'Mindhunter' Doesn't Just Portray Real Serial Killers In The Show - The Agents Are Real, Too

Netflix's show Mindhunter captures viewers' attention by providing a less-dramatized observation of serial killers. Fans of the show might be surprised to learn not only are the criminals interviewed on Mindhunter based on real-life serial killers, but the fictional FBI agents were real people as well. Netflix realistically depicts the work of now-retired FBI profiler John E. Douglas, the inspiration behind the character agent Holden Ford.

Mindhunter challenges serial killer stereotypes. Whereas other films and shows often portray serial killers as highly intelligent and methodical, the work of FBI agents Douglas and Robert Ressler proved otherwise. While most serial killers may have a pattern and victim profile, many also had below-average intelligence and felt motivated by personal issues, such as insecurity and the need for power.

The work of Douglas and Ressler provides the framework for modern profilers and continues to help law enforcement. Consequently, when investigators approach a crime scene containing minimal evidence, they can still walk away with a list of suspects.

  • Douglas And Ressler Both Coined The Term 'Serial Killer'
    Photo: Netflix

    Douglas And Ressler Both Coined The Term 'Serial Killer'

    Before Mindhunter debuted, John Douglas received credit for coining the term "serial killer." Douglas and Robert Ressler wrote the FBI's book on criminology. The pair interviewed killers who demonstrated patterns in how they chose their victims and carried out homicide.

    While the Netflix show suggests Holden's character is responsible for the coinage, in reality, Douglas and Ressler both popularized the term.

  • The Agents Interviewed Notorious Serial Killers
    Photo: Santa Cruz County Sheriff's Office / Wikipedia / CC BY 3.0

    The Agents Interviewed Notorious Serial Killers

    John Douglas and Robert Ressler interviewed many of America's most infamous serial killers. As the Netflix series suggests, the men conducted the interviews face-to-face. The agents reportedly developed some "curious relationships" with the serial killers they visited most often.

    While Mindhunter's agents interviewed Ed Kemper, the real-life profilers also interviewed Ted Bundy and Jeffrey Dahmer. 

  • Douglas And Ressler Really Worked With A College Professor
    Photo: Netflix

    Douglas And Ressler Really Worked With A College Professor

    Robert Ressler and John Douglas weren't alone when they created their criminology guide. An entire unit at the FBI assisted with the data collected by the men. Similar to the Netflix series, the agents realized a forensic researcher could support them. Accordingly, the agents recruited Dr. Ann Burgess, whose work with survivors of violent sexual assaults inspired the developing study of profiling.

  • Like Holden, Douglas Was Always Busy
    Photo: Netflix

    Like Holden, Douglas Was Always Busy

    John Douglas said he enjoys Netflix's adaptation of his work. He also lauds his portrayal in the series. According to Douglas, he and Holden have numerous similarities. For example, Douglas said Holden is always "on the go," which is true of Douglas in real life.

    Douglas mentioned when he was in the military, he was working toward a college degree. When he worked for the FBI, he was in his master's program and constantly writing. Plus, Holden is soft-spoken and reserved, an observation people make of Douglas as well.

  • Douglas Thinks Holden Captures His Personality
    Photo: Netflix

    Douglas Thinks Holden Captures His Personality

    In an interview, John Douglas mentioned Holden's quiet, inquisitive, and straightforward personality represents his early career. Douglas said he and Robert Ressler needed to convince the old-schoolers at the FBI their profiling work was essential and useful.

    Netflix takes liberty with Holden's personal life, such as his involvement with Debbie, a sociology student. But overall, Holden's desire to establish a system to provide data-driven solutions to investigation parallels Douglas's motivation throughout his career.

  • Douglas Suffered Viral Encephalitis And PTSD Because Of His Work
    Photo: Netflix

    Douglas Suffered Viral Encephalitis And PTSD Because Of His Work

    During his challenging career as an FBI agent and criminal profiler, John Douglas endured a mental and physical toll. He suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and viral encephalitis, a swelling of the brain.

    Douglas's work wore him down, and he frequently had sleepless nights. He pushed through it for a while; soon after recovering from viral encephalitis, he helped identify Ted Kaczynski, the Unabomber. However, after a stressful, yet successful career, Douglas retired in 1995 at the age of 49.