Top 10 Criminal Minds Episodes Based on True Events

Top 10 Criminal Minds Episodes Based on True Events
VOICE OVER: Rebecca Brayton WRITTEN BY: Nathan Sharp
Creepier than fiction, these "Criminal Minds" episodes were based on true events. Our countdown includes "Broken Wing," "Minimal Loss," "To Hell and Back," and more!

Top 10 Criminal Minds Episodes Based on True Events

Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we’re counting down our picks for the Top 10 “Criminal Minds” Episodes Based on True Events.

For this list, we’ll be looking at various episodes of “Criminal Minds” that were influenced by or directly adapted from real true crime cases.

Which of these cases fascinates you the most? Let us know in the comments below!

#10: “Natural Born Killer”

This first season episode concerns a professional hitman by the name of Vincent Perotta who is often hired by mob bosses. After kidnapping his victims, Perotta would inflict pain and suffering on them, and then dispose of their various body parts. This fictional hitman is inspired by Richard Kuklinski, who is perhaps better known as The Iceman. Like Perotta, The Iceman allegedly worked as a hitman for the mob, preferred male victims, was tormented as a child, and had a personal vendetta against his father. Unfortunately, the crimes of Kuklinski are hard to corroborate, as he is known to exaggerate. He was officially convicted of five murders, including the death of a police officer with connections to the mafia.

#9: “Broken Wing”

In Season 14, a nurse by the name of Douglas Knight injected his victims with opioids and masked their deaths as tragic overdoses. By doing so, he successfully evaded both suspicion and capture. At least for a little while. The character of Knight is heavily influenced by Donald Harvey, an angel of death from Ohio who worked as a hospital orderly. Unlike Knight, Harvey did not have a single modus operandi. Rather, he was known to harm his victims through a variety of methods, including cyanide poisoning, suffocation, shutting off ventilators, and injecting HIV into his victims’ bodies through tainted fluids. While Harvey was officially convicted of 37 deaths, the true number of victims could be as high as 57.

#8: “Cradle to Grave”

Season 5’s “Cradle to Grave” is certainly one of the most upsetting episodes of “Criminal Minds.” It follows Arizona couple Robert and Linda Reimann, who kidnap young women, impregnate them, steal the resulting babies to raise as their own, and then dispose of the victims. This story is loosely based on the kidnapping of Oregon woman Colleen Stan. Stan was hitchhiking in 1977 when she was abducted by Cameron and Janice Hooker and subjected to similar horrors. She finally escaped in 1984. Cameron was sentenced to 104 years, and Janice was granted full immunity for testifying at his trial. Aside from “Cradle to Grave,” the case also inspired the movie “The Poughkeepsie Tapes.”

#7: “The Perfect Storm”

Amber and Tony Canardo of Season 2’s “The Perfect Storm” have many real-life precedents. One is Ian Brady and Myra Hindley, a couple responsible for five youth deaths around Manchester, England between 1963 and 1965. Another influence is David and Catherine Birnie, who abducted and murdered four women in Western Australia in 1986. A fifth victim escaped and led the authorities to their location. But the DVD commentary reveals that the biggest influence on the episode was the case of Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka. This was a Canadian couple who kidnapped and murdered numerous minors in the early ‘90s, including Homolka’s younger sister, Tammy.

#6: “Ashes and Dust”

Another episode from Season 2, “Ashes and Dust” concerns serial arsonist Vincent Stiles. A pharmaceuticals salesman by day, Stiles would sneak into the homes of wealthy businessmen, douse the place in kerosene, and set a fire with a lighter. He would then watch the families burn while wearing protective equipment. This story is loosely based on the case of Paul Kenneth Keller, a serial arsonist from Washington who is directly mentioned in the episode itself. Keller set over 100 fires and caused $30 million in damage between 1992 and ‘93. In the fall of ‘92, Keller set fire to a Seattle retirement home, resulting in the deaths of three elderly women. He is currently serving 107 years in prison.

#5: “The Thirteenth Step”

Ray Donovan and Sydney Manning were the subjects of the sixth season episode “The Thirteenth Step.” Hailing from North Dakota, these two terrorized the northwestern United States and took over 26 lives. The couple committed multiple mass shootings, causing numerous deaths at gas stations and an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. While the duo shares some similarities with Charles Starkweather and Caril Ann Fugate, they were mostly influenced by the legendary crime spree of Bonnie and Clyde. They too targeted rural gas stations and claimed upwards of 13 lives, including nine police officers. And like Ray and Sydney, their spree also ended in a hail of gunfire.

#4: “Riding the Lightning”

To “ride the lightning” means to be executed by the electric chair. In this case, it directly references the fates of Jacob Dawes and Sarah Jean Mason. Dawes kidnapped females and tormented them in his personal workshop before burying their remains on the property. His wife, Sarah Jean, did not take part in the deaths, but also did nothing to stop her husband. Dawes shares many similarities with John Wayne Gacy. He too targeted one specific gender (contrary to Dawes, he only targeted males), and he also buried his victims under his house. In the end, 26 bodies were recovered from Gacy’s crawl space.

#3: “To Hell and Back”

Serving as the two-part fourth season finale, To Hell and Back concerns murderous brothers Mason and Lucas Turner. Mason is the leader of the operation, manipulating his mentally disabled brother into committing dozens of crimes. Their horribly violent crime spree culminated in a staggering 89 deaths. They shared a lot in common with Robert Pickton. Both committed their crimes in Canada, both were pig farmers, and both used their barn animals to dispose of their victims’ remains. They also targeted lonely people like sex workers and drug addicts to prevent high-profile attention. Pickton was accused of 49 deaths and convicted for 6.

#2: “Minimal Loss”

The fourth season episode “Minimal Loss” is a little different. Rather than focusing on one or two specific criminal minds, it concerns an entire cult and its eccentric leader. The cult is the Separatarian Sect, whose compound is located in rural Colorado. Its leader is predator Benjamin Cyrus. Cyrus is mostly based on famous cult leader Jim Jones, who oversaw the Peoples Temple. Like Cyrus, Jones made his followers drink poison. And while Cyrus’s poison scheme was a bluff, Jones’s wasn’t, and over 900 Peoples Temple members died on November 18, 1978. The disastrous hostage crisis at the rural compound also shares many similarities with the deadly Waco siege of 1993, which resulted in the deaths of 76 Branch Davidians.

#1: “Our Darkest Hour”, “The Longest Night”

Turning in his scariest performance since Pennywise in this 2-parter, Tim Curry portrayed Billy Flynn, who is nicknamed The Prince of Darkness owing to his penchant for taking lives in the dark. He would usually strike during a rolling blackout, breaking into a house and murdering most of its occupants. The influences behind Flynn are many, but he is largely based on two specific people. The first is Gordon Cummins, who struck during wartime blackouts and claimed the lives of four women in 1942. The other is Richard Ramirez, AKA The Night Stalker. Both he and Flynn had horrible teeth, both broke into homes in the dead of night, and both were accosted by a gang of angry civilians.