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The true story behind Netflix’s ‘Mindhunter’

Is Mindhunter actually based on a true story?

Netflix’s Mindhunter is a great binge watch for true crime fans. It has criminal psychology, a cast of America’s most notorious serial killers and two FBI agents. However, is Mindhunter actually based on a true story?

Is Mindhunter a true story?

In Mindhunter, actors Jonathan Groff and Holt McCallany play FBI agents Holden Ford and Bill Tench, who work in the bureau’s Behavioral Science Unit in the 1970s. Holden and Bill interview infamous murderers and build a protocol for profiling repeat violent offenders.

In Mindhunter season 2, the unit grows as the FBI takes more interest in their work and values it to a greater degree.

In real life Holden and Bill did not exist but they are inspired by two real men: former FBI agents John E. Douglas and Robert K. Ressler. Both John and Robert joined the FBI in the early 1970s. John worked in other capacities as a SWAT team member and hostage negotiator before joining Robert in the now-defunct BSU at Quantico where they began developing TK criminal profiling. The pair did travel the USA to interview and learn from some of the era’s most notorious criminals, such as Ted Bundy, John Wayne Gacy, and Charles Manson.

Just like season 1 of Mindhunter, John and Robert’s profiling work reportedly wasn’t taken seriously at first but as they worked closely with psychiatric nurse Dr. Ann Burgess (Anna Torv’s character, Wendy Carr), their credibility grew. The protocol they created for criminal profiling did become the standard.

Their protocol is still used as the basis for modern criminal profiling. The Violent Criminal Apprehension Program (aka ViCAP) is still used by law enforcement officials across the country to track and analyse similarities between unsolved homicides, sexual assaults, and missing persons cases. Robert also coined the term “serial killer”.

Since leaving the FBI in 1996, John has continued to offer his expertise to ongoing investigations. He’s also written multiple books based on his experiences. Robert retired from the FBI in 1990 and died in 2013.

Some of the other details on the show are fictionalized however you can read John’s book Mind Hunter: Inside the FBI’s Elite Serial Crime Unit to understand which elements were real.


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