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The Best Law & Order: SVU Episodes Based On True Stories

Updated May 24, 2021 29.6k votes 6.2k voters 1.4m views30 items

In the world of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, several episodes over the many seasons are ripped straight from newspaper headlines. The writers of SVU often adapt current events into scripts for the dark, gritty police procedural show that everyone loves to binge (if you're looking for something to watch you can also check out our list of other shows like Law & Order).  

What's the best Law & Order: SVU episode based on a true story? "Funny Valentine" was based on the physical altercation that took place between pop singer Rihanna and rapper Chris Brown in 2009. Another episode, "Devastating Story," was based on the UVA allegations published in Rolling Stone magazine that were later proven to be false. 

Other top based-on-a-true-story episodes of SVU include "Intimidation Game" (based on the Gamergate controversy of 2014) and "Scavenger," (based on the BTK serial killer case).   

Before the credits fade to black, and Executive Producer Dick Wolf's name pops up on the screen, vote up the best episodes of Law & Order: SVU that were ripped straight from newspaper headlines.  

  • 5. 'Scavenger,' Based On The BTK Case

    Photo: NBC

    The Episode: SVU detectives are in a race against time as they try to solve clues left by the RDK serial killer before he strikes again.   

    Real Life: Dennis Rader, AKA "BTK," sent letters to the police in the 1990s and early 2000s, detailing how he had slain each of his victims. BTK became infamous for taking ten lived before police caught him in 2005. The BTK case had been cold for awhile when suddenly, in 2004, Rader began sending mail to the police again.

    He asked them if he could be traced by sending them a floppy disk with letters instead of the usual snail mail. They answered him in the local papers, telling him that it would be fine. The disk contained a corrupted Microsoft Word document that revealed his first name, and the church where he worked as president of the church council. 

    Great episode?
  • 6. 'Selfish,' Based On The Casey Anthony Trial & The Anti-Vaxx Trend

    Photo: NBC

    The Episode: Ruth Walker tells SVU detectives that her 2-year-old granddaughter, Sierra Walker, hasn't been seen in a few days. Her daughter, Ashlee Walker, is young and irresponsible, and she's worried that something bad might have happened to her. Ashlee blames a fictional nanny for kidnapping her daughter.

    Upon investigation, detectives find that Ashlee Walker buried her daughter at a gas station. The autopsy report reveals that Sierra Walker perished of measles. In a panic, Ashlee buried her because she thought that it was her fault. The charges against Ashlee are dropped, but the Walkers seek out the Stewart family, who chose to not vaccinate their child. Their son infected Sierra at the playground, and the Walkers demand justice. Monica Steward argues that it is her choice whether or not to vaccinate her child, and that Sierra would have passed due to Ashlee Walker's negligence sooner or later.   

    Real Life: In 2008, Cindy Anthony reported that her 2-year-old granddaughter, Caylee Anthony, had been missing for a month. Casey Anthony, Caylee's mother, claims that a nanny took her daughter earlier that month, and that she had been too frightened to alert authorities. Caylee Anthony was found several days later in the wooded area by the Anthony family home, her mouth bound with duct tape and chloroform.

    Casey was arrested, but was ultimately found not-guilty. Later, investigators found records of a Google search for "foolproof suffocation" and "foolproof ways to die" on Casey's computer. 

    Great episode?
  • 7. 'Gone,' Based On The Disappearance Of Natalee Holloway

    Photo: NBC

    The Episode: Doug Waverly, Nick Pratt, and Jason King are arrested for the demise of 17-year-old Canadian girl during a school trip. The charges are initially dropped by the judge due to insufficient evidence, but the SVU detectives are able to get confessions out of them.

    King testifies that he had a consensual encounter with her, but claims that Pratt did not. Waverley and Pratt ended her to keep her quiet. After his confession, King is missing for a few days before being found deceased. Although detectives are never able to recover the girl, they prosecute Waverly and Pratt for King's demise.  

    Real Life: In 2005, high school senior Natalee Holloway disappeared on a graduation trip to Aruba. She was last seen leaving a nightclub with Joran van der Sloot, a Dutch foreign exchange student, and his two friends, Deepak and Satish Kalpoe. The next day, she failed to show up for her flight home, and her packed luggage and passport were found in her hotel room. Holloway was declared legally dead in 2012, though her case is still unsolved, and she is still missing. 

    Great episode?
  • 8. 'Perfect,' Based On The Elizabeth Smart Story And The Raelian Cult

    Photo: NBC

    The Episode: A young girl is found in an alleyway, and the autopsy report reveals that she starved. The detectives discover the girl was actually taken in Pennsylvania. They trace her back to a cult leader who claims he has the ability to reincarnate newborns, but in reality, he is impregnating young girls and forcing them to deliver his children.   

    Real Life: The young girl in this case was based on Elizabeth Smart, who was abducted in 2002. She was discovered after more than a year of being held captive. The cult leader was based on Claude Vorilhon, AKA Raël, who founded the cult Raëlism in 1974. He believed he could clone human beings, and convinced his followers likewise. 

    Great episode?