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Who is William Junior Pierce? Mindhunter Season 2 Serial Killer
The second season of Netflix’s Mindhunter zeroes in on a few infamous crimes, including the Manson cult killings, the Atlanta Child Murders, and the crimes of Dennis Rader, who is better known as the serial killer BTK. But along the way, the show also includes lesser-known criminals, figures likely unfamiliar to 2019 audiences but who would have realistically been on the radar of 1970s FBI profilers and criminologists. One such murderer was William “Junior” Pierce.
In the show, Pierce, portrayed by Michael Filipowich, is played for dark laughs. Jonathan Groff’s Agent Holden Ford and Albert Jones’ Agent Jim Barney visit the killer at a Georgia jail in the third episode of season two. Despite insisting upon his intelligence and boasting that he speaks seven languages, including “Libyan” (most Libyan people speak Arabic), his speech is littered with malapropisms, and it becomes quickly clear that he lacks the analytic insight into his criminality that Ford is looking for. But the scene helps demonstrate Barney’s investigative and interrogative skills—after Ford’s questioning leads nowhere, the Atlanta agent is able to make Pierce open up by bribing him with Mallomar cookies. Later, Barney tells Ford that he came prepared with treats after a photograph of Pierce’s candy-strewn jail cell suggested the killer might have a sweet tooth.
William ’Junior’ Pierce in his jail cell in 1971. An edited version of this photo was used in Netflix’s Mindhunter.
Unlike the better-known murderers it covers, Mindhunter doesn’t particularly detail Pierce’s life or crimes, and there’s little to be found online about the convicted killer. According to the Georgia Department of Corrections website, Pierce had a long rap sheet before he was convicted of murder. Between 1960 and 1964, he was convicted of a series of burglaries, thefts, and an instance of first-degree arson. But, according to a short article in The New York Times from June 1971, he was paroled in 1970 despite a psychologist’s report finding that Pierce “may be dangerous to himself and others.” He was free for less than a year, but police connected him to nine killings within that short time.
According to an appeal rejected by the South Carolina Supreme Court in 1974, one of the murders Pierce was convicted for was that of 13-year-old Peg Cuttino. “In this confession [Pierce] said he drove over to Sumter from Swainsboro, Georgia, on Friday, December 18, and picked Peg up at a hamburger stand,” reads the court documents. “Defendant said he then drove Peg out to Manchester Forest where he killed her.”
But while Mindhunter didn’t invest a lot of time in covering Pierce or his crimes, the show did include one very accurate detail. The picture that Agent Barney produces of the killer in his cell is very real, but was edited in the show to feature actor Filipowich’s face instead of Pierce’s. The real photo was taking in May 1971, by which time Pierce had already been connected to six slayings and was awaiting his first trial. Today, Pierce is still imprisoned in Georgia.
Gabrielle Bruney is a writer and editor for Esquire, where she focuses on politics and culture.