Which ‘Criminal Minds’ Episodes Are Based on Real Crimes?

Law & Order (and its various spin-offs) is famous for its “ripped from the headlines” stories – episodes that take a prominent crime and change just enough details to make it fiction. But the Dick Wolf show is hardly the only procedural to look to real-life for inspiration. The long-running CBS show Criminal Minds has also produced its share of episodes inspired by disturbingly real crimes. Here are seven Criminals Minds episodes that are based on real life.

“The Thirteenth Step”

The 13th episode of Season 6 features a young couple named Raymond Donovan and Sydney Manning who go on a killing spree in the American West. The episode is partly inspired by Charles Starkweather and Caril Ann Fugate, two teenagers who murdered 11 people in 1958.  Fugate and Starkweather also inspired the movies Natural Born Killers and Badlands, as well as the Bruce Springsteen song “Nebraska.”

“Minimal Loss”

The BAU team are called in to investigate alleged child abuse at a cult compound in Colorado in this Season 4 episode. A standoff with police follows, with deadly consequences. The story shares similarities with the real-life standoff between the FBI and the Branch Davidians in Waco, Texas, in 1993, which ended with the death of leader David Koresh and more than 70 of his followers.

“Natural Born Killer”

In Season 1, Episode 8, a supposed mob hit that turns out to be the work of a serial murderer. The killer, Vincent Perotta, was likely based on Richard Kuklinski, a mafia hitman and serial killer who claimed to have killed hundreds of people, though not all are confirmed. Kuklinski’s story also inspired The Iceman, a 2012 movie starring Michael Shannon.


This Season 11 episode tells the story of a teenage girl who escapes from the home where she’s been held captive with two other women for several years. The case shares many similarities with the real-life story of Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus, and Michelle Knight. The three Cleveland women were abducted and held captive by Ariel Castro for nearly 10 years before escaping in 2013.

“Alpha Male”

Killer Eliot Rodger was the inspiration for the unsub in this Season 12 episode, according to CBS. In the episode, a violent misogynist attacks people with acid because he’s angry about not being in a relationship. In real life, Rodger murdered six people in Isla Vista, California. He dubbed his crimes a “day of retribution” designed to punish those who he believed had rejected him.

“Our Darkest Hour” and “The Longest Night”

In these two connected episodes, a serial killer strikes during a series of rolling blackouts in L.A. The crimes share some similarities to those of Richard Ramirez – aka the Night Stalker – who murdered more than a dozen people in Los Angeles in the 1980s, as one of the show’s producers explained to TV Guide in 2010.

“Ashes & Dust”

A troubled man embarks on a spree of deadly arsons in this Season 2 episode. The killer, Vincent Stiles, was inspired by Paul Kenneth Keller, a real-life serial arsonist from Washington state whose crimes may have been triggered by his divorce.

Stiles also gets involved with the Earth Defense Front, an activist group that sets fires as mode of protest. The EDF resembles the Earth Liberation Front, which set fires at places like ski resorts to protest environmental destruction. However, the real-life ELF’s actions didn’t result in any deaths.

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