On October 13, 2017, the first season of Joe Penhall’s gritty crime series Mindhunter appeared on Netflix, ready to stream for all those who love to binge on murder and mayhem. Thankfully, it’s already been renewed for a second season. Mindhunter is based on former FBI criminal profiler John E. Douglas and author Mark Olshaker’s true crime book, Mindhunter: Inside the FBI’s Elite Serial Crime Unit (1995). John E. Douglas was one of the pioneers of serial killer profiling, a major accomplishment, heavily featured within Mindhunter‘s plot.
Because of the source material’s non-fiction status, there are numerous real-life serial killers contained within the fictional narrative of Mindhunter‘s first season. As a true crime buff, I had a great time watching FBI agents Holden Ford (a character seemingly based on John E. Douglas and portrayed by Jonathan Groff) and Bill Tench (Holt McCallany) track down and converse with several infamous serial killers.
Curious about which murderers on Mindhunter were real? Want to know a bit more about their crimes? Fair warning, sometimes truth is even more grisly than fiction. If you’re still feeling up to it, please step into my office and peruse these six criminal profiles I’ve assembled for your macabre pleasure.
1. Ed Kemper
Total body count: 10
Based on Agents Ford and Tench’s fascination with Kemper throughout the first season, it seems only right that we begin here. Ed Kemper, aka “the co-ed killer,” is memorably and accurately portrayed by Cameron Britton in Mindhunter. He displayed murderous tendencies early in his life: as a child, he buried a cat alive before digging it up and decapitating it, performed eerie rituals using his sister’s dolls, and repeatedly watched his second-grade teacher through her window at night. His mother, Clarnell, was concerned by her son’s behavior and, fearing that he would harm his sisters, often forced him to sleep in a locked basement. At the age of 12, he killed his grandparents and was committed to a mental hospital after explaining to authorities that he “just wanted to see what it felt like to kill grandma.” He was released on his 21st birthday in 1969.
Ed Kemper’s murder spree occurred between May 1972 and April 1973. The spree’s initial six victims were college students and hitchhikers. According to Kemper, during this period, he picked up a young woman who immediately began discussing the recent murders. Kemper claims that this topic of discussion made him too embarrassed to kill her. Let this be a lesson- always discuss serial killers with strangers because it may just save your life.
Kemper’s final two murder victims were his mother, Clarnell, and her best friend. After decapitating his mother’s head, he used it to perform oral sex on himself.
Ed Kemper turned himself in to the police and is still incarcerated. He is considered a model prisoner.
2. Jerry Brudos
Total Body Count: 4
Jerry Brudos, portrayed in Mindhunter by Happy Anderson, also displayed disturbing behavior at a young age. He abducted and battered a young woman at the age of 17, leading to his brief incarceration at the Oregon State Hospital psychiatric ward. It was here that Brudos was diagnosed with schizophrenia and his extreme hatred of women in general and his mother in particular were discovered. Brudos hated his mother largely as a result of the shame she instilled in him at a young age. She dreamed of having a daughter, but was instead given a son. She forced him to dress as a little girl, but reacted harshly when he displayed a love of wearing high heels.
Brudos’s murder spree occurred between 1968 and 1969. During this time, he attacked and murdered four women via strangulation. Like many other criminals, Brudos kept trophies to commemorate his successful hunt. For example, after murdering Jan Susan Whitney, Brudos cut off one of her breasts and turned it into a paperweight. It may be surprising to learn that Brudos was married with children during his murder spree, however, he managed to keep all bodies, body parts, and “trophies” in his garage and away from his wife and kids. If there was ever a reason to hate man-caves, I think this is it.
As seen in Mindhunter, Brudos was infatuated with wearing women’s heels. Supposedly, he enjoyed donning a pair of stylish stilettos and masturbate after committing a murder.
On June 28, 1969, Brudos plead guilty and was arrested. While in jail, he enjoyed the entertainment of endless women’s shoe catalogues, as they technically were not porn. He died in 2006 of liver cancer.
3. Darrell Gene Devier
Body Count: 1
Although he’s not a serial killer (you need three or more kills to be considered as such), Darrell Gene Devier is a real life murderer featured on Mindhunter. In 1995, Devier was employed as a tree-trimmer in a rural county in Georgia. The day after he joked to a fellow tree-trimmer that he’d like to have sex with a young girl, Mary Stoner, who lived in a residence near where they were working, Stoner was found dead with her skull completely crushed. After raping her, Devier hit her head with a heavy rock and chocked her to death.
