What lingers, after binge-watching Mindhunter, is the grim realization that so much of what happens in the series is based on fact. Edmund Kemper, played by Cameron Britton on the show, really was a necrophiliac who turned himself in after murdering his mother. Richard Speck (Jack Erdie) really did terrorize a house of nurses. Speck and Kemper are reminders that the show’s compelling narrative is shaped around nuggets of cold, hard truth, which F.B.I. agent John E. Douglas wrote about in his book, Mindhunter.
In episode five, Agents Ford (Jonathon Groff) and Tench (Holt McCallany) have an opportunity to try out their new psychological profiling skills during a road school stop in the small town of Altoona, Pennsylvania. The murder of 22-year-old Beverly Jean Shaw has sent the town reeling. Who would rape, murder, and mutilate an innocent girl — a babysitter, engaged to be married? Ford and Tench zero in on Shaw’s would-be fiancé, Benjamin Barnwright (Joseph Cross), suspecting his relentless tears are covering up some deep-seeded psychopathy.
But the crime turns out to be more complicated than, “Blame the fiancé.” Benjamin’s brother-in-law, Frank Janderman (Jesse C. Boyd), and sister, Rose (Jackie Renee Robinson), are implicated in her murder, too. Though all three are responsible, law enforcement only prosecutes Benjamin.
So, now for the real question: Is this family tag-team murder based on something that occurred in real life? Since it's Mindhunter we're talking about, the answer is yes.
According to an 1988 article in the Altoona Mirror, on June 2, 1979, a 22-year-old woman named Betty Jean Shade had a fight with her live-in boyfriend, Charles “Butch” Soult. She was planning on leaving him. Still, she went on a drive with Soult, his brother, Michael, and sister, Catherine, to the nearby Wopsononock Mountain, so Soult and Shade could take a walk.
When they didn’t return after some time, Catherine went searching for her brother — and found him beating Shade to death. Shade died of head and stab wounds. The trio transported Shade’s body to the garbage dump three days after the killing, as happens in Mindhunter. Soult mutilated Shade’s body in the garbage dump, as Benji did to Betty Jean.
Police first arrested Catherine and Michael Soult, then arrested Charles on a Greyhound bus to Pittsburgh. Though the jury sentenced Charles Soult to death, the trial judge overruled the decision and gave him a life sentence. He’s currently serving out his sentence in the State Correctional Institution in Huntingdon, Pennsylvania.
Further, the name “Beverly Jean” may be an homage to a murder which took place in Dallas, Texas in 1970. Beverly Jean Hope, mother of three and popular suburban housewife, was murdered in her large mansion. The crime, to this date, remains unsolved, though new information which emerged in 2016 brought another suspect into the mix: Beverly Jean’s ex-brother-in-law. Perhaps it’s too small a coincidence, but in Mindhunter, Beverly Jean’s murder is partially carried out by Benji’s brother-in-law.
Either way, the true story of Betty Jean Shade (and Beverly Jean Hope) are reminders that Mindhunter isn't just a TV show to binge-watch before proceeding to the next one. Mindhunter reminds us of lives cut far too short by heinous acts of violence against women.
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