Hulu’s Mastermind Tells the Story of the Woman Who Pioneered Profiling Rapists and Serial Killers

Hulu’s Mastermind Tells the Story of the Woman Who Pioneered Profiling Rapists and Serial Killers

A founding mother of the #MeToo movement is the subject of a new Hulu documentary.

Mastermind, which begins streaming on Hulu today (July 11), profiles Ann Burgess, a professor and forensic nurse at Boston College who, in the 1970s, launched one of the first studies on sexual assault and rape victims and helped establish one of the first rape crisis centers in the U.S. at Boston City Hospital.

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“When the FBI academy was tasked with going out in the field and teaching local law enforcement about rape, they had no expertise to do so. So they brought in Dr. Burgess to talk about that,” Steven Constantine, who appears in the doc and co-authored with Burgess the book A Killer by Design, tells TIME.

Burgess taught the FBI to approach rape and sexual assault victims with more sensitivity. Burgess also helped the agency improve its study of crime victims so agents could better understand the perpetrators of a crime, especially serial killers. As part of a behavioral science unit, she was an expert in profiling. Her first big success came when she the profiled the killer in 1983 murders of three boys in Nebraska who were bound, raped, and killed. The profile said to be on the lookout for someone the boys might know, like a teacher or a Boy Scouts leader. Media outlets broadcast the profile so the general public could keep an eye out, and sure enough, a teacher noticed a suspicious car hanging out by the school and reported the license number. The car belonged to John Joubert, a scout leader, who confessed to killing the boys. Joubert was executed in 1996.

Looking back at trends in the motives of serial killers over the years, Burgess says, “the motive is still dominance, the power, the control.” Young women who are alone are generally targeted the most. “I always say get a large German Shepherd dog if you can, so that you can counter the dominance,” Burgess says.

Because of her decades of research on trauma and abuse victims, Burgess has served as an expert witness in high-profile trials. Her participation in two helped change the way people thought about victims of sexual assault and rape.

Read more: The True Stories Behind the Serial Killers of Mindhunter Season 2

When the Menendez brothers Erik, 18, and Lyle, 21, were tried for the murder of their parents in 1993, Burgess had gotten Erik to open up about how his father sexually abused him. She testified, as an expert defense witness, that he killed his father in self-defense. The breakthrough came after Burgess met with Erik and had him draw what had been happening in the household. She noticed he was drawing stick figures of himself and his father in the bedroom, prompting her to ask more questions about what they did in his bedroom. The Menendez brothers are still in prison for their crime, but the case changed how people thought of victims of rape and sexual abuse, by showing that there are male victims too.

Burgess was also an expert witness in the trial of Andrea Constand, whose account of sexual assault brought about the conviction of entertainer Bill Cosby. The 2018 case was the first high-profile conviction since the start of #MeToo movement, and was a milestone for victims of rape or sexual assault who often struggled to be believed by law enforcement and prosecutors.

Burgess gave Constand a questionnaire to document everything that happened before, during, and after the traumatic incident so the prosecution would be able to back up her story. In Mastermind, Constand says the care that Burgess took to understand what she went through gave her the courage she needed to get through the ordeal of her 2018 trial. “Getting asked 300 questions about the way you’re sleeping, eating, living, loving—I was able to understand what that one night had done to me,” Constand says in the docuseries. “She believed me.” (After Cosby’s initial conviction, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court overturned the sexual assault conviction in 2021, and he was released from prison.)

At 87, Burgess is still working to help victims of abuse and their families. She is a professor at Boston College’s nursing school and her research focuses on rape in indigenous communities and on nursing home residents who have been abused. Mastermind comes out at a time when there are more platforms than ever to share true crime stories, from streaming sites to podcasts. Burgess herself is the real-life inspiration for Netflix’s Mindhunter and its character Wendy Carr, a crime-busting psychology professor. Burgess generally thinks the trend is harmless, as long as the programs don’t romanticize or sensationalize the killers. And she even thinks there are useful life lessons that can be learned from true crime shows. As she puts it, “a lot of people are armchair detectives, and that’s a good thing. I think that we should be suspicious and ask questions.”

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