'Lovely Bones:' Serial Killers Elude As Ordinary Neighbors

Photo: Actor Stanley Tucci on his work with an FBI profiler for his role as a serial killer

George Harvey was a loner, obsessively compulsive about the dollhouses he created and the young girls he raped and dismembered in an underground lair he built right near a school.

Like many real serial killers, Harvey, the fictional character in the 2002 bestseller "The Lovely Bones," lived a seemingly normal life among his neighbors, evading suspicion and cleverly eluding capture.

"We can't get past the preconceived notion that these violent offenders should be drooling or have third eyeball," said retired FBI agent John Douglas, who has analyzed some of most vicious killers of all time.

VIDEO: Stanley Tucci on Working With FBI Profiler

"They get away with murder in this country -- 20 to 50 serial killers are on the loose at any time, killing three or more victims," he told ABCNews.com.

Actor Stanley Tucci has been nominated for a Golden Globe award and is being touted as Oscar material for his complex portrayal of Harvey, the suburban pedophile in the film adaptation of Alice Sebold's novel.

The DreamWorks film, due out Dec. 11, is directed by Peter Jackson and stars Mark Wahlberg, Susan Sarandon and Saoirse Ronan as Susie Salmon, the 14-year-old who searches for her killer and watches the psychological fall-out of her murder from heaven.

VIDEO: Peter Jacksons The Lovely Bones

Best known for affable characters like fashionista Nigel in the 2006 film "The Devil Wears Prada" and gourmand husband Paul Child 2009's "Julie and Julia," the 49-year-old Tucci had to get inside the twisted mind of a serial killer.

He credits the depth of his film performance to the real-life skills of Douglas, the founder and former chief of the FBI's Investigative Support Unit and one of the pioneers in modern criminal profiling.

VIDEO: Star and director of The Lovely Bones choose Twilight sides

Douglas was the model for the agent Jack Crawford in the 1991 Academy Award-winning thriller, "The Silence of the Lambs," and was originally considered to play the part.

For "The Lovely Bones," Douglas devoted two days to prepping Tucci, engaging in role-play to elicit an authentic performance. He says playing a serial killer was "tough on [Tucci] psychologically."

Harvey was transformed into "a real person, not a monster," who "doesn't feel that he is doing anything wrong," Tucci told ABCNews.com.

"The goal is to be bad, but human," said Tucci, the handsomely balding actor who once played the Nazi villain Adolph Eichmann. "But we created him as a real person, not a monster."

As the father of three young children -- 9-year-old twins and 7-year-old, Tucci nearly turned down the role and only agreed to play the part with the understand that he didn't have to reenact the molestation.

"George Harvey is completely repellant to any normal human being, and I was resistant to play him," said he told ABC's "Popcorn with Peter Travers" this week.

Serial Killer is 'Repellent' to Tucci

The story unfolds one December day when Susie Ronan takes a shortcut home from her suburban Pennsylvania School and Harvey, a neighbor, persuades her to enter a nearby underground den.

There, he molests her, slits her throat and cuts apart her body. An elbow, the only part of the child ever found, falls out of his bag as he buries her remains in a sinkhole.

Douglas calls Harvey a "trap door spider," who stalks his victims in a desire to control.

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