Criminal Justice Degrees Guide

8 Real Cases That Made It Onto “CSI”

CSI and its spin-offs are often panned for not being realistic procedural shows. "The CSI Effect" is a term used to describe the problems that arise in public perception of the procedures and capabilities of real police work inasmuch as it’s affected by fictitious, television police work. And with investigative professionals and detectives performing raids on the show, the criticisms are not off the mark. But that’s only one side of the argument. Using real-life scenarios to fictionalize and dramatize has long been a mainstay of the cop show, and CSI is no exception. Ripped from the headlines, check out these eight real cases that made it onto CSI. Purists beware: spoilers within.

  1. Felonius Monk

    In this episode from season two of the globally popular show, a group of Thai Buddhist monks are shot in their Vegas monastery, ostensibly by a local gang.

    The Real Case:

    At a West Valley, Ariz., Buddhist temple, six monks (and three others) were massacred execution-style, after being forced to lie on the floor. The 1991 case proved to be a doozy, and a new trial was re-ordered in 2008 due to a probable false confession.

  2. Justice Served

    This season one episode’s case was about a runner who was killed by a dog in a park, and whose liver was surgically removed postmortem. The killer was a nutritionist, harvesting organs to treat a blood disorder.

    The Real Case:

    Richard Chase, (awesomely) nicknamed "The Vampire of Sacramento," killed six people in the capital of California. He also killed animals and drank his victims’ (human or otherwise) blood in order to treat a blood disorder. The blood disorder, by the way, was one that he had completely fabricated. Before becoming a serial killer, he was institutionalized for injecting rabbit’s blood into his veins, and was stopped by police, who found a bucket of cow’s blood in the trunk of his car.

    A Thought:

    Why didn’t the CSI people just do this exact case? Why the need to change anything? The guy may have been a sadistic necrophiliac cannibal, but he had a super-cool nickname. It’s ripe for TV! Why the fictionalizing, CSI? Also, is anyone else jealous that they didn’t do enough acid in the ’70s to become a serial killer with the words "vampire" and "Sacramento" in their nickname? No? OK, well. Just checking.

  3. Burked

    A Vegas casino owner’s young adult son is found dead on the floor of a hotel, and it looks like he’s been the victim of a sad drug overdose. The CSI pros reveal in this season two shocker that he did not overdose, but was murdered by a weird strangling procedure called burking.

    The Real Case:

    In 1998, a wealthy Las Vegas gambling executive (…they have those?) named Ted Binion was apparently murdered by burking. His girlfriend Sandra Murphy and her (other) boyfriend were convicted of the murders, but both were later acquitted upon appeal.

  4. Overload

    Season two’s "Overload" is the first time that CSI creators ordered the ol’ "fibers from the blanket fabric gave you away" trick. A young boy is undergoing a "rebirthing" treatment, and an unlicensed therapist smothers him to death. She claims that he had a seizure and hit his head, but in the end, the truth comes out. Thanks, hour-long crime dramas. Thanks a mint.

    The Real Case:

    Adopted 10-year-old Candace Newmaker of Colorado was smothered to death during one of these unconventional therapies in 2000. It’s an awfully sad story that received international media attention, and hopefully discouraged future "rebirthing" strategies for dealing with attachment issues. The young girl was wrapped in a flannel sheet, designed to emulate a womb. She was supposed to fight her way out of it, which was supposed to attach her to her (adoptive) mother. The story of the account is absolutely disgusting, tear-inducing, and grisly, but feel free to read it here.

  5. 35k O.B.O.

    A couple goes out to eat for their anniversary in this season one CSI episode, but they never make it past that. Someone steals their car, slits the woman’s throat, stabs the man, leaving them murdered in the street. Later in the episode, the SUV shows up with a body inside. A bloody handprint is the lynchpin in catching the killer.

    The Real Case:

    On Mother’s Day in 1995, the Universal CityWalk Murders occurred. Two women were stabbed to death and left at the top of a parking garage in Hollywood, Calif.. The twisted tale revealed the handprint as the key evidential factor.

  6. Double Cross

    This one’s fairly dark, and not just because Catholic clergy wear black. This season seven shockfest reveals a nun, murdered and crucified on a cross in a Catholic church. Two of her sister nuns found her, and the priest is the primary suspect. The CSI team reveals bruises that prove she was strangled with rosary beads.

    The Real Case:

    Father Gerald Robinson of Toledo, Ohio was accused and convicted (twice, and he’s appealing to Ohio’s Supreme Court) of the murder of Sister Margaret Ann Pahl in Toledo Mercy Hospital in 1980. Pahl was strangled and stabbed to death, and one can’t help but wonder if she was read her last rites…

  7. Shooting Stars

    UFO cults and mass suicides — what more could a CBS viewer ask for? In this episode of CSI, 11 members of a creepy UFO cult dump a body in a garden, and then off themselves in an abandoned military facility. The CSI team goes on the prowl, looking for the remaining two members of the group.

    The Real Case:

    In 1997, the Heaven’s Gate cult (also a UFO one) staged a mass suicide. Thirty-nine people were found dead because they believed that an alien space craft was coming to get them on the tail of the comet Hale-Bopp. The story was huge news, but for those of you that missed it, this was not the stuff of legend. Thirty-nine people killed themselves in San Diego because they believed that a UFO was following a comet, and they wanted to make contact. And this is the one that didn’t get made up in a room full of bored Hollywood writers with too much pot to smoke and an American public to impress. Makes it a little easier to understand how people get so swept up with Scientology. And not in a good way.

  8. I Like To Watch

    Why is every TV show about rape these days? In this garishly titled episode from 2006, a man pretends to be a fireman in order to gain access to a real estate agent’s apartment. He rapes her, and is later discovered and arrested by the CSI team.

    The Real Case:

    It’s virtually the same story, just without four well-planned commercial breaks. On Halloween in 2005, a New York City woman was viciously sexually assaulted by journalist and playwright Peter Braunstein, who posed as a fireman to get into her residence. Braunstein was dubbed the "Halloween rapist" and the "fake firefighter." Not as hardcore of a nickname as "The Vampire of Sacramento," but good enough to ridicule a criminal monster. His May 2007 trial lasted a staggering four weeks, and — believe us — it got really weird.