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Mindhunter has prided itself on being a series that draws from real-life FBI investigations and interviews with convicts like Charles Manson, Ed Kemper, and, most recently, Wayne Bertram Williams, who was arrested for the Atlanta Child Murders. While the series has kept its focus on fact-based storylines, that wasn’t the case when it came to Agent Bill Tench’s son Brian in Season 2. During the season, Brian was involved in the death of a toddler and showed signs of ultimately becoming a serial killer himself. But was any of what happened with Tench’s son real? Since Tench is based on FBI Agent Robert Ressler, all evidence points to no, but that doesn’t mean that Brian’s storyline doesn’t take its cue from another real-life case.
Season 2 of Mindhunter expanded upon the backstories and personal lives of Tench, played by Holt McCallany, and Wendy Carr, played by Anna Torv. In the first season, Tench mentioned that Brian doesn’t really talk, which immediately raised red flags. Fast forward two years later to Season 2 and Tench finds out that his son was involved in the accidental death of a toddler. The worst part of the whole thing was that Brian's the one who suggested the other kids put the toddler on a cross and then he stood by and watched while the other boys put a cloth over the toddler’s head, suffocating him. It’s pretty traumatic stuff.
However, Brian’s story doesn’t track with any of the real-life characters. For one, Robert Ressler had three kids instead of one, none of which were adopted, and his only son was never involved in any kind of murder that we know of. In Season 2, Tench spends a lot of time worrying about Brian and whether he’s showing the early tendencies of a serial killer. It’s a lot to take in and Brian, Tench, and his wife, Nancy (played by Stacey Roca) have to deal with a variety of psychological counseling and surprise social services visits. Nancy -- who pleaded with Tench to take some much-needed time off to be with his son -- eventually packed up her stuff and moved out of their house with Brian, leaving Tench behind.
So, where does Brian’s story come from? A new report (via TheWrap) claims that the Mindhunter story actually shares many similarities with a 1971 case that involves two young brothers who admitted to beating a 20-month-old child to death because he wouldn’t stop crying. The San Francisco murder, labeled “the crucifixion murder” -- which came to light by way of PBS’ Frontline report -- raised eyebrows because it paralleled the storyline done on the show so closely. Of course, none of this has actually been confirmed by showrunner Joe Penhall, but it seems clear the writers were drawing from actual events.
Even with the presumed confirmation that the storyline was adapted from true events, Mindhunter was able to change it to fit Tench’s storyline and it worked within the framework of the show. We spent a large part of Season 2 wondering what Brian’s involvement in the murder would mean for him and Tench down the line. Given that Tench deals with the psychology of serial killers on a daily basis, it’s interesting to see what that might mean for him now that it’s happening with his son.