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Top 20 Real-Life Crimes that Inspired Criminal Minds

Top 20 Real-Life Crimes that Inspired Criminal Minds
VOICE OVER: Rebecca Brayton WRITTEN BY: Cassondra Feltus
"Criminal Minds" borrows from a lot of real crimes. For this list, we'll be looking at episodes of “Criminal Minds” that were influenced by or directly adapted from real true crime cases. Our countdown includes "Identity," "Omnivore," "Minimal Loss," and more!

Top 20 Real Life Crimes that Inspired Criminal Minds


Welcome to MsMojo, and today we’re counting down our picks for Top 20 Real Life Crimes that Inspired Criminal Minds.

For this list, we’ll be looking at 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!

#20: “Blood Hungry”


The unknown perpetrator in this season one episode is Eddie Mays, a young man in his twenties suffering from psychotic delusions and consuming the blood and organs of his victims. Reid mentions Richard Chase in the episode, aka the Vampire Killer or the Vampire of Sacramento. Mays was likely based on Chase, as they both were institutionalized, suffered from delusions, and were heavily into drugs. In January 1978, Chase killed five men, women, and children, four of which were in the same home he broke into. He similarly drank the blood of his victims, though his weapon of choice wasn’t a knife like Mays but rather a handgun. Chase was charged and sentenced to death in 1979, but took his own life a year later.

#19: “Identity”


A recent abduction takes the team to Montana, where their unsub Francis Goehring has already taken his own life. In searching for his last victim, they discover he had a partner – Henry Frost. They find a collection of explicit tapes showing Goehring assaulting women. Goehring and Frost appear to have been loosely based on Leonard Lake and Charles Ng, former Marines who kidnapped, tortured, and murdered between 11 and 25 people in the 1980s. When arrested, Lake swallowed a cyanide pill, dying four days later. At his property in Wilseyville, California, police found detailed journals and graphic videos of the crimes, as well as human remains. While Frost was killed in the episode, Charles Ng was found guilty of 11 murders and sentenced to death.

#18: “Unfinished Business”


This episode revolves around the ‘Keystone Killer’, later revealed to be Walter Kern, who murdered seven women in the 1980s, then abruptly stopped. Eighteen years later, the killer begins again, and sends a letter with a crossword puzzle to former FBI profiler Max Ryan, the man who couldn’t catch him. Kern shares a lot of similarities with Dennis Rader, aka the BTK Killer, including his proclivity for taunting letters and crossword puzzles. Both men also had very similar MOs, served in the Air Force, and worked as alarm installers along with other jobs that allowed them access to peoples’ homes. Like BTK, the Keystone Killer had a “cooling off period” before sending more letters and finally getting caught.

#17: “The Tall Man”


This JJ-centric episode takes the team to her hometown of East Allegheny, Pennsylvania, where two teenage girls have gone missing. A third girl, Ally, stumbles out of the woods in bad shape, saying she saw the “Tall Man” hurting her friends. While the actual crime is different, the local urban legend is reminiscent of the viral sensation Slender Man, which inspired two girls to stab their friend in 2014. Anissa Weier and Morgan Geyser, both 12 years old at the time, attacked their friend Payton Leutner to show their worthiness to the fictional character. Morgan was also diagnosed with schizophrenia, just like Ally. Fortunately, Payton survived her wounds. Anissa and Morgan were apprehended and charged as adults for attempted murder.

#16: “The Tribe”


The BAU are called to New Mexico after a group of college freshman are found murdered in an empty house. It’s a grisly scene showing evidence of ritualistic methods of violence which they trace back to a cult led by Jackson Cally, aka the Grandfather. Like infamous real life cult leader Charles Manson, Cally ordered his followers to carry out multiple murders. Both wanted to start a race war between white people and a minority group. For Manson, it was African Americans, and for Cally, he instructed his followers to make the killings appear to be committed by Native Americans. Cally also had a similar past as Manson, and both men were skilled at finding the most impressionable people to join their “families.”

