And these people say I'm crazy?' "

Despite that unsettling experience, Hagmaier said he favors the death penalty for premeditated murderers. He said Bundy and killers like him choose their own punishments because they know the laws and the risks before they proceed with their crimes.

Members of Hagmaier's unit are called to assist local police agencies with major criminal investigations. Sometimes the FBI helps to put together a psychological profile of the suspect. At other times the unit serves as a data bank, collecting information and insights from major criminal cases throughout the nation.

Agents from the Behavioral Science Unit spent a brief time in Buffalo in the early 1980s, assisting in the hunt for the ".22-Caliber Killer" who was terrorizing the African-American community.

What kind of person is likely to become a serial murderer?

Despite all the research done by his office, Hagmaier isn't certain.

"I don't think anyone has the answer yet, but when you look at at lot of killers, you find they were abused as children. They had very poor role models for parents," Hagmaier said.

"Then you have the ones who are intelligent, from good families, people who made a conscious decision to become serial killers. That is what is really chilling."

Hagmaier's first murder investigation came when he was working in Minnesota in 1981. He helped police in St. Paul to track down Staphanie, the telephone-dialing "Weeping Killer." Staphanie killed at least three women, stabbing them repeatedly with an ice pick, until his last murder attempt was thwarted by a prostitute who nearly cut his nose off with a broken bottle.

"Each one of his victims was wearing red," Hagmaier recalled. "And when we arrested Staphanie and confiscated his wallet, he was carrying a picture of woman wearing a red dress. She was his fiancee, and she had jilted him years before."

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