The Real Man Behind 'Mindhunter' Interviewed 36 Killers. Here's What He Learned.

by Alaina Urquhart-White
Patrick Harbron/Netflix

Just in time for Halloween, Netflix is rolling out its new crime drama, Mindhunter. At first glance, this may seem like another procedural, but it actually tells the fascinating real life tale of the FBI's research into the psychology behind murder, specifically with serial killers. FBI Agent Holden Ford (played by Jonathan Groff) and his partner Bill Tench (played by Holt McCallany) will be diving deep into the minds of some of the most infamous serial killers — and they'll change criminal psychology forever in the process. So, is Holden Ford from Mindhunter a real person?

Ford actually is based on a real person, and a really important person at that. As Variety reported, his character is based on famed FBI Agent John E. Douglas. He is a criminal profiler that is known for working on some of the most infamous cases in history. As noted by a piece on his career in the Powell Tribune, he has worked on the JonBenét Ramsey murder case and, as The Guardian reported, also used his profiling skill to work alongside the defense in the release of the West Memphis three. In Mindhunter, he helps to formulate the term "serial killer" and introduce the idea that there may be a pattern to their horrific crimes.

Patrick Harbron/Netflix

Before he was asked to be part of some of the most influential cases out there, Douglas patiently honed his skills. As the Powell Tribune article reported, Douglas began teaching hostage negotiation and applied criminal psychology at the FBI National Academy in Quantico, Virginia, in 1977. As a new, young FBI agent among more experienced but possibly stuck-in-their-ways veterans, Douglas looked at criminal behavior in a fresh way. He was inspired to learn about the mind of a killer, not from previously gathered psychological profiles but from the killer themselves. This notion led him to interview some of these notorious criminals. He looked deep into their backgrounds to find their motivation and the patterns of their crimes to connect dots together and formulate a psychological profile.

Merrick Morton/Netflix

Per a criminal profiling piece by Malcolm Gladwell for The New Yorker, Douglas' techniques were so influential, and his willingness to get up close and personal with serial killers for his job was legendary. According to The New Yorker, Jack Crawford from Silence of The Lambs was based on him. According to the American Psychological Association, Douglas and his real-life partner FBI Agent Robert Ressler, whom Mindhunter's Bill Tench is based on, interviewed 36 murderers about their crimes and backgrounds.

Later, per Psychology Today, former FBI agent and profiler Roy Hazelwood and Douglas used the research Ressler and Douglas did about these 36 people to draw a conclusion that serial killers are either "organized" or "disorganized." "Organized" killers are generally intelligent and can represent themselves as charming. They would reveal planning and some amount of logical thinking in their crime scenes, with victims being carefully chosen and control being paramount. On the other hand, with "disorganized" killers, no logic is present in their crimes and the victim could be random and attacked in a potentially high-risk environment, with no planning involved.

These fascinating findings, along with insight into cases he has been influential on, can be researched further in some of Douglas' best-selling books, which include Mindhunter: Inside the FBI's Elite Serial Crime Unit, the book that Netflix's Mindhunter series is based upon, and Obsession: The FBI's Legendary Profiler Probes The Psyches of Killers, Rapists and Stalkers and Their Victims and Tells How To Fight Back. The latter has quite possibly the longest title of a book ever, but, hey, at least you know exactly what you're going to get — and that's insight from one of the FBI's most legendary profilers.