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The Criminal Minds Unsubs You Didn't Know Were Based On Real Killers

The recently canceled (but not in the hearts of fans) Criminal Minds featured some seriously disturbing cases over the course of its 15 seasons. At the heart of the series was the FBI's Behavioral Analysis Unit (BAU), the members of which used their cunning abilities to peer into the minds of criminals and unravel macabre killings all over the country. While some of the crimes were hard to watch, the fact that it's all just a TV show makes it a little bit easier to take in, because, surely, nobody in the real world would commit such heinous crimes, right? Right??!

Well, sadly, that's obviously not entirely true. While Criminal Minds certainly heightens the nightmarish aspects of some of the cases, and does include many that were invented in the twisted minds of the show's writers, there are quite a few unknown subjects (unsubs) whose crimes were inspired by actual killers. Whether it's the types of murders they committed, or particular details about the killers' motivations and history, the show often drew from the gruesome details of reality.

Here are some of the Criminal Minds unsubs that were inspired by actual murderers.

"The Tribe" featured an unsub who stole his plan from Charles Manson

Ahh, Criminal Minds season 1. The series was still fresh out of the oven and boasting famous Criminal Minds hater Mandy Patinkin as its star, but it was already dishing out some of the most harrowing cases of the week on TV.

Case in point, the episode "The Tribe." We begin with the brutal and seemingly ritualistic slaying of a group of college students partying in an under-construction housing development on recently re-distributed Apache land in New Mexico. While Spencer Reid (Matthew Gray Gubler) initially thinks the murders match Indigenous war rituals, a cop from the nearby reservation, John Blackwolf (Gregory Cruz), corrects the assumption and urges the agents to consider that the crimes were probably committed by someone trying to make them look like they were connected to the local Indigenous communities.

That turns out to be the case. The titular tribe of the episode is actually a cult led by a white guy named Jackson Cally (Chad Allen), who did some slapdash research on Indigenous rituals in an attempt to make the local tribes look like the perpetrators of the crime. His goal was to capitalize on the heightened tensions brought up by the housing development to start a race war between the Indigenous and white residents of the New Mexico community.

That plan bears a striking resemblance to the motivations of cult leader Charles Manson. The now infamous murders of actress Sharon Tate and her friends were part of an attempt by Manson to instigate a race war between white and Black Americans that he believed had been prophesied on the Beatles' White Album, specifically the song "Helter Skelter."

Tim Curry's Billy Flynn has some obvious parallels to Richard Ramirez

When Criminal Minds had legendary actor Tim Curry on to guest star, they didn't just give him any ol' unsub to play. Curry got a two-episode arc as Billy Flynn, a menacing serial killer with a decades-long career and hundreds of victims. Because of his penchant for working at nights in neighborhoods experiencing power outages, Flynn was dubbed the Prince of Darkness. That nickname is just one of several similarities between him and real life serial killer Richard Ramirez aka the Night Stalker.

Both killers turned their disturbing childhoods into lifetimes of crime and were known for killing their victims with revolvers during nighttime home invasions. The similarities aren't one-for-one, though; while the fictional Flynn drove around the country in a meth-fueled stupor killing people in a variety of cities when the opportunities presented themselves, Ramirez mostly terrorized the citizens of Los Angeles and San Francisco and believed his crimes were in service of Satan.

However, there is one big tell that Flynn was likely inspired by Ramirez: a defining characteristic of both men was rotting, discolored teeth.

Both the Reaper and the Zodiac Killer relished toying with law enforcement

While most unsubs on Criminal Minds only stick around for an episode or two before their cases are resolved, some haunt the BAU team much longer. One of the most notorious killers on the history of the series was George Foyet (C. Thomas Howell) aka the Reaper. In addition to being a prolific serial killer, Foyet also delighted in psychologically torturing Agent Aaron Hotchner (Thomas Ellis Gibson) through taunting phone calls and cryptic clues, as well as literally physically torturing him on one occasion.

Foyet's first appearance on the series, the season 4 episode "Omnivore," sees him murdering a couple having car trouble on the side of the road. This murder is similar to the real-life Zodiac Killer, who often targeted couples he found in isolated public places (via Biography). The other big similarity between the two is the cat-and-mouse game that Foyet instigates with the BAU team and Hotchner. This was also a favorite pastime of the Zodiac Killer, who was known for sending encrypted messages to the police and media in order to toy with and taunt them.

All of those pulled from the headlines cases are horrifying, but take some solace in the fact that Mr. Scratch appears to be entirely fictional.