You might be surprised how much of “Mindhunter” is based on facts.
This Netflix’s psychology-driven series portrays the path of two FBI agents, who gave grounds to modern criminal psychology. The story is sometimes kind of boggling in a negative way – which you can read more in my article about the whole season. Despite that, in the end you will feel gripped by Holden Ford’s and Bill Tench’s story.
Those, who already had the opportunity to stream the entire season 1, probably scratched their heads more than once. It’s impossible that “Mindhunter” did not raise these doubts – how much of the story is actually true?
So let’s begin with the source. The series is based on the book “Mindhunter: Inside the FBI’s Elite Serial Crime Unit”, written by John Douglas. And you probably guessed it – show’s Holden Ford is John Douglas.
A man, who could be named a father of criminal psychology and who – over the course of several years – interviewed Charles Manson, Ted Bundy, David Berkowitz and Dennis Rader. Even though he wanted to be a veterinarian, he ended up as one of the most prominent FBI agents up to date. He started off in Detroit (although we first see him in Braddock, Pennsylvania), but soon became a theoretical teacher in Quantico, FBI’s headquarters. Only then – which is also shown in “Mindhunter” – he decided to start the investigative research.
“I conducted the research, not from a rehabilitation perspective, but from an investigative perspective. It was considered innovative, but to me, it was basic. If you want to learn about violent crime, talk to the experts: the criminals perpetrating rapes, arsons and serial homicides.”
Douglas founded the so-called “homicidal triangle”, which stands for three symptoms of psychological disorder that could turn into murderous tendencies. They are cruelty to animals (also shown in one of the episodes of “Mindhunter”, when Holden conducts a meeting in a primary school), setting fires and bedwetting as a child.
Also, as the series progresses, Holden becomes increasingly passionate about the research, and seems to be lacking perspective or a space for time-off. It might be a signal that the creators of the show want to finally lead to what really happened to Douglas, who apparently became so work-loaded and tired that in 1983 (which is still plenty of time from the moment season 1 ended), he got into coma, after suffering from seizures and viral encephalitis.
What refers to Bill Tench, his real name was Robert K. Ressler. Even though “Mindhunter” tends to push an agenda that Douglas was the main guy behind coining today’s criminal psychology, it was Ressler, who came up with the concept of a serial killer. Ressler was also an author of the first database system of unsolved cases. He wrote several books where he described his methods of investigation (check out “Justice Is Served” for example or more shocking “Whoever Fights Monsters”).
He obviously cooperated with Douglas (which “Mindhunter” shows) on the research – they both worked on thousands of cases. On his own, he interviewed Jeffrey Dahmer among others (“My Friend Dahmer” is a 2017’s thriller that portrays this killer’s youth). However, his real life problems are not reflected as accurately as in the Netflix’s show.
A spine-chilling effect of his work was a letter he received from John Wayne Gacy Jr., a blood-curdling rapist and murderer:
“Dear Bob Ressler, you cannot hope to enjoy the harvest without first laboring in the fields. Best wishes and good luck. Sincerely, John Wayne Gacy, June 1988.”
Gacy has also sent him a painting of a clown, which referred to both him dressed as a clown while committing crimes, as well as his passion for painting whilst doing time in prison. (Check out a film about him if you are interested in the topic “Dear Mr.Gacy”).
Finally, there’s doctor Wendy Carr, whose name in real life is Ann Wolbert Burgess. Together with Douglas and Ressler, she wrote “Sexual Homicide: Patterns and Motives” and conducted the research, although she never interviewed any of the killers.
So, what about the bad guys, you probably want to ask.
Edmund Kemper – the first one to appear in the chronological order in the series – is entirely real.
The show was actually so meticulous that it quoted the real interviews with Kemper. As in the series, Kemper was responsible for killing his grandparents as a teenager, later on being released. In total, Ed Kemper killed eight people and as a matter of fact, he did turn himself in. He serves life sentence nowadays.
Monte Ralph Rissell, who appears as the second inmate interviewed by Tench and Ford, is also a real character. He committed his first crime at the age of 14 years old. By the age of 19, he killed five women and raped many more. Just like Kemper, he is incarcerated and serves life sentence.
Jerry Brudos was also a non-fictitious character. His obsession with shoes was real, as he reportedly dressed as a woman when committing his crimes. Interestingly, Brudos’ weird fetish served as one of the inspirations for Buffalo Bill from “Silence Of The Lambs”. He died in prison in 2006.
What refers to Richard Speck, he was also an infamous killer, but he did not fit the “serial killer” image, as – it’s also shown in the interrogation in “Mindhunter” – he killed eight women at once. Speck was indeed a very unstable and aggressive man, just like it’s portrayed in the show. He died of a heart attack.
If you found some other details about “Mindhunter” – write in the comments. I’m eager to find out more!