14 Criminal Minds Episodes That Were Actually Based On Real Serial Killers 

Katherine Ripley
Updated April 7, 2020 206.9k views 14 items

Criminal Minds has featured some of the most disturbing murders ever seen on television. You might wonder, "How do they come up with all these sick, twisted ways of killing people?" As it turns out, many Criminal Minds episodes are ripped from the headlines. There are plenty of real killers who have provided great material for this show.

If you're one of those people who's seen every episode of Criminal Minds, you might already know which ones were based on true stories. But for those who don't, here's a list of episodes based on real serial killers. Readers beware. 

The Thirteenth Step Is Based on Charles Starkweather and Caril Fugate
The Thirteenth Step is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list 14 Criminal Minds Episodes That Were Actually Based On Real Serial Killers
Photo:  Criminal Minds/CBS

In Season 6, Episode 13, the team investigates a spree committed by a newlywed couple, both of whom have a serious drinking problem. This couple was based on Charles Starkweather and Caril Fugate, who went on a spree back in the 1950s. 

The real culprits were much younger than the actors in the episode - only 19 and 14, respectively - and they weren't actually married. But the murders in the gas station at the beginning of the episode are relatively true to what the real people did. In real life, the first person who Starkweather and Fugate killed when they ran away together was a gas station attendant.

The Big Wheel Is Based on The Lipstick Killer
The Big Wheel is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list 14 Criminal Minds Episodes That Were Actually Based On Real Serial Killers
Photo:  Criminal Minds/CBS

In Season 4, Episode 22, the Behavioral Analysis Unit takes a case after a local police department receives a video from a serial killer. The video shows the killer going about his day, including murdering one of his victims. In the video, the man writes a message in red ink: "Help me." The team soon discovers the UnSub - or unknown subject - has obsessive compulsive disorder and cannot stop himself from killing. His message "Help me," really meant "Stop me."

This is similar to the case of William Heirens, otherwise known as "The Lipstick Killer." Heirens was dubbed the Lipstick Killer because he wrote a message in lipstick on the wall of a victim's apartment. The message said: "For heaven's sake catch me before I kill more. I cannot control myself." The killer in the Criminal Minds episode doesn't use lipstick, but he does write in red ink. Linked here is a picture of this message from a real crime scene.

Omnivore Is Based on the Zodiac Killer
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Video: YouTube

If you're a Criminal Minds fan and you know your serial killer trivia, you may have already figured out that The Reaper from the TV series is based on the Zodiac Killer. The Reaper, whose real name is George Foyet, appears in multiple episodes, but in the episode "Omnivore" it features striking similarities to the real-life case.

The main similarity between the Zodiac and the Reaper is they both send messages to the police that often contain codes and attempt to bargain with authorities.

The first message from the Zodiac Killer took credit for two shootings and demanded his note be printed in three local papers, or he would kill a dozen people that weekend. The Reaper on Criminal Minds communicates with authorities in a similar way. "Omnivore" begins with Agent Hotchner visiting an old, dying colleague, who informs him that he made a deal with the Reaper 10 years ago: The Reaper would stop murdering if the police agreed to stop "hunting" him. Hotchner takes over the case because the contract expired with his colleague's death. The Reaper offers Hotch the same deal in a message delivered via telephone, but Hotch refuses to take it.

Our Darkest Hour Is Based on The Night Stalker
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In the final episode of Season 5 and the first episode of Season 6, the BAU has to contend with a serial killer who uses the rolling blackouts during the hot Los Angeles summer as opportunities to break into people's homes and murder them. The UnSub brutalizes the adult victims in the house but doesn't injure the children.

The serial killer in this episode is based on Richard Ramirez, also known as "The Night Stalker." Ramirez was so named because he only ever killed at night, just like the killer in the episode. Ramirez was active in the Los Angeles area, and he butchered his adult victims but didn't physically harm children. Ramirez was eventually stopped by an angry mob of citizens who recognized him from the sketches in the papers.