- Chromosome Casting: So far, all the incarcerated killers interviewed or studied are men, primarily men who murdered women and girls. Truth in television, more or less, as the real-life FBI unit focused almost exclusively on male offenders, with female ones being little more than a footnote.
- Consulting a Convicted Killer: Why they talk with these nutters. Unlike in the most common version of the trope, their intention is to get a general understanding of serial killers and maybe use that to catch them in the future, rather than catching one particular serial killer now.
- Historical Domain Character: All the incarcerated criminals interviewed for the study are real.
- Mean Character, Nice Actor: The show's casting director, Laura Mayfield, stresses that the actual men playing these serial killers are kind, respectful, hard-working people. Presumably this is to avoid Actor/Role Confusion given how unpleasant the men they're depicting are.
- Serial Killer: Most of them, but not all.
- Serial Rapist: Kemper, Rissell, and Brudos.
Individual Serial Killers
A mixed organized-disorganized killer who shot eight couples in New York City between 1976 and 1977. His arrest spurs Holden's interest in researching the motives of killers.
- Affably Evil: Berkowitz is surprisingly forthcoming about his murders and methods with Holden and Bill, helping them to understand BTK. He's not exactly genial or charismatic, but he's not antagonistic.
- Appeal to Flattery: Holden makes him confess his true motive by implying that people will remember him as some madman who took orders from a dog, Berkowitz's face betrays that the idea really wounds his pride, and after some hesitation he admits that he made the part about hearing voices up to make his killings appear more interesting.
- Armor-Piercing Question: Bill disarms him when he asks him why he "absurdly" gave the rights to a movie about his life to some stranger for free. After that, he can only repeat that he has an ongoing legal dispute with that man to recover them.
- Attention Whore: He was outraged when his murders were initially reported as simple sex crimes, and created the Son of Sam persona to gain control over his image.
- Ax-Crazy: Originally, he claimed to carry the murders on behalf of a dog, and everyone was at a loss to find a motive. However, the team rules that he made up the story for attention and to prepare an insanity defense that was later abandoned.
- Bait-and-Switch: When asked if he took souvenirs from the crime scenes, he nods his head in acquiescense, then says no.
- Compensating for Something: While he was at large, the press speculated that he shot up women as a substitute for having sex with them. He was so livid with this (and still is) that he contacted the media and fed them the possession story to redirect their focus. However, he is made to admit that the crimes were indeed sexual... and Bill has a chuckle pointing that he chose a .44.
- A Date with Rosie Palms: He confesses to masturbating after visiting his crime scenes, but only after he got back into his apartment.
- Demonic Possession: He claimed to be possessed by a demon when he did his murders... or commanded by a dog possessed by a demon. It's all very confusing.
- The Dreaded: His arrest is the big news story at the time of the series debut. Upon interviewing him, Tench notes that he held an entire city in terror in a way no other killer in history achieved.
- The Ghost: The team can't interview him while his trial is underway in Season 1, but they do in season 2.
- Hand Cannon: For some reason, he chose the largest caliber he could buy (.44) for his attacks.
- Hidden Depths: In a more negative variation than usual, he turns out to be neither (conventionally) insane nor possessed by a dog, but to have an agenda. He's also quite personable for a feared Serial Killer.
- Hollywood Dateless: At one point, he describes himself as what would be called an "incel" today.
- I Just Want to Be Special: Yet some others believed that he did it for the wealth and notoriety, leading to the passing of a law that bans criminals from profiting off their crimes.
- Obfuscating Insanity: After a bit of prodding by Holden, he admits the entire story about demons was made up.note
- Psychotic Smirk: He makes it when he drops the possession/insanity story and comes up clean with his acts.
- Red Baron: Known as the "Son of Sam", the name he claimed in his taunting letters. Bill prefers "The Chubby Behemoth".
- Returning to the Scene: He did this. Not to hide evidence as usual, but to drive pleasure by reliving the crimes.
- "Scooby-Doo" Hoax: The claims of being possessed were just an attempt to be feared.
Edmund "Ed" Kemper
- Abhorrent Admirer: To any girl he might be interested in when he was out. He also looks like one when he keeps writing letters to Holden after he makes a name for himself... but his intentions are a lot darker than that.
- Abusive Parents: His mother bullied and abused him psychologically while she was alive.
- Affably Evil: Kemper might be the most likable and personable rapist and murderer out there. He's polite, articulate, honest, forthcoming, insightful, quick-witted and despite his size, he's adept at disarming people who have every reason to be on their guard. Even Bill Tench likes him to a certain degree, and Ed seems to genuinely consider Ford to be his friend. It's suggested that the feeling might be somewhat mutual.
- Armor-Piercing Response: When asked about the BTK killer, he infers that the killer is probably living a perfectly normal cover over an elaborate and depraved fantasy life, and as such, will be nigh-impossible to catch. Holden shuts this argument down by pointing out that all the killers they've met have been dysfunctional wrecks who have slipped up under pressure, leading Kemper to make this astute observation:Kemper: Seems like all you know about serial killers has been gleaned from the ones who've been caught.
- Badass Boast: "I could kill you now, pretty easily. Do some interesting things before anyone showed up. Then you'd be with me in spirit."
- Batman Gambit: See Wounded Gazelle Gambit.
- Big Eater: That body doesn't live off the air. Having made friends with the commissary staff and guards, several of the interviews with Kemper involve him sharing a meal with the agents.
- Breakout Character: Both character and actor have been universally lauded as the highlights of the first season.
- Bullying a Dragon: His mother was horribly abusive, and continued to goad him well after he had grown into a giant and was a known murderer. No guesses what happened to her.
- The Butcher: One of his nicknames is "The Co-Ed Butcher" because he killed college girls and dismembered them.
