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Inside 'Mindhunter' Mania: The Real Killers vs. Their TV Portrayals

//Mindhunter Oliver Cooper featured photo
Source: Netflix

Mar. 5 2020, Updated 4:41 p.m. ET

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Mindhunter is a mind-messing smash hit for Netflix. The show takes you into the minds of some of the most fascinating and fearsome serial killers in modern United States history. But how does the show differ from what happened in real life … or does it differ at all?

MORE: The 15 darkest true crime documentaries on Netflix!

The show follows FBI agents Holden Ford (Jonathan Groff) and Bill Tench (Holt McCallany) while they begin criminal profiling, which used elements of psychology and sociology in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. Their FBI Behavioral Science Unit is assisted by fellow agents Dr. Wendy Carr (Anna Torv), who specializes in psychological profiles, Gregg Smith (Joe Tuttle), Robert Shepard (Cotter Smith) and Ted Gunn (Michael Cerveris).

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MORE: The most gruesome true crime stories of 2019!

The groundbreaking show spotlights the envelope-pushing work the unit did in profiling and catching these murderers. The series’ dark tone and emotive power is riveting because it comes from the mind of noted director David Fincher (Gone Girl, Zodiac, Panic Room, etc.). Charlize Theron is one of the show’s executive producers.

Let’s look at Mindhunter to see what they got right about the investigation into these serial killers and what was played up or introduced for dramatic purposes.

Real Killer: Dennis Rader

Dennis Rader stares into the camera for his mugshot.
Source: Wichita Police Department

Season: 2, after a tease in season 1

In real life: Dennis Rader is the self-proclaimed BTK killer, which stands for “blind, torture, kill.” He was a security expert for ADT and lived and worked in Wichita, Kansas. By the time police caught up to him, he had taken the lives of 10 people in horrific ways from 1974 to 1991. He sent 19 graphic letters to authorities, 10 of which landed in 2005 — leading to his arrest.

Actor: Sonny Valicenti

Actor Sonny Valicenti in a scene from the Netflix hit show, Mindhunter.
Source: Netflix

What else you’ve seen him in: Office Christmas Party with Jason Bateman and Olivia Munn

On the show: Mindhunter stunningly captured the murderer and managed to intertwine his story into more than just one episode. The Sonny Valicenti-portrayed character loomed over season 2 like a haunting darkness. But how the show will address his capture, which happened long after the lead agents retired in real life? As of January 2020, the third season has been put on hold so we may never know. 

Real Killer: Ed Kemper

//Mindhunter ed kemper real life
Source: Oxygen

Season: One smaller role in season 2

In real life: The way that the “co-ed killer” is played on the Netflix hit versus the real story is remarkably similar. Filmmakers even used actual quotes that the serial murderer said in interviews with authorities, adding priceless authenticity to Mindhunter. His lethal laundry list of crimes began with slaying his grandparents when he was just a teen. He was sent to an institution clearly needing mental help. Upon his release at the age of 21 and between May 1972 to April 1973, Kemper ended several lives. He kidnapped, murdered and violated eight people. After the eighth victim, he turned himself in to the cops.

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Actor: Cameron Britton

Mindhunter star Cameron Britton creepily addresses Jonathan Groff’s investigator in a scene from the hit Netflix show.
Source: Netflix

What else you’ve seen him in: The Girl in the Spider’s Web with Claire Foy

On the show: Cameron Britton had such an intense performance that critics collectively called him a “scene-stealer.” For the sake of propelling the thrilling plot, Kemper’s connection to Charles Manson was exaggerated a tad. Although it is true that the early ‘70s serial killer was at the same medical correctional facility as the leader of the Manson Family.

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Real Killer: Montie Ralph Rissell

The mugshot of Monte Ralph Rissell shows a haunting black and white, blurred image of the serial killer.
Source: Alexandria, Virginia Police Department

Season: 1

In real life: Montie Ralph Rissell executed his first rape when he was just 14. He was then sent to an institution instead of a hardened prison as it was believed he committed his crimes because of a mental disorder. He convinced the facility’s psychological evaluators that he had improved and was sane enough to have short visits out into the community. Sadly, he committed more crimes while out on those short leaves. By the time Rissell turned 19, he was arrested and charged with killing five victims and raping at least 12 but likely more. He is serving his prison term of five life sentences, ensuring he will never see the light of day again.

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Actor: Sam Strike

Sam Strike stands near his prison cell in his prison blues in a scene from Mindhunter where he portrays killer Monte Ralph Rissell.
Source: Netflix

What else you’ve seen him in: Leatherface opposite Lili Tyler

On the show: On Mindhunter, it is revealed that the first of his victims was a prostitute, which is not necessarily the case. The jobs or nature of his victims was never made public. In real life, Rissell also was charged with robbery. That was not highlighted on the Netflix hit. He is, in actuality, serving his sentence at the Pocahontas State Correctional Center in Virginia — as demonstrated on the show.

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Real Killer: Jerry Brudos

Serial killer and subject on Mindhunter, Jerry Brudos, in his mugshot.
Source: Salem Oregon Police Department

Season: 1

In real life: Reporters who covered the crimes and trial of Jerry Brudos branded him the “Shoe Fetish Slayer” or the “Lust Killer.” His affinity for shoes allegedly began when he learned that his mother wished he was a girl. Brudos was rumored to begin wearing her shoes. He was only 17 when he was caught after kidnapping his first victim, so the judge felt he could be saved through psychological help, and sentenced him to a mental institution. It worked at first. He was released at 18 and eventually got married and had two kids. Then, in 1968, he killed at least five young ladies in Oregon. He mutilated their bodies and kept pieces of them as trophies.

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Actor: Happy Anderson

Happy Anderson inhabits murderer Jerry Brudos in a scene from Mindhunter on Netflix.
Source: Netflix

What else you’ve seen him in: Bright, opposite Will Smith

On the show: Although it is not known if the killer actually helped investigators, on Mindhunter Brudos was invaluable in providing our investigators Holden Ford and Bill Tench with the ability to profile rapists and murderers. During season 1, Happy Anderson showed a side of the killer that was slightly different from reality. His obsession with women’s clothing (and the reasons why) are downplayed as he seemed to be focused on helping detectives in their effort to find like-minded criminals.

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Real Killer: Richard Speck

Killer Richard Speck looked into the camera for his mugshot, wearing a collared shirt, greased-back hair and a leather jacket.
Source: Dallas, Texas Police Department

Season: 1

In real life: One of the most explosively violent of any of the crooks on Mindhunter, Richard Speck was a mass murderer who committed all his crimes on the night of July 13, 1966. Eight nurses from the South Chicago Community Hospital went to work that fateful day and were never seen alive again. They were kidnapped, tortured, raped and murdered by Speck.

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Actor: Jack Erdie

//mindhunter Jack Erdie
Source: Netflix

What else you’ve seen him in: Out of the Furnace with Christian Bale

On the show: When it comes to the horrors of Speck (played by Jack Erdie), Mindhunter got the portrayal and story absolutely perfect. It illustrates the show’s painstaking effort to incorporate reality into the tense drama. Like other “characters,” the real words of Speck from police interviews are used. For example, when he is interrogated by authorities on the program, he informs the detectives that those women perished because “it just wasn’t their night.” Words used directly by Speck.

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Real Killer: Darrell Gene Devier

The mugshot of rapist and murderer Darrell Gene Devier, portrayed on Mindhunter.
Source: Adairsville, Georgia Police Department

Season: 1, and the finale no less!

In real life: Like on the show, Darrell Gene Devier was a tree trimmer when he spotted 12-year-old Mary Frances Stoner, whom he became obsessed with, before he raped and killed her. John Douglas, the first “mindhunter,” was convinced that Devier would do it again, given what he’d learned from interviews with other murderers on the show. This was a case of a man who would have turned into a serial killer and rapist, but thanks to criminal profiling that lay at the heart of the show, they got him to admit to the crimes without another person being hurt or killed.

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Actor: Adam Zastrow

Actor Adam Zastrow wore a green T-shirt with a denim flannel over it in a scene from Mindhunter on Netflix.
Source: Netflix

What else you’ve seen him in: Bones opposite Emily Deschanel and David Boreanaz

On the show: The first season’s final episode hinges on nailing Devier for his crime and using every single thing that they learned over the course of the season to send the criminal to jail for the rest of his life. The details of his crimes and what investigators did in their interviews with Devier is practically spot-on. For example, when detectives drop a heavy folder on the table, the accused believes that they have tons of information on him and that he better cooperate. But that was a guise, and many of those pieces of papers were blank. The rapist-murderer was sentenced to death and executed in 1975.

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Real killer: David Berkowitz

//Mindhunter david berkowitz
Source: NYPD

Season: 2. Although his image is seen on a magazine cover in season 1.

In real life: David Berkowitz, better known by his infamous moniker the Son of Sam, left New York City in a state of terror for the summer of 1976. He would approach couples in cars and start shooting. Berkowitz preferred brunettes which caused a spike in the sale of blonde wigs during that fateful summer. He was caught in 1977 and told investigators that the reason he went on this killing rampage was because his neighbor’s dog told him to.

