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Tuesday 17 September 2019

Mindhunter season 2: The terrifying real serial killers profiled in new season of hit Netflix show

The Atlanta Child Murders, Son of Sam, and Charles Manson feature in the second season

Police mug shot showing the front view and profile of convicted New York City serial killer David Berkowitz, known as the 'Son of Sam'.
Police mug shot showing the front view and profile of convicted New York City serial killer David Berkowitz, known as the 'Son of Sam'.
Aoife Kelly

Aoife Kelly

It has been a long two years since Netflix original series Mindhunter landed on the streaming service to rave reviews from critics and fans alike (it currently has impressive 97 per cent and 95 per cent ratings respectively on Rotten Tomatoes) and the highly-anticipated second season is finally set to land on August 16.

Based on the true crime book Mindhunter: Inside the FBI’s Elite Serial Crime Unit by John E Douglas and Mark Olshaker, the first run charted the origins of criminal profiling in the US in the late 70s and featured dramatisations of real interviews conducted with some of the States’ most terrifying serial killers including Ed Kemper (The Co-ed Killer), Rickard Speck, Dennis Rader (BTK Killer) and Jerry Bruder in the hope of understanding what made them tick, knowledge that could then be applied to solving ongoing cases. 

The highly anticipated second season picks up two years later, when those profiling techniques begin to inform how cases are tackled.  FBI agents Holden Ford (Jonathan Groff), who is based on John E Douglas, and Bill Tench (Holt McCallany) return alongside psychologist Wendy Carr (Anna Torv) and there are more fascinating interviews with yet more disturbed minds to unfold across ten episodes.

Edmund Kemper, as chillingly yet charmingly portrayed by the actor Cameron Britton (who earned an Emmy nomination for his turn), returns to help the agents to prepare for an interview with the notorious Charles Manson.  The just-released trailer for the season sees Kemper warn Holden, "Manson is small.  Like, really small.  Try not to stare."  Manson was, in fact, 5’2” tall.

Read more: In praise of Mindhunter's skillful portrayal of America's most charming maniac - serial killer Ed Kemper 

While the first season focused on the development of profiling within the FBI, the second sees serial killers become part of the public consciousness with the Atlanta Child Murders, Son of Sam and Charles Manson.

“In the 70s, post-Manson, post-Son of Sam, post-Zodiac, there really was, I don’t think you can say it was an epidemic, but there was definitely the feeling that the notion of this has gotten away from us,” producer/director David Fincher told KCRW’s The Treatment podcast.

“There was this transition. I remember it happening with Son of Sam. When I left the Bay Area in the mid 1970s and our parents moved to Oregon, you go 300 miles north and nobody talked about Zodiac. It had been this festering thing that had never been brought to any kind of closure but no one cared about it [outside of the Bay Area]. Then Son of Sam came, and it was Newsweek and Time, the cover.”

Charles Manson

Charles Manson is escorted to his arraignment (AP)

In Mindhunter, Manson is played by Australian actor Damon Herriman who also portrays the notorious cult leader in Quentin Tarantino’s latest big screen outing, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.  In the latter he plays a younger version of Manson, in 1969, while we meet the Manson of Mindhunter in 1980, around the time of the Atlanta Child Murders (more on those below), at a time when Manson had already been imprisoned for a decade.

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Damon Herriman as Charles Manson in Mindhunter season 2. PIC: Netflix

The real Manson, who died in 2017 after more than four decades in prison, was one of the most notorious serial killers in history. 

After an early life spent in and out of jail he began circulating in the music industry in LA, writing songs for other artists, before reinventing himself as something of a philosopher.  In mid-1967 he formed the Manson Family, a California based commune, where he attracted a following of mostly disaffected young women.  He became obsessed with The Beatles White album and particularly the song Helter Skelter which he interpreted as signalling an upcoming race war. 

Charles Manson followers, from left, Susan Atkins, Patricia Krenwinkel and Leslie Van Houten (George Brich/AP)

Two years later his devoted followers had between them killed nine people across four different locations, including the actress Sharon Tate, who was eight and a half months pregnant at the time with her film director husband Roman Polanski (he was out of the country at the time).  Tate and four others were brutally killed at her home.  The following night Manson's followers killed supermarket chain owner Leno LaBianca and his wife, Rosemary.  The previous month they had killed musician Gary Hinman.

This week marks the 50th anniversary of those killings and Manson continues to fascinate.  Tarantino was six years old when the murders happened and said 1969 was "the year that formed me".  Manson was ultimately convicted at the age of 36, after a seven-month trial, of first-degree murder and conspiracy along with three of his followers (Susan Atkins, Patricia Krenwinkel, and Leslie Van Houten) for the killings of Sharon Tate and six others.

