TO catch a killer, you’ve got to think like one… that’s the premise behind Mindhunter, Netflix’s chilling crime series.
The show tells the stories of some of America’s most notorious serial killers, following a team of FBI agents as they try to get inside the heads of some of the sickest men who ever lived.
Inspiration for the series came from a book called Mindhunter: Inside the FBI’s Elite Serial Crime Unit, by retired special agents John Douglas and Mark Olshaker.
The book follows Douglas’ real-life career interviewing serial killers, and the main character in the series, Holden Ford, is loosely based on him.
Douglas worked in the FBI’s Behavioural Science Unit, an elite part of the bureau which focused on profiling serial killers – understanding why they are the way they are.
After spending much of the 1970s interviewing America’s most feared criminals, Douglas was able to put together a serial killer database, which was used by FBI agents to catch wanted criminals and prevent more killings.
The investigators in Mindhunter do the same work as Douglas. Some aspects of the show are dramatised, but many of the killers and storylines are real.
Now, as the show returns for its second season, we reveal the true details of the Mindhunter crime stories which shocked the world.
The BTK killer
Actor Sonny Valicenti plays a recurring character in Mindhunter – a creepy but mysterious ADT security serviceman who appears throughout the first series.
In the new season, however, we learn the truth: Valicenti’s character is a warped killer, based on a real-life murderer.
The character is thought to be inspired by Dennis Rader, a former church leader and scout leader who murdered ten people in Wichita, Kansas, between 1974 and 1991.
Rader mostly targeted women, murdering them in their homes and then sending letters to the police boasting that they had been “bound, tortured and killed.”
Because of these taunting letters that described his method, Rader was known as the “BTK killer”.
In one instance Rader slayed a family of four, including a nine-year-old boy.
Rader was a free man, stalking the streets of Kansas, until he was caught in 2005 after police traced him from evidence found on his letters.
He was convicted of the ten murders at the age of 60 and is still alive, serving his time in a Kansas prison.
Rader said in an interview with Oxygen last year: “I actually think it’s a demon that’s within me.
“At some point and time, it entered me when I was young. And it basically controlled me.”
The man who killed his own mum
Ed Kemper is another very real recurring character, played by Cameron Britton.
In real life, Kemper was a murderer and a necrophile. The Californian killed his first victims at the age of 15, shooting his own grandmother and grandfather after an argument.
He was jailed for the killings and then released when he was 21.
A few years later, the 6ft 9in giant killed again, murdering six female university students between May 1972 and April 1973 – earning him the nickname ‘The Co-ed Killer’.
Kemper would take the bodies home with him and have sex with the women’s corpses before disposing of the bodies.
He went on to brutally kill his own mother, Clarnell Strandberg, who he claimed had abused him when he was a child.
He used a claw hammer to murder her before decapitating her body and trying to cut out her vocal cords.
When interviewed after the murder, he said: “That seemed appropriate – as much as she’d b****ed and screamed and yelled at me over so many years.”
Kemper turned himself into the police and asked for the death penalty.
Instead, he was given eight life sentences, which the 70-year-old is currently serving in California.
The family of death
The fifth episode of the new season brings viewers face-to-face with one of history’s most feared killers – Charles Manson, the man behind the Manson family murders.
Portrayed in Mindhunter by actor Damon Herriman, the real-life Manson was a charismatic sociopath who targeted the young and vulnerable and inducted them into his cult, known as “The Family”.
As his Californian cult grew, he ordered those in his thrall to carry out murders, and sometimes killed people himself.
The exact number of people killed by Manson’s sick “family” is unknown, but it’s thought that the cult could be responsible for as many as 35 deaths.
Manson’s best-known victim is Sharon Tate, a famous young actress who was eight months pregnant with Roman Polanski’s baby when she was killed.
Under orders from Manson, a group of killers slaughtered Tate and four of her friends at their Hollywood home on the night of August 9, 1969.
The following night, the same group of killers returned to the area and killed two of Tate’s wealthy neighbours.
A man called Charles “Tex” Watson, one of Manson’s fanatical followers, was one of the murderers. He also appears in Mindhunter, portrayed by Christopher Backus.
In 1971, with the world still reeling, Manson was found guilty of first-degree murder for orchestrating the Hollywood killings.
He was originally sentenced to death, but the state of California outlawed the death penalty before he could be executed.
With his sentence changed to life in prison, Manson was left to rot behind bars until 2017, when he died in a state hospital at the age of 83.
Tex was also spared the death penalty and is still alive today, living behind bars in Mule Street prison, California. Before the state banned conjugal visits in 2003, Tex was allowed to marry a woman and father four children from his cell.
A city stalked by killers
One of season two’s big plotlines revolves around the Atlanta child murders – a string of killings between 1979 and 1981.
In just two years, at least 28 children, teenagers and adults were killed in the Georgia city, sparking mass panic among the population.
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A local man, Wayne Williams, was eventually arrested in connection to the murders after he was caught dumping what police believed to be a body in a river.
The supposed body was never recovered however.
Williams, who is now 60 and serving two life sentences, was convicted of two murders.
Some believe he could have been responsible for more, while others believe Atlanta’s real serial killer has gone undetected.
And now Mindhunter is back on our screens, the hunt for the truth will begin all over again.