Criminal Minds Episodes Based On True Events


Waco Siege, Charles Starkweather, and Dennis Rader (drawing)

DISCLAIMER: The episodes mentioned below are rated TV-14 and include graphic violence. Please keep that in mind when reading. 


It is rare to find movies in the mystery and crime genre that actually have their roots in true events. In that sense, “Criminal Minds” is unusual as a few episodes are based on true events such as the infamous Waco siege, an infamous killer who went off the grid for 20 years and a multi-state killing spree in the 50’s. Below, I will introduce three episodes, followed by the true stories that inspired them.


Thirteenth Step


Two young adults, Ray and his girlfriend Sydney, enter a gas station in North Dakota, arguing about the worth of conventional marriage. The owner of the mini-mart voices his disagreement with the couple, which ends in the two gunning down the owner and all shoppers. The teens end up getting married, then attack another gas station in Montana. They then go to Ray’s father’s gas station after staying in a church for a day. There they are found by the police. Sydney ends up being strangled by Ray after he discovers that she murdered his ex-girlfriend prior to their killing spree. In the end, while Ray and the police await the FBI’s arrival, he loads Sydney’s dead body into a car being repaired and speeds away. He does not last long while on the loose, and that results in him getting shot and killed in his unsuccessful escape. 

This episode was based on Charles Starkweather and Caril-Ann Fugate. In 1958, he  murdered 10 people in Nebraska and Wyoming, as a 19-year-old with his 14-year-old girlfriend Caril-Ann Fugate as his accomplice. He shot her mother, stepfather and half-sibling, along with a service station employee, two local teenagers, a family friend, two dogs, an industrialist, his wife and their maid. Starkweather and Fugate attempted to flee the scene of his crimes but due to the fact that he was driving a stolen vehicle that he could not operate, the car stalled and his girlfriend escaped. He soon got involved in a car chase which concluded in the car being shot and a shard of glass puncturing him. This led him to surrender to the police. He was only convicted of murdering one of the teenagers, to which he pleaded guilty, and got death by means of an electric chair as his punishment. 


Minimal Loss


The Behavioral Analysis Unit is investigating cult leader Benjamin Cyrus undercover, but the leader recognizes that there are undercover agents and he holds them hostage. This results in the police trying to end the inside job. However, a young girl ends up triggering a bomb, killing many people because she believes that Cyrus is a messiah.

“Minimal Loss” is based on David Koresh and the Waco Siege. In 1993, federal agents camped outside a Texas cult for 51 days. David Koresh called the followers of his religion “Davidians.” He brainwashed them into believing that he was a messiah. The siege was conducted because of potential illegal hidden weapons within the cult. The police made an attempt to raid the site of the so-called Davidians, but it ended in five Davidians and Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearm agents being killed. 51 days later, the police and other officials broke into the compound. However, a fire broke out and 76 Davidians, including David Koresh himself were killed. The source of the fire remains unknown. 


Unfinished Business


A serial killer reappears 20 years after his last known crime, and the BAU works with a retired agent who recently published a book regarding the killings.

This episode was based on Denis Rader who assassinated the Otero family in 1974. He killed seven more people between the years 1974 and 1991. Rader sent letters to local newspapers and police describing his crimes in an intricate manner. After an approximate 10-year hiatus, Rader began sending letters again, which eventually led to his arrest in 2005. He wrote a detailed book about every murder he ever committed, which he sent to his local police officers. He was caught on surveillance after leaving a note but police could not arrest him with such little evidence. As a result, they found DNA on a disk he had left for the police, and were able to get DNA from his daughter which depicted a match. He was arrested on Feb. 25, 2005. He is currently serving 10 consecutive life sentences in the El Dorado Prison, charged with 10 counts of first-degree murder.