- Card-Carrying Villain: When asked for suggestions on how the FBI should deal with people like him, unlike other interviewees who blame their upbringing or society or are interested in a cure, Kemper calmly suggests Lobotomy or "death by torture" as their surest bet.
- Cardboard Prison: The first time Holden goes to see him in prison, he is forced to sign a waiver freeing the prison of any responsibility if he is killed or maimed. We then see Kemper being led in by a single prison guard who's two-thirds his size at best. It is very obvious that he could break out any time if he wanted to, and that's before we also learn that he is very intelligent and a Manipulative Bastard who effectively talked his way in and out of a mental institution before.
- Control Freak: Downplayed in that he keeps it hidden under his polite, genial facade, manifesting itself from their very first meeting: ordering an egg salad sandwich for Holden and getting him to eat it without ever asking if he wants to. The constant putting of hands on Holden probably has more to do with this than with being friendly. And when he learns that Holden has been mentioning their "relationship" outside, he doesn't like it at all and concocts an elaborate plan to punish him.
- Dark and Troubled Past: He was forced to stop seeing his father at a young age; insulted and imprisoned in the basement by his mother while he was growing up, who was convinced he was going to become a rapist when he was only ten years old, and thought she had to keep him from having contact with other people. He had no friends, could not see girls and even his mother's cats didn't like him. When he was fifteen, he murdered his grandparents and was secluded in a mental hospital until he was an adult.
- Decapitation Presentation: He beheaded his victims before raping them, then took the heads home and planted them in his mother's rose garden right under her window."know it's silly, but Mom always liked people to look up to her."
- The Dreaded: Not nearly as famous as Manson or Berkowitz, but everyone is instantly horrified after hearing what he is capable of.
- Even Evil Has Standards: Like everything about Kemper, they're supremely fucked up standards, but he still shows an explicit distaste for Charles Manson. He despises Manson's lies and seems disgusted by the fact that Manson didn't kill anyone with his own hands. Ed refers to Manson dismissively as "the charlatan".
- Evil-Detecting Dog: His mother's cats avoided him as a child.
- Evil Is Bigger: 6 foot 9 (2 meters tall) and 250 to 300 pounds (120 to 130 kilos).
- Foreshadowing: Bill's warning at the motel and every time Kemper puts his hand on Holden during their kitchen meetings presage what happens at their meeting in the hospital room.
- Freakier Than Fiction: The real Kemper is even taller and much more muscular than Britton.
- Freudian Excuse: He was bullied by his mother and shunned by everybody because of his size.
- Gentle Giant: A king-size subversion. Due to Kemper's impressive size, he has obviously tailored his mannerisms to come across as harmless and affable as possible — all the better to make friends with cops and disarm his victims, who were petite young women.
- Genius Bruiser: The largest and the most intelligent of the killers seen in the show, if not all characters.
- Hidden Depths: His intelligence, manipulativeness, easy way with words, and of course, how dangerous he actually is. He repeatedly makes others underestimate him.
- I Just Want to Be Normal: His life was basically ruined by his mother and his own size. When he applied to join the SCPD, the department was more concerned with his height than with his juvenile murder record, and was eventually turned down on that alone.
- I Have You Now, My Pretty: After being left alone with Holden in a hospital room, whose security is obviously much more lax than the prison.
- I Love the Dead: He raped his victims after killing and dismembering them.
- Manipulative Bastard: He was friends with everyone at the SCPD and nobody there had an idea that he was a serial killer until he personally called them and surrendered. It seems that he could befriend and lead anyone to a false sense of security until they are vulnerable, if he wanted to, and that this was how he provided his victims back in the day.
- No, Mr. Bond, I Expect You to Dine: No, Mr. Ford, I expect you to eat an egg salad sandwich. No, Mr. Ford, now I expect you to get a hug.
- Reality Ensues: He's a psychopathic serial killer, Holden. Keep an exit open when you meet him.
- Red Baron: Called "The Co-Ed Killer" or "The Co-Ed Butcher".
- Self-Made Orphan: His first victims were his grandparents, and his last was his mother.
- Soft-Spoken Sadist: His mild mannerisms contrast with his frank discussion of his rapes and murders.
- Survivorship Bias: Amazingly, he's the first person to point out the critical hole in the team's methods: they can only interview killers sloppy enough to get caught. Just because they can't interview serial killers who can fake normalcy doesn't mean those killers don't exist. While he never brings it up, Kemper lived a perfectly normal cover life before turning himself in.
- Teen Genius: When he was bored of the mental hospital, he memorized the question results that would get him discharged and used them.
- Troubling Unchildlike Behavior: He dismembered and decapitated his sister's dolls, and fatally shot his grandparents when he was fifteen.
- Very Loosely Based on a True Story: In reality, the Season One finale meeting took place in the prison and was with Bill's loose Real Life counterpart, not Holden's. Also, his suicide attempt happened in a separate incident in 1974; it also wasn't meant to lure anyone to him.
- Villain with Good Publicity: Nobody in the college or the SCPD suspected him while he was at large.
- We Are Everywhere: He tells Holden that there are more serial killers than he thinks out there. And that they only have info about those they caught.
- Wounded Gazelle Gambit: When he wants to take Holden down a peg, he names him his "next of kin" and cuts his arm with a pen case. As predicted, Holden flies immediately to meet him in his hospital room, where security is incredibly lax compared to the prison and the only thing holding him in place is an ankle chain long enough to let him move freely in the room.
A juvenile serial rapist that later went on to murder five women in Alexandria, Virginia, between 1976 and 1977.
- Abusive Parents: His actual parents were okay, but then they divorced, his mother took him to California, and she married an abusive asshole named Hank.
- Berserk Button: Feeling powerless in the presence of, and lied to by women. His first fatal victim was a woman who tried to fake that she was enjoying the rape, in an attempt to get it over with quickly. He went bonkers instead.
