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In “Ted Bundy: American Boogeyman,” a character based on detective Kathleen McChesney rolls her eyes at the casual sexism of her male counterparts. She tells another character, who is based on famed FBI criminal profiler Robert Ressler, that she wanted to join the FBI but was told women couldn’t.
In reality, McChesney was even more of a trailblazer than the fictionalized version, a woman who made her way up to the highest ranks of the FBI, at a time when it was dominated almost solely by men.
McChesney became the first female police officer to go on patrol in the state of Washington in 1971, the Los Angeles Times reported in 1994.
She was told that she didn’t weigh enough to become an officer for the King County, Wash., Police Department so she had to begin her career in law enforcement doing clerical work for the county jail. She only became an officer after she filed an appeal to the Civil Service Commission, which ruled that she could join the force if she gained seven pounds. Soon after, when she was just 24-year-old, she became one of the lead detectives on the Ted Bundy serial killer case. There, her gender proved to be an asset. Bundy's former girlfriends and female friends were more willing to speak to a female detective and they provided crucial information in the case.
By 1978, she fulfilled her dream of joining the FBI as an agent, six years after they officially started admitting women.
“At the time women became first at anything, somebody always took notice,” she reflected in an FBI-produced video in 2012. “And often it was the women that took notice because we were trying to find our way and make sure that we had the opportunities that men who were agents had.
She became one of only two women who were in the undercover unit at the FBI Headquarters Criminal Investigation Division.
“So, yes I was somewhat of a novelty, a lot of people on my first day came to visit the unit to see if I looked different or had two heads or whatever,” she said.
With her talent and gumption, McChesney moved up the ladder quickly and became the first female agent to be a supervisor in the Los Angeles office. There, she worked on several high profile cases including making sure that police officers involved in the Rodney G. King beating case were convicted.
“I was the first to run the resident agency at Redondo Beach and one of the first women field supervisors in the country,” she said in the FBI video from 2012.
She ultimately reached the third-highest position within the Bureau as Executive Assistant Director for Law Enforcement Services where she was responsible for the FBI's Training, Laboratory, and Criminal Justice Information Services Divisions, theOffice of International Operations and the Critical Incident Response Group.
McChesney retired from the Bureau in 2000 at the age of 51 to accept a job with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. They had recruited McChesney to establish and lead its Office of Child Protection, for which she established protocols to be put in use amidst abuse allegations.
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