Netflix's 'Mindhunter': All the Real Serial Killers, From Ed Kemper to BTK

Netflix's Mindhunter is loosely based on the non-fiction book Mindhunter by John Douglas, a former FBI agent, and Mark Olshaker, a writer and filmmaker. Douglas helped to pioneer the idea of profiling serious criminals—to think like a predator. He was the first to come up with a psychological profile of the Unabomber. The FBI was wary of these methods at first, but came to adopt them in time. Douglas analyzed the behaviors of, among other serial killers, Jeffrey Dahmer and Ted Bundy.

If David Fincher's Mindhunter feels a bit like Silence of the Lambs, that's because Douglas was the real-life inspiration for fictional FBI Special Agent Jack Crawford (Scott Glenn in that film), the protagonist in Thomas Harris's Hannibal Lecter novels. In Fincher's Mindhunter, Holden Ford, the character based on Douglas, is played by Jonathan Groff. He and his partner, Bill Tench (Holt McCallany), interview and discuss multiple murderers, including the people listed below.

Serial killers who appear in Mindhunter

ed kemper coed killer Edmund Kemper, referred to by the media as The Coed Killer, is played by Cameron Britton in "Mindhunter". The Santa Cruz Sentinel

Edmund Kemper, aka the Co-Ed Killer

Manhunter: Ed Kemper (Cameron Britton) is Ford and Tench's first interview. The agents center their investigation around his feelings of humiliation regarding his mother—a tense relationship that becomes a common trait of serial killers. Ford is taken in by Kemper's genial way of describing his murders, a mistake that creates a truly terrifying moment in the season finale.  

Real Life: Kemper was a California native who murdered his grandparents before kidnapping and murdering five college students, one high school student, his mother and his mother's best friend. He decapitated them after their deaths and engaged in irrumatio, or forced oral penetration, with their severed heads. He also arranged the hands of some his female victims in what the police described as a "macabre jigsaw puzzle." Kemper's most recent parole hearing was in 2017, and he waived his right to be considered, as he has done repeatedly since 1985.  

mindhunter_monte_rissell Monte Ralph Rissell, as played by Sam Strike in Netflix's "Mindhunter". Netflix

Monte Ralph Rissell

Mindhunter: Rissell agrees to let Ford and Tench interview him, though he appears disgusted and agitated by the interrogation process. He also blames his crimes on his mother, insisting that if she had only let him live with his father, he wouldn't have raped or murdered anyone. Rissell unknowingly helps Ford and Tench develop a profile of sexually violent serial killers when he admits that his first victim enraged him by giving in to his sexual advances; for sociopaths like Rissell, the agents realize, a woman expressing sexual interest could be misconstrued as a threat or a trigger.

Real life: Rissell is one of the lesser known serial killers mentioned in Douglas and Olshaker's book. He is most commonly remembered as an unusually young rapist, beginning his string of crimes at just 14. He managed to rape 12 women and murder five of them before he was arrested at 19. In 1977, Rissell was sentenced to four consecutive life sentences; he was first up for parole in 1995. In the '70s, Rissell's case was instrumental in providing a shared language for describing serial offenders.

brudos Jerry Brudos, the Shoe Fetish Slayer, as portrayed by Happy Anderson in "Mindhunter". Oregon Live, Netflix

Jerry Brudos, aka the Shoe Fetish Slayer

Mindhunter: The detectives develop their "shoe" strategy while working with Brudos, a technique that allows them to get a confession out of Darrel "Gene" Devier in a later episode. Brudos is striking for never offering an apology for his crimes; he even masturbates in front of the detectives.

Real Life: Brudos made headlines when he was arrested for kidnapping and murdering four young women while wearing women's clothing himself. Mindhunter briefly debates whether Brudos's cross-dressing had anything to do with his sociopathy or criminal acts, but headlines at the time branded Brudos a "sicko" and called him "The Fetish Killer," innocent foot fetishists be damned. Brudos died in prison, of cancer, in 2006.

speck Richard Speck, played by Jack Erdie on "Mindhunter". Netflix, Wikimedia Commons

Richard Speck

Mindhunter: Ford goes too far in interviewing Speck, trying to use inflammatory, sexist language to get the murderer to open up. When Speck realizes he's being played, he kills the bird he's been hand-feeding through the prison bars and files a complaint against Ford. He also shows zero remorse for his crimes, and tells the detectives that he raped and murdered several young women because "it wasn't their night."

Real Life: In 1966, Speck beat and totured eight female medical students living on the South side of Chicago, murdering all but one. Corazon Amurao, who had initially opened the apartment door, managed to escape and alert the police, which led to Speck's arrest. Speck really did have the "Born to Raise Hell" tattoo on his arm, which Corazan used to identify him. On Mindhunter, we notice that Ford is beginning to unravel when he breathlessly asks to see the tattoo, telling his partner Tench that it's famous.

In 1991, Speck died of a heart attack while in prison.

devier Darrell Gene Devier, put to death by the state of Georgia, in his 1979 mugshot and as portrayed by Adam Zastrow on "Mindhunter". Georgia State Corrections, IMDB

Darrel Gene Devier

Mindhunter: Devier plays guinea pig to Ford and Tench's new interrogation tactics, developed while working with Brudos in prison. Ford again uses sexual language to describe Devier's victim, trying to get him to confess to killing a 12-year-old, which he eventually does.

