America’s fascination with serial killers and criminals is not a new phenomenon, as evidenced by some of the most popular TV series, podcasts, and films from the last few years — Making a Murderer seasons 1 and 2; Serial seasons 1, 2, and 3; and the forthcoming Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile flick starring Zac Efron, just to name a few. The phenomenon is becoming so big, in fact, that we're seeing both stories told in narrative and documentary style. Case in point: Netflix's The Ted Bundy Tapes and Jonathan Groff starrer Mindhunter.
Of course, the tapes also connect to the film world. Incidentally, the director behind the controversial Efron film, Joe Berlinger, was also an executive producer for Netflix’s newly released Conversations With a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes documentary, which makes use of previously unreleased recorded conversations between the serial killer and journalist Stephen Michaud. But when it comes to Mindhunter, the crossover is a bit different.
In the fourth and final episode of the four-part Bundy Tapes series, a 1984 news bulletin flashes across the screen announcing the FBI’s latest attempt to tackle what seemed to be a growing phenomenon at the time: the “serial killer” (which, it should be worth mentioning, was a phrase that the docuseries backhandedly credits to Bundy’s terrible string of murders).
“The nation’s worst mass murderers may yet make a contribution to society,” a young Tom Brokaw tells viewers. “They have supplied the raw data to help the FBI build a composite picture of the masked killer and his victims.” The news report goes on to explain that the FBI’s newly formed Behavioral Science Unit had been interviewing some of the nation’s most notorious murderers in hopes of figuring out not only how perpetrators thought, but how they evaded detection after their crimes.
Sound familiar? It should, because the formation of the unit and its subsequent contribution to the FBI’s mission is the foundation upon which Netflix’s hit series Mindhunter is built. The crime drama is based on the true crime book Mindhunter: Inside the FBI’s Elite Serial Crime Unit, written by John E. Douglas, one of the founders of the unit. The series debuted in October 2017, and has already featured the stories of such real-life convicts as Ed Kemper, Richard Speck and Monte Rissell.
Ted Bundy, who was at the time on Death Row awaiting death by electric chair, was among those who were interviewed by the FBI’s Behavioral Science Unit back in the 1980s. Special Agent Bill Hamaier was the man who was assigned the unenviable task of interviewing Bundy. In the Conversations documentary, Hamaier describes Bundy as being “unique” to the typical profile of a murderer, citing his psychology degree and extremely charming personality. He was a “tremendous source of intelligence,” Hamaier says.
Bundy, who still maintained his innocence at that point, would pore over newspaper clippings with Hamaier, giving him insight into what those perpetrators might have been thinking or done to commit their crimes, not unlike how the convicts on Mindhunter chillingly discuss their fetishes and criminal proclivities with FBI agents.
“He talked about how a lot of serial killers will return to the crime scene,” Hamaier says. “He also talked about leaving evidence behind that had nothing to do with the crime scene that might throw them off. [Bundy] confirmed a lot of things that we suspected about serial killers, but he also gave us a lot more things to think about.”
Then, in January 1989, a breakthrough. Two days before his scheduled execution, Bundy confessed to murdering around 30 women between 1973 and 1978, spanning at least six states and including acts of beheading and necrophilia.
“You know, the truth is, is terrible,” Hamaier says. “It’s terrible.” Time will tell if Season 2 of Mindhunter dares to dive into the stranger than fiction truth of Bundy’s own twisted story; Netflix has yet to announce a release date.