How Real Is Mindhunter?

How Real Is Mindhunter?


Mindhunter is a Netflix thriller series about
a small unit of FBI agents who revolutionized the way law enforcement hunts for serial killers
by using psychological profiles drawn up by interviewing dozens of incarcerated killers
and figuring out how their minds work. But how real is the show? Mindhunter centers on the early days of the
FBI’s Behavioral Science Unit, which, in the show, is more or less made up of Agents Holden
Ford and Bill Tench, with Dr. Wendy Carr and one other agent rounding out the division. While the show acknowledges the Behavioral
Science Unit was started before Ford and Tench began their interviews, by the time they do,
they are more or less all there is. The BSU was actually formed in 1972, when
agents Howard Teten and Patrick Mullany neither of whom are in the show began using elements
of criminal psychology to teach law enforcement groups how to analyze criminal behavior. It was a response to the growing wave of serial
killings and assaults in the 1970s. “The question is not only why did the killer
do it, but why did the killer do it this way? We are now talking about psychology.” Their small unit, originally made up of just
10 agents, would by 1976 include agents John E. Douglas and Robert Ressler the inspirations
for Ford and Tench, respectively who would begin compiling their central database of
serial offenders, which is of course where the show comes in. As is often the case in adaptations, things
are streamlined for the sake of simplicity. Arguably the central character of the ensemble
cast of Mindhunter is Holden Ford, the young hostage negotiator whose radical ideas about
criminal psychology more or less kick off the whole pursuit of interviews of serial
offenders. He is largely based on real-life FBI agent
John E. Douglas, whose book Mindhunter: Inside the FBI’s Elite Serial Crime Unit, was the
inspiration for the show. He was one of the very first criminal profilers,
and he has written several books on the topic. Like Ford, Douglas is a soft-spoken Brooklyn
native who worked as a hostage negotiator and instructor at Quantico. Like Ford, Douglas realized serial killers
were not simply monsters to lock in a dungeon, but potential wellsprings of insight and information
that could lead to the capture of other serial offenders. “Sir, the insights afforded us during these
visits may help us identify the person responsible for the attacks in Sacramento and help prevent
others.” Just as Ford uses his relationships with incarcerated
killers to glean understanding about active killers, Douglas consulted with Ted Bundy
for information that led to the capture of the Green River Killer. Many small details on Mindhunter come from
Douglas’ recollections, including Charles Manson sitting on the back of a chair to seem
taller than his interviewers. Holden Ford’s partner and the second primary
character on Mindhunter is the strait-laced Bill Tench, whose more conservative demeanor
presents a stark contrast to the younger, less predictable Ford. Tench is largely based on FBI agent Robert
Ressler, the man who is generally credited with coining the term “serial killer” in conjunction
with Douglas, much as Tench and Ford are seen developing the term on the show. “A series of killings.” “Serial?” “Serial murderer?” “Serial killer?” “That’s better. Let’s see if it sticks.” Ressler came to work at the FBI after finishing
his military career with a rank of major and a Master’s degree in police administration. Shortly after joining the Bureau in 1970,
Ressler was able to convince them profiling could be a legitimate and effective tool for
hunting killers, and by the middle of the decade, he and Douglas were interviewing incarcerated
killers and building a centralized database. He developed relationships with such notorious
killers as Ted Bundy and Jeffrey Dahmer , and John Wayne Gacy even gave him a personalized
painting as a gift. The entire running plot about Tench having
an adopted son who is definitely going to become a serial killer is completely fictional,
however. Rounding out the trio of protagonists is Dr.
