15 Criminal Minds Episodes Based On Real Cases (2023)

When it comes to Criminal Minds episodes, there are more disturbing cases than on almost any other weekly procedural crime show on network television. While most of its contemporary shows seem a lot more lighthearted, Criminal Minds is a show that has the team face unsubs that are as dark as coal and often leaves viewers shook.

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What is even scarieris when the unsubs on Criminal Minds episodesare based on real cases. These are both reasonably straight copies of real killers as well as episodes using real-life cases as a reference.


Updated on April 13th, 2022, by Shawn S. Lealos: WhileCriminal Minds ended in 2020after its 15th season, the show remains popular in the world of streaming television. Fans today can still discover all the harrowing cases that the BAU solved, and many might be shocked to learn that some of these Criminal Minds cases were based on true stories.

As the true-crime genre has proven popular over the years, fictionalizing serial killers on Criminal Minds is often a fun way to learn more about the real-life stories that the episodes are based on. Because the stories are not reenactments of the classic crimes, it is often interesting to research and learn more about the killings, killers, and victims in the stories, and included here are links to find out more about these all too real tragedies, including the scary story of the Keystone Killer.

"Blood Hungry" (1.11) - Richard Trenton Chase

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This episode ofCriminal Mindssees the team hunting a killer who is eating the organs of his victims and took inspiration from the real-life case of Richard Chase.

Chase killed several people within a month in the 1970s in California, drank their blood, and ate their remains. The episode doesn't go into all of the grisly details of the real-life case, but it does draw inspiration from it.

"25 to Life" (6.11) - Jeffrey MacDonald

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In real life, Jeffrey MacDonald was convicted of killing his pregnant wife and two daughters in 1970 but maintains his innocence claiming that four men broke into the house and murdered his family.

The episode sees the team interviewing a manwho has served 25 years for killing his wife and daughter, but claims that he's innocent and intruders murdered his family and they are able to prove his innocence in the episode.

"Hostage" (11.14) - Ariel Castro

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This episode is eerily similar to the real-life case of Ariel Castro kidnapping multiple women and holding them prisoner as there's even a quote that refers to Castro by name in the episode.

Castro held three women captive for almost ten years severely beating them and raping them multiple times as one woman did give birth and others suffered miscarriages. This is a Criminal Minds episode based on a real case that portrays the gruesome details pretty similarly to how it happened in real life.

"The Company" (7.20) - Cameron and Janice Hooker

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"The Company" was based on the kidnapping of Colleen Stan by a couple she got a ride with after hitchhiking one day. The couple kept her locked up for 23 hours each day and she was sexually abused during the one hour she was allowed out.

Stan agrees to be their slave after the couple convinces her of an evil organization called The Company that would torture her and her family if she didn't agree. Everything is about the same in the episode except that The Company is portrayed as a real organization.

"Alpha Male" (12.15) - Elliot Rodger

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This episode takes real-life inspiration from the Elliot Rodger case of a man murdering six people in California and dubbing them a "day of retribution" in a video released online. He murdered multiple people and injured several others before killing himself.

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TheCriminal Mindsepisode follows an unsub perpetrating several misogynistic attacksby throwing acid at women because he's upset about not being in a relationship.

"The Big Wheel" (4.22) - The Lipstick Killer

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"The Big Wheel" featured a serial killer who sent a videotape to the BAU with a hidden message, begging them to help stop him from killing any more people.

This was Vincent Rowlings, a man who watched his father murder his mother when he was a child, and he now kills women who look like his mother. He was based on The Lipstick Killer, who showed up in the 1940s and killed three women before he was stopped.

"Omnivore" (4.18) - Zodiac Killer

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One of the most terrifying killers on Criminal Minds is George Foyet, which fans knew for his long-running storyline as the Boston Reaper.

He was a serial killer who killed his parents and then went on a killing spree in the '80s. This was one of Hotch's first cases, and the early killings were based on the Zodiac Killer, which remains a cold case. In this case, the killer returned many years later to torment Hotch and even killed his wife.