- Dark and Troubled Past: Ignored by his mother, abused by his stepfather, and betrayed by his girlfriend.
- Delinquent: A thief and rapist since he hit puberty.
- Even Evil Has Standards: He let go a would-be victim who claimed to have to take care of her father with cancer, because he had a brother who died from it.
- The Friend Nobody Likes: He claims his cousin was this. So much, that when he shot his cousin in the ass, everybody applauded.
- He-Man Woman Hater: He has nothing but contempt for females.
- Parental Neglect: From his mother.
- Pet the Dog: His releasing a would-be victim because of her cancer-stricken father might count. Bill is understandably skeptical about just how genuine this act of "mercy" was.
- Ripped from the Headlines: In-universe. Wendy selects him for an interview because he's just been convicted. Today he is forgotten.
- Serious Business: Every time he meets with the FBI, he demands a can of Big Red, a soda brand not marketed in the area the prison is in.
- Sir Swears-a-Lot: The pottiest mouth in the series.
- Small Reference Pools: The big aversion. He is an incredibly obscure serial killer, but he is real. A very surprising choice to portray just after Kemper.
- Spell My Name with an "S": His first name is spelled Montie.
- Start of Darkness: Hard to name it this given that he was already a serial rapist, but he only started murdering when his one-year-older girlfriend left for college, told him she wanted to see other people in a letter, and he drove there and saw her making out with another guy.
- Teens Are Monsters: Committed his first rape at 14, and he was constantly in and out of probation, counseling and therapy as a teen.
- Troubling Unchildlike Behavior: He was bought a BB gun at age seven, and given alcohol and weed by his brother and sister while he was growing up. When he was ten, he shot his cousin in the ass.
- The Un Favourite: Claims to be this growing up.
- Unreliable Narrator: He sees what his girlfriend did as cheating, but the truth is that she had already broken up with him.
Jerome "Jerry" Brudos
A fetishist killer who abducted, raped and murdered four women in Oregon between 1968 and 1969.
- Affectionate Nickname: His ex-wife calls him "Jerr".
- Bad Liar: Unlike Kemper, he refuses to take personal responsibility for any of his crimes, professing to be the victim of police coercion and the vindictiveness of his ex-wife. However, he can't resist the chance to relive his crimes by recounting them, so every word out of his mouth about the women he killed makes it perfectly clear both to the agents and the audience that he's responsible. It's arguable to what extent he cares about what the agents believe, since he seems to understand that there's a very low chance of him ever getting his case looked at again, let alone him being freed.
- Big Fun: Cultivates a jovial Nice Guy persona, all the creepier when contrasted with his crimes.
- Cargo Ship: Invoked. Has a Fetish for women's shoes. He had 100 pairs size 16 in his garage and he masturbated to them.
- The Collector: Shoes, catalogues, body parts...
- Commonality Connection: Holden tries to get him to talk by telling him that his mother caught him masturbating in his room. It works; Brudos is taken aback and overjoyed about Holden's embarrassing story.
- Control Freak: He likes being able to steer the conversation, readily coming up with new lies as necessary. Wendy points out that he shuts down when backed into a corner by evidence he can't explain away. The key to getting his story ends up being a combination of bribing him (with a pair of stiletto heels) and letting him talk around his crimes and abusive upbringing, transferring them to a hypothetical suspect — basically acting like he's The Profiler.
- Consummate Liar: Pathological. He half-heartedly maintains his claim that he's an innocent man wrongfully framed by the Portland PD, and seems completely at ease spinning lies for Holden and Tench. He lies about his life in prison, about corresponding with Ed Kemper, about how he got his scar, the shoes he collected, his crimes, and even when confronted with an incriminating photograph where his own reflection appears.
- Creepy Crossdresser: This trope is played with where Brudos is concerned — he cheerfully admits to being a fetishist of women's high heels and more grudgingly admits to wearing some of the garments he plundered from local women. Tench and Ford needle him about this to no conceivable benefit until Carr calls them out. She points out that his crossdressing is largely irrelevant to his crimes, since cross-dressing has been practiced in virtually every culture throughout history and it's typically a completely harmless form of self-expression that isn't even always sexual.
- A Date with Rosie Palms: When Holden gifts him a pair of the largest high heels in the shop, he soon begins to masturbate at the scene.
- Deadly Delivery: Inverted. His first victim was a door-to-door saleswoman that knocked on his door.
- Evil Is Bigger: Like Kemper, he's a giant of a man and preyed on young women.
- Evil Laugh: Has a deep and disturbingly persistent chuckle, which we often hear before we see the man himself in episode seven.
- Evil Redhead: Not only is he the only redheaded character, it is a very bright shade of red, which makes it even more memorable.
- Evil Sounds Deep: Happy Anderson's naturally deep and resonant voice helps make Brudos even more intimidating.
- Fake Twin Gambit: When he was 15, he pretended to be his own twin while forcing a neighborhood girl to undress at knifepoint.
- Fat Bastard: Overweight and personally unpleasant.
- Faux Affably Evil: Unlike Kemper, who seems genuinely interested in the BSU's research and oddly invested in his 'friendship' with the agents, Brudos seems much more interested in toying with them, and shows flashes of temper (particularly toward Bill) whenever he senses they're not falling for his manipulations.
- Happily Married: He was married with children when he committed his murders, and blames the police for his estrangement from his wife.
- I Have This Friend...: Holden gets him to open up about his crimes by asking him to describe the actions of a hypothetical killer doing the same thing. Brudos then brings Holden through his entire thought process, essentially just replacing "I" with "he".
- Leitmotif: Jason Hill's musical score grants Brudos his own little theme song, with a rumbling, "fee-fi-foe-fum"ish bassline and occasional off-putting industrial squeaking noises to prime the audience for his deranged mindset.
- A Love to Dismember: He kept the foot of his first victim and bronze molds of other victims breasts.
