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The Real-Life Person That Inspired Two Of Criminal Minds' Beloved Agents

Criminal Minds, the long running drama centered around catching serial killers, starts with an improbable event. Psychological profiler Jason Gideon (Mandy Patinkin) tells a room full of cops that the killer they're looking for will have a speech impediment. At first, this assertion seems audacious but by the end of the episode, Gideon is facing a store clerk with both a stutter and a gun trained on him. What makes it even more impressive is that this case is actually based on a true story.

Across 15 seasons of Criminal Minds, several episodes are inspired by real life crimes, but this first episode goes a step further than most. Gideon's character is, in fact, inspired by the very real FBI criminal profiler, John E. Douglas, who posited that the Trailside Killer operating near San Francisco in the eighties had a speech impediment — and, according to the New Yorker, he was right. There's many things you probably never noticed in the first episode of this fan-favorite series, but the truth behind Gideon's real-life inspiration is truly surprising.

As one of the earliest profilers, Douglas has become a huge inspiration for film and TV

Criminal profilers, like Douglas or the team on Criminal Minds, use their knowledge of common serial killer traits to try and get in the mind of the unknown subject (or the unsub, for short) that they're looking to catch. In truth, the real FBI's Behavioral Analysis Unit investigates crimes other than purely serial killers, but Douglas was instrumental in its creation as one of the earliest psychological criminal profilers. He's written several books on his work, including Mindhunter: Inside the FBI's Elite Serial Crime Unit, and Inside the Mind of BTK.

When Mandy Patinkin left Criminal Minds, the character of Gideon was replaced by David Rossi (Joe Mantegna). Rossi, though, also takes some inspiration from Douglas. Both characters are senior members of the BAU who have been there from the beginning. 

They aren't the only ones. According to A&E Real Crime, Douglas was also the inspiration behind the character Jack Crawford in Silence of the Lambs, as well as the premise of the Netflix series Mindhunter, which follows two FBI agents as they interview serial killers.

However, just as Douglas amazingly got the detail about the stutter correct, he missed the mark on the killer's age. Criminal profilers have had success stories that paint them as psychics, but they've thrown out just as many details that didn't pan out. Though Criminal Minds portrays the behavioral work as crucial to each case's success, there's plenty of criticism against real profiling. Still, it makes for endlessly entertaining TV.