In this post, we are going to dive into the Mindhunter series on Netflix and the real-life inspiration for the FBI agents and the serial killers portrayed on the show. Buckle up, there are some real freaks out there.
Mindhunter Book and John Douglas
The Mindhunter series on Netflix is loosely based on the book written by John Douglas, an ex-FBI agent. The book was published in 1995 and is titled Mindhunter: Inside the FBI’s Elite Serial Crime Unit.
I read this book years ago. I have been intrigued by the work that John Douglas did in the FBI and he was a pioneer in the Behavioural Sciences Unit.
John Douglas entered the FBI in 1970 after he was approached while working out at a gym by an FBI agent who asked him if he would be interested in joining the bureau. He began his FBI career as a sniper, he then became a hostage negotiator, and in 1977 he joined the BSU and created the Criminal Profiling Program. When you see an episode of Criminal Minds and hear all the psychological jargon that the characters throw around while profiling an UNSUB know that John Douglas helped create and teach those techniques to real-life law enforcement and FBI agents. (telegraph.co.uk)
John Douglas used interviews with serial killers to learn about their motives, their childhoods, and even their insights into other killers behaviours. Through these interviews, Douglas began to notice that patterns emerged in the childhood of serial killers. Serial killers come from dysfunctional families and in particular, they have a love/hate dynamic in the relationship with their mother. Oddly, fathers were not often a negative influence. Serial killers tend to be bedwetters beyond a normal age, they tend to set fires, and they often show sadistic behaviour towards animals during their childhood years. (telegraph.co.uk)
The monsters that John Douglas interviewed during his FBI career were often well known. Douglas interviewed Ed Kemper, Charles Manson, Ted Bundy, David Berkowitz (the Son of Sam), Richard Speck, Jerry Brudos, and John Wayne Gacy to name a few.
John Douglas sacrificed a lot of family time, and even his own health to do his work. His work days were filled with crime scenes, crime photos, and the most disturbing forms of human violence. He struggled with maintaining a “normal” family life and marriage during his years with the FBI. John Douglas had trouble sleeping and just turning off his work brain. He was haunted by past cases and was determined to catch killers before they took the lives of more victims. It is hard to imagine that he did not lose his own humanity through it all. Douglas almost lost his life to his career. He caught viral encephalitis and had a fever so high that it “fried his brain” as the doctor’s said. The doctors were amazed at his recovery as they thought he would be in a vegetative state. Not only did he recover but he went back to work and continued to profile and catch serial killers. Douglas retired from the FBI in 1995 at the age of 49. He had spent 25 years in the bureau
Serial Killers and Mass Murderers
In the Mindhunter series on Netflix the character Holden Ford (loosely based on John Douglas) and portrayed by actor Jonathon Groff and the character Bill Tench played by actor Holt McCallany interview convicted serial killers. In season one they spend time talking with Edmund Kemper who was known as the Co-Ed Killer, Jerry Brudos who was known as the Shoe Fetish Killer, as well as Richard Speck who was a mass murderer.
The interview subjects are all different, not just in the way they killed, but why they killed. Ed Kemper is still alive and is a giant of a man. His physical presence alone is very intimidating and his intelligence is unnerving. I cannot imagine the courage and perseverance it must have taken for John Douglas to spend time talking with this monster. Ed Kemper’s crimes are very disturbing and I will write a separate post to explore them. But for now, I will let you know that Kemper killed his paternal grandparents when he was a teenager, several young women, and his own mother when he was an adult.
Jerry Brudos was caught and imprisoned in 1969. He fits into the pattern of all other serial killers in that he had a dysfunctional family and an overbearing mother. Jerry had a fetish about women’s high heeled shoes that began at the tender age of five. Brudos killed at least 4 women in Oregon during the 1960s. He died in prison in 2006. Brudos was also a large man and the interviews that are portrayed in the Mindhunter series are intense and disturbing.
Another real-life killer whose interview is dramatized in the Mindhunter series was with Richard Speck. Speck was different from the other two imprisoned men portrayed in the series. Speck was a mass murderer, not a serial killer, meaning that he committed murder at one time, in one place, as opposed to those that commit murders on different days, in different locations and sometimes over years. Richard Speck was drunk when he stumbled upon his victims when he knocked on the door of a nurses home. He bound and gagged the first nurse who answered the door and as each nurse came home he would do the same to them. Speck was surprised when each nurse came home. He ended up killing eight of the women and left the first nurse alive because “he lost count.” Richard Speck was classified by the FBI’s Criminal Profiling Program as a disorganized killer. Richard Speck died in prison in 1991 of a heart attack.
Mindhunter series on Netflix-Original Series
The Mindhunter series debuted on Netflix on October 13, 2017.
Created by: Joe Penhall
Executive Producers: David Fincher, Charlize Theron, Josh Donen, and Cean Chaffin
Jonathon Groff as Holden Ford
Holt McCallany as Bill Tench
and Anna Torv as Dr Wendy Carr
This series in 10 episodes long and they average an hour in length. Mindhunter is absolutely binge-worthy. It is interesting, well acted, well written, thought-provoking, and disturbing. It reminded me of my interest in the criminal mind and that I could never actually spend time with serial killers. I have bought more of the books written by John Douglas and his writing partner Mark Olshaker and may find myself writing more about their experiences.