After a two-year wait that felt like an eternity (in this social economy, anyway), Mindhunter is finally returning to Netflix on August 16. The second season of the series, produced by David Fincher (who also directed select episodes) and Charlize Theron, takes Agents Holden Ford (Jonathan Groff) and Bill Tench (Holt McCallany) – with the help of Dr. Wendy Carr (Anna Torv), of course – to Atlanta to investigate the infamous child murders that upended the city in the late ’70s. While that's the primary narrative of season two, we can still expect a handful of very interesting guest stars as Ford and Tench continue their interrogations of various high-profile murderers in their quest to develop the criminal profiling techniques that made their real-life counterparts famous (and eventually led to the publication of the book on which Mindhunter is based). This season's guest killers include Charles Manson, Son of Sam, and the return of Edmund Kemper, among others. To help you thoroughly prepare for the series' return this Friday, I've put together an unofficial Mindhunter companion – a guide to the various things you can (and should) listen to, watch, and read before and during season two. This guide is nowhere near definitive or complete, so feel free to pop some suggestions in the comments for your fellow true crime nerds.
The Atlanta Child Murders
The main focus of Mindhunter season two is the infamous serial murder case that rocked the city of Atlanta in the late ’70s and early ’80s. Agents Ford and Tench are sent to investigate a series of brutal slayings involving black children, which local law enforcement is keen to attribute to the KKK (for good reason) – but based on their expertise, Ford and Tench have a different idea, and one that's quite controversial given the nature of the crimes, which have heightened pre-existing racial tensions around the city. Mindhunter will certainly get into those social politics, but for a deeper dive into the Atlanta Child Murders, I highly recommend listening to Atlanta Monster, the podcast produced and hosted by Payne Lindsey of Up and Vanished fame. Lindsey speaks with a variety of folks, including those who grew up in Atlanta during the time of the murders, news anchors, members of law enforcement, and various experts, but his biggest get is Wayne Williams – the man whom local police believe to be responsible for over 28 murders. Williams was convicted of murdering two adults – whose deaths were included in that number – and is currently serving two consecutive life sentences, though he continues to maintain his innocence.
For his part, John Douglas (Ford's real-life counterpart) believes Williams is guilty of at least 11 of those murders, though he remains convinced that local law enforcement were all too eager to attribute many more murders to Williams. If binging the entire Atlanta Monster series is too much of a commitment for you, I suggest listening to Lindsey's recent hour-long interview with Douglas, available under the Atlanta Monster banner and available to stream wherever you listen to podcasts.
Multiple episodes of Mindhunter's first season included cold opens featuring a mysterious ADT security employee in Kansas. True crime aficionados likely recognized him immediately as Dennis Rader, aka the BTK Strangler. Rader operated in and around Wichita from 1974 to 1991, and dubbed himself "BTK" based on his "bind, torture, kill" method. Though he wasn't apprehended until the ’00s, he became a major source of fascination for Douglas and Robert Ressler (Tench's real-life counterpart). Rader was fond of taunting law enforcement via letters, not unlike the Zodiac killer – a season one episode of Mindhunter shows Rader, played by Sonny Valicenti, dropping one such letter in the mailbox.
Valicenti will reprise the role of Dennis Rader in season two, and though it's unclear exactly how Fincher & Co. have mapped out the remaining seasons (they have a five-season bible), BTK's involvement may increase in subsequent installments. For a thorough examination of BTK, look to Inside the Mind of BTK: The True Story Behind the Thirty-Year Hunt for the Notorious Wichita Serial Killer, authored by none other than John Douglas himself. Published in 2007, it's a riveting, intimate account of the pursuit of one of America's most infamous and brutal killers. (I've been falling asleep to the audiobook version on Audible for the past couple of weeks, and though it may not seem like it, that is an extremely high recommendation from me.)
The arrival of the notorious cult leader and career criminal is hardly a surprise: Ford made his fascination with Charles Manson well-known in season one, when he declared his eagerness to meet with and interview the madman who instructed his followers to embark on an infamous killing spree in 1969. Ford's wish is granted in season two, in which Manson is portrayed by Damon Herriman – the same actor who plays the cult leader in Quentin Tarantino's Once Upon a Time... In Hollywood. You may have already embarked on a Manson investigation of your own inspired by Tarantino's film (look at you, you little over-achiever), but for those of you wanting to learn more about Manson and his followers, head on over to your podcast weapon of choice and listen to the "Manson's Hollywood" series from You Must Remember This. Katrina Longworth examines Manson's life, criminal career, the various players in his orbit (some rather famous), his followers, and the horrific murders carried out on his orders. There's no shortage of Charles Manson #content out there, but Longworth's series is a deft exploration of a specific era and how one of America's most notorious boogeymen had a profound impact – not only on the lives of his followers and their victims, but Hollywood and hippie culture, as well. As an added bonus, the series features some very familiar voices, including Birth.Movies.Death pals Noah Segan and Sam Zimmerman.
