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The Worst Crimes Ever Committed On Law & Order Ranked

When it comes to courtroom procedurals, few are as well-known as the "Law & Order" franchise on NBC. Over three decades on the air, the franchise highlights the inner workings of the criminal justice process. Each episode features a compelling case, many of which have a basis in real-life crimes or current events. Along the way, audiences meet talented detectives and passionate prosecutors that strive to apprehend criminals and hold them responsible for their actions. In most cases, justice prevails, and criminals receive lengthy prison sentences.

Although all the crimes featured in the various incarnations of "Law & Order" are awful in their own right, some of the crimes featured in the franchise are truly horrendous. These crimes often stem from predators who target the most vulnerable members of society, claim multiple victims, or act out of greed. Unsurprisingly, the episodes that include these crimes are among the hardest to watch, but they are also undeniably compelling and memorable. 

Many of these perpetrators are vicious and clever, often going to great lengths to evade law enforcement and concoct creative schemes. Other criminals commit crimes after being pushed to their breaking point and are unable to make better choices. Regardless of the motivation, their terrible acts represent the worst crimes in the history of "Law & Order."

12. Law & Order - Bodies (Season 14, Episode 1)

The "Law & Order" mothership series features its fair share of ruthless, despicable criminals, but few are as memorable as Mark Bruner (Ritchie Coster). In the Season 14 episode "Bodies," Bruner stands accused of murdering a teenage girl. However, detectives are soon shocked to find that Bruner's latest victim is just one of many when his DNA matches evidence from several cold cases. Worst of all, Bruner has hidden his victims' bodies in undisclosed locations that police can't seem to uncover. His crimes destroy multiple families, leaving the detectives desperate to find the bodies and bring closure to surviving loved ones. Unfortunately, Bruner has no intention of complying with law enforcement.

The serial killer is vile enough to make his first attorney step down, and his second attorney quickly finds himself dealing with a moral dilemma about his client's darkest secret. Bruner has no regard for his own life, and even death penalty threats don't persuade him to tell Assistant District Attorney Jack McCoy (Sam Waterston) where he has hidden his victims' bodies. As if Bruner's crimes weren't shocking enough, his lawyer upholds attorney-client privilege and also refuses to disclose the victims' locations. As a result, the families of Bruner's victims are left unable to put their family members to rest.

11. Law & Order: Criminal Intent - In the Wee Small Hours (Season 5, Episode 6 and 7)

The "Law & Order: Criminal Intent" two-part episode "In the Wee Small Hours" follows a complex mystery. When Bethany (Naomi Aborn) disappears on a field trip to New York City, it initially appears that she may have left her school group to meet another teen. Unfortunately, detectives learn that the girl crossed paths with Ethan Garrett (Matt O'Leary), a young man who bills himself as an old-fashioned gentleman but is really a predator. Sadly, law enforcement later discovers Bethany's body and finds signs of potential sexual abuse.

The case looks straightforward initially, but the Major Case Squad encounters a significant hurdle when they discover that Ethan's father is a prominent judge named Harold Garrett (Colm Meaney). As detectives continue investigating and the case moves to trial, Judge Garrett's strange behavior piques Detective Robert Goren's (Vincent D'Onofrio) interest. Following his gut, detective Goren uncovers the disturbing truth behind Bethany's death. 

While Ethan seems the most likely suspect, Judge Garrett is the actual perpetrator. Even worse, the judge is fully prepared to let his son go to jail in his place. Judge Garrett only cares about getting what he wants and preserving his reputation, which makes him one of the most cold-hearted criminals in the series.

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

10. Law & Order: SVU - Strange Beauty (Season 13, Episode 22)

The "Law & Order: SVU" Season 13 episode, "Strange Beauty," focuses on a criminal obsessed with a troubling body modification. The episode begins with the harrowing sight of a teenage girl's abduction caught on tape by a business's security camera while an oblivious man works inside the building. When the teen, Nina (Morgan Lynch), is later found dead with one leg missing, the detectives fear they are tracking a dangerous killer. Nina's interest in body modification leads them first to a tattoo shop and then to a former artist who offers a valuable clue. Finally, the team infiltrates an underground event in search of their prime suspect — a medical receptionist named Jess Hardwick (Britt Lower).