Wendy Carr, a psychology professor from Boston who tries to rein in Ford’s wilder and more
unconventional notions with something at least resembling professionalism and intellectual
rigor. “When we empathize with a psychopath, we actually
negate the self. We deny our own beliefs about decency and
humanity, and that can be very dangerous.” Of the three main characters, Dr. Carr is
the farthest from her real-life inspiration, but she is nevertheless loosely based on a
psychiatric forensic nurse researcher named Ann Burgess. According to the real Burgess, Mindhunter
is pretty accurate. “The cases are pretty much on target with
what we have from data.” Burgess’ role, like Dr. Carr’s, was to bring
methodology, research, and structure to what Douglas and Ressler were doing. Like Carr, Burgess is from Boston, but rather
than a psychologist, she is a professor of psychiatric health nursing. Burgess suspects this change was to make the
character’s career a little more understandable, as most people don’t properly understand nursing. Two major changes made for the show, however,
are that unlike Dr. Carr, Burgess never moved to Quantico, and Burgess is not a lesbian,
a character change that was apparently a source of some humor for her son. While Ford, Tench, and Carr are the central
characters of Mindhunter, the real star of season one is the first subject of their interviews,
Edmund Kemper, the Co-Ed Killer. Actor Cameron Britton wore shoe lifts to make
his own 6 foot 5 inch frame a little closer to Kemper’s 6 foot 9 stature. His character is a fascinating one, as his
intelligent, eloquent, and soft-spoken nature belies the hideous truth of the despicable
things he has done. “So I got a claw hammer, and I beat her to
death. And then I put her thing off.” Many viewers were left wondering how close
Mindhunter’s depiction of Kemper is to the real-life Co-Ed Killer. The answer is, pretty close. All of the details Kemper gives in interviews
regarding his life are not only true to what happened, they’re often in the killer’s exact
words, taken from interviews he gave in real life. In contrast to Ed Kemper, whose near pathological
desire to help law enforcement led him to readily confess every detail of his horrific
deeds, Ford and Tench have a much harder time with Jerry Brudos, known alternately as the
Lust Killer or the Shoe Fetish Slayer. It’s not until the agents give Brudos a pair
of shoes that he opens up about his crimes, and even then he only talks about them in
oblique terms, as if he were talking about someone else. Brudos’ entire recounted history on Mindhunter
is accurate, from his fascination with women’s footwear beginning with finding a pair of
high heels in a junkyard at age five to his outwardly normal domestic life hiding his
darker fetishes and grisly desires. “It’s tricky when you’re married. You either have to deny yourself or keep a
private space.” As recounted in the show, Brudos’ first victim
was a young encyclopedia saleswoman that he lured in by pretending to be interested in
buying a set of books. Brudos would go on to collect trophies from
his other victims, including clothing and body parts, and he would photograph their
bodies and dress in their clothes. Another interesting detail from the show occurs
when Brudos fixes Ford’s broken tape recorder. Brudos worked as an electronics technician
before his spree began. One of the more memorable killers in season
one is Richard Speck. He’s notable for being a disgusting creep
who brags about the sexual nature of his crimes and throws a bird into a fan. But it’s the way Ford initially gushes at
the prospect of meeting him, along with his conduct during their interview, that’s especially
memorable. “It’s like meeting a movie star.” The real Speck was notorious for killing eight
nursing students in Chicago in 1966. He left one surviving victim, who was able
to identify him by the “Born to Raise Hell” tattoo that Ford makes special mention of. “The tattoo is kind of legendary.” The details of his crime, including how he
forced his way into the apartment with a gun before brutalizing the women and somewhat
ironically forgetting about the one who had answered the door, are all accurately recounted
on the show. The nature of Speck’s crimes was different
from many other killers and helped draw the distinction between serial killers and spree
killers. “Who else you talking to?” “Like I said, people who’ve been convicted
of similar violent crimes.” “I’m not like them.” One of the most notorious killers of all time
doesn’t make an onscreen appearance on Mindhunter until season two, partly because his infamous
reign of terror ended just prior to the events of season one. That killer is David Berkowitz, better known
as the Son of Sam. Berkowitz caused panic in New York City by
