What to know about Mindhunter season 2's infamous serial killers
The first season of Mindhunter featured a number of high-profile, real-life serial killers, from Edmund Kemper to Jerry Brudos.
The show — which stars Jonathan Groff, Holt McCallany, and Anna Torv — is based on the true story of the FBI’s Behavioral Science Unit, a section of the Bureau that sought to study real murderers in order to gain insights into their psychology. And while the first previews of the Netflix drama’s second season confirm the return of Kemper, they also provide a glimpse at the other big-bads we can expect to encounter.
Ahead of the second season’s Aug. 16 debut on the streaming giant, EW takes a look at the serial killers that have been teased so far, who they are, and what you need to know about them.
Series director and executive producer David Fincher previously revealed during an appearance on KCRW’s “The Treatment” podcast that season 2 would revolve around the Atlanta child murders, a series of at least two dozen murders of children carried out in Atlanta, Ga., from 1979 to 1981. The victims, all of whom were black, and most of whom were male, ranged in age from 7 to 17. Additionally, six adults aged 20 to 28 were killed. Although the causes of death varied, most victims were strangled or asphyxiated. In 1982, Wayne Williams, a freelance photographer, was charged with killing two of the adult victims. No one was charged in the murders of the children, however the Atlanta Police Department attributed at least 20 of those cases to Williams, in large part due to the presence of fibers from his home and car that matched those found on several of the victims.
Williams, who maintains his innocence, is currently carrying out two life sentences for the two murders. According to The New York Times, there is some debate about Williams’ involvement in all of the crimes, even among some of the victims’ parents, who “argue that the city, eager to quiet the blistering headlines, yielded to political pressure and closed the books after Mr. Williams’s trial as a matter of convenience.” In 2010, DNA testing was performed on human hairs found on one of the victims, however, the new investigation found that Williams couldn’t be exonerated and didn’t produce any new results.
And the story doesn’t end there. In March of this year, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms announced that the city, Fulton County, and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation will be reopening the cold cases and re-examining the evidence using modern DNA technology.
In a press conference announcing the news, Bottoms said the evidence does link Williams to several of the murdered children, but that she wanted to try to bring peace to the families once and for all. “It may be there is nothing left to be tested,” she said. “But I do think history will judge us by our actions and we will be able to say we tried.”
The BTK Strangler
Technically, the BTK Strangler, whose real name is Dennis Rader, was featured in almost every episode throughout season 1, his character looming creepily in the background — although we never actually see him kill anyone. He’s expected back in season 2, but it’s unclear how much more of him we will see this time around. The real Rader committed 10 total murders in Kansas over the course of several years, from 1974 to 1991. His victims ranged in age from 9 to 62, and most were suffocated or strangled. Rader, who was known as a family man with a wife and two kids prior to his arrest, worked as an ADT serviceman from 1974 to 1988, as portrayed in the show. He held various other jobs as well, and was even a leader in his church and the local Boy Scouts.
Rader would taunt the police by sending them and the media letters and packages containing details about the killings, which sometimes also included “souvenirs” he took from the crime scenes. He signed them with the letters “BTK,” which stood for his preferred method of killing his victims: bind, torture, and kill. Ironically, it was his penchant to send these letters that ultimately led to his capture in 2005, more than 30 years after the first murders took place.
Rader plead guilty to all 10 murders on June 27, 2005, and provided a detailed account of the crimes at that time. In addition to DNA evidence linking him to the crimes, numerous bits of evidence from the crime scenes were found at his home.
Because Mindhunter takes place (thus far) in the late 1970s, it stands to reason that BTK could be a figure that our heroes — FBI Agents Holden Ford (Groff) and Bill Tench (McCallany) and Dr. Wendy Carr (Torv) — are constantly tormented by, but never catch.
McCallany has mused as much, telling Refinery29, “[The BTK Killer] wasn’t caught until 2005. He was literally at large for 30 years! We try to remain true to the details of the crimes…Let’s hope to God that we get to do this for five seasons. [But] we may never catch the guy. Our journey begins in 1978, are we really going to go up to 2005? I don’t think so. We’ll span a number of years, but not all of those years. These guys don’t solve all of their cases. You don’t get to solve them all in real life, and you don’t get to solve them all in Mindhunter.”
Between Mindhunter and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Manson is having a popular summer (ironically, the same actor, Damon Herriman, plays the crazed killer in both projects). In season 1 of Mindhunter, Manson is at the top of Holden’s list of psychopaths that he wants to interview. When visiting California, the FBI agent even asks to visit him but is denied, and winds up meeting Edmund Kemper (Cameron Britton) instead. Based on the season 2 teaser trailer, it looks like Holden will finally get his wish.
Unlike the others on this list, Manson, who was an ex-convict and fledgling singer-songwriter at the time of the murder spree for which he is known, did not actually kill any of his victims. Instead, he famously instructed his cult of followers known as the Manson Family to kill nine people — the most famous of which being pregnant actress Sharon Tate — between July and August of 1969.
The motive for the murders is the subject of some debate. The most popular theory, and the one put forth by Manson prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi, is the “Helter Skelter” theory, which posits that Manson ordered the Tate murders in hopes that it would bring about an apocalyptic race war as foretold to him in what he thought were coded lyrics on The Beatles’ White Album.
Manson and his followers were arrested in Oct. 1969. One of the followers who served as a lookout during the Tate murders, Linda Kasabian, was offered immunity in exchange for being a witness for the prosecution. After a seven-month trial, the jury found Manson and his followers guilty on Jan. 25, 1971. Initially they were all given the death penalty, which was later converted to life in prison when the state of California overturned the death penalty.
Manson died in prison at the age of 83 in 2017.
Son of Sam
Like Manson, the Son of Sam killer, whose real name was David Berkowitz, is also mentioned in season 1 as a killer who Bill and Holden would love to talk to as part of their study. And like Manson, Berkowitz is featured in a quick shot in the teaser trailer for season 2 (above).
Berkowitz, who was working as a letter sorter for the USPS at the time of his crimes, was initially known as the .44 Caliber Killer, so named for the type of gun used in all of the murders. He shot a total of 13 people in New York over the course of a year beginning in July 1976 — six people died, while the other seven were wounded. His victims were usually young women who had long, dark hair. Because of this, wig stores in New York saw a large uptick in business at the time of the killings.
Like BTK, Berkowitz wrote letters taunting the police. In the first letter, he claimed that a neighbor of his, named Sam, had a dog that was possessed by an ancient spirit who ordered him to kill people. In later years, he would walk back this claim, but from then on, the name stuck and the Son of Sam killer was born.
Berkowitz was arrested on Aug. 10, 1977, and he confessed the next day. He told the press that “there are other Sons out there,” which led some investigators to believe he didn’t act alone in the slayings, but this was never proven. He went on to plead guilty to the six murders and was sentenced to 25-years-to-life for each. He is currently serving out those sentences in upstate New York.
In 1990, he publicly claimed he was part of a Satanic cult that took part in the murders, and he alleged that he was actually only involved in three of the killings. An investigation was opened but was later suspended due to inconclusive evidence.
Season 2 of Mindhunter premieres Aug. 16 on Netflix.