Devier was executed by electrocution in 1996.
By the way, all of the methods used to get a confession out of Devier as portrayed on Mindhunter actually happened in real life.
4. Montie Ralph Rissell
Body Count: 5
Although Rissell is not all well known as some of the other serial killers on this list, his crimes are notably horrific. Just like Brudos and Kemper, his violent behavior started at a very young age. At 14 years-old, Rissell committed his first rape. He was sent to a mental institution for the crime of petty theft. While on a short release from the hospital, Rissell committed another rape and was somehow able to keep his violent crimes a secret.
Between 1976 and 1977, he killed five women and raped nearly one dozen. He was arrested at the young age of nineteen and wrote a 461-page confession while in jail. He is still alive.
5. Richard Speck
Body Count: 8
The murders committed by Richard Speck offer a particularly disturbing story. Unlike the other serial killers on this list, Speck is known for a single event. On July 13, 1966, Speck broke into a dormitory for student nurses in Chicago. Once inside, he systematically tortured and killed eight of the nine nurses present (one, Cora Amurao was able to hide under a bed for hours before escaping around 6 AM). Speck held the nurses in a room before proceeding to take them out one by one to strangle and stab them to death. The final victim, Gloria Davy was also raped before she was strangled to death.
Once arrested, Speck initially claimed that he had no recollection of any of the brutal murders. It was not until 1978 that he publicly admitted to the murders. In 1988, he went even further by graphically describing his brutal slaying of the nurses for an inmate-created film.
He was sentenced to death, but this was overturned following an issue with the jury selection for his case. Speck was also a major part of a shocking set of videos presented to the Illinois State Legislature in 1996 to demonstrate the litany of illegal activity rampant within the penitentiary system. In the videos, a busty Speck (thanks to illegally acquired hormone treatments) is seen performing oral sex on an inmate amongst a sea of cocaine. Speck tells the camera “if they only knew how much fun I was having, they’d turn me loose!” If you’re interested, a few scenes from these tapes can be found on Youtube.
Richard Speck died of a heart attack in 1991, just before his 50th birthday.
6. Dennis Rader, AKA: “The BTK Killer”
Body Count: 10
Dennis Rader is the last real-life Mindhunter serial killer on our list. I saved him for the end partly because his identity is not fully revealed in season one. Instead, savvy viewers needed to play detective and determine who actor Sonny Valicenti is playing in Mindhunter. The scenes in which Rader is present are elusive and disconnected from the larger plot. He is still in the midst of his murder spree and his incredibly normal appearance helps him to remain unknown to both police and FBI agents.
Mindhunter presents us with a number of clues to help determine Rader’s identity. Along with his physical appearance, the Rader character is also seen stealthily mailing letters and working as a security alarm installer in Kansas. These letters are most likely meant to be the envelopes filled with messages to the press signed “BTK” and “Bill Thomas Killman.” I hope that we get to see more of BTK in the second season of Mindhunter.
Dennis Rader’s serial killing occurred between 1974 and 1991. His first victims include the entire Otero family, whom he bound, tortured, and killed on January 15th, 1974. He most often killed by strangulation, but used a number of different weapons, including pantyhose, ropes, and plastic bags.
After thirty years, Rader was finally arrested in 2005 as a result of one of my favorite blunders in criminal history. He was obsessed with the attention “BTK” received and would grow angry at the thought of someone else telling his story. For this reason, he repeatedly sent packages and letters to the press. In 2004, he sent a postcard to KAKE, a local radio station, asking if corresponding via a floppy disc would be safe. After the station responded positively, he sent them a package containing a purple floppy disc. This disc was immediately turned over to the FBI who quickly traced the disc to Rader’s church where he volunteered. They also discovered that the last person who edited the disc was “Dennis.” It turns out that you can’t complete erase identifying marks on a floppy just by deleting a bunch of files. Keep that in mind next time you need to covertly use a floppy disc.
Rader was given live imprisonment without the possibility of parole. He is still alive.
Haven’t watched Mindhunter yet? What are you waiting for? Season one is available for streaming on Netflix.