shooting six people in 1976 and 1977. He sent cryptic letters to the police in which
he claimed to be acting under the orders of his neighbor’s labrador retriever, which was
possessed by a demon. But on Mindhunter, Berkowitz admits the demon
angle was all just a story to get attention. “They all bought it, David, didn’t they? Even the shrinks.” The real-life Berkowitz did admit to exaggerating
many of his claims, and John Douglas contends he was never fooled by the whole Son of Sam
thing. Additionally, Douglas and Ressler did actually
consult Berkowitz over the BTK letters, just as Ford and Tench do on the show, as Berkowitz
had also sent letters during his spree. Throughout season one, Mindhunter would often
cut to seemingly unrelated scenes featuring an ADT salesman who eventually is shown to
exhibit some pretty disturbing behavior. While his name is never said and he doesn’t
interact with any of the main characters, serial killer enthusiasts undoubtedly recognize
this figure as the infamous Dennis Rader, aka the BTK killer. “BTK.” “He’s a new animal. Lots of interesting contradictions.” The real Rader was a seemingly average family
man, working for a home security company in Wichita, Kansas, while also being an active
church member and Boy Scout leader. This was, of course, a cover for his disturbing
secret life, in which he carried out killings involving bondage and women’s clothing. It was because of his killing methods that
he gave himself the name BTK, for bind, torture, kill. But even though the BSU started investigating
Rader in season two, the real BTK wasn’t captured until 2005. The backbone of Mindhunter’s second season
is the hunt for the so-called “Atlanta Child Killer,” who is eventually alleged to be Wayne
Williams. If anything, Mindhunter actually undersells
the scope of Williams’ crimes. Between 1979 and 1981, dozens of black children
and two young men were kidnapped and killed, their bodies dumped in various places around
Atlanta. This reign of terror threw the city into a
frenzy, and the families of the victims demanded justice and the apprehension of the killer,
or killers, as many believed. Despite the belief within the community that
it was likely a member of the Ku Klux Klan, John Douglas argued the killer was probably
black, as he would have been less likely to be noticed in black neighborhoods, and because
serial killers rarely cross racial lines. “African-American?” “Drives a police-type vehicle. Lives with parents or a close relative. Owns a dog.” A curfew was imposed in the city for children
under 17, after which young adults began disappearing instead. Wayne Williams’ capture happened in real life
pretty much exactly as it did on the show. After a story in the Atlanta newspapers revealed
fibers and dog hair had been found on some of the bodies, the killer changed his methods. Investigators were then able to narrow the
focus of their search. After four weeks of waiting, a group of officers
on stakeout heard a loud splash in the early morning of April 22, 1981, and a station wagon
driven by 22-year-old Williams attempted to flee the scene. Two days later, police found the body of a
young man downstream from the site. Williams was questioned, and fibers and dog
hair in his home were matched to those found on the bodies of some of the victims. The Wayne Williams case was the first major
public effort by John Douglas to prove the efficacy of the methods being developed by
the BSU. In addition to his profile of a young black
man proving correct, he also successfully advised prosecutors to keep Williams on the
stand as long as possible and to goad him about his failures. It provoked a hostile reaction on the stand
that ultimately led to his conviction. However, Douglas was officially censured by
the FBI for publicly stating Williams was the likely perpetrator of a large number of
the killings, not unlike Agent Ford finding himself in hot water for similar statements. Just as depicted on Mindhunter, Williams was
only convicted of killing two adults he was never even charged with the deaths of any
children. “In all investigations, you reach a point
when you’ve done all you can. So for now, we’re suspending all 29 investigations,
having arrested our prime suspect.” Unlike most of the killers interviewed by
Douglas and Ressler, Williams never confessed to any of his crimes and, in fact, denies
responsibility. In 2019, the mayor of Atlanta reopened the
child killer cases in order to use modern technology to finally determine a definite
killer and provide closure for the families of the victims. Check out one of our newest videos right here! Plus, even more Grunge videos about your favorite
shows are coming soon. Subscribe to our YouTube channel and hit the
bell so you don’t miss a single one.

3 thoughts on “How Real Is Mindhunter?”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *