Netflix’s Mindhunter retells the true story of the FBI’s Behavioural Science Unit and its study into the minds of serial killers. Although Netflix has now unfortunately canceled the popular drama, the director did recently reveal what would have been on the cards had the show returned.
Set in the late 1970s, the show has been praised by critics and viewers for its accurate depictions of real-life serial killers. Notorious names such as Ed Kemper, David Berkowitz, and Charles Manson feature across the two seasons, with the actors who play them bearing eerie visual likenesses.
William “Junior” Pierce
Michael Filipowich as William Pierce Junior in Mindhunter
Season Two introduces viewers to William Pierce, who’s one of an estimated nine victims was the thirteen-year-old Peggy Cuttino, daughter of South Carolina senator James Cuttino. He maintains that his confession was coerced after being physically abused by the sheriff.
The show depicts his infamous love for sweets, going as far as to digitally place Michael Filipowich’s face over a real photograph of Pierce, taken in his cell at the Appling County Jail in Georgia surrounded by junk food. However, Mindhunter takes creative liberty in featuring the killer, as he was never actually interviewed by the FBI’s Behavioural Science Unit.
split image of Sam Strike as Monte Rissell in Mindhunter and the real Monte Rissell
There is less detail available to the public about the crimes of Monte Rissell than other high-profile killers depicted in the series. The character only appears in one episode (Season One, Episode Four) and the details, though sparse, are accurate down to the identification of his victims.
British actor Sam Strike portrays the young killer, who was eighteen at the time of his sentencing and had committed his first sexual assault by the age of fourteen. His visual resemblance to Rissell is less significant than other actors in the series, though he effectively captures the aggressive and disgruntled nature of the serial rapist-murderer.
split image of Richard Speck in Mindhunter
By definition, Richard Speck is not technically a serial killer, though he brutally murdered eight student nurses in one night in 1966, forgetting a ninth bound up under a bed. Jack Erdie’s aggressive depiction of the killer is on the mark both visually and personality-wise, but his timeline has been manipulated slightly by writers for dramatic effect.
In Season One, Episode Nine in which Speck is featured, he concludes his interview with Ford and Tench by stating that he killed the women because it “just wasn’t their night”. Although this is based on a real quote, it was spoken later in his life in a recording made by other inmates. It is also true that he murdered his sparrow, though the agents did not witness this first-hand and were told about it by a security guard, as detailed in the Mindhunter book.
split image of real Wayne Williams and in Mindhunter
Mindhunter’s second season has some flaws but delves into important issues concerning race and crime in Georgia during the late 1970s and early 1980s. Focus is given to The Atlanta Child Murders case, in which Wayne Williams was convicted for the murders of two adults and believed to be responsible for the deaths and disappearances of over twenty children.
Similar to the show, Williams was captured by a bridge surveillance team after they heard a large splash. Despite failing polygraph tests, he denied all accusations and still maintains his innocence to this day, claiming that the crimes were committed by the KKK and covered up to avoid a race war.
jerry brudos in mindhunter and the real jerry brudos
Jerry Brudos, known alternatively as the ‘Lust Killer’ or the ‘Salem Shoe-Fetish Killer’, allegedly killed five women between 1968 and 1969 but was only convicted for three murders. More unsettling still is the reality that he likely killed many more, with an extensive photograph collection featuring many women who remain unidentified.
The show delves into his infamous infatuation for women’s shoes which he developed at an early age. In one of Mindhunter’s darker moments, Ford persuades Brudos to open up using a pair of shoes, which the latter becomes visually excited about.
Dennis Rader aka BTK Killer in Mindhunter
Details of the crimes committed by Dennis Rader, the ‘BTK Killer’ (bind, torture, kill), are littered throughout both seasons of Mindhunter, although the outcome will, unfortunately, remain a mystery. His inclusion in the series is unique in that the viewer is drip-fed clues about his identity through short but revealing scenes, rather than hearing about his life and crimes from his own mouth, due to the killer not being captured until 2005.
Because of this, Rader’s depiction relies more on imagination than physical tapes and interviews, as is the case with other killers in the series. However, writers overcome this obstacle with nuanced references to his personal life through his job at ADT as well as his criminal, with clips of him tying knots while watching television. Despite only being depicted in fragments, Sonny Valicenti’s portrayal of the Kansas Killer is still impressively accurate.
Elmer Wayne Henley Jr.
Mindhunter – Elmer Wayne Henley split image of actor and real killer
One of the more shocking cases detailed in Season Two is that of Elmer Wayne Henley Jr., who at eighteen years old was found guilty for a series of deaths often referred to as the ‘Houston Mass Murders’. He procured young men on behalf of Dean A. Corll who tortured and sexually assaulted them before Henley later murdered him in self-defense and then turned himself in.
The included details are entirely accurate, with dialogue taken directly from Henley’s own mouth. Despite these words being taken from interviews conducted later in his life, Robert Aramayo effectively channels his dismissive nature through his body language and lines such as, “A boy got involved with a murderer, that’s all that happened”, although some are rewritten slightly for dramatic effect.
David Berkowitz in Mindhunter and real david berkowitz
Oliver Cooper’s David Berkowitz is one of the more visually impressive depictions of a serial killer in the series. Although the character is alluded to in Season One, Episode One, he is not interviewed by Ford and Tench until Season Two. The episode explores the real killer’s claim to have been following the orders of the neighbor’s dog that had been possessed by a demon.
Mindhunter depicts the ‘Son of Sam’ as a remorseless shooter who manipulated experts into believing he was mentally unwell. In the show, Holden (who comes across as slightly psychopathic in this scene) pushes Berkowitz to confess that his possession story was a hoax, which the real Berkowitz did later do.
Charles Manson in Mindhunter
Although not technically a serial killer, Charles Manson is responsible for orchestrating the Tate-LaBianca murders and several others in 1969. The character is introduced in Season Two, with Damon Harriman impressively executing the eccentricities that have become synonymous with the man.
This is not the only time Harriman has depicted Manson, having also portrayed him in Quinten Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. This is a testament to the physical, historical, and personal accuracies of his performance, which can only be attributed to someone who has spent a significant amount of time inside an evil mind.
Ed Kemper in Mindhunter and real killer
Cameron Britton bears a striking resemblance to the real ‘Co-Ed Killer’ in the show and does well to capture his calm and articulate demeanor in a performance that has inspired other shows like Yellowjackets. As a reoccurring character, there is more space for the series to explore the killer, with a lot of the material used coming straight from his own mouth.
In Season One, Episode Two in one of his many interviews with Special Agent Holden, Kemper opens up about his childhood and abuse at the hands of his mother. He confesses to murdering her and burying her decapitated head in the backyard, all of which really happened. Although there are subtle differences, a lot of the dialogue and body language are taken directly from real interviews, making for an authentic and accurate depiction.