Son of Sam
Let's take a brief detour away from podcasts and books, into the world of narrative cinema. The second season of Mindhunter also features a sit down with David Berkowitz, aka the Son of Sam killer. Of all of America's notorious serial killers, Berkowitz is one of the goofiest – no disrepsect to his very real victims and their surviving loved ones, but Berkowitz was far from the most prolific or even the most competent. The narcissism and desire for notoriety found in many serial killers manifested itself as an overtly craven need for gross fame in Berkowitz, whose claim that he killed on the orders of a neighbor's dog was dubious at best (it didn't stop reporters from latching on to that tidbit). Berkowitz held the city of New York in an increasingly paranoid vise grip throughout July of 1977 – a humid, tense summer captured perfectly in Spike Lee's Summer of Sam. Lee's film is the first thing that comes to mind when I hear the name "David Berkowitz"; for someone who wasn't alive in the ’70s, Summer of Sam felt incredibly instructive when I first caught it on home video. At 14, I was a burgeoning cinephile whose interest in true crime – stoked by my mom's tendency to fall asleep to Forensic Files – was well-established by that point. Summer of Sam was a beautiful marriage of these two interests, set to a soundtrack I was already familiar with through my dad's record collection.
The most thrilling moment in the trailer for Mindhunter season two is the return of Cameron Britton, whose first season performance as Edmund Kemper was both nerve-rattling and morbidly charming. To be clear: I am not a fan of Ed Kemper, but I do find him fascinating and I am absolutely enamored with Britton and his portrayal of the serial killer. Throughout season one, Ford and Tench spent many hours interviewing this living curio in an attempt to glean useful information for their criminal profiling enterprise. Despite his showboating, Kemper was quite helpful – and weirdly friendly. I wasn't the only one charmed by the guy; Ford learned the hard way that he shouldn't let his guard down too much with his interview subjects, and his extremely close encounter with Kemper later in the season was easily the most terrifying moment (Dr. Wendy's basement laundry room aside). In the trailer for season two, it's Kemper who tells Ford that Manson is a small guy and warns the FBI profiler not to stare. Kemper's Lecter-esque analytical skills are indeed true to life; not only was he extremely intelligent, but the killer idolized law enforcement and desperately wanted to be a state trooper. And although he didn't make the cut (he was too tall), he spent a lot of time palling around with cops in the Jury Room – a local bar in his hometown of Santa Cruz, California.
We learned quite a bit about Kemper's gruesome crimes and his upbringing in the first season of Mindhunter, but there's quite a bit more where that came from. While many true crime podcasts have covered Kemper, my favorite has to be The Last Podcast on the Left's two-part series from 2015. Hosts Ben Kissel, Marcus Parks, and Henry Zebrowski deliver a detailed and oft-humorous account of Kemper's life, including his horrible childhood, the early warning signs (of which there were plenty), and the series of murders that culminated in the brutal slaying of his own mother. As with every episode, these are exceedingly well-researched and informed – and very funny. Horror and humor are two sides of the same visceral coin, and few podcasts successfully marry the two together so effortlessly and appropriately.
In the years since they took the FBI's behavioral science unit to the next level, John Douglas and Robert Ressler have published several books between them – including Mindhunter: Inside the FBI's Elite Serial Crime Unit, on which the series is based. Co-authored by Douglas and frequent collaborator Mark Olshaker, Mindhunter takes a closer look at numerous high-profile cases like the Atlanta Child Murders and serial killers like Robert Hansen and Larry Gene Bell. That book is basically a gateway drug, and thankfully Douglas' entire bibliography is easy to acquire. I recommend The Cases That Haunt Us, which includes Douglas' thoughts on the Black Dahlia, Jack the Ripper, and the murder of JonBenét Ramsey (on which Douglas actually consulted; his opinions are... interesting). There's also The Killer Across the Table, which was published just this year and sees Douglas revisiting "greatest hits" like BTK, Son of Sam, Charles Manson – basically all the guys you'll see on Mindhunter. That one may seem a bit redundant if you've read his other prominent books, but it's worth an Audible listen (at the very least) for a couple of reasons: First, to hear how Douglas' views on these particular crimes have or haven't changed in the intervening years, and second, to have the book read to you by Douglas' fictional counterpart, Jonathan Groff (as such, it's been another go-to for my bedtime listening).
On the fictional end of things, Douglas was the basis for Jack Crawford in Thomas Harris' Hannibal Lecter novels, and he inspired the character of Will Graham on Bryan Fuller's Hannibal series (played by Hugh Dancy). That latter piece of trivia is more fascinating to me, as Douglas' real-life struggles with autoimmune encephalitis figure prominently into establishing the series' distinctly harrowing surreality in the first season; Douglas' health struggles were also seemingly alluded to near the end of Mindhunter's first season.
Last, but far from least, is the document that started it all: Crime Classification Manual: A Standard for Investigating and Classifying Violent Crime, written by Douglas, Ressler, and Ann W. Burgess (who loosely inspired Mindhunter's Dr. Wendy Carr, played by Anna Torv). If you really want to get into the nerdy nitty-gritty of behavioral science and criminal profiling, this is the holy grail.