The True Stories Behind The Serial Killers Mentioned In Mindhunter

No one knows serial killers like John Douglas does. While working for the FBI’s Investigative Support Bureau, Douglas forged the art of psychological profiling to grapple with a wave of inexplicable, seemingly unmotivated serial killings. Douglas, the inspiration for Jack Crawford of The Silence of the Lambs, approached solving crimes by “thinking like a criminal," and deriving conclusions about suspects' personalities through crime zone observations. He also interviewed many convicted killers to build in-depth profiles, which he used to track other killers.
Mindhunter, a David Fincher-directed drama premiering Friday on Netflix, brings us into this world of deep psychological investigations of serial killers. Though the series is based on Douglas and Mark Olshaker's book, Mindhunter: Inside the FBI’s Serial Killer Crime Unit, it introduces an entirely new set of characters — two agents (Jonathan Groff and Holt McCallany) and a psychologist (Anna Torv).
Here are the serial killers that are mentioned in Mindhunter, as well as the real serial killers that Douglas worked with, or helped catch, over the course of his career.
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Jerome Brudos

In episode 6, Wendy Carr (Torv) calls Brudos the "King of Souvenirs." Brudos strangled four women, and took body parts from his victims. He had an extensive collective of stolen shoes and lingerie, which he wrote to be delivered to his prison cell.
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Edmund Kemper

Kemper, also known as the “Co-ed Killer,” makes an appearance in the first episode of Mindhunter. Groff's character interviews Kemper in order to create a behavior profile. The 6’9” Kemper was arrested in April of 1973, only after committing eight truly horrific crimes. Seriously: you might want to turn back here.

Between May 1972 and April 1973, Kemper picked up six hitchhiking female students, and brought them to isolated rural areas. He killed and decapitated these women, and then had sex with their corpses. Afterwards, Kemper stored their heads in his apartment, and had sex with those, too.

In April 1973, he killed his mother and strangled her friend. Then, he called the police and confessed to what he’d done.

Sociopathic behaviors were in Kemper’s background. At the age of 15, Kember fatally shot his paternal grandmother and grandfather. He spent five years at the Atascadero State Hospital, and was released with a clean criminal record.
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Charles Manson

When Holden (Jonathan Groff) brings up Charles Manson during a road school session at a precinct in Iowa, the policemen in the room visibly recoil. Citing Manson's difficult upbringing, Holden tries to make the officers feel empathy for Manson — a nearly impossibly task, considering how much of a reviled figure Manson was, and continues to be.

Manson was the leader of a cult called the Family. Manson and his 100 or so followers lived in a ranch in the San Fernando Valley. While he didn't kill anyone personally, Manson orchestrated the murders of 35 people, including the pregnant actress Sharon Tate. The word "pig" was written in Tate's blood on the door, a fact the police officers bring up in Mindhunter.

For a further look into the Manson murders, check out the book Girls by Emma Cline, the account of a girl in the '60s who grows close to a cult loosely based off the Family.
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David Berkowitz

When Holden and Trench (Holt McCallany) bring up "the Son of Sam," they're talking about David Berkowitz. He committed a series of six murders in New York between 1976 to 1977, claiming that he was receiving orders from a dog. Other victims survived, but were left paralyzed or gravely injured. Berkowitz shot his victims, and left taunting letters to the police.

Berkowitz' final victims were Stacy Moskowitz and Bobby Violante, a couple in a car in Brooklyn. Key witness information helped police catch Berkowitz at last.
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Wayne Williams

The so-called "Atlanta Child Murders" began in 1979, the year in which Mindhunter is set. Between the years 1979-1981, 28 Black adults and children were killed. Douglas' profiles were used by Atlanta police to track the suspect, and during the trial, Douglas consulted with prosecution to develop interview techniques. Wayne Williams was convicted for the murders of two adult men, and remains the prime suspect for the 23 of the 29 child murders.

Decades later, though, Williams' case remains murky.

In Mindhunter, Douglas writes, "forensic and behavioral evidence points conclusively to Wayne Williams as the killer of eleven young men in Atlanta," but that the evidence linking him to "all, or even most" of the child murders isn't convincing.
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Nick Ut/AP/REX/Shutterstock
David Joseph Carpenter

Douglas, who was the FBI's only full-time profiler at this time, was involved in the search for Carpenter. Carpenter, also known as the "Trailside Killer," preyed on people in Northern California's hiking routes between 1979 and 1981. After surveying the remote crime scenes near San Francisco, Douglas concluded that the killer must be a shy, socially awkward individual, who waited "like a spider waiting for a bug to fly into his web."

Douglas' observations were spot-on. Carpenter was eventually caught and convicted of five counts of murder, but was suspected to have killed more. Carpenter remains on San Quentin's Death Row.

Pictured: David Joseph Carpenter, left
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Gary Ridgway

The so-called "Green River Killer" was convicted of murdering 48 women in the Washington State area; in fact, the number is likely closer to 90. Most of his victims were killed between 1982 and 1983, but it took until 2001 for the police to gather sufficient DNA evidence.

Ridgway had actually been interviewed by police in 1982. At that time, Douglas was sure that the Washington police already had their suspect. He was correct.

"They interviewed Gary Ridgway a number of times and even gave him two polygraphs, both of which he passed. But I knew why he passed. He didn't see what he did as criminal —murdering nearly 60 women, all of whom were prostitutes. In his mind he was doing a public service by ridding the streets of these women. I explained my theory to the Seattle police, they went back at him, brought him in, questioned him, and got what they needed," Douglas told Maxim.
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Robert Hansen

Like the Russian aristocrat in Richard Connell's The Most Dangerous Game, Robert Hansen made sport of killing people. Between 1971 and 1983, Hansen, a married baker living in Alaska, abducted, raped, and murdered 17 women, though the number could exceed 30. Hansen dropped them in the woods near Anchorage, and then hunted them down with a rifle.

Suspecting Hansen of the string of disappearances, Anchorage police contacted John Douglas. Douglas guessed that the murderer was a hunter who kept track of his victims through "souvenirs," like jewelry — and body parts. Once again, Douglas was correct. Hansen kept jewelry from all of his human victims in his basement.
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Ted Bundy

Bundy was a serial rapist, murderer, and necrophiliac who confessed to 30 murders between 1973 and 1978, though the real number could exceed 100. In a twist right out of Dexter, Bundy once worked for the government agency that tried tracking down his own victims.

Douglas didn't help catch Bundy — in fact, he worked with him. Bundy proved to be of particular use to FBI profilers like Douglas. "Bundy was a thinking man," said Douglas. "He could articulate and intellectualize things that other serial killers wouldn't. People spend time in different ways on death row. One of the things he did was to study other killers."

While on death row, Bundy actually wrote to the investigators searching for Gary Ridgway, the Green River Killer, and offered his genuine help as a consultant. Eventually, Bundy met with Washington's King County detectives, and gave them insight into how a serial killer thinks.

As an aside: Zac Efron will play Bundy in the upcoming, aptly titled movie Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile.
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