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David G. Meirhofer (June 8, 1949 – September 29, 1974) was an American serial killer who committed four murders in rural Montana between 1967 and 1974 — three of them children. At the time, the Federal Bureau of Investigation was developing a new method of tracking killers called Offender profiling, and Meirhofer was the first serial killer to be investigated using the technique. Offender profiling is a method used to learn clues about the characteristics of an unknown killer from evidence at the scene of the crime and establish their behavioural patterns before they reach the height of their criminality.
Among Meirhofer's victims was seven-year-old Susan Jaeger, who was taken from her tent at night during a family camping trip. He left no ransom request and no physical evidence. However, the offender profiling technique, which was first used in this case, was employed about a year after the kidnapping. The technique led investigators to suspect that the kidnapper was a young, white male who killed for sexual gratification and may have kept body parts of victims as "souvenirs". Furthermore, they believed that the killer may have been arrested for other crimes.
Meirhofer was 23 years old at the time and suspected in another murder. He denied the charges. Meirhofer placed a telephone call to Marietta Jaeger, the mother of Susan Jaeger, exactly a year after the kidnapping, and she obtained enough information to help the FBI track him down.
Meirhofer had killed Suzie Jaeger, two boys, and a woman. In September 1974, he confessed to having kidnapped the woman, Sandra Dykman Smallegan, in her sleep during February of that same year. Smallegan had once dated Meirhofer, but had ended the relationship.
On September 29, 1974, Meirhofer committed suicide by hanging himself in his cell in the Gallatin County, Montana, jail, four hours after confessing to the murders.Bernard L. Poelman, age 13, on March 19, 1967, in Gallatin County, Montana.Michael E. Raney, age 12, on May 7, 1968, in Gallatin County, Montana.Susan Jaeger, age 7, on June 25, 1973, in Gallatin County, Montana.Sandra D. Smallegan, age 19, on February 10, 1974, in Gallatin County, Montana.
The police and FBI investigation into the abduction and murder of Susan Jaeger was portrayed in the May 27, 2003 episode of the television documentary series The FBI Files entitled Dark Woods. In the episode, the name David Meirhofer was changed to David Masterson.
Susan Jaeger's mother, Marietta Jaeger, wrote a book about Susan's kidnapping and murder, titled "The Lost Child".