After 11 seasons, Criminal Minds has had a scary high number of murderers and serial killers. While we need to watch a sitcom after we watch Criminal Minds to balance out it’s terrifyingness, we’ve always wondered something about the show. Are these horrific crimes based on real life? The (scary) answer is yes! Many of the gruesome murderers portrayed on the CBS hit show are based on real life serial killers.
“The Thirteenth Step”
Season: 6, episode 13
Real Life Criminal(s): Charles Starkweather and Caril Fugate
In this episode, the members of the BAU are investigating the crime spree of a newlywed couple. The episode focuses on the couple’s addictions, dark pasts, and their inability to complete the thirteen step (responsibility) at AA. IRL, in the ‘50s Charles Starkweather and Caril Fugate killed 11 people across Nebraska and Wyoming, after their parents disapproved their relationship. Criminal Minds pulled from the couple’s real file, using the murders beginning in a gas station as an example.
Season: 4, episode 22
Real Life Criminal: William Heirens AKA “The Lipstick Killer”
This episode follows the murders committed by a socially awkward man with OCD and troubling past. The unsub suffered much abuse from his father and witnessed him stab his mother to death (which the unsub filmed).This led him to kill in a similar fashion. Both the character on the show and the real-life murderer, William Heirens, exhibited clear cries for help. Both killer chose women as their victims and used stabbing as their MO. The biggest difference between the two is that the character on the show was remorseful, whereas William Heirens died in prison, claiming his innocence.
Season: 4, episode 18
Real Life Criminal: The Zodiac Killer
In this episode, the team first is introduced to the serial killer “The Reaper”, who brutally murdered people while sending the authorities cryptic messages. He would leave a token at every murder scene from his previous murder to prove he wasn’t a copycat killer. The Reaper is much like The Zodiac Killer, who remains officially unidentified, though many theories exist. Both of the killers enjoyed sending the authorities messages they needed to decode. Both killers murdered at random and varied their methods of killing.
Season: 5, episode 23
Real Life Criminal: Richard Ramirez/“The Night Stalker”
In this episode, the BAU members were tracking a serial killer than proved to be uneducated and seemed to kill women (who had children), after raping them in the LA area. The media dubbed the killer the “Prince of Darkness”, as his murders occurred in the dead of night. This is very similar to the killings done by Richard Ramirez AKA The Night Stalker. He murdered at least 13 people in southern California, raping and robbing others before getting caught by the police. Both killers were apprehended by a mob of angry citizens who were tired of the killings.
Season: 4, episode 25
Real Life Criminal: Robert Pickton
Watching “To Hell…and Back”, you probably thought there was no way it could be based on anything real, the killers fed their victims to pigs! The BAU is called onto the case after a family member of the murder falsely admit to the crimes to bring it to the FBI’s attention. This led them to two brothers who had been murdering transients and then feeding them to the pigs on their farm. This is much too like real-life killer Robert Pickton, who worked alone to kidnap homeless people, prostitutes, and drug users for his kills. He was convicted of 6 murders but is believed to have killed at least 30. Like on Criminal Minds, he actually fed some of his victims to his pigs.
Season: 1, episode 16
Real Life Criminal(s): The Manson Family
The case began after the bodies of American teenagers are found skinned and impaled, in what is originally believed to be Native American rituals. The team is able to work out, with the help of local reservation policeman, that it was the work of a group, calling themselves The Apaches, who staged the killings to frame Native Americans. This draws a very striking parallel to the real Manson family, who were a cult that prayed on the innocent, with the false stories of a racial war as they wanted to make different races pit against each other. The leader of the Apaches, The Grandfather, met a very similar demise to leader of the Manson family, Charles Manson, as one of his followers was caught bragging about their killings and who their teacher was.
Season: 3, episode 14
Real Life Criminal: Edmund Kemper
You may recall the case in “Damaged” as the one that plagued Agent Rossi for a decade. Three children entered their parents’ room to find them dead in their bed. The killer in the episode isn’t actually who mirrors Edmund Kemper, but Agent Derek Morgan and Dr. Spencer Reed meet with a different serial killer in prison who is eerily similar to Kemper. Both killers had traumatic childhoods that fueled a lot of rage toward their mothers, they enjoyed brutally raping college women, and had no regard for the life of others.
Season: 1, episode 15
Real Life Criminal: Denis Rader/BTK Killer
The unsub in this episode is dubbed “The Keystone Killer”, who resurfaces a decade after going silent. The unsub was in constant contact with authorities while active, particularly the ones tracking him directly. The BTK Killer, later identified as Denis Rader, portrayed his crimes to the police. Both killers failed to properly strangle their first victim, but strangulation later became part of their MO. Like the Keystone Killer, the BTK Killer had remained dormant for many years and when he began killing again, he contacted police about a crime they hadn’t caught yet.
Real Life Criminal: Richard Kuklinski
The case begins in this episode when a couple is found brutally murdered in their home. The BAU is led to the unsub, who is what they call a natural born killer and leads the local mafia, having killed over 100 people. The real killer, Richard Kuklinski, also had ties to the mafia. He’d had an abusive father, which led him to torture animals to give himself a sense of power. He too had over 100 kills before he was ever caught and like the Criminal Minds killer, had no one particular weapon. He used “whatever felt right” at the time.
Season: 1, episode 11
Real Life Criminal: Richard Trenton Chase
Two seemingly unrelated cases in the same town brings the BAU in to investigate. After a young witness goes missing, the team discovers that the unsub, who is suffering from psychosis, is harvesting and keeping the organs of his victims for consumption. This case is very similar to that of Richard Trenton Chase, a man who suffered paranoid schizophrenia that made him believe he had a heart condition that made it shrink and that blood was his only solution. He harvested blood any way he could and actually did consume the organs of his victims, which earned him the title of the Vampire of Sacremento.
Season: 1, Episode 14
Real Life Criminal(s): Fred and Rosemary West
The team is brought in to interview a couple on death row, as they’re there for the murders of at least 13 teenage girls, as well as their own toddler son. Before the pair are executed, the team is looking to find out if there are any other victims. The real life killer couple were Fred and Rosemary West, who killed at least 10 people between ’67-87. Like the couple in the show, both couples buried their victims around their home. They also killed their own child, though the Wests killer a daughter instead of a son.