'Mindhunter' In Real Life: Was Bill's Son Really Involved In a Toddler's Murder?

Mindhunter, Netflix's latest true-crime series, has received critical praise for how it balances horror and reality. As viewers get sucked into the show, though, some may forget that not only are the serial killers in the series based on real-life counterparts, but so are the FBI detectives.

Lead characters Holden Ford, (Jonathan Groff), Bill Tench (Holt McCallany) and Wendy Carr (Anna Torv) are all fictional, but the FBI's Behavioral Science Unit and its survey of serial killers are not. And the cast have analogs in some of the unit's founding agents and researchers.

But are their personal stories true or fictionalized for extra drama?

A Mindhunter Season 2 scene recreates the "Crucifixion Murder" from 1971. Netflix

Tench, who undergoes a major family crisis in Season 2, is based on real-life FBI profiler Robert Ressler. Like his fictional counterpart Ressler was credited with defining the term "serial killer." Ressler died in 2013, though his life's work lives on in a series of books he authored, including Sexual Homicide Patterns and Motives, published in 1988.

Mindhunter Season 2 examines Tench's relationship with his son, Brian (Zachary Scott Ross), who reveals his involvement in a child's death. Brian, who is in grade school, admits to his father he was playing with a group of older adolescents and witnessed them suffocate a 20-month-old and place his body on a makeshift crucifix. Even before Brian's confession, though, Tench was already connected to the crime: The home where the child's body was found was one his wife, Nancy, was trying to sell. Though he didn't kill the child, Brian is the one who suggests placing him on a crucifix in hopes of reviving him.

The character link is a creative liberty: In reality, Robert Ressler had three children—though none of them were involved in a murder like Brian.

But the horrific incident was based on a real-life homicide: In 1971, 20-month-old Noah Alba was killed by two brothers he met in a park in San Francisco. Alba was without his mother, allowing the boys, 7 and 10, to guide him into a secluded area in Pacific Heights. Once there they kicked and beat him with a brick, then fashioned a wooden crucifix and laid him on it to die. The press quickly dubbed the homicide the "crucifixion murder."

The culprits, whose names were not made public, were never charged with a crime, but rather were given intensive therapy and placed in foster care.

Decades later, one of them recounted the gruesome crime in an interview with Frontline: "I think the most disturbing visual memory I have is seeing a bruised baby, and it wasn't moving," said "Billy," using a pseudonym. "That was the one thing that I've tried real hard not to remember, but that's the visual I get."

While the murder was real, it had no connection to the Behavioral Science Unit agents or their profiling work—and Ressler's son was never involved.

From the Atlanta Child Murders to "Co-ed Killer" Ed Kemper, the crimes portrayed on Mindhunter are based in reality. But the toddler's death—and its connection to Agent Tench and his family—is more fictionalized than most elements of the acclaimed series.