‘Mindhunter’ Season 2: Is the Situation With Bill Tench’s Son Based on a True Story?

Tench’s son Brian gets into quite a pickle in Season 2, but is this story grounded in reality at all?

mindhunter season 2 brian tench murderer is he real
“Mindhunter” (Netflix)

(Some major spoilers ahead for season 2 of “Mindhunter” on Netflix)

After season 1 of “Mindhunter” spent most of its time outside work — that is, in scenes that aren’t focused on the FBI’s study of serial killers — with Holden Ford (Jonathan Groff), season 2 goes a different way. This time around, the Netflix series focuses very little on Holden’s personal life, instead spending a lot more time with the other two main members of his team, Dr. Wendy Carr (Anna Torv) and Bill Tench (Holt McCallany)

For Bill, his personal story revolves around an incident with his son, Brian (Zachary Scott Ross), which threatens to tear the Tench family to pieces. Early in the season, the corpse of a toddler is found in a house that is being sold by Bill’s wife Nancy (Stacey Roca), who has started working as a realtor. After a fairly short investigation, the local police discover that the toddler was accidentally killed by some local boys — and Brian was present when it happened.

Brian, being so young and not having participated in the accidental murder, isn’t charged with a crime or sent to juvenile detention. But a social worker hounds the Tench family for the rest of the season and the family has to meet with a child psychiatrist weekly. Bill spends every episode clearly wondering if Brian is going to grow up to be the kind of serial killer that he deals with in his career.

It’s a fascinating turn of events for “Mindhunter,” and adds a whole bunch of layers to Bill as a character. But there’s a big question that will be on a lot of viewers’ minds as they watch Season 2 unfold: is this whole thing with Brian based on a true story?

“Mindhunter” is an interesting beast because it’s, basically, an adaption of real events — while Holden, Wendy and Bill are fictionalized versions of real people. Bill Tench is based on the real BSU’s Robert Ressler, and while Ressler had three kids — a son and two daughters — Bill only has one. And no, as far as we know, Ressler’s son Aaron did not witness the murder of a toddler when he was a kid.

However, there was a similar real life case, in San Francisco in 1971. Two brothers, one 7 years old and the other 10, murdered a 20-month-old toddler. The boys were frustrated that the child, Noah Alba, wouldn’t stop crying and beat him. The killing blow, seemingly, came from a brick that one of the brothers wielded. After it became clear that the child was dead, the older boy hung the small child up as if he was being crucified, thinking he would be resurrected like Jesus.

You can read more about that case in this Frontline story here.

So, yeah, this story is not entirely made up for the show, but the context is obviously completely different, taking place on the other side of the country in Virginia a decade after the real murder.

In my opinion, it’s a welcome addition to Bill Tench’s story, providing so much new text and subtext to consider as our heroes continue to try to crack the minds of serial killers. And it makes Bill an even more interesting character than he was back in “Mindhunter” Season 1. I’m very eager to see where they take this thread in future seasons.