- Motor Mouth: He loves to talk, tell stories, and crack jokes. The voice-over of him laughing and rambling on repeatedly spills over into scenes where he's not even onscreen.
- Never Found the Body: His first victim was never found and he was never convicted for her murder. He confessed to it in 1969, but now he denies she even died.
- Panty Thief: In addition to shoe thief.
- Porn Stash: He is subscribed to women's fashion and shoe catalogues.
- Red Baron: "The Shoe-Fetish Slayer", although in the show he's just "The Shoe Guy".
- Start of Darkness: When he was five, he found a couple of stilettos in a junkyard and brought them home. He played with them until his mother found out and burned them in his presence.
- Technology Marches On: In-universe. He was interested in technology before he was incarcerated in 1969. He is amazed by how much cameras and tape recorders have changed in a decade.
- Troubling Unchildlike Behavior: In addition to the incident as a five year old, he stole the shoes of his teacher during class. She found that incredibly funny.
- Why Couldn't You Be Different?: His mother wanted a girl before he was born, and wasn't shy about telling him so.
William Pierce, Jr.
A robber turned rapist and serial killer who attacked nine people in South Carolina and Georgia between 1970 and 1971.
- Blatant Lies: Within minutes, he claims to know seven languages, then proceeds to demonstrate that he clearly does not; denies killing anyone and having been coerced into confessing, but then contradicts himself immediately; and even claims to have psychic powers that allowed him to take police to the bodies of his "not" victims.
- Cold-Blooded Torture: He claims to have been burned in his privates to make him confess.
- Deadpan Snarker: He has his moments despite his stupidity. For example, when he points that he will not bother asking for parole because he got a 880 years sentence.
- Dark and Troubled Past: He grew up in extreme poverty during The Great Depression, his father abandoned him, and a steel girdle fell on his head giving him brain damage.
- Delusions of Eloquence: He fancies himself a Cunning Linguist, claiming fluency in seven languages, and constantly peppering his speech with exotic words (or at least words he himself believes are exotic), but it quickly becomes clear that he has really no idea what most of those words mean, or even how to properly pronounce them:Pierce: You think I'm simple! Let me tell you somethin'! That judge on them cases? He said I was continent to stand trial! So that there proves it!
Holden: Junior, I just wanted some clarity about you changing your mind.
Pierce: Oh. You can't figure that out? Think about it. I was intimated.
Holden: (to Barney) "Intimated"?
Pierce: (annoyed) Why you always repeating my words?
Holden: You have a very impressive... vocabulary. And I don't always understand your, uh, colloqualisms.
Pierce: Yeah... I got all the good words.
Holden: You certainly do.
- Disappeared Dad: His father abandoned his wife and son. However, he claims "he bugged the p-i-s-s outta me" anyway.
- First-Name Basis: He wants to be called Junior.
- Jerkass Has a Point: He claims that he wrongfully confessed, and Holden says that's not how it works — at least in the eyes of the law. Present day viewers, especially those versed in True Crime, know that in the American legal system there is a very real problem with investigators getting coerced confessions and with people giving guilty pleas for the guaranteed lighter sentence because they can't afford good lawyers and don't want to risk the harsher sentences that often come with pleading innocent and being found guilty.
- Longer-Than-Life Sentence: Was sentenced to 880 years for his crimes.
- Malaproper: He constantly uses the wrong word.
- Men Are the Expendable Gender: He actually has no trouble confessing to his male murder victims. It's the women that trouble him, most likely because he doesn't want to admit to raping them.
- Phony Psychic: He explains leading police to the bodies of his victims as him being "clearvoyant" and helping their families.
- Saying Too Much: Happens to him constantly.
- When asked if he murdered "the housekeeper", he says that he didn't murder Virginia.
- He claims he told police how every murder happened and where the bodies were because he turned on his psychic powers and wanted to help. Still, he refuses to call that a confession.
- He also says ominously that some "shop-bitch" called him moron "...once". Right after denying murdering any women.
- Sweet Tooth: Barney gets him to talk by offering him Mallomars, then shows Holden a picture of Pierce with sweets all over his cell.
William Henry Hance
A soldier who raped and murdered three women around Fort Benning, Georgia between 1977 and 1978. note
- Comically Missing the Point: When Holden recapitulates his ridiculously convoluted scheme to get away with his crimes (that instead led police straight to him), he sums it as "That's a very complicated story." Hance's response? "Thank you".
- Complexity Addiction: He devised an extremely confusing scheme to throw the police off his trail, which backfired from the beginning and just led police to him.
- Dissimile: Holden says that everything comes around in Hance's story, meaning back to his claimed vigilante group "The Forces of Evil". Hance smiles and adds, "like a donut".
- From Camouflage to Criminal: He committed his crimes while in the military.
- Insane Troll Logic: The way he tried to divert the police from his crimes is so roundabout and ridiculous (i.e., sending letters claiming to be a vigilante group of seven white men holding his already-murdered victim hostage and telling the police where her body was) that Holden can't make any sense of it and gives up on him.
- Nice Job Fixing It, Villain!/Villain Ball: The police wasn't even aware that a crime was committed until he contacted them, then basically pointed to himself in the most stupidly obvious ways. He could just have shut up and let his victims's bodies remain undiscovered. He could also have contacted them, but somehow blamed his victims on the Stocking Strangler (an unrelated African-American serial killer, and at the time of the show, still at large) and it would have worked better than making up a conspiracy of white vigilantes.
- Saying Too Much: He doesn't want to admit that he raped and murdered his victims. But then drops that he walked out of the bar with one (a prostitute) after showing her money, and that he beats women with a crowbar when they scream before throwing them out of his car.
- Stupid Evil: He tried to ransom a girl he had already killed while leading police to her body. And he's too stupid to realize what is wrong with that.
