These 17 Law & Order Episodes Were Shockingly Based On True Stories

Photo: Chris Haston/ NBC/ Getty.
If you're not a big fan of classic Law & Order: Special Victims Unit or Law & Order, then you probably know someone who is. No lazy day off is complete without a mini-marathon. Thanks USA, Hulu, and Netflix for the never-ending reruns!
But how much do they, or you, really know about the show, other than the obvious relationship goals that are Detective Olivia Benson and Detective Elliott Stabler?
For instance, did you know that a good chunk of the primetime crime show — and the universe of series it's related to — is based on real-life crimes?
We're walking you through 17 of the craziest episodes ripped straight from the headlines. There are a few spoilers, but we tried not to reveal any of the best plot twists. Consider this your “Fact or Fiction” guide for your next binge-watching spree.
And to that whole beginning spiel, “The following story is fictional and does not depict any actual person or event,” we say LOL. We all know that truth is stranger than fiction, so why shouldn’t the writers use some true crime reports to inspire the fictionalized crimes, and the offenders who perform them?
Warning: Some of these real-life crimes are not for the faint of heart.

These are their stories. Dun-dun.
1 of 17
The Menendez Murders

Plot: The Law & Order team has stopped fictionalizing sensational murders and started building entire seasons around the ones that truly shocked the entire country. The new limited series model Law & Order: True Crime, kicks off with The Menendez Murders, which follows brothers Lyle (Miles Gaston Villanueva) and Erik Menendez (Gus Halper) from the moment they kill their parents Kitty (Lolita Davidovich) and José Menendez (Carlos Gómez) through the twisty trial that would eventually convict them.

Real Crime: Lyle and Erik Menendez killing their parents August 20, 1989.

The entirety of season 1 of Law & Order: True Crime
2 of 17
Tanya Kach

Plot: A powerful lawyer is accused of keeping his Romanian maid as a sex slave in his home.

Real Crime: A Pittsburgh teen, Tanya Kach, was kidnapped when she was 14-years-old and kept as a sex slave for a decade. "About twice a week, in the dead of night, he led me down into a cellar with cold, concrete floors to take a shower," she told the press after her rescue.

"Slaves" Season 1, Episode 22 of Law & Order: SVU
3 of 17
Fetal abduction

Plot: A woman who is seven months pregnant is assaulted, and has her baby cut out of her body via a caesarean section.

Real Crime: Unfortunately the 'fetal abduction' crime is not rare. The first case was recorded in 1987, with dozens more since. The episode could have been inspired by a number of similar attacks. Two years after the SVU episode aired, one of the creepiest incidents of fetal abduction occurred. In 2004, Lisa Montgomery arranged to meet up with a dog breeder near her town. When she arrived at the breeder's home, who was eight month pregnant, Montgomery attacked her and cut the baby, via a C-section, out of the woman's stomach. The victim was found dead, covered in her own blood, and the baby missing. Montgomery had meanwhile been faking a pregnancy, hoping to pretend the stolen baby was hers. She is currently on death row.

"Monogamy" Season 3, Episode 11 of Law & Order: SVU
4 of 17
Photo: George Frey/Getty Images.
Elizabeth Smart, Raelian Cult

Plot: A kidnapped teen is discovered dead after being kept captive, and abused by her kidnappers. It is revealed that her kidnappers were part of a religious cult, whose leader was impregnating young girls, and claiming to be able to clone babies.

True Story: A dark twist on the real-life 2002 kidnapping of 14-year-old Elizabeth Smart. Smart was, fortunately, found alive and returned home safely. The fictionalized kidnappers mirror the actions of the Raelian cult — a cult that believed they produced the first baby human clone.

“Perfect” Season 4, Episode 24 of Law & Order: SVU
5 of 17
Photo: Heidi Gutman/ABC/ Getty.
Mary Kay Letourneau

Plot: After secret video footage surfaces of a young boy being sexually assaulted in a bathroom, SVU detectives step in and find a much more disturbing story behind-the-scenes. The principal of a middle school is revealed to be in a sexual relationship with a 12-year-old student. Later in the episode, her defense says a brain tumor brought on the pedophilia behavior, and that it was uncontrollable.

True Story: This episode combined the elements of two crazy cases. The first being a man who blamed a brain tumor for his pedophilia and sex addiction. Once he had the tumor removed, the sexual acts stopped, until it grew back and the behavior started again. Another real-life story of a teacher, Mary Kay Letourneau, also inspired the principal's character. Letourneau pursued a relationship with one of her 6th grade students, Vili Fualaau, in 1996. She served jail time after pleading guilty for second-degree rape of a child, and later went to prison after she violated her parole to see Fualaau. The two are now married and recently celebrated their 10th anniversary. They also have two teenage daughters. Fualaau and Letourneau are pictured on the right during a Barbara Walters interview in April of 2015.

