A gripping new drama from executive producers David Fincher and Charlize Theron dropped on Netflix this week, and it brings Jonathan Groff back to TV after originating a Tony-nominated role in a very obscure musical called Hamilton. Mindhunter tells the origin story of the field of criminal psychology at the FBI in the late 1970s. Groff stars as Holden Ford, an FBI agent and one of the first criminal profilers. Given the period drama's historical elements, viewers may be wondering: is Holden Ford from Mindhunter based on a real person? In fact, the whole series is based on a book written by the man Holden is inspired by.
The character is based on John E. Douglas, a former special agent and unit chief in the FBI, now in his early 70s. His book Mind Hunter: Inside the FBI's Elite Serial Crime Unit, co-authored by Mark Olshaker, was published in 1995, and it serves as source material for the show. He's written several other books on criminal psychology, as well as two fictional novels, however, this isn't the first time a TV series has modeled a character in his likeness.
If you think Mindhunter sounds like a period mashup of The X Files, Criminal Minds, and Quantico, you're not wrong. The characters of Jason Gideon and David Rossi on Criminal Minds were based on Douglas, and he also played a huge part in various tellings of The Silence of the Lambs. In the novel, which inspired an eponymous movie, as well as films Manhunter and Red Dragon, the character of Jack Crawford is based on Douglas. He also inspired a character in the NBC drama Hannibal called Will Graham. But Mindhunter marks the first time one of his books has become the focus of a show.
Part of what the series tackles is the difficulty Douglas faced in getting the FBI to take criminal psychology seriously as a discipline and a prevention tactic. After working as a sniper on a FBI SWAT team in Michigan, Douglas became a hostage negotiator, and eventually transferred to the Bureau's Behavioral Sciences Unit. It was there that he pioneered the FBI's Criminal Profiling Program, teaching the practice to new special agents and field agents at the FBI Academy in Quantico. He'd go on to tour the country, teaching criminal profiling to police officers.
As part of his study, Douglas interviewed some of the country's most infamous serial killers (a term that's so new on the show, one official doesn't know what Holden Ford means by it), including Ted Bundy, John Wayne Gacy, and Charles Manson. From those interviews, Douglas penned the Crime Classification Manual, as well as the book Sexual Homicide: Patterns and Motives. Among other things, Douglas is credited with discovering the link between violent criminals and the childhood behavior of harming animals.
He also came up a lot in various docu-series last year commemorating the 20th anniversary of JonBenét Ramsey's unsolved murder. Douglas was an investigator on the case who, incidentally, didn't believe that Ramsey's parents were responsible. His theory, based on the execution of the murder, was that a disgruntled former employee of John Ramsey's had committed the crime.
Other characters on Mindhunter are based in reality, too. Holden's sidekick Bill Tench is based on Robert K. Ressler, the FBI profiler who coined the term "serial killer." And Fringe's Anna Torv plays Wendy, a psychologist based on Dr. Ann Wolbert Burgess. She's a professor of Victimology, Forensic Science, and Forensic Mental Health at Boston College, who studied links between child abuse, juvenile delinquency, and the subsequent deeds of violent criminals with the FBI.
You can catch Mindhunter on Netflix starting Friday, Oct. 13.
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