- Suspiciously Specific Denial: His letters were written in his base's stationery. To throw police off, he added a post-scriptum telling them to pay no attention to the stationery's label, because "anyone could have used that".
- Token Minority:
- He is the first African-American serial killer interviewed by the team and he is interesting to them in the first place because they don't know many African-American serial killers.
- Another point of interest for the team is that his first victim was white, which is in contradiction to their data pointing to lust-motivated serial killers not crossing race lines.
- Too Dumb to Live: Literally. His stupidity earned him the death penalty.
Serial Killer Groups
The leader of a cult called "The Family" that was responsible for ten murders in California in 1969.
- The Aggressive Drug Dealer: Watson and other members turned against him claim he was this, giving them drugs until their will was suppressed. Naturally, he says this is bullshit and that he never made them do nothing they didn't want (nor could).
- Apocalypse Cult: He led a serial-killing one, promising his followers that they would rule the world After the End.
- Beard of Evil: He rocks the hippie look.
- Berserk Button:
- He's very short and apparently hates that.
- Manson himself is a Berserk Button for Frank McGraw, an old Fairfield detective who worked in Los Angeles for over twenty years and knows the detectives who worked the case. He doesn't take kindly when he thinks Holden is trying to paint him as a Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds.
- Big Bad Wannabe: Kemper says that he lies constantly about having committed the Tate-LaBianca murders (the same he denies vehemently in front of law enforcers), and he asks Holden for his sunglasses just so he can brag about "stealing" them before other inmates.
- The Chains of Commanding: One theory about the Tate-LaBianca murders is that his followers started killing on their own and he was forced to order more murders in order to keep his position as leader.
- The Charmer: Was once a malicious version of this, and oddly seems to charm Holden enough so that he hands his sunglasses over to him without a second thought.
- Cloudcuckoolander: He spends half his interview rambling about love, children, and himself in an utterly bizarre fashion.
- Con Man: Murders aside, he stole his entire religious discourse from another man and used it to gain free room, board (and most likely sex and drugs) from duping some hippies. It went well until they decided to speed the prophesied end of times themselves. He halfway convinces Holden that he's exactly what he says he is: a wounded man in the wrong place at the wrong time.
- Consummate Liar: He lies constantly but always as a defense mechanism. He wants to appear tough before other criminals (who could destroy him easily), so they leave him alone; and to law enforcement so they don't pin more charges on him (or just to screw with them).
- Control Freak: In the end, what he craved most in the Family was absolute, unchallenged control. The murders were a tool to keep it.
- The Corrupter: How the repentant members of the Family and the book they helped write paint him as.
- Dark and Troubled Past: His mother was a jailbird and a prostitute, his uncle was an abusive zealot, and he was imprisoned and abused in jail for twenty years before he was released in the Summer of Love.
- Disaster Dominoes: One of his followers, Bobby Beausoleil, was arrested for murdering a man Manson claimed owed him money. His pals (or Manson, depending of the version) decided to do another murder with the same methodology to fool police into releasing Beausoleil (or to secure Manson's control of the group, or to trigger his prophesied End Times race war, again depending of the version). Manson chose the home of the discographer who had screwed him as the target. But the discographer had moved out, and they found heavily pregnant actress Sharon Tate and her friends instead. After killing them and not triggering the race war, the hit the LaBianca house.
- The Dreaded: By 1977, he has already acquired mythical status; it is nearly impossible to see him in prison.
- Establishing Character Moment: Is led into the room "like a king" then sits on the back of the chair with his feet on the seat.
- Evil Genius: He is evil and way smarter than he looks. He can size people immediately and knows how to manipulate them to suit his interests. At the same time, he is a very small man who can only rely on his wits.
- Faux Affably Evil: There's no doubt that's he's a serious lunatic, but he's also astute and doesn't react any worse to the agents than they react to him; he treats the awestruck Holden like a fan he appreciates, while he scolds the more belligerent Bill.
- Faux Symbolism: Exploited In-Universe. He sits in a way he can address his audience from above, like an all-powerful god; later stands on the chair with his arms extended as if he was crucified.
- Freudian Excuse: He developed his manipulative skills as a way to survive in prison. Where he ended in the first place by being born in a poor, abusive family during The Great Depression.
- The Ghost: An ominous and often referenced presence through the first season, but never makes it in the flesh. He appears in an episode of Season 2.
- Gone Horribly Wrong: His cult, if you believe it was only a con operation and he never believed a thing of what he preached. His followers went from patiently waiting for the Apocalypse to actively trying to engineer it, resulting in a lot of grievous murders and their capture.
- Hidden Depths: He looks and acts like a rambling lunatic, but is actually very intelligent and has a talent to manipulate people.
- Ice-Cream Koan: During his interview, he goes on long, pretendedly profound tirades about "the now" being the only reality and how this unjust society at large fails to raise its children and then blames their actions on him.
- Jerkass Has a Point: For a raving maniac, he's rather astute, which shouldn't be too surprising considering he's a cult leader and con man.
- He is right in pointing that he didn't seek followers nor did they force them to take drugs or murder people. At most, he just encouraged people who already had it in themselves.
- He is entirely right to discard a book written on the murders as sensationalist trash, pointing that the author goes as far as to claim that Manson stopped his watch by looking at it.
- He makes a good point that most people seek their own interest when they are brought before a tribunal on murder charges so it makes sense they'd blame him for everything instead of taking responsibility themselves.
- He makes lots of good points about Bill Tench, which hits home.
- Manson makes a good point that he is very much a product of the system, having been locked up in some form or another since he was eight.
- Kneel Before Zod: The first thing he does after entering the interview room: sit on the chair's back so the agents have to look up to him.
- Large Ham: Very much this, especially towards the end of his interview when he stands up and starts gesticulating wildly.
- Mad Artist: There was a time when he was only a slightly lunatic aspiring musician with a rapsheet for robberies and other petty crimes.