#15: “True Genius”


While investigating Zodiac Killer copycat murders in San Francisco, the team come across Caleb Rossmore and Harvey Morell, Jr., former child prodigies who bonded over shared interests in chess and true crime. When they were teenagers, the best friends killed a local kid in their town, Robbie Shaw, and got away with it. Morell and Rossmore are likely based on the murderous duo from Chicago, Nathan Freudenthal “Nate” Leopold Jr. and Richard Albert Loeb. In May 1924, Leopold and Loeb carried out their plan to commit the “perfect crime,” killing 14-year-old Robert “Bobby” Franks and using acid to obscure his identity. Like Morell and Rossmore, their motivation was simply for the thrill of it.

#14: “A Shade of Gray”


What begins as a missing child case ends in tragedy when Kyle Murphy’s body is found in the woods. At first the crime was blamed on Hugh Rollins, a registered sex offender and suspected killer in the area. However, Kyle’s older brother Danny, who has anger issues and shows signs of sociopathy, admitted to Emily Prentiss that he was the one who fatally hurt Kyle. This is a case inspired by the unsolved murder of 6-year-old JonBenét Ramsey in 1996. Among the many theories in the case is that her older brother Burke could have killed her accidentally and was protected by his parents. Another detail in the episode is that the Murphy crime scene was contaminated just like the Ramsay’s.

#13: “Lucky”


Season 3’s memorable unsub Floyd Feylinn Ferell has aspects of several serial killers but the most prominent is likely Jeffrey Dahmer. The obvious connection here is that they both ate their victims - although Dahmer didn’t do this with all of his victims. Ferell was institutionalized when he was young and developed a strong interest in Satanism. Dahmer dabbled in the occult but mainly followed and struggled with his Christian faith. While they’re victimology is different, their preferred disposal and preservation methods are similar. Ferell’s appearance is very Dahmer-like, glasses and all. And both were pulled over with evidence of their murders but managed to evade capture.

#12: “Hostage”


Gina Bryant escapes from the home in Missouri where she’d been held captive since she was 8. Michael Clark Thompson, the man who abducted her and two others, gets caught trying to go on the run with the oldest victim, Amelia. Rossi references Ariel Castro, the man who kidnapped Michelle Knight, Amanda Berry, and Georgina “Gina” DeJesus, imprisoning them in his Cleveland home for nearly 10 years. Like Amelia, Amanda gave birth while in captivity. In 2013, Amanda was able to escape with her daughter and get help. In both cases, the girls suffered severe mistreatment and miscarriages. But Thompson is shot by the mother of Sheila Woods, his third victim, whereas Castro took his own life after serving one month of his life sentence.

#11: “Omnivore”


One of the BAU’s most memorable unsubs is George Foyet, aka the Boston Reaper, who killed 20 people from 1995 to 1998. The case went cold because he suddenly stopped killing. Ten years later, he returns to pick up where he left off and goes on a spree. He’s been likened to the unknown Zodiac Killer, due to their similar methods, victimology, and penchant for taunting law enforcement. However, Foyet may be an amalgamation of a few killers, like the equally prolific and elusive Phantom Killer behind the 1946 Texarkana Moonlight Murders. Foyet was also able to maintain a seemingly normal life like the intelligent and charming Ted Bundy.

#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: “The Company”


In this harrowing episode, Derek Morgan’s cousin Cindi Burns is spotted for the first time in many years. The Behavioral Analysis Unit discovers that Cindi was forced to sign a ‘slave contract’, enduring years of physical torment at the hands of her stalker Malcolm Ford. She lived in fear of an organization called “the Company” that would go after her family if she didn’t submit to him. This is identical to the real life case of Colleen Stan, abducted by Cameron and Janice Hooker on May 19, 1977, forced to sign a ‘slave contract’, and kept prisoner for 7 years. Stan’s captors also threatened her with a fictional ‘Company’ that would supposedly harm her and her family if she tried to escape.

#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”


The BAU sets up interviews with inmates and former couple Jacob Dawes and Sarah Jean Mason, hoping to get some information on the possibility of more victims before their executions. Like John Wayne Gacy, Dawes was physically mistreated as a child and grew up to be a prolific serial killer who buried victims’ remains beneath his floor. But he and Sarah Jean are likely also inspired by English couple Fred and Rosemary West, who committed horrific crimes against young women, including their own children from the 1960s to 80s. While Rose took an active role in the crimes, Sarah Jean did not. However, she felt immense guilt for not trying to stop her husband, and goes through with the execution despite not actually being guilty.

#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.
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