However, the "Law & Order: SVU" team eventually learns that Jess' former psychiatrist, Dr. Hal Brightman (David Eigenberg), is the perpetrator. In a bizarre meeting with detectives Olivia Benson (Mariska Hargitay) and Amanda Rollins (Kelli Giddish), the doctor explains that he amputated the woman's legs to improve her appearance. What's worse, the detectives discover that Dr. Brightman has amputated the legs of five other women before Nina. 

Although he paid these other women to allow the amputations, his crime against Nina demonstrates the dangers of his obsession. Dr. Brightman genuinely believes he is doing a good deed, but Benson and Rollins can see that he takes advantage of vulnerable young women to fulfill his selfish desires.

9. Law & Order - Deadlock (Season 17, Episode 9)

Criminals will often stop at nothing to remain one step ahead of law enforcement, even if it means killing innocent victims. For example, in the "Law & Order" Season 17 episode, "Deadlock," a violent convict, Leon Vorgitch (Craig Walker), escapes from police custody. Law enforcement fears Vorgitch will target everyone who worked on his original case, and the race is on to find him before he can strike. Luckily, detectives receive word that Vorgitch is visiting his mother at a local hospital and close in on the killer's location. Of course, Vorgitch isn't willing to surrender quietly. 

Instead, he takes refuge in an elementary school and — to the horror of detectives — takes a classroom full of young hostages. Detective Green (Jesse L. Martin) infiltrates the classroom and helps subdue Vorgitch, but not before the convict kills several students. The classroom is one of the most gruesome, heartbreaking crime scenes of the mothership series and enrages Detective Green. Unsurprisingly, Vorgitch expresses no remorse for his actions and reluctantly returns to prison to await trial. 

Unfortunately, the tragedy caused by his crimes doesn't end there. One of the victims' fathers, Rob Purcell (Jeremy Davidson), takes justice into his own hands and shoots Vorgitch outside a courthouse.

If you have been impacted by incidents of mass violence, or are experiencing emotional distress related to incidents of mass violence, you can call or text Disaster Distress Helpline at 1-800-985-5990 for support.

8. Law & Order: Criminal Intent - Magnificat (Season 4, Episode 7)

Some of the most disturbing cases in the "Law & Order" franchise take inspiration from true stories. For example, Season 4 of "Law & Order: Criminal Intent" features a case that bears a strong resemblance to the infamous Andrea Yates case. According to The Lancet, untreated mental illness led to Yates drowning her five children. The episode "Magnificat" also features a mother who does the unthinkable. After a car bombing kills three small boys, their mother, Doreen (Carrie Preston), miraculously survives. However, Doreen's husband, Paul (Sam Robards), seems suspiciously unconcerned with his wife's well-being.

As the case progresses, detectives learn that Paul forbids Doreen from seeking treatment for postpartum depression. Instead, Paul's solution is to pressure his wife into having more children and homeschooling them. Overwhelmed and ill-equipped to handle her depression, Doreen resorts to killing her own children. Unfortunately, her diagnosis and lack of a support system made this harrowing crime feel like the only solution to the difficulties she faced as a mother. Similar to Yates, Doreen expresses genuine remorse for her crimes. Despite his role in the situation, Paul is free to move on with his life while Doreen faces a lengthy prison term.

If you or someone you know needs help with mental health, please contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), or visit the National Institute of Mental Health website.

7. Law & Order: Los Angeles - Sylmar (Season 1, Episode 4)

Domestic terrorism isn't a common topic in the "Law & Order" franchise, but one episode in the premiere season of "Law & Order: Los Angeles" explores the issue. "Sylmar" begins with the shocking death of two children. The children die in an apparent meth lab explosion, but detectives soon discover something much worse behind the accident. After following a series of clues, they apprehend Terry Walker (Kenneth Mitchell), a young man with extremist ideals. Walker is the leader of a domestic terror cell, but he quickly tries to pin all of his crimes on his brainwashed fiance, Amy Powell (Kathleen Rose Perkins). Detectives learn that Walker's group is transporting a bomb and several members were spotted scoping out the LAX airport.