- Manipulative Bastard: His true calling. He can read people like an open book and lead them to places where he can take the most advantage.
- Messy Hair: Just look at the picture.
- The Napoleon: Kemper warns the agents not to stare at how short he is, and he perches on the chair back to look down at them. The real Manson was variously measured from five-foot-two to five-foot-six.
- Never My Fault: After a decade in prison, he continues to insist he wasnt responsible for the murders, and the culprits acted on their own.
- New-Age Retro Hippie: What he presented himself as; in truth he was about as far from a hippie as one could get.
- Non-Action Big Bad: Despite his fame, he never killed a person with his own hands.
- Obfuscating Insanity: While far from a normal person, his seemingly lunatic ramblings have a purpose and are capable of manipulating people and making them treat him with fear and respect.
- Obviously Evil: He carved a swastika on his own forehead.
- The Old Convict: He knows everything about life in jail because he has been imprisoned in some institution or another for most of it. Starting when he was eight.
- Serious Business: Either this or Hypocritical Humor. When asked about the Tate murders, he claims he didn't go to the house at the time because he'd break his parole conditions.
- Shrouded in Myth: Everyone is either in awe of, or hates him. He is said to be the most prominent criminal of the 20th century and attributed supernatural powers (for evil, of course).
- Start of Darkness: His childhood and early experience in jail was bad enough, but the final downward spiral may have been precipitated by a discographer screwing him out of a music career.
- Starving Artist: When he tried to make it as a musician.
- Undying Loyalty: What he demanded from his followers. Some of them still have it for him 11 years later.
- Wounded Gazelle Gambit/Xanatos Gambit: He claims to have stolen Holden's sunglasses, knowing full that it will cost him a month in isolation, just so the other inmates think he is not afraid to antagonize everyone and leave him alone.
Charles "Tex" Watson
A former follower of Manson who participated in both the Tate and LaBianca murders.
- Affably Evil: In spite of the terrible things he is done, he is polite and forthcoming with Holden, talking candidly about Manson's manipulative tactics.
- Ambiguously Evil: The entire basis of his character. Is his remorse genuine, or just a façade to avoid accountability? Did Manson change him, or did he always have that in him? Was he blindly following Manson, or leading? Did the drugs and indoctrination really give him no choice, or is it all bullshit?
- The Atoner: He claims to have seen the error of his ways and has traded Manson for Jesus.
- Brainwashed and Crazy: How he explains his part in the Tate murders, putting the blame on Manson.
- The Brute: Tex was easily the most physically intimidating member of the Manson family, hence why he spearheaded the murders. Charles Manson himself is a little man, and the other members were all young women. He's so tall he has to bow down to talk to Holden.
- Defector from Decadence: He represents the part of Manson's followers who denounced him instead of proclaiming their Undying Loyalty behind bars.
- The Dragon: Manson's second in command in the Family and the leader of the home invasions.
- HeelFaith Turn: He certainly likes to believe that he has undergone this by becoming a born-again-Christian during his time in jail. Wendy is not convinced, saying that he has merely replaced his worship of Mason with worship of Jesus in an attempt to cope with his guilt and distance himself from his own part in the massacre.
- Historical Beauty Upgrade: The historical Watson was less conventionally beautiful, with a tall head and large nose and ears.
- Hope Spot: He considered Tate's offer to take her alive until she gave birth and then murder her, then killed her right away.
- Imperiled in Pregnancy: His most notorious victim, Sharon Tate, was eight months and half pregnant when he killed her.
- Knife Nut: Though he had a gun and used it on his first victim, he stabbed all others dozens of times.
- Never My Fault: Despite referring to the Family murders as "the Tex Watson murders", he still blames Manson's influence for everything that happened.
- Not So Different: Implicitly, to Manson. Despite their vastly different life experiences before meeting him, he had no trouble joining him and living by his philosophy before he was caught. And he begins his interview by saying that he realizes how much Manson's personality was a way to cope with life as a small man in prison, potentially meaning he has had to imitate him to survive behind bars.
- The One Guy: He was the only male among Manson's followers at Cielo Drive.
- One Steve Limit: Why he probably went by Tex.
- Saying Too Much:
- After going on a long tirade about how he committed the crimes due to being under Manson's spell, Holden points that Manson also told him to hit other houses after Cielo Drive, but he went home instead. Watson says that he was tired. His will was nullified by Manson, yet tiredness alone could override it?
- In a non-verbal example, he shuts up and stares everytime a black convict walks by. This evidences his animosity for black people, and how he was pre-conditioned to buy into Manson's "Helter Skelter" scenario (a race war would break out, with blacks coming on top and genociding the whites except for the Family, yet the blacks would also be stupid and servile enough to submit to the Family without question).
- Take Me Instead/Someone to Remember Him By: Tate begged to be allowed to live until she gave birth.
- There Is No Kill Like Overkill: Most of his victims were shot several times and also stabbed. The worst went to Wojcieh Frykowski who was stabbed 51 times.
- Undying Loyalty: He had it for Manson once, now he has for Jesus. Or claims to, at least.
- Used to Be a Sweet Kid: One of the most talked up aspects of his case, is how so many middle-class students with good grades and sports careers could do such a horrible crime - and why.
- Would Hit a Girl: Their victims included three women, all of them stabbed over a dozen times.
- Would Hurt a Child: He readily admits that he saw that Sharon Tate was pregnant right away, but it didn't deter him.
Dean Arnold Corll
One of the most prolific serial killers in US history with 28 known victimsnote , Corll employed two teenage accomplices in Houston, Texas during the early '70s to lure other boys to him. Though considered for the study, the team cannot interview him because he was killed in self-defense by his last accomplice, Wayne Henley, in 1973.
- The Aggressive Drug Dealer: He used drugs and alcohol to bait teenagers.
