CBS’ Criminal Minds sees the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit investigating crimes that, apparently, are ripped straight from the headlines.
When Criminal Minds first premiered in September 2005, it instantly hooked people, creating another great crime drama for people to binge. While fans would like to believe that the crimes investigated on the series are completely fictional, it turns out that a handful of them are actually based off of real-life crimes.
Keep scrolling to see 10 Criminal Minds episodes that were inspired by true crimes.
In Season 4, episode 22, the BAU took on the case of a killer who is suffering from obsessive compulsive disorder. The unsub, who targets blonde women, sends police a video of himself going about his day, including murdering a victim. In the video, the unsub leaves a message for police in red ink: “Help me,” his plea for them to stop him before he commits his next murder.
The story is based on the real-life story of William Heirens, dubbed the Lipstick Killer after he left a message in red lipstick for police on the wall of a victim’s apartment. “For heaven's sake catch me before I kill more. I cannot control myself,” the message read.
Williams was eventually arrested on June 26, 1947 at the age of 17, two years after his first murder. He confessed to three murders and remained in jail until his death in 2002.
In two of the most disturbing episodes of Criminal Minds, the Behavioral Analysis Unit is called in to help track down an unsub after numerous transients go missing in Detroit. Considered easy targets, figuring out whether the transients are really missing or whether they just ran away is nearly impossible, though the team eventually finds themselves on a pig farm. There, they discover that a physically disabled man has been instructing his mentally disabled brother to kidnap people, experiment on them, kill them, and then feed their bodies to the pigs.
The case is based on Robert Pickton, “The Pig Farmer Killer.” Between 1983 and 2002, Pickton, of Port Coquitlam, Canada, killed 6-49 people on his pig farm. His victims are believed to have all been women. After killing his victims, he fed at least some of them to his pigs.
Following Pickton’s arrest, accusations surfaced that he may have mixed ground human flesh in the pig meat he sold at the local markets.
A paranoid schizophrenic is the Behavioral Analysis Unit’s unsub in this Season 11 episode. After violently murdering his victims, the killer performs acts of cannibalism. There is also evidence that he may be drinking their blood. After being caught, he commits suicide while in jail.
The unsub and the crimes he commits is based on Richard Trenton Chase, who, between December 1977 and January 1978, killed six people. A diagnosed schizophrenic, Chase was later dubbed “The Vampire of Sacramento.” Among the crimes he committed after the brutal slayings were necrophilia, cannibalism, and vampirism. He believed that by drinking his victims’ blood and eating their organs, he could prevent his own heart from ailing, though his heart was perfectly healthy.
Chase was caught after he left behind a witness at the scene of a four-person murder. He dies by suicide while in jail.
Another Season 1 episode based on a real crime, the BAU finds themselves chasing a “pack” of killers who are attempt to frame Native American tribes for murders. The team has to call in an expert in Native American culture to consult and assist them in the investigation.
The episode is based on the very real and heavily publicized Manson Family cult, headed by Charles Manson. Believing that a race war was imminent, Manson directed his followers to commit a series of murders over the span of two months in order to get the race war started.
During the Season 5 finale and the premiere episode of Season 6, the BAU contends with a serial killer who uses the rolling blackouts during the hot Los Angeles summer as opportunities to strategically break into homes and murder them. Nicknamed “The Prince of Darkness,” the killer leaves a trail of dead couples, young mothers, and even an investigating detective, though he leaves the children in the homes unharmed.
The true story behind the double episodes lies in the story of Richard Ramirez, known as “The Night Stalker.” During the mid-1980s, Ramirez, a serial killer, rapist, and burglar, reaped havoc in Los Angeles, though he only attacked at night. Just like the unsub in Criminal Minds, Ramirez’s MO was to kill the adults in the household, sexually assault the women, and leave the children unharmed.
Ramirez was convicted of 13 counts of murder, five counts of attempted murder, 11 counts of sexual assault, and 14 counts of burglary. He received 13 death sentences for his crimes, though he died while awaiting execution.
The BAU investigates the murder of an elderly couple in “Natural Born Killer.” During the course of their investigation, the team discovers a third victim: the elderly couple’s nephew, who is also a low-level mobster. This leads them to suspect that the murders were actually a mob hit, which is later proven to be true. The killer turns out to be the leader of the local mafia, who has already killed over 100 people.
In real-life, this is the story of Richard Kulinski, who had ties to the mafia and was a contract killer. Though he was only ever convicted of five murders, he claimed to have murdered more than 100 people.
Kulinski began murdering while he was still living with his family, though they had no idea of his crimes. His wife described him as an affectionate father.
One of the few episodes that does not center on a serial killer, “Minimal Loss” sees Agents Prentiss and Reid visit a cult compound after receiving an anonymous call from a 15-year-old girl within the compound, who claimed she was being sexually abused by an older man.
Once in the compound, Reid and Prentiss discover leader Benjamin Cyrus, a self-proclaimed Messiah who has married a teenage girl. The investigation goes south when local law enforcement raid the compound, prompting Cyrus and his followers to take the FBI agents hostage.
The case is based on David Koresh and his religious cult, the Branch Davidians. In 1993, Koresh, who believed himself to be final prophet, kept the members of his cult locked within his compound in Waco, Texas during a 51-day police raid. The raid came to an end on April 19 when the FBI entered the compound. A fire broke out during the raid, killing 80 members of the cult. Koresh’s body was discovered inside, shot and killed by his right-hand-man, Steve Schneider.
“The Thirteenth Step,” an episode that aired during the show’s sixth season, a young couple named Sydney Manning and Ray Donovan are not only newlyweds, but also spree killers. Their killing spree comes to an end inside a gas station convenient store, with both of them dying.
The episode was based on the crimes of real-life couple 14-year-old Caril Fugate and 20-year-old Charles Starkweather, whose crime spree too place between n 1957 and 1958. Starkweather murdered eleven people in Wyoming and Nebraska during a two-month killing spree, while being accompanied by Fugate. Prior to kicking off their killing spree, Fugate had discovered that Starkweather had killer her mother and step-father. He then killed her baby half-sister in front of her.
The couple was eventually caught. Starkweather was executed via electric chair 17 months after his capture. Fugate was sentenced to life in prison.