Though the case faces some initial challenges, Senior Deputy District Attorney Jonah Dekker (Terrence Howard) remains determined to see Walker brought to justice — fighting the Department of Defense in a federal court to maintain jurisdiction over the case. In the end, Dekker perseveres and presents his case to a Los Angeles judge, but he encounters a new problem during the trial. 

Unsurprisingly, Walker makes obvious attempts to influence Powell's testimony when she takes the stand. It's clear that Powell is just a pawn in Walker's plot to commit more terrorist acts, but she refuses to see the truth of her situation. Thankfully, even her attempts to lie on Walker's behalf aren't enough to save him from a guilty verdict.

6. Law & Order - Double Blind (Season 7, Episode 6)

Clinical trials help scientists develop new medications that can improve lives, but the criminals in the "Law & Order" episode "Double Blind" destroy lives instead. The episode starts with the murder of a school janitor and spirals into a complex case involving students with mental illness. The killer, Alan Sawyer (Mark Bateman), is part of a clinical trial at Hudson University testing a new medication for schizophrenia. Unfortunately, detectives learn that Sawyer's symptoms were a significant factor in the murder. However, the head of the trial, Dr. Varick (John Bedford Lloyd), insists that Sawyer's symptoms have been well-controlled with the experimental drug.

Of course, Sawyer trusts Dr. Varick, but the prosecution soon uncovers a significant issue with the doctor's study that puts the young man in danger. The lawyers examine a brain scan Dr. Varick ordered for Sawyer and learn that the doctor has been negligent. The brain scan shows that Sawyer actually suffers from a brain tumor — not schizophrenia — and Dr. Varick's decision to conceal that information means that the student will die from his illness. Dr. Varick acted out of a selfish desire to keep his clinical trial on track, and that selfishness has life-ending consequences for both Sawyer and the janitor he murdered.

5. Law & Order: Criminal Intent - Want (Season 4, Episode 3)

John Tagman (Neil Patrick Harris) is a startlingly realistic serial killer at the center of the "Law & Order: Criminal Intent" Season 4 episode, "Want." Tagman appears to be a shy, mild-mannered young man, but this outward appearance masks a disturbing truth. After the death of a local exotic dancer, detectives Goren and Eames zero in on a killer who targets beautiful young women. When one victim, Claire (Christy Meyers), manages to escape, law enforcement realizes that the killer gives his victims lobotomies to keep them from leaving his home. As the detectives continue to pursue leads, they conclude that the killer's motivation for these crimes stems from an intense desire for romantic companionship.

Tagman emerges as their prime suspect when Detective Eames corners him at work and reveals his painfully shy nature. The detectives track him in the area where police found Claire and use a clever ruse to arrest him. When that plan fails, Goren resorts to what he knows best and builds a personal connection with Tagman. Furthermore, Eames and Goren discover that Tagman is not only a serial killer but also likely a cannibal. 

Although Tagman is a strangely sympathetic character in some ways, his crimes are far too horrific to forgive. Goren secures a confession from Tagman after police arrest him a second time, and the killer finally faces the consequences of his actions.

4. Law & Order: SVU - Scavenger (Season 6, Episode 4)

Serial killers are a terrifying reality and Season 6 of "Law & Order: SVU" features one of the series' most dangerous examples. The episode "Scavenger" leads detectives to believe that a prolific serial killer nicknamed "RDK" has resurfaced after nearly 20 years in hiding. Crime Corner explains that this fictional character is similar to Dennis "BTK" Rader, who evaded capture for over a decade. Like BTK, RDK toys with law enforcement by leaving behind poems, anagrams, and other cryptic messages for detectives. So when similar messages appear after a kidnapping, the "Law & Order: SVU" team logically assumes that the long-dormant killer is beginning a new crime spree.

However, the truth behind the kidnapping is even more surprising. Instead of the real RDK, detectives track a violent copycat who idolizes the serial killer. The case leads them to suspect a news researcher named Humphrey Becker (Doug Hutchison), who has access to a wealth of knowledge about RDK due to his occupation. After searching his home and work locker, detectives discover that Becker is an amateur writer who plans to capitalize on his crime spree by writing a book about it. 

Police officers apprehend Becker, and his interrogation is creepy to watch. He also bears a strong physical resemblance to real-life BTK, which makes him even more imposing for viewers familiar with the case. Becker refuses to divulge the location of his last victim, but detectives manage to find her just in time.

