Top 10 Shocking Crimes that Inspired Law and Order SVU
VOICE OVER: Lisa Yang
These are the real life crimes that in turn went on to influence episodes of this long running, reality-based police procedural – and spinoff of “Law & Order.” In this countdown we take a look at crimes you've probably heard of, including the 2004 case against Lisa Montgomery for strangling the pregnant Bobbie Jo Stinnett, The Roger B. Hargrave Case, Dominique Strauss-Kahn and Rape Allegations, The Jerry Sandusky Scandal, The Disappearance of Etan Patz, The Abduction of Tanya Kach, The Ariel Castro Kidnappings, The Pregnancy Pact, The murder of little Caylee Anthony, the kidnapping of Elizabeth Smart and Michael Jackson's Sexual Abuse Allegations.
Top 10 Shocking Crimes that Inspired “Law & Order: SVU”
These were stories that were "ripped from the headlines." Welcome to MsMojo, and today we're counting down our picks for the Top 10 Shocking Crimes that Inspired “Law & Order: SVU.”
For this list, we'll be discussing the real life crimes that in turn went on to influence episodes of this long running, reality-based police procedural – and spinoff of “Law & Order.” Some of the details behind these crimes were changed for their respective episodes, while others remain remarkably true to actual events, yet all of them remain shocking examples of high profile, true crime cases.
#10: Fetal Abduction
As outrageous as it may sound, the crime of fetal abduction isn’t as rare as we’d wish it to be. With over a dozen recorded cases in the U.S. in the last 30 years alone, this unlawful act becomes a case of murder-abduction if the mother dies during the forced early delivery. In 2004, Lisa Montgomery was convicted of murder when she strangled the pregnant Bobbie Jo Stinnett, cut out her premature infant from her womb and tried to pass it off as her baby. To add to drama and change things a bit, “SVU” added an affair and a trial dealing with fetal rights to the mix, which makes it an even more shocking and thought-provoking story to watch.
#9: The Elizabeth Smart Kidnapping
Child abduction is a truly horrible crime, but the kidnapping of Elizabeth Smart was made even more frightening by the fact that a then-fourteen year old Smart was snatched from her very own home. It was this situation that set the stage for “SVU's” 2003 episode "Perfect," although Smart's safe return home differs from the fate that befalls the SVU victim, whose body is discovered early on in the episode. Similarities are found within the kidnapper's motives, however, with both the fictional Doctor Lang and Smart's real life abductor/ex- street preacher Brian David Mitchell sexually abusing their victims while denying them food and water to the point of near starvation.
#8: The Roger B. Hargrave Case
The similarities between the “SVU” episode "Burned" and the real life case against Roger B. Hargrave are relatively close, particularly how "Law & Order" writers paint a picture of an estranged couple whose tensions boil over into violence. Roger Hargrave was sentenced to life in prison for setting his then estranged and now ex-wife Yvette Cade on fire back in October of 2006, after walking into the cellular phone store in which she worked. Cade's restraining order against Hargrave had been lifted earlier that year, and it was this action that Cade believed put her in jeopardy. The ex-wife character in "Burned" doesn't survive her ordeal, but Cade endured extensive reconstructive surgery, before going on to personally witness Hargrave's June 2006 sentencing.
#7: Dominique Strauss-Kahn and Rape Allegations
Dominique Strauss-Kahn was a high ranking politician with aspirations to the presidency of his native France when a series of hot button court cases shined a light upon what some viewed as a criminal and corrupt sexual lifestyle. One of these cases took place in 2011, when Strauss-Kahn was brought up on charges after a hotel maid named Nafissatou Diallo claimed to have been raped while attempting to clean his room. The “SVU” episode "Scorched Earth" switched Diallo's homeland of Guinea with a character of Sudanese descent, but the prosecution's issues with their client's credibility remains the same. Strauss-Kahn's character is also changed from French to Italian, yet suffers a comparatively similar blow to his career and reputation.