Real Life: Devier wasn't a serial killer, and was arrested in 1979 for kidnapping, raping and bludgeoning a 12-year-old girl to death with a large rock. When Devier was arrested, Georgia wasn't using the death penalty, but in 1983, the state voted to start up the practice again. Devier was executed by electrocution in 1995.

mindhunter btk Dennis Radar, aka "BTK" or the Bind Torture Kill murderer, played by Sonny Valicenti on "Mindhunter". Netflix

Dennis Raider, aka BTK

Mindhunter: We meet Raider before he's begun the strange murders that would eventually make him one of the most infamous American serial killers in history. He appears, and is not named outright, in the cold open of every episode, learning how to tie knots, expressing deep rage alone in his apartment, and burning drawings of women who have been tied up. At the end of Mindhunter season 1, Ford and Tench have not yet heard of BTK.

Real Life: Raider was an Air Force veteran, a Cub Scout troop leader, and had his bachelor's degree in administration of justice, all before he began killing. Raider killed eight women and two men in Kansas, tying them up with plastic bags, rope, belts and nylon stockings. He was arrested after the real-life detectives Douglas developed his theories in criminal psychology. Raider wrote poems to his victims and dressed up in women's clothing to take self-timer photographs of himself posing as them. He is serving 10 consecutive life sentences in Kansas.

Serial killers mentioned but not pictured in Mindhunter

la-me-charles-manson-hospitalized-20170103 Charles Manson during an early trial. The Los Angeles Times

Charles Manson

Perhaps the most infamous murderer and former cult leader in American history, Manson was charged with first degree murder and coerced his followers, the Manson Family, into killing dozens. In Mindhunter, Manson has already been arrested and is mentioned by the detectives in early episodes.

david berkowitz son of sam David Berkowitz, aka the Son of Sam, photographed by The New York Times in 1977. The New York Times / Barton Silverman

David Berkowitz, aka the Son of Sam

Like Manson, Berkowitz has already been arrested in Mindhunter. Tench and some other detectives make off-hand comments about the fact that Berkowitz blamed his murders on his neighbor's dog, which he believed was possessed by a demon. When Berkowitz was arrested, criminal profiling hadn't fully caught up to men like him, who killed habitually, enjoying the violence and thrill of it.

Berkowitz's crimes, murdering six people at gunpoint and wounding seven others in New York City, earned him infamy; his name appeared on national newspapers for months. In fact, American culture was so irreparably changed by the Son of Sam that New York State passed what's now known as the "Son of Sam" law, decreeing that no criminal should be able to profit off the fame he recevies from his crimes. In 1987, Berkowitz told the media he had converted to Evangelical Christianity. He was up for parole in 2016, and was told he would likely never get out.

Vaughn Greenwood, aka the Skidrow Slasher

Greenwood is only mentioned in passing on Mindhunter, when Ford and Tench are discussing their upcoming travel plans, to interview convincted serial killers across the nation. Greenwood was convicted in the mid-1970s for slashing the throats of nine homeless people as they slept in alleyways, though he was ultimately suspected of killing 13. Vaughan sprinkled his victims with salt and collected their blood in cups, which he placed near their corpses. He was apprehended with the help of a team of psychiatrists who attempted to profile him, though their research didn't go as far as the work of Douglas.

herbert mullin mindhunter Convicted murderer Herbert Mullin in his original mug-shot. Mullin is mentioned once in "Mindhunter". truTV Crime Library

Herbert Mullin

Ford mentions Mullin during a scene in Mindhunter episode 2, when he's trying to entice Tench to meet various killers with him for interviews. The real Mullin, who was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia while imprisoned, killed 13 people, including a 4-year-old and a 9-year-old, in California in the early '70s. He believed he was preventing earthquakes by sacrificing others' lives.

Mullin was a rare case in the taxonomy of serial killers. He was beloved by his peers and voted "Most Likely to Succeed" in high school until schizophrenia and related hallucinations overtook him in his senior year of high school.

cincinatti strangler posteal laskey Posteal Laskey Jr., assumed to be the Cincinnati Strangler, in an early mugshot. Wikimedia Commons

Posteal Laskey Jr., aka the Cincinatti Strangler

Ford and Tench briefly discuss Laskey without mentioning his ethnicity; as a black man, he did not fit the psychiatric profile the agents were developing, which focused on white men. In 1956 and 1966, cab driver Laskey raped and then strangled to death seven elderly women in Cincinnati. He died in prison in 2007.

gerard john schafer Gerard John Schafer, a serial killer mentioned briefly in "Mindhunter". NY Daily News

Gerard John Schaefer

In Mindhunter, Ford mentions Schaefer with a note of near admiration, telling Tench during a discussion of possible criminal profiles that he killed more than 30 women. Schaefer was arrested for the murder of two young women, though he gleefully told the press and the police that he had murdered more than 28 more. In 1995, Schaefer was stabbed to death in his own cell, most likley by his cellmate.

Mindhunter Season 1 is available to stream on Netflix. The crime drama has already been renewed for season 2.

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