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A Real-Life ‘Mindhunter’ Inspired The Netflix Series

FBI Special Agent John E. Douglas literally wrote the book on Mindhunting.
Fan Jonathangroff Mindhunter
By  · Published on October 13th, 2017

FBI Special Agent John E. Douglas literally wrote the book on Mindhunting.

Friday the 13th is the perfect day for Netflix to drop their latest crime series, Mindhunter. The show follows two FBI agents who travel the country interviewing serial killers so they can profile their methods. Mindhunter’s unsettling premise is based on a real-life former FBI agent named John E. Douglas, the man that pioneered the FBI’s psychological profiling tactics.

Douglas’ 1995 book, “Mind Hunter: Inside the FBI’s Elite Serial Crime Unit” helped inspire the Mindhunter series. Douglas believed there are common traits and recurring habits amongst killers that could help law enforcement create psychological profiles to predict what they may do next. In his book, Douglas describes his interview sessions with history’s most notorious killers and rapists — Charles Manson, Ted Bundy, and Ed Gein. Here are the least grisly portions of the book’s official synopsis.

In chilling detail, the legendary Mindhunter takes us behind the scenes of some of his most gruesome, fascinating, and challenging cases—and into the darkest recesses of our worst nightmares.

During his twenty-five year career with the Investigative Support Unit, Special Agent John Douglas became a legendary figure in law enforcement, pursuing some of the most notorious and sadistic serial killers of our time: the man who hunted prostitutes for sport in the woods of Alaska, the Atlanta child murderer, and Seattle’s Green River killer, the case that nearly cost Douglas his life.

Mindhunter isn’t the first time Hollywood showed interest in Douglas’ work. He’s the inspiration for The Silence of the Lambs’ character Jack Crawford, played by Dennis Farina in Manhunter (1986) and Laurence Fishburne on the 2013 TV series Hannibal. And there is one more interesting tidbit listed on the Mindhuter web site.

He is former Special Agent John Douglas, a legendary figure in law enforcement and the model for Scott Glenn’s Agent Jack Crawford character in The Silence of the Lambs. He was also director Jonathan Demme’s original choice to play the role, but the Bureau wouldn’t allow it.

In 2017, psychological profiling is an overused cop show trope, but in the 70’s, Douglas’ investigation into how criminals think covered new ground. Douglas wasn’t afraid to ask tough questions like whether someone’s environment could turn them into a killer. Despite some early opposition, his work was instrumental in establishing the FBI’s behavioral science investigative methods.

I’ve only seen the first couple Mindhunter episodes and they’ve done an excellent job depicting law enforcement’s inability to grasp the value of series protagonist Holden Ford’s (Jonathan Groff) research. Early episodes highlight Ford’s uphill battle to incorporate profiling methods into criminal investigations. It’s almost funny watching Ford go rogue, visit a prison, and fumble his way through an interview session with a stone-cold killer.

Mindhunter is a heavy watch and knowing certain elements of the show are anchored in reality makes the viewing experience even more lurid. As soon as the series is over I’ll be going on some Wikipedia deep dives to see what’s real, what’s embellished, and what’s made up.

Here’s Netflix’s short but sweet Mindhunter synopsis.

How do we get ahead of crazy if we don’t know how crazy thinks? Two FBI agents (Jonathan Groff & Holt McCallany) set out on a sinister investigative odyssey to discover the brutal answers. MINDHUNTER.

And here’s a video of John Douglas in action.

Mindhunter’s entire ten-episode season is now available on Netflix.

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