"Riding The Lightning" (1.14) -Fred and Rose West

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One of the best episodes of Criminal Minds came with "Riding the Lightning" in Season 1. This episode saw the BAU head to a prison to interview a husband and wife serial killer couple who are preparing for their execution. However, what made this episode hit home was that the wife was not guilty and refused to admit this to protect her child, a rare heroic moment on Criminal Minds by an unsub.

This Criminal Minds episode is based on a real case, loosely,about Fred and Rose West. They were an English couple to killed dozens of young British girls. Fred was found guilty and died in prison, but said he did it alone. Despite this, Rose was charged later and found guilty, sentenced to life in prison.

"Natural Born Killer" (1.8) - Richard Kuklinski

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"Natural Born Killer" was a Season 1 episode that had the BAU starting to investigate a case of a mob hit onan Organized Crime Unit. The team then realizes the unsub is a serial killer connected to dozens of murders who targeted the OCU. The episode is based on the real-life serial killer, Richard Kuklinski.

Kuklinski was the serial killer known as The Iceman. His signature was putting his victim's bodies into freezers, and he killed anywhere between seven and 250 people because he often exaggerated his criminal career after he was arrested. He even claimed he killed Jimmy Hoffa.

"To Hell... And Back" (4.25) - Robert Pickton

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"To Hell" and "And Back" are the final two episodes of Season 4 and feature the serial killer knownwho leads the BAU from Detroit to Canada. These killers were brothers Mason and Luvas and were part of one of Criminal Minds' weirdest cases, as they eliminated the bodies by feeding them to his pigs.

These guys were based on the Canadian known as the Pig Farmer Killer — Robert Pickton. This serial killer was suspected of killing over 30 people, although how and why he did it remained unknown.

"Unfinished Business" (1.15) - BTK

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"Unfinished Business" was another Season 1 episode and presented the BAU with the Keystone Killer, a serial killer in Philadelphia who was out of action for 18 years and then showed back up to torment the retired FBI agent who worked his case.

While some compared the Keystone Killer to the Zodiac Killer, the more apt comparison is he was based on the BTK Killer, Dennis Rader, who also killed in the '80s and then returned years later.

"The Thirteenth Step" (6.13) - Charles Starkweather

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"The Thirteenth Step" came out in Season 6 and featured a pair of serial killers, a young couple who went on an interstate killing spree. Adrianne Palicki starred in Criminal Minds as Sydney, a girl who fell for a local guy named Ray andkilled his girlfriend before hitting the road with him.

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These unsubs in Criminal Minds were based on the real-life serial killers Charles Starkweather and Caril Ann Fugate. In real life, Starkweather was the aggressor at the start, killed Caril's family, and the two went on a killing spree, with a total of 11 victims.

"Our Darkest Hour" (5.23) - Richard Ramirez

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"Our Darkest Hour" was the season finale ofCriminal Minds' fifth season. This episode saw the BAU called to Los Angeles to face a serial killer who began pursuing victims during rolling blackouts, making him even more dangerous.

This twisted Criminal Minds' suspect was Billy Flynn, the Prince of Darkness, was Tim Curry portrayed him to perfection. Theepisode was based on Richard Ramirez, also known as the Night Stalker, a serial killer with 20 victims in the '80s.

"Minimal Loss" (4.3) - David Koresh

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In Season 4, Criminal Minds had the BAU head out to take on a cult leaderin Benjamin Cyrus, played by Luke Perry. A hostage situation resulted in the state police raid causing everything to fall apart.

This was one of the best Criminal Minds episodes and was based on David Koresh, the Branch Davidians, and the Waco Siege from 1993, where the FBI attacked, and 86 people ended up dead. Cyrus was so popular that the character was a plot device in a Reid-centric episode years later.

"The Tribe" (1.16) - The Manson Family

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The 16th episode of Season 1 was "The Tribe." The BAU headed out to New Mexico to investigate a group of college students found dead and tortured and found a cult that was working to turn people against the Native Americans in the area.

This cult was led by Jackson Cally, who wanted to start a race war. Out of all the Criminal Minds episodes based on real cases, this was the most famous, based on the Charles Manson Family, and specifically the Helter Skelter scheme, where the cult tried to start a race war in the late '60s.


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