- Beneath Suspicion: Nobody suspected him as he racked in dozens of murders. In fact, the police didn't even admit they were murders until Henley confessed, having written off every missing persons case as runaways.
- Berserk Button: He was furious when Henley brought a boy and a girl instead of just boys. Enough to almost kill Henley over it. He agreed to release Henley on the condition that Henley would kill the girl, maybe just so he wouldn't touch her.
- Cold-Blooded Torture: He had a torture board where he strapped his victims and subjected them to the cruelest torments.
- The Corrupter: To Henley and Brooks. He hired them to rob houses for him, then familiarized them with the idea of killing to get away with their crimes if necessary. Finally, he enlisted them to lure other boys to him by offering drugs and partying, and (most likely) made them join in the torture and murder of the victims.
- Deal with the Devil: Henley was brought as a victim to Corll, but saved his life by becoming his accomplice.
- Depraved Homosexual: Very depraved and very firmly homosexual. He even took Henley bringing a female victim as a betrayal worth torturing and killing him for, rather than just shooting the girl and going on with the rape and torture of male victims. Later on, he released Henley on the condition that he would kill the girl himself just so Corll wouldn't deal with her.
- The Dog Bites Back: Instead of doing as agreed, Henley killed Corll. By shooting him in the same way Corll had taught him.
- Evil Mentor: To Brooks and Henley. Everything criminal they learned from him.
- Full-Frontal Assault: Henley confronted him when he was about to rape his last victim. The crime scene photo shows him completely nude.
- The Ghost: Shown only in photographs, as he is already dead at the time of the show (and the show doesn't use flashbacks).
- Inferred Holocaust: His actual body count is unknown. His only known victims are those he killed with Henley and Brooks's help.
- Karmic Death: He was killed by one of his intended victims (although long after corrupting him into becoming his accomplice), by being shot in the exact same way he taught him to shoot if he ever had to shoot someone.
- Kill It With Bullets: Henley shot him three times on the front and three more times on the back before he hit the ground. note
- Manipulative Bastard: Enough to make young boys sell their own friends as sex slaves and later to be tortured to death.
- Nice Job Fixing It, Villain!: Threatening to murder Henley sure convinced Henley that he had to get away from him fast, even if he agreed to not do it this time - and allowed the last two victims brought by Henley to live.
- Posthumous Character: Dead for almost a decade before he is mentioned in the show.
- Red Baron: Known as "The Candy Man" due to managing a candy factory and given free candy to children. And offering free drugs to boys that they called candy. He is the historical inspiration of the Candyman Urban Legend.
- Sissy Villain: His (real) profile photo shows him embracing a stuffed Dalmatian.
- There Is No Kill Like Overkill:
- He killed his victims by torturing them. Only some lucky few were shot.
- His own death, where he was shot six times before hitting the ground.
- Villain Ball: He could have killed Henley right away. Instead, he tied him to rape and torture him like his other victims. Then he agreed to release him in exchange for Henley killing the girl he had brought, but Henley shot Corll instead.
- Why Don't You Just Shoot Him?: After Henley brought a girl, Corll decided that he'd have both killed, but even though he had a gun he didn't do it right away and instead tied them with the idea of torturing them after the other boy brought by Henley. Henley talked his way into being released on the condition that he'd torture, kill, and dispose of the girl, but Henley shot Corll instead.
- You Have Failed Me: After Henley brought a girl home instead of only boys, Corll wanted to treat Henley like his other victims.note
Elmer Wayne Henley, Jr.
The former teenage accomplice of Dean Corll. He ended Corll's crimes by shooting him.
- Berserk Button: He reacts very angrily to any insinuation that he is homosexual.
- Category Traitor/Les Collaborateurs: After almost becoming a victim of Corll, he became a procurer and would lure other teenage boys from his school and neighborhood to him.
- Daddy Issues: He hates his father to the point of refusing to be addressed by his birth name (which he presumably inherited from him) and still craves approval from his disturbing father figure Dean Corll, years after killing him in self-defense.
- Deal with the Devil: Was almost tortured to death by Corll, but escaped by agreeing to lure other victims to him.
- Defector from Decadence: When Corll ordered him to torture a girl to death, he took a gun and shot Corll instead.
- The Dog Bites Back: Killed his master after he almost gave him the same treatment as his other victims.
- Do Not Call Me "Paul": He becomes enraged when Wendy and Gregg try to call him by his first name, shouting that they will only address him as Mr. Henley. This is likely due to the negative association between the name and his father, who is implied to have been abusive.
- FaceHeel Turn: He originally went to Corll's house as a victim, but was spared in return for luring others to him.
- HeelFace Turn: Later, he shot Corll and saved his two last victims.
- Punch-Clock Villain: What he insists he was, selling boys to Corll for $200. But it's obvious he stayed for something else.
- Saying Too Much:
- Bill suspects that he confessed to six murders (excluding Corll's) and was convicted of them because he had no lawyer at the time, but that he was actually involved in more.
- The more angry he becomes and refuses to admit it, the more is clear that there was something between Corll and him, even if it was just one-sided abuse.
- Sir Swears-a-Lot: He falls into this when he thinks Wendy wants him to admit he is homosexual, as a defense mechanism.
- Suspiciously Specific Denial: Wendy merely asks if Corll, a well-known homosexual and ephebophile, ever showed interest in him, a male teenager. He goes ballistic, screams that he is not gay, throws a barrage of insults, and claims that he was famous in school for being around lots of girls.
- Teens Are Monsters: He started robbing and procuring for Corll at 14.
- There Is No Kill Like Overkill: Corll taught him to keep shooting until his target hit the ground. So he shot Corll three times in the front and three in the back before he did.
- "Well Done, Son!" Guy: He still craves Corll's approval even 7+ years after killing him, going as far as solacing himself on the fact that he was probably proud of how he killed him.