Read more: Watch the real life serial killer interviews that inspired new Netflix series Mindhunter

Wayne Williams

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Wayne Williams' mugshot. Fulton County Police

While Charles Manson is a name familiar to most, Wayne Williams is less so, despite the fact he is believed by police to have been responsible for multiple murders. 

The Atlanta Child Murders plagued the city of Atlanta, Georgia between 1979 and 1981. Twenty-eight African American children, teenagers, and young adults were murdered over the course of those three years.   The case features heavily in the second season of Mindhunter.

“You could probably do three seasons on the Atlanta Child Murders,” said Fincher.  “It’s a huge and sweeping and tragic story. We couldn’t do it justice in the background of our nine hours.”

The murders began in 1979 with two boys, one 13 and one 14, who disappeared within four days of each other and whowse bodies were found together.  By the end of the year there were three more victims and by the following summer there had been nine children killed.  Parents panicked and stopped allowing their children to play outside.  A curfew was even imposed by the city.

Eventually the FBI became involved, with FBI profiler John Douglas (on whom the character Holden Ford is based in Mindhunter) heading up they investigation.  He asserted that the killer was African American as a white man would have had difficulty getting access to the children without raising suspicion. 

By May 1981 there had been 28 murders, with some of the bodies recovered from the local river so police began staking out the local bridges.  On one occasion an officer heard a splash in the river and police stopped a car being driven past by Williams.  They let him go but retrieved fibres from his car. 

Two days later the body of 27-year-old Nathanial Carter washed up nearby.  Police arrested Williams and he was subsequently found guilty of the murders of Carter and another man, Jimmy Ray Payne (21), and was sentenced to two life sentences.  Police suspect he is connected to more killings, but he maintains his innocence and has never been tried or convicted of any of the children's murders.  He claims the police covered up KKK involvement in order to avoid a race war in the city.

In March this year 22 cases which were closed after Williams' convictions were reopened in the hope that modern day DNA techniques could answer lingering questions.  Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms told the New York Times that she hoped the new investigation will "help bring some peace to the families who for so long have felt like they were forgotten".

Read more: Mindhunter star Holt McCallany on channelling his late Irish father for role in hit new Netflix series

David Berkowitz (aka Son of Sam)

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Police mug shot showing the front view and profile of convicted New York City serial killer David Berkowitz, known as the 'Son of Sam'.

Prior to the Atlanta Child Murders, New York was haunted by its own serial killer.  Over the course of 13 months between 1976 and 1977, David Berokowitz went on a murder spree, with eight separate shootings across Queens, Brooklyn and the Bronx.  He murdered six people, blinded another and left another victim paralyzed before he was apprehended. 

For his first murder attempt in 1975 he used a knife and injured two young women.  A year later he switched to a handgun and shot and injured a young couple who were sitting in a car.  A month later he approached two more young women and asked for directions before shooting them, but they both survived.  Police established that the bullets from both shootings were all from a .44 calibre revolver.

David Berkowitz

In April 1977 he shot another young couple, resulting in the death of Christine Freund, who was 26.  Police found that the bullets were from the same gun as used in the previous attacks and realised they were dealing with a serial killer.

During this time the 24-year-old postal clerk taunted police with letters signed ‘Son of Sam’, which he also later sent to newspapers, causing mass hysteria among the public and sparking the biggest manhunt in the history of the NYPD.  An Irish American cop, Timothy J Dowd, who was tasked with tracking him down as the spree progressed, featured in a TG4 documentary, Son of Kerry, Son of Sam, last year.

Berkowitz’s final victims were Stacey Moskowitz and her boyfriend Robert Violante who he shot while they were kissing in a parked car in Brooklyn in 1977.  They were both 20 and only Robert survived. 

The killer was finally tracked down thanks to a $35 parking fine he had picked up while his Ford Galaxie was parked on the street prior to that final attack.  A witness who remembered seeing him parked near the crime scene and getting that parking ticket called the police four days later.  They tracked him down by tracing all of the tickets issued in the area that night.

Forty two years ago this week he was caught outside his Yonkers apartment.  He explained that ‘Sam’ was his neighbour Sam Carr, who he believed was an agent of the devil transmitting his commands through his pet black labrador.  However, he was found competent to stand trial and later admitted the dog story was fabricated.

Berkowitz is still in prison, serving more than 300 years in total due to consecutive sentences. 

Mindhunter season 2 lands on Netflix on August 16.

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