#6: The Jerry Sandusky Scandal
The subjects of secrecy and sexual abuse rear their heads in this 2011 episode of “SVU” titled "Personal Fouls." In this episode, a basketball coach is accused of having a history of inappropriate sexual contact with his students, on the eve of his Hall of Fame induction. The plot takes inspiration from the real life Grand Jury investigation on Jerry Sandusky, a retired defensive coordinator for Penn State's football program. The investigation stated that Sandusky abused multiple students over the course of a fifteen-year period, and also claimed that collegiate officials kept silent about their knowledge of the events. It's a tragic story with no winners, and one that “SVU” kept relatively intact for its dramatization.
#5: The Disappearance of Etan Patz
Not all cold cases remain frozen, as evidenced by this 2012 “SVU” episode titled "Manhattan Vigil." The episode takes its inspiration from the real life disappearance of Etan Patz, a six-year-old New York boy who was abducted in 1979, while walking to the school bus stop near his home. It wasn't until 2012 when a trip led police to arrest Pedro Hernandez of New Jersey for Patz's kidnapping and murder. While, at the end of 2016, the case against Hernandez was in the middle of a retrial after a 2015 jury couldn't come to a decision and "Manhattan Vigil" may provide bittersweet closure to their missing child case, only time will tell if the disappearance of Etan Patz will finally be solved.
#4. The Abduction of Tanya Kach
Merriam-Webster's dictionary defines Stockholm syndrome as " the psychological tendency of a hostage to bond with, identify with, or sympathize with his or her captor." This allegedly played a part in the 1996 abduction of Tanya Kach by a school security guard, as well as Ilena, an “SVU” character inspired by Kach's tenure with her kidnapper. Kach lived under the rule and curfew of Thomas Hose for ten years until collaborating with a grocery owner on her escape. This situation is mimicked in "Slaves," where a couple called The Morrows hold a Romanian girl under emotional control. Kach would go on to write a book about her experience titled "Memoirs of a Milk Carton Kid: The Tanya Nicole Kach Story."
#3: The Ariel Castro Kidnappings
There sadly seems to be no shortage of shocking abductions for “Law & Order: SVU" to use as inspiration, as evidenced by the script for this 2013 episode, titled "Imprisoned Lives." The episode uses its story of a serial kidnapper as a fictional account of the Ariel Castro kidnappings, which took place over the course of a ten-year span. Castro was sentenced to life plus one thousand years in prison for his crimes, which included the rape, assault and imprisonment of three separate victims between 2002 and 2004. Castro would barely serve a month of his sentence before hanging himself with a bed sheet.
#2: Casey and Caylee Anthony
The trial of Casey Anthony captured the moral outrage of many when it became headline news during the Spring and Summer months of 2011. Anthony was accused of being responsible for the death of her daughter Caylee, but was acquitted by a jury, who didn't deem the prosecution's evidence effective enough for a guilty verdict. The “SVU” episode "Selfish" plays upon some of the public's judgments of Anthony's character as an irresponsible and unfit mother, although the script deviates from its real life inspiration when it attached themes of anti-vaccination and religion into the mix. This makes "Selfish" an episode that is only loosely based upon its source material but still riveting to watch.
Before we name our top pick, here are a few dishonorable mentions:
Roseann Quinn and the “Goodbar” Murder
Teenager Devin Moore Blames Killing Spree on “Grand Theft Auto” Addiction
Michael Jackson's Sexual Abuse Allegations
#1: The Pregnancy Pact
The town of Gloucester, Massachusetts found itself high on the world news radar when it was revealed that an alarming number of Gloucester High School students, all teenagers, had intentionally become pregnant, some by much older men. The town had fallen upon hard economic times, and many of the girls had entered into a pregnancy pact “to give them status,” according to school superintendent Christopher Farmer. The “SVU” episode "Babes" injects a more violent tone with the addition of a murder and suicide, while also dropping the number of pregnant teens from seventeen to four. The pact is kept as an important plot point, however, making this one of the more memorable episodes from the series.
Do you agree with our list? Which real life crime shocked you, and did you think “Law & Order: SVU” did justice to their real life stories? For more analytical top ten lists published every day, please subscribe to MsMojo.