Mysteries on the Small Screen: MINDHUNTER


Title: Mindhunter

Starring: Jonathan Groff, Holt McCallany, Hannah Gross, Anna Torv, Cotter Smith; featuring Sonny Valicenti

First Aired: 2017

Where you can watch it: Netflix (a second season is currently in production)


By 1977, crucial things had changed about postwar American life: decor had taken a turn towards wood paneling, and a teacher at Quantico changed the way we look at criminals forever.

In the age of what young FBI agent Holden Ford describes as “disco, poppers, and fern bars,” crime was definitely evolving. The series is based on Mind Hunter: Inside the FBI’s Elite Serial Crime Unit, published in the 1990s by FBI vet John Douglas, who recounts his involvement in the race to successfully profile those who would soon become known as serial killers. Holden Ford as the John Douglas character brings urgency and immediacy to the narrative. The show follows his travels across the country with his partner, Bill Tench, as they train local police departments on FBI techniques in what they call “road school,” and as they discover that rooting out this new breed of murderer can’t simply depend on old-school policing techniques. They pick up an ally in Wendy Carr, an academic whose insights propel them further forward, and together they form the new Behavioral Science Unit.

Road school with Bill and Holden

Road school offers the agents a unique opportunity to interview famous serial killers and to document their perspectives on the crimes they’ve committed, sending young Holden and Bill to prisons where legendary killers like Edmund Kemper, Jerry Brudos, and Richard Speck. Holden walks right on the edge of what the FBI considers appropriate behavior, using controversial methods to elicit responses from the killers. Between these encounters, they test their theories on recently committed crimes, attempting to apply the psychological profiles to suspects accused of various atrocities.

The action is interwoven with a number of personal storylines, chief among them Holden’s relationship with new girlfriend Debbie. Their romance is strained by Holden’s frequent absences and the demands of Debbie’s graduate school program, among other things. Bill’s family life is a shambles after he leaves crime scene photos unlocked in the house for his troubled adopted son to stumble upon. Wendy has left her girlfriend in Boston, and must hide her relationship from the FBI because of 1970s attitudes towards homosexuality. She’s also moved into an apartment where she feeds an unseen stray cat, whose ultimate fate is unknown. (Seems like foreshadowing!) Also, each episode is kicked off by a seemingly unrelated scene featuring an “ADT Repairman” of south central Kansas, played by Sonny Valicenti. Of course, this is no ordinary repairman—it’s Dennis Rader, the BTK Killer, who will be one of Holden Ford’s (John Douglas’) biggest cases.

Season two is currently in production and is said to pick up the action in 1979 with the Atlanta child murders.

Can’t wait? Here are some stories to experience before season two debuts:



Criminal, hosted by Phoebe Judge, takes a dive into true crime and punishment


Atlanta Monsterhosted by Payne Lindsey, will give you background on the Atlanta child murders



The Alienist, by Caleb Carr

Depraved murders in 1896 New York are investigated by a reporter and a psychologist using brand new methods. Adapted into a series on TNT.


The Cabinet of Curiosities, by Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child

A gruesome discovery of past murder leads to present mayhem, with a potentially immortal serial killer.


Deeper Than the Dead, by Tami Hoag

Someone’s killing women, and a teacher teams up with an FBI agent to profile and catch a serial killer that may live closer than they think.


The Naked Eye, by Iris and Roy Johansen

A supposedly executed serial killer appears to have orchestrated a diabolical game to trap the agent who brought him to justice.


The Shining Girls, by Lauren Beukes

A serial killer finds a mysterious portal in a depression-era Chicago house, then travels through time to kill young women.

About the Author:

Erin Downey Howerton is a public librarian in Kansas. Follow her on Twitter at @hybridlib.

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