"Head” Season 5, Episode 25 of Law & Order: SVU
6 of 17
Grand Theft Auto & video game violence

Plot: What starts with a brutal hit-and-run rape scene, slowly starts to resemble another scene — one from a popular video game among children. The episode explores the influence of violence on those who play a lot of video games, and their ability to distinguish between virtual reality and real-life.

True Crime: In February of 2004, a boy in Alabama was arrested after he shot and killed three men, two of them police officers. This led to a multimillion-dollar lawsuit against the game "Grand Theft Auto" which lawyers blamed for the boy's behavior. The 18-year-old shooter, Devin Moore, was obsessed with the game. More recently, in 2013, another 20-year-old student attending school in Alabama, Zachary Burgess, was arrested in Louisiana after exhibiting reckless behavior while driving. He, too, blamed the "Grand Theft Auto" video game for his charge of kidnapping, nine hit and runs, and, of course, auto theft.

"Game" Season 6, Episode 14 of Law & Order: SVU
7 of 17
The Pregnancy Pact

Plot: Four high school girls are revealed to have made a pregnancy pact so they could raise their kids together.

Real Crime: At Gloucester High in Massachusetts, an alarming amount of students became pregnant at the same time. Seventeen girls at the school were expecting over the summer of 2008. The shocking coincidence, and rumored pact, also inspired a Lifetime movie, The Pregnancy Pact.

"Babes" Season 10, Episode 6 of Law & Order: SVU
8 of 17
Andrew Luster

Plot: The fictionalized rapist used the date rape drug GHB on his victims and video taped multiple rapes. He claimed the intercourse was consensual even though many of the women never remembered even meeting him.

Real Crime: Andrew Luster, the heir to a large sum of money from cosmetic company giant, Max Factor, is currently serving a 50 year sentence for drugging and raping multiple women.

"Smut" Season 10, Episode 10 of Law & Order: SVU
9 of 17
Photo: Peter Power/Toronto Star via Getty Images.
The "Barbie & Ken" Killers

Plot: A man is prosecuted for the rape and murder of his girlfriend’s sister. The prosecution is fueled by a testimony from the girlfriend who makes a deal with them under the impression that she was not a participant in the crime. It is suspected, however, that she very much played a role in the crime.

Real Crime: A young Canadian couple, Paul Bernardo (pictured left) and Karla Homolka (not pictured), were nicknamed the “Barbie and Ken Killers” after their brutal crimes. The two were serial rapists and killers together during their relationship. One of the victims included Karla’s little sister, Tammy, who was raped, drugged, and then left for dead in her own basement before she died in a hospital hours later. Homolka claimed Bernardo was the mastermind and settled a plea bargain with the prosecution, cutting her time in prison in half, totaling 12 years. The plea was later referred to as the “deal with the devil” when it was revealed how much of an active participant Homolka was in the crimes. Bernardo admitted to raping 14 women and was sentenced to life in prison in 1995, with a chance of parole after 25 years. Homolka was sentenced to 12 years in prison for a guilty plea of manslaughter, and has since been released. She is now remarried in Canada.

“Fools for Love” Season 10, Episode 15 of Law & Order
10 of 17
The Casey Anthony Trial

Plot: This one has a big twist later in the episode, but it starts out with a grandmother reporting her missing two-year-old granddaughter, who is later found dead. Her daughter, the baby’s mother, played by Hilary Duff, is young, reckless, and quickly becomes the prime subject. She lied to the police, was photographed partying, bought burial supplies, and comes off as extremely unstable.

Real Crime: The Casey Anthony case started in 2008 when Casey reported her two-year-old daughter, Caylee, missing after 31 days passed. She claimed to have left her with the nanny. During that time, Casey was photographed partying and hanging out with her boyfriend just days after she claimed to have last seen her daughter. She also borrowed a shovel two days after Caylee was last seen alive. Cindy Anthony, the grandmother, called police to inform them her daughter was stealing from her, and said that the trunk of the stolen car smelled like a dead body. Seven months later, Caylee’s remains were found buried half a mile from the Anthony home. Anthony was later acquitted of the crime, and was only sentenced to four years in prison for lying to the police during the investigation. She ended up spending 10 days in jail.

“Selfish” Season 10, Episode 19 of Law & Order: SVU
11 of 17
Photo: Brian Bahr/Allsport/Liaison Agency.
Rae Carruth

Plot: After a pregnant woman is found dead in the trunk of a car, the detective's suspect changes after they discover a professional basketball player may have conspired with a drug dealer to murder the woman he had impregnated.

