WARNING: this post contains details about real murder cases which some readers may find distressing
The first reviews are in for Netflix’s new crime drama Mindhunter, and they’re largely positive. The show premieres on Friday 13th October, which is probably apt for a show about serial killers which aims to unsettle its audience.
The FBI criminal profiler is a regular staple of crime movies and TV shows now, but back in the 1970s, when this series is set, profiling was a brand new concept. David Fincher’s new 10-part drama is based on the book Mindhunter: Inside the FBI’s Elite Serial Crime Unit by John E. Douglas, an FBI Special Agent who helped create the Behavioral Sciences Unit (BSU) and was one of the first criminal profilers. In order to develop the science behind profiling, Douglas interviewed some of the most notorious criminals in American history, including Charles Manson, Ted Bundy, John Wayne Gacy and David Berkowitz, otherwise known as “the Son of Sam”.
It’s unclear quite how many real serial killers will be referenced in Mindhunter, but the cast list suggests that at least two will feature in the show: Dennis Rader and Edmund Kemper. Neither of them share quite the same infamy as the likes of Bundy or Gacy, but their stories are darkly fascinating.
Dennis Rader, who named himself the “BTK Killer” (which stood for “Bind, Torture, Kill”) was a serial killer convicted of murdering ten people between 1974 and 1991 in Kansas. Rader stalked his victims, breaking into their homes to suffocate or strangle them.
His case is most remarkable for his communications with the media and with police. He sent many letters, poems and puzzles to police and media outlets, sometimes leaving them in public places and then contacting police with details on where to find them. After murdering four members of the Otero family in 1974, Rader left a letter detailing the crimes inside an engineering book in the public library, then sent another letter to a local TV station, demanding attention for the murders and suggesting the BTK nickname.
By 2004, the murders had ceased, but the BTK Killer was still at large, and the police had no real leads on the killer’s identity. It was at this point that Rader stepped up his bizarre campaign of letters and parcels, sending crucial pieces of evidence to the police to prove that they were indeed communicating with the real killer. He left a package taped to a stop sign, and another one in a cereal box in the back of a truck in a car park.
His communications were eventually to become his downfall. In one of his letters, Rader asked police if they would be able to trace his identity from a floppy disc. The police took out a newspaper advertisement to let the BTK Killer know that they couldn’t, so Rader duly sent them the disk. Police were able to see that one of the files on the disk related to the Christ Lutheran Church, and the last person to modify the file was ‘Dennis’. With this information, police tracked Rader down, but their evidence against him was still not strong enough for an arrest. Police were only able to arrest Rader after testing DNA found at one of the murder scenes against his daughter’s pap smear test results, with the test results indicating that the killer was a close relative.
Rader was found guilty and given ten life sentences.
Edmund Kemper, also called the Co-Ed Killer, was convicted of murdering eight women in the early 1970s.
To say that Kemper had some mummy issues is to put it mildly. Kemper’s mother was a violent, abusive alcoholic, and he eventually ran away from home and went to live with his father. He was already exhibiting disturbing behaviour, so Kemper’s father sent him to live with his grandparents, who he then shot dead, aged just fifteen. Sent to the insane unit at the Atascadero State Hospital, the highly intelligent Kemper became a model prisoner and was actually allowed to help administer psychiatric tests on other inmates. He later stated that administering these tests allowed him to manipulate the authorities into releasing him on parole when he was 21 years old.
After his release, Kemper continued to have a turbulent relationship with his mother. He applied to be a State Trooper, but at 6′ 9″ was deemed too tall to join. He began working for the Highway Department, and noticed that there were a lot of young women hitch-hiking nearby the local college campus. He started to pick up these young women, and eventually gave into his murderous urges – he shot, stabbed and strangled six hitch-hikers in the space of a year, in a spree which had the local college students living in fear.
But these young women were a substitute for the woman he really wanted to kill – his mother, Clarnell Kemper. Finally, he killed Clarnell and her best friend in April 1973, decapitating his mother and using her head as a dartboard before turning himself into police. He was found guilty on eight counts of murder and sentenced to life in prison.
Kemper and Rader will both appear in Mindhunter, and there may also be references to some of the other well-known serial killers interviewed by Douglas in his research into criminal profiling. No wonder JOE’s Rory Cashin said that Mindhunter will leave the viewer “creeped out, completely rattled, and left with nothing else to talk or think about once you’ve seen it.”