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Actor: Oliver Cooper

MORE ON:
Charles Manson
//Mindhunter Oliver Cooper
Source: Netflix

What else you’ve seen him in: Project X, Office Christmas Party with Jennifer Aniston

On the show: As shown on Mindhunter, Ford and Tench didn’t buy the “dog made me do it” defense. They saw it as a defense to avoid jail time and instead land in a mental institution, so the Mindhunter duo believed the cops were getting played. Where the partners share that sentiment, in real life, was Ford’s real-life partner. Ford’s partner, John E. Douglas, pushed Berkowitz to the point of holding a press conference in 1979 to recant his story. Something the show exaggerated was Berkowitz cooperating with authorities to help catch the BTK killer. They certainly never handed him copies of evidence.

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Real killer: William Pierce Jr.

A shot from the Louisville, Georgia Police Department showed William Pierce Jr. in his holding cell as he awaited formal charges.
Source: Louisville, George Police Department

Season: 2

In real life: In season 2, episode 3, William Pierce Jr. appeared for the first time. He was initially thought to be the man behind the Atlanta child murders, but thanks to profiling that is perfectly described on Mindhunter, the detectives’ focus turned elsewhere. However, Pierce Jr. did murder 10 people in less than a year. The one that grabbed headlines was the slaying of the 13-year-old daughter of a South Carolina state senator.

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Actor: Michael Filipowich

Michael Filipowich sat for interrogation in his beige prison garb in a scene from Netflix’s Mindhunter.
Source: Netflix

What else you’ve seen him in: 24 with Kiefer Sutherland

On the show: Since Pierce was not mentioned in the book that the show is based on (Mindhunter: Inside the FBI's Elite Serial Crime Unit, by John E. Douglas and Mark Olshaker), some conjecture he had to have been used by filmmakers to fill in those storyline blanks when it came to Pierce’s crimes. What is real is when one of the FBI investigators looked at a photo of Pierce surrounded by junk food in his prison cell — that’s a real photo of the real murderer taken in 1971.

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Real killer: William Henry Hance

//mindhunter william henry hance
Source: Fort Benning Police Department

Season: 2

In real life: William Henry Hance was convicted of murdering three women in the state of Georgia — one of whom was a sex worker he bludgeoned to death. All three of the deceased lived in or around military bases from 1977-1978. Hance’s capture was a huge coup for the FBI as it was believed that the murderer was only getting started.

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Actor: Corey Allen

//mindhunter Corey Allen
Source: Netflix

What else you’ve seen him in: Happy! on Starz with Christopher Meloni

On the show: Allen’s portrayal was developed entirely from interviews because the convicted killer was executed in 1994. The show did an incredible job of capturing the minor nuances of Hance and even impeccably took the bizarre nature of his capture and made it accurate as humanly possible. For example, Hance was attempting to throw off the law when he sent a letter to authorities signing it, “Chairman, Forces of” and discussing kidnapping in a very falsified way. His hope was to send them down the wrong investigation path. On Mindhunter — and in real life — Ressler helped authorities see through the letter smoke screen and solved the case by suggesting that the killer was probably single and a military man. Nailed it, Hance was an ex-Marine. What the show doesn’t address were the case’s racial undertones. Hance’s lawyer wanted his client to receive psychological evaluation to determine if he was fit for trial. That request was denied and, according to the New York Times, his lawyer called the process of sending him to the electric chair a “first cousin to lynching.”

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Real killer: Elmer Wayne Henley

Elmer Wayne Henley was arrested for the murder of six boys in Texas and was apprehended in San Antonio.
Source: San Antonio Police Department

Season: 2

In real life: Serial Killer Elmer Wayne Henley committed 27 murders in Houston, Texas in the early ‘70s. He was found guilty and sentenced to six life terms. One of his victims was the serial killer Dean Corll.

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Actor: Robert Aramayo

//mindhunter Robert Aramayo
Source: Netflix

What else you’ve seen him in: Nocturnal Animals with Jake Gyllenhaal and Amy Adams

On the show: During the fourth episode of the second season, Smith and Carr conduct an interview of Henley (played by Robert Aramayo) off the RadarOnline.com of their superiors. They got their guy, but the way they placed blame for these crimes is slightly different than real life. This part is true: Corll was Henley’s murderous mentor — working with him since he was a teen. On the last night of their killing spree, Henley reported that his mentor became enraged when Henley brought a girl to him instead of a boy (all the victims had been boys or men). Corll then tried to snuff out Henley, but the latter killer shot him dead. The show differs from what truly happened because Henley denied responsibility for murdering his mentor — which is not true — saying it was self-defense. In real life, Henley took full responsibility.

