Mindhunter: 7 Characters That Were Based On Real People (And 3 That Are Completely Fictional)

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Many fans who are interested in thrillers and drama inspired by true crime turn to this story for their morbid fix, but we wonder… which characters in it were based on actual people, and which ones were made up just to entertain us? Here are 7 characters on Mindhunter who were based on real life detectives or criminals and 3 more who are purely fictional.

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10 Based On Reality: Holden Ford

Jonathan Groff portrays Special Agent Holden Ford in this series, and this character is based on a real person named John E. Douglas. Douglas was an FBI special agent and unit chief, and he is indeed credited with being an initial criminal profiler.

He joined the FBI in 1970, started the Criminal Profiling Program, got promoted to the Investigative Support Unit, wrote books on criminal psychology, and eventually retired. In reality, he is also married to a woman named Pamela. Together, they have three kids: Erika, Lauren, and John, Jr. (Jed). 

9 Based On Reality: Bill Tench

In Mindhunter, Holt McCallany plays Bill Tench, and this character is based on Robert Ressler. He was in the Army then joined the FBI, where he focused on psychological profiling and came up with the term "serial killer”. He too wrote several books on this topic and similar ones, then he retired in 1990.

Ressler had a wife named Helen, a son (Lt. Col. Aaron R. Ressler), two daughters (Allison R. Tsiumis and Betsy S. Hamlin), as well as grandchildren and step-grandchildren. He passed away in 2013 due to Parkinson's Disease. 

8 Based On Reality: Wendy Carr

Up next is Anna Torv’s character, Wendy Carr, who is inspired by Ann Wolbert Burgess: a researcher and professor. In real life, she did work with these men within the FBI, but some parts of her story on this TV show were added in and changed.

For instance, she did not actually make an official move to Quantico, she is a psychiatric nurse practitioner (not a psychologist), and she is not gay (she is married to a man, with children, as reported by Pacific Standard).

7 Based On Reality: Ed Kemper 

Of course, there are several offenders in this television series that are based on real-life killers, as well, like Ed Kemper. With a height of 6’9” and an IQ of 145, Kemper was really the Co-Ed Killer, who zeroed in on young women.

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After being caught, he requested the death penalty but California did not allow capital punishment at this time. He instead got eight life sentences and is currently in the California Medical Facility. And in this version of his story, Cameron Britton does almost too good of a job playing him!

6 Based On Reality: Charles Manson 

Many crime fanatics were anxious to see Damon Herriman in this season of Mindhunter. On this show, he portrays one of the best-known criminals of all time, and he also played this character in the movie Once Upon a Time in Hollywood: Charles Manson.

Manson led his Family, which notably took the lives of nine people in 1969. Due to his involvement, he was sentenced to death then got a life sentence instead, which he served at the California State Prison until he passed away in 2017.

5 Based On Reality: Son of Sam 

Several other notable serial killers are seen in this television show, like Son of Sam. This man’s real name is David Richard Berkowitz, and he was also known as the .44 Caliber Killer since he was charged with eight shooting attacks in 1976.

As mentioned in the show, he also sent letters that mocked the police and that were made widely known about by the press. He is currently serving six consecutive life sentences, and Oliver Cooper does a great job portraying him in Mindhunter. 

4 Based On Reality: BTK 

One more real person from this series to discuss is Dennis Rader, the BTK Strangler (which stands for bind, torture, kill). He took the lives of ten people in and around Wichita, Kansas, and this happened from 1974 to 1991.

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He also sent mocking letters to police and newspapers, and they picked up again in 2004. He was arrested in 2005 and got ten consecutive life sentences, which he is serving at the El Dorado Correctional Facility in Kansas. And in this hit series, Sonny Valicenti portrays this infamous man.

3 Made Up: Debbie Mitford

Remember Debbie Mitford? In Season 1, she was Ford's girlfriend. She was a graduate student who was studying sociology at the University of Virginia. And she was portrayed by an actress named Hannah Gross who has been in plays, films and other TV shows such as The Sinner and Deadwax.

As far as the world knows, though, this character was made up to add in some more drama and romance. In real life, the inspiration for Ford’s character, John E. Douglas, is married to someone named Pamela and has three children with her. 

2 Made Up: Kay Mason

Another girlfriend on this television show is Kay Mason, who is portrayed by Lauren Glazier - an actress who has appeared in commercials, music videos, shows and movies like Gone Girl and Red Sparrow. This season, Wendy Carr met her at a bar, went bowling with her, did more than that with her.

But, as stated up above, this is a made-up detail for this exciting story. In reality, the inspiration for this role, Ann Wolbert Burgess, is married to a man and has kids with him.

1 Made Up: Brian Tench

A large part of this season focused on Bill’s adopted son, Brian, who is played by Zachary Scott Ross, whose only acting credit is Mindhunter. Spoiler Alert Within this story, a toddler’s body is found in a house that Nancy, Bill’s wife in the show, is selling. It turns out that Brian knew about the toddler and even suggested placing the body on a cross.

Did this really happen? Well, in reality, Robert Ressler, who Bill’s character is based on, had a son named Aaron. He is a lieutenant colonel, and no reports of this happening in Ressler's real life exist. 

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