In Mindhunter, FBI agent Bill Tench (Holt McCallany) spends all day with serial killers. Come season 2, Bill finds evidence of deviant behaviour at home, too.
Early in the season, the corpse of a toddler is found in a house that Bill's wife, real estate agent Nancy (Stacey Roca), is trying to sell. It emerges that the toddler was killed by local boys, and the Tench's adopted son Brian (Zachary Scott Ross) witnessed to the entire ordeal. Brian had the idea to put the child on a cross to see if he could be resurrected.
Like pretty much everything in Mindhunter, this plot line has roots in real life. But the story has nothing to do with Robert Ressler, the FBI agent that inspired Bill Tench. Ressler had a son and two daughters.
Instead, it connects back to San Francisco’s 1971 "crucifixion murder," when two young brothers — called Billy and Bobby in the press — lured 20-month-old Noah Alba away from a playground, beat him with a brick, and tied him to a wooden cross. Ten-year-old Bobby and 7-year-old Billy did not receive criminal charges, but were placed in a special home and received extensive counselling. Their identities are still not known.
In later years, children who committed crimes were less protected. In 1996, criminal charges were brought against a 6-year-old boy from Richmond, VA who attempted to kill a six-month-old.
Though Brian gets off without charges, the Tenches come under intense scrutiny. A social worker makes frequent unannounced meetings. A psychologist combs Brian for aberrations. Brian is being judged — and so are the Tenches.
Undeniably, Brian’s tangential involvement with the murder raises the question: Will he grow up to be like the people his father studies for a living?
After years as a profiler, Bill knows that people who become serial killers often show certain signs as children. Robert Ressler, the “real life” Bill Tench, wrote about this very topic in his autobiography, Whoever Fights Monsters: “There is no such thing as the person who at age 35 suddenly changes from being perfectly normal and erupts into totally evil, disruptive, murderous behaviour. The behaviours that are precursors to murder have been present and developing in that person's life for a long, long time — since childhood.”
There’s no way of knowing exactly what this incident says of Brian’s character. Technically, Brian does not murder the child. But he does stand passively by while others do, then never tells his parents. Is this “normal” child behaviour? Or "pre-serial killer" child behaviour?
Bill and Nancy remain on their son’s side, even when their entire Fredericksburg, VA community ostracises him. Still, Brian's sullen expression and dead eyes do not help his case. And Mindhunter viewers have made up their minds: There's something seriously up with Brian.