Connell School of Nursing Professor Ann Burgess (Photo by Gary Wayne Gilbert)

Hollywood shines spotlight on career of Ann Burgess

Hulu's 'Mastermind' docuseries explores the groundbreaking work of Boston College nursing professor

Connell School of Nursing Professor Ann Burgess has been recognized by the nursing profession as a pioneer in the field of forensics and victimology, designated a Living Legend by the American Academy of Nursing, and is the namesake of an award from the International Association of Forensic Nurses.

Now, Hollywood is shining a spotlight on the psychiatric nurse who has spent her nearly six-decade career studying killers in the new docuseries “Mastermind: To Think Like a Killer,” available for streaming on Hulu and Hulu On Disney+ starting July 11.

Portrait of Prof. Ann Burgess and Steven Constantine, Assoc. Director Marketing & Communications (both CSON), co-authors of "A Killer by Design: Murderers, Mindhunters, and My Quest to Decipher the Criminal Mind". Photographed outside O'Neill Library and in the Nursing Simulation Lab in Maloney Hall. Photographed for ϱ News and the 1/20/22 issue of Chronicle.

Ann Burgess and CSON's Steven Constantine collaborated on the book "A Killer by Design: Murders, Mindhunters, and My Quest to Decipher the Criminal Mind,' which was the inspiration for the docuseries. (Photo by Lee Pellegrini)

The three-part series, directed by Abby Fuller and produced for Hulu by Campfire Studios in association with Lewellen Pictures, explores the critical role Burgess played as consultant to the FBI’s Behavioral Science Unit in developing modern-day serial killer profiling and how her work with law enforcement led to the identification and capture of the country’s most lethal criminals. It also covers her trailblazing work in victimology, helping others to better understand the effects of trauma. Burgess is credited as a consulting producer for the series.

The docuseries had its world premiere at the Tribeca Festival on June 7. After a screening of the first episode, Burgess took part in a conversation along with Fuller, showrunner Dani Sloane, and executive producers Dakota Fanning, Elle Fanning, and Rebecca Evans. Other members of the docuseries team include executive producers Ross M. Dinerstein, Rebecca Halpern, and Lesley Chilcott, and co-executive producers Ross Girard and Mark McCune.  

The docuseries is inspired by the 2021 book , co-written by Burgess and CSON Associate Director of Marketing and Communications Steven Constantine, and features exclusive access to Burgess’ personal archive and interviews with Burgess.

The film crew made several trips to Boston College for scouting and shooting, according to Fuller. “It is a gorgeous campus to film on. It has been an incredible experience working with Dr. Burgess, Steven [Constantine], and everyone we've encountered at ϱ. Truly such a welcoming and beautiful place to spend so much time over the past year.”

Cinematographer Anna Franquesa Solano found inspiration in the Theology and Ministry Library on Brighton Campus. “It was aesthetically aligned with what we were looking for. We loved the big windows and the colors of the library. It really felt like it had the architecture and the decor of a place that was believable to have been late 1970s/’80s. That was important because we were trying to evoke the time when Dr. Burgess was doing the work at the Behavioral Science Unit.”

Constantine added that the crew also filmed Burgess in lecture halls, Gasson 100, the Connors Center on the Dover Campus, and along the Chestnut Hill Reservoir, among other campus locations. “It definitely has a ϱ feel to it,” he said of “Mastermind.”

The topic of profiling serial killers has previously been explored in books and on television, notably in the Netflix series “Mindhunter” (2017-2019), which was a dramatized account of the early days of the FBI's Behavior Science Unit. The show’s character Wendy Carr, played by actress Anna Torv, was loosely based on Burgess.

But Fuller and Constantine note that this series is different.

“This is the first time that her story is being told on screen,” said Fuller. “Dr. Burgess was someone who was a very influential part of the criminal personality study and single-handedly structured the research. As an academic, she bought the skills of data collection, writing, publishing, research, and organization to the process. The agents weren't trained in research. I think she hasn't gotten as much credit as some of the other members of the team.

“Dr. Burgess’s story is not just about studying the minds of serial killers. It’s about understanding victims and believing victims. That's the thread that I saw. The series is about her entire career and the many ways she's influenced and shaped law enforcement and the courts and different systems.”

At a time when women did not have roles of authority or positions of power, this unassuming, humble woman blazed a trail by standing up for what she believed in. Dr. Burgess is an incredible role model, and her story is very inspiring for young women.
ABBY FULLER, Director of 'Mastermind: To Think Like a Killer'

“She did her work through the lens of the victim,” said Constantine. “Everyone else was focused on the offender, and the victim was fairly incidental in the cases. She was one of the first people who brought the idea of victimology to the BSU and got them to think about the victim as an equal part of a case. The victim could not only help solve the case, but was a real person who was affected and the agents needed to think about the impact on that person's life as well.

“She also expanded the definition of what a victim could be. She changed cultural perceptions about who a victim could be, and I think that is really important,” added Constantine. “There was an element of humanity that she brought to the whole process that didn't exist before her. And then she continued that in her legal work as well.”

The third episode of the docuseries covers Burgess’s trial work, such as in the murder trials of Lyle and Erik Menendez and the criminal case against Bill Cosby involving victim Andrea Constand.

“The underlying theme in her work is this idea that if we can provide empathy and compassion and really listen to victims, we can shift how we're able to help people heal from trauma, how we're able to help the criminal justice system more quickly catch and apprehend offenders,” said Fuller. “It stems from that core drive in her of wanting to help victims. She has been a champion for listening to and believing victims, starting in the early ’70s when no one else was thinking that way.

“At a time when women did not have roles of authority or positions of power, this unassuming, humble woman blazed a trail by standing up for what she believed in. She is a great example of somebody who never questioned herself and understood what was the right thing to do and marched forward. She changed the systems from within, in a very collaborative way. Dr. Burgess is an incredible role model, and her story is very inspiring for young women.”

“Initially, she didn’t want to tell her story because she was more focused on the work,” said Constantine. “She was a bit of a hidden figure. It's exciting to see her story get told more widely.”