6 Cases from Criminal Minds Based on Real-Life Crimes

The grisly inspiration behind these six cases from the hit police drama proves the truth is far bloodier than television.

From Richard Ramirez to the Vampire of Sacramento, the grisly inspiration for these cases from "Criminal Minds" proves the truth is far bloodier than fiction. 

Season 1, Episode 11: Blood Hungry


The BAU is called to catch a paranoid schizophrenic terrorizing a small town. After violently murdering his victims, he commits acts of vampirism and cannibalism. Amidst the murders, a young boy has been taken, presumably to keep him from telling what he saw. Evidence surfaces that implicates a young man, known to be institutionalized off and on, but his high-profile mother comes to his defense. The team, however, is still able to crack the case and rescue the boy. The unsub is caught, but commits suicide while in jail.


Richard Trenton Chase (above, right), nicknamed “The Vampire of Sacramento,” was convicted of murdering six people between December 1977 and January 1978. A diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic, Chase had been previously institutionalized, but was released and exhibiting alarming behavior in the time before the murders. Just like the killer in “Blood Hungry,” Chase didn’t stop at slaying his victims – he engaged in both necrophilia and cannibalism. Chase believed that by drinking their blood and removing their organs, he could prevent his (perfectly healthy) heart from failing. Chase was caught when he was discovered at the scene of a grisly, four-victim murder. The witness? A six-year-old girl, who was on her to visit her friend at home. Rather than kidnapping the girl, Chase fled, leaving behind daming evidence at the crime scene. He was apprehended and later committed suicide while in prison.

Season 1, Episode 14: Riding the Lightening

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The BAU team interviews Jacob and Sarah Jean Dawes, a couple on death row for the murders of at least 13 teenage girls as well as their two-year-old son. Their victims had been found buried beneath their garage. The team hopes to uncover any other victims before the murderous pair is gone for good. But as they interview the criminals, they realize that Sarah Jean is actually innocent, albeit so riddled with guilt that she still blames herself. The Dawes’s son is found alive after it’s discovered that Sarah Jean only claimed to have killed him to keep him safe from Jacob.


Related: Behind Closed Doors: The Secret Life of the Knorr Family

Fred and Rosemary West took the lives of at least 10 victims between 1967 and 1987. They worked together to rape and murder their daughters and other young women, burying their bodies around their home. Their daughter Heather, for example, was found buried under the patio. After being caught and admitting to the murders, Fred hanged himself in his cell. Rosemary, who never fessed up, was found guilty of 10 counts of murder and sentenced to life in prison.

Season 4, Episode 3: Minimal Loss

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After receiving an anonymous call from a 15-year-old girl, two of the BAU team members go undercover to investigate child abuse allegations against a cult compound. Within the compound, the team finds cult leader Benjamin Cyrus who has been convicted of child sexual abuse in the past. Cyrus has declared himself a Messiah and married himself to an adolescent girl. Police – unannounced to the FBI – raid the compound and Cyrus rigs the place with dynamite, killing both law enforcement and cult members, although many are rescued.


In 1993, David Koresh (Koresh is the Persian name of Cyrus the Great) kept his cult locked within his compound during a 51-day police raid. Koresh was a self-proclaimed prophet and leader of the Branch Davidians, a group pushed out by the Shepherd’s Rod a Christian sect already booted out of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Koresh’s compound in Waco, Texas was under investigation for child abuse and statutory rape. Koresh himself had a sexual relationship with a thirteen-year-old and was known to spank crying children until they bled. The raid came to an end on April 19, when an FBI raid resulted in the compound burning up in flames, killing 80 Branch Davidians. Just what started the blaze (pictured above) is disputed to this day. Koresh’s body was found inside, shot by his right-hand man who then committed suicide.

Related: 6 Killer Cults That Shocked the World

Season 4, Episode 24: To Hell... / Season 4, Episode 25: ...And Back

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When numerous transients go missing from the streets of Detroit, the BAU is called in to investigate. The team ends up at an old pig farm, where they discover that a physically disabled man has been instructing his mentally disabled brother to experiment on people in a sick attempt to fix his paralysis. The victims’ bodies were then fed to the pigs. Thankfully, the team is able to rescue the brothers’ latest would-be victim before it’s too late.


