The true-crime Netflix series Mindhunter has provided a thrilling yet thoroughly disturbing look into the minds of serial killers. Each thought-provoking scene will make you squeamish as you watch serial killers recall events of horrible, unspeakable deeds as casually as if they were telling you what they had for breakfast that morning.
- Holden Ford is based on John E. Douglas
- Bill Tench is inspired by another real-life FBI agent
- Wendy Carr’s character inspiration still teaches at Boston College
- Ressler coined the term “serial killer”
- The prison interviews were taken from real interviews
- The BTK Killer was caught in 2005
- Jerry Brudos was all too real
- Richard Speck really did kill a tiny bird
- The staged interrogation with Darrell Gene Devier really happened
- David Berkowitz was called in to help profile the BTK Killer
Viewers may know that the series is based on the true-crime novel Mindhunter: Inside the FBI’s Elite Serial Crime Unit, written by John E. Douglas and Mark Olshaker. But you may not have realized just how accurate much of the content from the series is. As you complete binging the second season, on Netflix, here are 10 interesting facts about the show.
The character of Holden Ford, the young and ambitious special agent in the FBI’s Behavioral Science Unit (BSU) played by Jonathan Groff, is based on the real-life Douglas who wrote the book on which the series is based. Now retired at 74, Douglas is considered to be one of the first criminal profilers and went on to write many other books on criminal psychology. Like in the series, Douglas taught hostage negotiation and applied criminal psychology at the FBI Academy in Quantico. Prior to that, he was a sniper for the local FBI SWAT team, then a hostage negotiator.
The character of Bill Tench (Holt McCallany), another special agent in the BSU, is inspired by Robert K. Ressler, who was also one of the first criminal profilers. Since retiring from the FBI, he has written a number of books on serial murders and has lectured on criminology. From 1976-1979, he helped organize interviews with a total of 36 serial killers who were serving time in jail and helped set up Vi-CAP (Violent Criminal Apprehension Program), a centralized computer database of information on unsolved murders. Ressler passed away in 2013 from Parkinson’s disease at the age of 76.
Wendy Carr (Anna Torv), the Boston University psychology professor who joins the BSU to help Ford and Tench with their project, is based on a real person as well. Ann Wolbert Burgess worked with the BSU to conduct research on serial killers and rapists, focusing on helping survivors of sexual trauma and abuse while studying the thought processes of violent offenders to understand why they do what they do. Now 82, she continues to work as a professor at the William F. Connell School of Nursing at Boston College.
In season one, Ford called serial killers “sequence killers,” referencing the fact that they kill multiple victims, one after the other. Tench sometimes used the phrase serial murderers. In one scene, Ford, Tench, and Carr are trying to come up with an all-encompassing term for their research, and Tench suggests serial killer. In real life, Ressler, on whom Tench’s character is based, is credited with coining the term.
It’s hard to believe, but yes, the prison interviews with famous serial killers like David Berkowitz, Edmund Kemper, and Charles Manson were actually based on real interviews, some exchanges even taken verbatim. Scour the Internet and you’ll find tons of comparison videos with snippets from the real interviews with the convicted killers spliced together with scenes from the series. The wonderful casting shines through as each actor really captured the essence of the killer they were portraying, right down to their voices and mannerisms. Still, it’s tough to stomach that some of the skin-crawling statements were really uttered.
The real BTK Killer, who is a subject of discussion through the second season and appears in short vignettes at the beginning of each episode starting from the first, was captured in 2005. Revealed to be Dennis Rader, a husband and father, he was caught after he resumed sending taunting letters to the police and media after a 10-year hiatus.
Like the version of him depicted in the series, Rader worked for ADT at one point in his career, ironically often installing alarms for customers who were doing so because they were scared about the BTK killings. He is currently serving 10 consecutive life sentences.
One of the creepiest serial killers featured on the series in season one, a necrophile with a foot fetish named Jerry Brudos, did indeed kill at least four women in Oregon within a year between 1968 and 1969.
The story about Brudos’ mother abusing and belittling him because she wanted a girl was true, as was the story about trying to steal his first grade teacher’s shoes, and the existence of the garage where he kept his victims’ bodies and forbade his wife from entering. Brudos died from liver cancer in 2006 at the age of 67.
The story of Speck (Jack Erdie) torturing, raping, and murdering eight student nurses in Kirkwood, IL was absolutely true, and he was sentenced to death, though that decision was overturned. As was noted in the series, one woman survived the attack, and she was able to identify him. He died from a heart attack in 1991 at the age of 49 after having spent 25 years in prison.
But one scene in the series is particularly jarring — when Speck tosses a tiny sparrow he nursed to health into a spinning fan. In Douglas’ book, he recalls hearing of the incident, which reportedly happened as depicted, though with a guard watching not Douglas or Ressler. After being told he couldn’t keep the bird, Speck threw it into the fan and declared “If I can’t have it, no one can.”
In the series, Devier (Adam Zastrow) became the first potential perpetrator on whom Ford was able to test out new theories and strategies devised after interviewing several serial killers. This included staging the interrogation room to make Devier uncomfortable. He created a fake folder that supposedly contained information on him, brought in the uniform of the 12-year-old girl he was accused of raping and killing, and strategically placed the rock that was believed to have been the murder weapon within Devier’s line of sight. It worked, and Devier confessed to the murder and rape of five women. Devier was executed in 1995.
Berkowitz (Oliver Cooper) is one of the most recognized serial killers in history. He would walk up to parked cars and shoot, killing at least six people and wounding seven others. He’s famously known as “Son of Sam,” which references his claims that voices in his head told him to kill, a story he later admitted in a press conference was made up. (In the series, he admitted this to Ford and Tench during their prison interview with him.)
In real life, like in the series, Berkowitz was called upon to help the FBI identify the BTK Killer. Why? In both cases, the men sent taunting letters to the police, and BTK expressed admiration for Berkowitz. Still very much alive at 66 and serving six life sentences, Berkowitz has turned to God and religion, and calls his role in prison as a caregiver his new “life’s purpose.”
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