3. Law & Order - Killerz (Season 10, Episode 2)

The "Law & Order" Season 10 episode "Killerz" centers on a very unlikely criminal — a 10-year-old girl accused of torturing and murdering one of her male classmates. However, Jenny Brandt (Hallee Hirsh) isn't a typical young girl. Instead, she's a dangerous sociopath with no regard for others. Jenny is one of the most memorable criminals in the mothership series, and her crime sparks an intriguing debate in family court. Early in the episode, detectives discover that Jenny lured her classmate to a construction site and forced her friend, Tara (Madeline Blue), to watch his death. At first, the young girl tries to play innocent, but she quickly gives up that facade and seems proud of her crime.

After psychiatrist Dr. Emil Skoda (J.K. Simmons) determines that the young murderer is likely to kill again, Jack McCoy seeks to isolate her from society. Throughout her trial, Jenny is alarmingly calm and callous. Despite facing charges for her crime, the girl feels no remorse or fear of consequences. Her defense lawyer argues that Jenny should be allowed to seek treatment outside of an institutional setting. Both sides raise compelling issues about her best interests versus what is best for society. 

Surprisingly, the family court judge decides that Jenny would be better off receiving outpatient treatment while in her mother's care. Unfortunately, "Killerz" leaves the young girl's story unfinished, and audiences will never know if any rehabilitation efforts succeed.

2. Law & Order: Criminal Intent - Untethered (Season 7, Episode 9)

Detective Goren isn't afraid to put himself in danger while pursuing justice, but the Season 7 episode of "Law & Order: Criminal Intent," "Untethered," nearly costs him his life. At the beginning of the episode, Goren's wayward brother, Frank (Tony Goldwyn), implores the detective to investigate questionable practices in an upstate New York prison. According to Frank, Goren's nephew Donny (Trevor Morgan) fears for his life because a fellow prisoner recently died under suspicious circumstances. Concerned by what he hears, Goren reluctantly decides to help Donny. However, he quickly discovers that he'll have to do so without the support of his local team. As a result, Goren assumes a new identity and intentionally commits a crime that lands him in the same prison as his nephew.

Once inside, Goren learns that corrections officers routinely torture mentally ill patients by strapping them to a table. The guards deprive the prisoners of food, water, and even sleep in a disturbing attempt to discipline them. Goren intentionally becomes a victim of this horrible treatment, but even the seasoned detective struggles to survive the ordeal. Audiences watch Goren lying on a table under ultra-bright lights, repeatedly begging for water and a chance to repent for his previous outbursts. Of course, his colleagues come to his rescue, but the genuine inmates before him weren't so lucky. Goren's efforts end this string of crimes against prisoners, but he still faces suspension for abandoning protocol.

1. Law & Order: SVU - Bad Blood (Season 1, Episode 11)

From the beginning, "Law & Order: SVU" establishes itself as a series that doesn't shy away from controversial crimes. In the Season 1 episode, "Bad Blood," detectives work tirelessly to find the perpetrator of a hate crime. After the murder of Seth Langdon, a member of the LGBTQ+ community, the detectives first visit his father, William Langdon (Jerry Lanning), to gather more information. Although detectives find Seth viciously beaten and killed, Langdon's immediately apparent homophobia leaves little room for sympathy for his son.

However, Langdon isn't the only person with ill will towards Seth. An unlikely suspect named Jesse Hansen (James McCaffrey) takes the spotlight off of Langdon after detectives discover his brother, Ray Gunther (Stephen Beach), is a convicted serial rapist out on parole. Although Hansen killed Seth, the story behind the crime is shockingly vile. Detectives learn that Gunther plied his younger brother with alcohol and manipulated Seth into believing he was gay. When Seth initiated relations with Hansen, the intoxicated man panicked and beat Seth to death. 

Gunther is obviously proud of his actions, which makes his facilitation of the crime even more deplorable. Ultimately, both brothers rightfully receive harsh prison sentences for Seth's murder.

If you or a loved one has experienced a hate crime, contact the VictimConnect Hotline by phone at 1-855-4-VICTIM or by chat for more information or assistance in locating services to help. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911.