Related: 9 Little-Known Facts About John Wayne Gacy

Between 1983 and 2002, Robert “The Pig Farmer Killer” Pickton, murdered multiple people on his little-used pig farm. The farm, owned by Pickton and his brother, was frequently used for parties and raves. Police soon noticed that missing persons had often been to the farm right before their disappearance. Upon searching the property, they uncovered human remains gnawed away by insects and pigs. Pickton was arrested, and accusations surfaced that he may have not only fed the bodies to his pigs, but ground human flesh and mixed it in with the pork he sold to the local markets. The health department issued warnings to cover both cases.

After a controversial trial featuring a possibly biased juror, Pickton was only found guilty of six counts of second-degree murder. However, he was originally charged with 49 counts of first-degree murder and the judge gave him the heaviest sentence allowed for the second-degree conviction: life in prison with no chance of parole for 25 years.

Season 5, Episode 23: Our Darkest Hour / Season 6, Episode 1: The Longest Night

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A relentless serial killer is stalking Los Angeles while the city is experiencing frequent blackouts. Hunting in the dark, the man has left a grisly trail of dead couples, young mothers, and even one of the investigating detectives. While he freely butchers his adult victims, often sexually assaulting the women, the killer seems to leaves children unharmed. That is, until he meets Ellie. Ellie is “special” in the killer’s eyes, and so he drags her off with him as he terrorizes the darkened city. During an attack, Ellie secretly sends a boy to get help from the neighbors. They arrive in an angry mob, but the killer escapes, taking Ellie with him. In the end, the “Prince of Darkness” is caught and killed during one of his deadly home invasions.


Richard Ramirez, known as “The Night Stalker” (pictured above), wreaked havoc on Los Angeles during the mid-1980s. A serial killer, rapist, and burglar, Ramirez only ever attacked at night. His MO was to kill the patriarch, bind the children, then rape and beat the women, either killing them when he’d finished or leaving them to die from their injuries. In one case, a badly beaten mother was able to untie her young son after Ramirez had left and the boy got help from the neighbors, saving his mother’s life. Ramirez was later identified by a teenager who saw a “strange man in black” at the house across the street. Locals then recognized Richard Ramirez when authorities published a picture of the killer; they surrounded and subdued him until police arrived. He was convicted of all charges: 13 counts of murder, 5 counts of attempted murder, 11 counts of sexual assault, and 14 counts of burglary. Ramirez received 13 death sentences, but died while awaiting his execution.

Season 6, Episode 11: 25 to Life

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Dr. Don Sanderson is up for parole after serving 25 years for the murders of his wife and daughter. Sanderson has always claimed that his family was attacked upstairs while he slept on the couch and that he tried to help when he heard their screams. SSA Derek Morgan evaluates Sanderson, finding that he has been a more-than-model prisoner, and recommends that he be released. But just 51 hours later, the doctor is arrested for murder. The following investigation reveals that Sanderson truly is innocent and that his family had been attacked by a group of two men and one woman, one of which was now killing the others to keep them quiet.


Army surgeon Jeffrey MacDonald was convicted for the murders of his pregnant wife and two young daughters in 1970. Jeffrey’s version of the attack placed him sleeping on the couch, while his wife and children slept in their rooms. He claimed that a group of three men and one woman attacked and incapacitated him, then murdered his family. MacDonald described the attackers as “Charles Manson-type hippies” who chanted “Acid is groovy, kill the pigs.” The evidence at the scene, however, told a different story. Because each member of the family had a different blood-type, forensic analysts tracked the event through the house, bloody moment by bloody moment. They determined that MacDonald had killed his wife and daughters, then staged the scene to appear as though there had been a home invasion. MacDonald was given three consecutive life sentences.

Photos (in order): CBS and Murderpedia; CBS; Tim Roberts / Getty; CBS; Wikimedia Commons; CBS

Published on 11 Aug 2015