- Wouldn't Hit a Girl: Implied. Corll told him to get rid of the girl himself, he turned around and confronted Corll with a gun.
- You Are What You Hate:
- He has a low opinion of the boys who were lured with the promise of drugs, even though he was one himself.
- Going ballistic at what he takes for an insinuation of him being homosexual (but actually isn't) strongly implies that he had homosexual relations.
Suspected Serial Killers
A homosexual sadomasochist convicted of murdering a date in Manhattan's meatpacking district in 1977, and suspected of killing and dismembering six other gay men in the city between 1975 and 1976.
- Acceptable Targets:
- Discussed when talking about the Hudson Bag Murders. Bateson claims that the gay community would never admit that the murderer was one of their own and insisted it had to be a hetero homophobe, but at the same time he points that no gay man would fail to recognize such and leave a bar with him.
- Referenced again when he claims that police blamed him for the Bag Murders purely because he was "a gay guy in leather".
- Affably Evil: A very polite, calm, and well spoken murderer.
- The Alcoholic: At the time of the murders, he was drinking two vodka bottles a day.
- A Love to Dismember: If he is indeed the Bag Murderer, he butchered six men and threw the pieces on the river inside trash bags. Unfortunately, he never confessed officially to those nor was there evidence to convict him.
- Ambiguous Situation: Like in real life, he was only convicted for the death of one man and the suspicion for his supposed other killings arose from his own bragging which he then recanted. It's unclear if he's actually the killer or just harbors dark, violent fantasies.
- Bastard Boyfriend: His victims were BDSM submissives, but he got pleasure for going beyond their limits.
- Beard of Evil: Although not as impressive as Manson's.
- Brains and Bondage: A BDSM practitioner and probably the smartest killer interviewed in the series besides Kemper.
- Commonality Connection: He bonded with the victim he was convicted for over their shared interest in BDSM porn.
- Deadpan Snarker: He delivers sarcasm with ease, such as telling Wendy to ask her procedural questions to the "real" killer, or calling Gregg "Anita".
- Fallen-on-Hard-Times Job: After losing his radiologist job due to his alcoholism, he began working as a usher in a porn cinema.
- Gym Bunny: He is gay, uses the prison gym, and it shows.
- Historical Beauty Upgrade: Subverted. His show counterpart looks better than the image most people have of him (his appearance in The Exorcist) but that was when he had an alcoholic problem. He mentions sobering up and hitting the gym while in prison.
- Manipulative Bastard: He plays Wendy like a fiddle, happily talking about himself but ending the conversation the moment he gets irritated.
- Medical Horror: Invoked by Wendy, who points that his work in a hospital could have taught him how to stab and dismember people better. He replies that he was not a surgeon.
- Saying Too Much: The only reason he was caught is because he told a journalist that he murdered his last victim. He also told a friend that he was the Bag Murderer and liked killing, but was not enough to convict him.
- Stop Being Stereotypical: He mentions his dislike for the Camp Gay that gives people like him a bad name.
- Straight Gay: He is openly gay without being camp.
- Too Kinky to Torture: Both invoked and downplayed. He is a former submissive who claims to be bored by life in prison because he'd like a little more discipline.
A spree killer who murdered eight student nurses in a Chicago dorm room in 1966.
- Bad Liar: He'll just shout the first bullshit he can come up with if he doesn't want to admit something. When his suicide attempt is brought up, he claims that he got those very obvious slash marks on his wrist from a fight with some unknown man he then killed but which wasn't reported.
- Berserk Button: His failed suicide, and apparently, women crying. Either one makes him become violently defensive and angry.
- Commonality Connection: Holden tries to connect with him by calling the victims "eight ripe cunts." It backfires on an epic scale and causes problems for both him and the unit. For Speck's part, his reaction is the only time he displays anything other than bitterness or fury: he actually *laughs*, and looks a little shocked by Holden's language.
- Didn't Think This Through: He didn't even keep track of how many women were in the house, as a result he left one alive. The kicker? It was the one woman who opened the door when he knocked.
- Disaster Dominoes: The attack in the dorm room. He robs and rapes one girl, then another girl comes home, so he kills her. The girls kept coming home, and he kept killing them. In his own words, "they just kept coming".
- The Dreaded: Even his "deeds" are exaggerated by the public to make him look scarier.
- Driven to Suicide: After the multiple murder, he slashed his wrists in a motel, but he was found before he died. Now he adamantly denies that it was a suicide attempt and claims that they were injuries from fighting some guy.
- Establishing Character Moment: When he's introduced, Speck is having his cell tossed, ranting and raving with a string of nonsensical expletives. He keeps this demeanour up.
- Hair-Trigger Temper: Why he really killed those women. It doesn't take him long to show it off during the interview.
- Hellhole Prison: Kept in a dark, overcrowded prison where alcohol and drugs are almost freely traded. The place looks like it's about to fall apart.
- Hollywood History: In-universe. He is said to have systematically tortured and raped eight women For the Evulz. The reality is that he got inside to rob the place, and then the victims just kept coming. He still didn't intend to do anything with them, but then he raped one. Her crying made him lose it and kill her, so he felt he had to kill all the others too.
- Jerkass: He's the least personable of all the killers interviewed. Kemper was polite and accommodating, Brudos was chummy in an Affably Evil way and Rissell wasn't anywhere near as volatile as Speck.
- Jerkass Has a Point: Speck raises an official complaint against Holden for "fucking with his mind". From a certain point of view, this is exactly what Holden is doing.
- Morality Pet: He has a pet bird he fed while it healed a broken wing. But the trope is subverted when he kills it in front of the FBI agents during a fit of rage.
- Politically Incorrect Villain: Throughout his conversation with Holden and Bill, Speck displays his homophobia, racism, and sexism.
- Sir Swears-a-Lot: A more raging, spontaneous example than Rissell.