In the beginning of the sixth episode of Mindhunter Season Two, the show’s FBI agents are discussing a series of murders in Manhattan during the mid ’70s. As Gregg Smith begins explaining:
The bodies were dismembered and stuffed in trash bags and spent between two and six weeks in the Hudson River. None of the six victims were never identified, cause of death never determined. Police were able to trace the clothing to a fetish shop on Christopher Street that catered to the Leather community. Paul Bateson frequented the gay bars in the meatpacking district. The police could never connect him to the bodies. He was only convicted of one murder because he called a journalist and confessed to it. The final victim Addison Verrill—
Then Bill Tench cuts in and says: “Who wasn’t dismembered and stuffed into a bag so why should we talk to this guy if we don’t even know he did these?”
That’s exactly the question that hasn’t been answered in the 42 years since these bodies went missing, and the body of Addison Verrill, a film reporter for Variety, was found in his Greenwich Village apartment. And that’s precisely the question I set out to answer last year when I began to investigate Verrill’s murder, and Bateson himself, who appeared in The Exorcist a few years prior to the killing.
The background outlined in this scene is accurate. Bateson was eventually caught—and convicted—after calling and confessing to the murder of Verrill to a Village Voice reporter named Arthur Bell. But what they say next in the scene is where things get questionable.
In the Mindhunter episode, Smith answers Tench’s question: “Because he told a friend he was the bag murderer and liked to kill.”
During my investigation, the only evidence I found of Bateson confessing to the other bag murders came during a sentencing hearing:
During the sentencing in April 1979, prosecutor William Hoyt argued that Bateson had bragged to a friend, Richard Ryan, that he’d killed other men. “He told Mr. Ryan that killing is easy, that getting rid of the bodies is the hard part. He said that he cut up his victims and put the parts in plastic garbage bags to dispose of them,” Hoyt said.
“I would also point out to the Court that the police have evidence, though there is not direct proof, connecting them to this defendant that there were six bodies, torsos of which were found floating in the Hudson River wrapped up in plastic garbage bags,” Hoyt continued, while arguing for his sentencing. “In all six cases … examiners have said that the person who cut up those bodies was a person who was either a butcher or a person with medical knowledge because of the way the cuts were done.”
But, that’s the only mention of Bateson being connected to the six other murders I could find, because during my investigation, The New York County Clerk was unable to locate the full transcript of the trial. So it’s unclear if this friend was ever brought forth as a witness.
The judge ultimately concluded that the six other murders were “too ephemeral to have any connection to this case,” and Bateson was sentenced to a minimum of 20 years in prison. He was released on August 25, 2003, according to public records from the New York Department of Corrections.
In the Mindhunter episode, Smith and Dr. Wendy Carr visit Bateson in prison at Rikers Island. The scene lasts about seven minutes and mostly involves them exploring the relationship between sex and violence.
They eventually get to the bag murders. “They keep trying to get me for that,” Bateson says. When they bring up his confession to the friend he says that he was just fucked up and talking crazy. But then the Bateson character says something interesting: “The cops actually said if I confessed I would do less time on a plea deal. They just want to say they close the books.”
During my investigation I found no evidence of the cops ever offering Bateson any deal. However, in the years following Bateson’s arrest, director William Friedkin—who made The Exorcist, in which Bateson appeared, and also directed Cruising based on the Bag Murders—spoke a handful of times about Bateson. In interviews, Friedkin recounted a conversation he had with Bateson in which Bateson said the cops tried to strike a deal in order to close those six bag murders. This seems to be what Mindhunter is basing this scene on, although there is no evidence for that actually happening.
The bag murders have never been solved. I looked into it during my investigation, and the NYPD has told me that finding any record of an unidentified body from sometime between 1975 and 1977 would be impossible at this point. Read my full investigation here.