Real Crime: In 1999, Rae Carruth, pictured, a former professional football player was convicted of conspiring to kill a woman he impregnated, Cherica Adams. She was shot multiple times during a drive-by shooting by a man Carruth had hired to kill her. She went to the hospital and delivered the baby, which miraculously survived. But then she slipped into a coma, and died a few weeks later. During that time, Carruth posted bail, but then hid from the cops to avoid trial. He was found in his car trunk surrounded by a couple thousand dollars, bottles of his own urine, extra clothes, and a cell phone. He was sentenced to 18 years of prison, but was not convicted for first-degree murder. Their child, Chancellor Lee Adams, is now 16 and has cerebral palsy as a result of his mother’s injuries.

“A Losing Season” Season 11, Episode 14 of Law & Order
12 of 17
Dominique Strauss-Kahn

Plot: A hotel maid claims a guest raped her in his room. The guest happens to be an influential Italian diplomat.

Real Crime: Dominique Strauss-Kahn, a powerful French politician, was accused of sexually-assaulting a maid in his room of a prominent New York hotel in 2011. More recently, in 2015, he was in the court system again on allegations of pimping and hiring prostitutes, as documented by records and testimonies from the women spanning from 2009 to 2011. The date of his last ‘orgy’ correlated with the date of the accused rape above. However, he was recently acquitted.

“Scorched Earth” Season 13, Episode 1 of Law & Order: SVU
13 of 17
Photo: Bobby Bank / Contributor/ Getty.
Louie Lump Lump

Plot: A filmmaker is shot dead while dining at a crowded restaurant. The restaurant is also a supposed mob hangout.

Real Crime: At Rao’s, a Harlem restaurant infamous for its supposed mobster clientele, Louis Barone, a.k.a. Louie Lump Lump shot a man in the back and killed him. The dead man had insulted the woman singer who was performing, and then things got out of hand.

“Everybody Love Raimondo’s” Season 14, Episode 20 of Law & Order
14 of 17
Paula Deen, Trayvon Martin

Plot: A young, Black 16-year-old boy is shot dead after buying candy in the Upper West Side of New York City. The killer? An older white woman who shot the boy with her personal pistol, claiming he was going to attack her because he was a serial rapist. It turns out the boy was neither, and that his "weapon” was only a cell phone. The woman, a famous Southern chef and known racist, ends up not being charged with the murder to the dismay of the boy’s entire family and community.

Real Crime: The chef is clearly a call-out to Paula Deen and her not-so-subtle racism towards her staff and colleagues. The young victim in the episode was based on the death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. Martin was walking home when George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch captain, stopped him, questioned him, and shot him. Zimmerman was found not guilty.

"American Tragedy" Season 15, Episode 3 of Law & Order: SVU
15 of 17
Anti-vaccination movement

Plot: In this episode, Detective Olivia Benson’s son gets sick due to the anti-vaccination movement among New York moms. The episode then of course takes a turn towards an illicit sex act, to keep it on par with the ‘sexually-based crimes.’

Real Crime: I’m sure you remember all the frantic anti-vaccinators versus pro-vaccinators arguments, especially if you are a mom with children in school. The mommy-medicine-drama clearly reflected headlines in the news.

“Granting Immunity” Season 16, Episode 19 of Law & Order: SVU
16 of 17
Robert Durst & The Jinx

Plot: It is revealed that a trusted member of the NYPD medical team, Dr. Carl Rudnick, has a dark past, and it mirrors the life of Robert Durst.

Real Crime: If you haven’t watched the Emmy-winning HBO documentary about Robert Durst called The Jinx: The Life And Deaths Of Robert Durst, you should. It tells the chilling story of the millionaire Durst, who is suspected of killing at least three people, including his missing wife. Durst also dressed as a woman to hide his identity, and attempted to evade the police multiple times. There is also an epic scene that is directly ripped from The Jinx where… well, we won’t give it away.

“Devil’s Dissections/Criminal Pathology” Season 17, Episode 1 of Law & Order: SVU
17 of 17
The Duggar family

Plot: In the SVU-take, a large family of 13 is starring in a reality show called 13aker’s Dozen. The religious family has a shocking surprise when they find out that their 13-year-old daughter is pregnant. While searching for the man that impregnated the girl, the detectives learn that one of their sons was also sexually abusing girls.

Real Crime: This episode was inspired by the shocking events in spring of 2015 when it was revealed that Josh Duggar, cast member of 19 & Counting, had sexually-abused various girls and women victims throughout his life. Four of which were his own sisters.

"Patrimonial Burden" Season 17, Episode 7 of Law & Order: SVU

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