4 Things To Know About John E. Douglas Before Binging Netflix's 'Mindhunter'

Merrick Morton/Netflix

Mindhunter is sure to be Netflix's next big binge-able crime show. The 1970s-set series focuses on FBI agents inside the Behavioral Science Unit, the first to use criminal psychological profiling to aid investigations. The members of the bureau's technical approach to interviewing and analyzing serial killers and repeat offenders was a new way of doing things at the time and while the show isn't a documentary, it does have a real-life basis. John E. Douglas was an initial developer of the criminal profiling practice and the series centers on the approach he helped innovate. But where is John E. Douglas now? Jonathan Groff plays a fictionalized version of him in the form of a character named Holden Ford. Douglas literally wrote the book on criminal psychology and his findings and contributions are legendary within the field.

Mind Hunter: Inside the FBI's Serial Crime Unit is John Douglas' true accounts of his on-the-job experience, co-written with author and filmmaker Mark Olshanker. While Netflix's Mindhunter is still a fictional drama, it does use some "verbatim" serial killer interview material for its script, according to producer and director David Fincher. Before you watch the show, get to know the real-life Mind Hunter himself.

He's a Pioneer in the Field
mindhunter on Instagram

John Douglas worked for 25 years getting inside the minds of serial killers and criminals in order to assist with investigations. It was a unique approach back in the '70s, but it became more popular as time went on. “I conducted the research, not from a rehabilitation perspective, but from an investigative perspective,” he has said of his philosophy. “It was considered innovative, but to me, it was basic. If you want to learn about violent crime, talk to the experts: the criminals perpetrating rapes, arsons and serial homicides.

He Has Interviewed Dozens of Criminals
MindhuntersInc on YouTube

To call John Douglas a serial killer expert is an understatement. According to his bio, "he has confronted, interviewed, and studied dozens of serial killers and assassins for a landmark study." Among the notorious names involved in his studies are Charles Manson, John Wayne Gacy, and “Son of Sam” David Berkowitz.

"What I've always said is, 'to understand the artist, you must look at the art work,'" Douglas told Salon in a 1999 interview.

He's Assisted in More Recent High-Profile Cases
Patrick Harbron/Netflix

Since retiring from the FBI, Douglas has lent his expertise to a handful of cases that most people would be aware of. In 1997, he investigated the JonBenet Ramsey case came to a different conclusion then police, telling Dateline that he ruled out Jon and Patsy Ramseys' involvement in the murder. ''If they are responsible for the killing, they are tremendous liars," he said. They have since been cleared. Douglas also worked with members of the defense team for the freed West Memphis Three and wrote about that case extensively in his book "Law & Disorder."

He's Had an Effect on Entertainment

Not only is Netflix's Mindhunter adapted from his own book and Groff's character loosely based on him, there are other ways the Douglas story has been used in popular culture. The character of Agent Jack Crawford, from Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal and Red Dragon, was modeled after him. Douglas also consulted on Peter Jackson's The Lovely Bones, advising Stanley Tucci on his character. And there probably wouldn't be Jason Gideon and Criminal Minds without his bureau's existence. Douglas has also co-authored almost a dozen books on criminal psychology, motives, methodology, and related subjects.

Even though Netflix's Mindhunter is just an adaptation within the crowded true crime genre, it looks like it's going to be a gripping insider chronicle of a dark and unsettling world audiences are very already interested in visiting... from the comfort of their own couches, of course.