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Real killer: Charles Manson

Charles Manson, leader of the Manson family, posed for his mug shot after being arrested for many killings across Los Angeles.
Source: Ventura County Police Department

Season: 2

In real life: One of the most notorious killers in U.S. history and definitely one of the most chronicled in pop culture, Charles Manson and his “family” were behind some of the most brutal killings in Hollywood that shook the city to its core. He led a cult whose violent tendencies grabbed front-page headlines when he murdered Sharon Tate, who was eight months pregnant with Roman Polanski’s baby. The director of Rosemary’s Baby was not home at the time. By the time the Manson family was done, seven people had been murdered under his command.

Alt: Charles Manson, leader of the Manson family, posed for his mug shot after being arrested for many killings across Los Angeles.

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Actor: Damon Herriman

//Mindhunter Damon Herriman
Source: Netflix

What else you’ve seen him in: In Justified opposite Timothy Olyphant

On the show: Actor Damon Herriman is so perfect as Manson that he played him twice during the summer of 2019 — once on Mindhunter and then again in Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. What the Netflix hit gets piercingly correct is how investigator Ford appeared to be almost in awe when first meeting the notorious killer. That fascination comes right from the pages of his book where he stated, “He would have been excellent in my unit assessing an individual’s psychological strengths and weaknesses and strategizing how to get a killer we were hunting.” What else is spot-on is how the investigator compared Kemper and Manson. Apparently, the latter would sit on top of his chair to appear to have a leg up on those investigating him. Kemper simply sat across from the agents, on his chair and on the same level. Manson was viciously intelligent, and that aspect comes through in every frame of Mindhunter. They also got Manson’s disdain for Kemper correct. While the show combines a few exchanges between the killer and investigators into one interview, it was actually over a much longer stretch of time.

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Real killer: Tex Watson

//Mindhunter tex watson
Source: Ventura County Police Department

Season: 2

In real life: Tex Watson was a disciple of Manson and was integral in those seven murders that the “family” was behind — including Tate’s tragic murder. He was sentenced to death, but in 1971, the state outlawed that penalty. Watson is still behind bars in a high security prison in San Diego.

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Actor: Christopher Backus

//mindhunter Christopher Backus
Source: Netflix

What else you’ve seen him in: Big Little Lies with Nicole Kidman and Meryl Streep

On the show: Something Mindhunter eerily reenacts was Watson’s description of Tate right before she was killed. The murderer claimed that the actress (many other members of the “family” reported the same thing) begged to be taken somewhere so that she could have her baby before having her life taken.

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Real killer: Paul Bateson

A shot of Paul Bateson when he appeared in the horror classic, The Exorcist.
Source: Warner Bros.

Season: 2

In real life: Paul Bateson was charged and found guilty of killing film reporter Addison Verrill. Investigators tried (and failed) to connect him to several Greenwich Village murders in the mid-‘70s. After serving 24 years in prison, he was released on parole. Since then, his location is completely and hauntingly unknown.

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Actor: Morgan Kelly

Actor Morgan Kelly nailed the smirk on Paul Bateson’s face in a still from Netflix’s Mindhunter.
Source: Netflix

What else you’ve seen him in: The Best Picture Oscar winner, The Shape of Water

On the show: Something that is missing from the Bateson episode is that he had a small role in director William Friedkin’s classic, The Exorcist. In fact, the killer’s exploits inspired the filmmaker to make the movie Cruising, based on the novel of the same name. Lastly, on a podcast in 2012, Friedkin reported that Bateson informed him that he was actually a serial killer and not just responsible for one murder — something that has never been proven but was conspicuously absent from Mindhunter.

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Real killer: Wayne Williams

Wayne Williams looked bored in his patterned shirt in his mugshot after being arrested.
Source: Atlanta PD

Season: 2

In real life: When Wayne Williams was finally caught and identified as the serial killer behind the infamous Atlanta child murders, the African American community was shocked. It had long been theorized that these killings were race related. Williams never confessed to the murders, even after he was found guilty. Something to take away from both seasons of Mindhunter is that when they are finally “got,” killers like to boast about their conquests. The Netflix show captured this aspect perfectly. Williams was captured, at first, for the murders of two people in 1981 and after he was in custody, it became clear to investigators that he also was the one responsible for striking fear into the hearts of parents all over Atlanta when seven children were killed. He was never charged for those murders (due to a lack of evidence), but the killings stopped once he was behind bars.

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Actor: Christopher Livingston

//Mindhunter christopher livingston
Source: Netflix

What else you’ve seen him in: Unforgettable with Poppy Montgomery

On the show: Christopher Livingston is great in the role, especially given how much video there is out there of Williams. Manhunter explores how he professed his innocence when it came to the murdered kids (a total of 20 children went missing and have never been found). He never boasted about it, which is in stark contrast to every other murderer on the Netflix show. What was not shown on Mindhunter was how the police chief of the city of Atlanta announced that he was directing his police force to use new state-of-the-art DNA testing to provide some answers once and for all for all those parents whose children have still not come home.

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