Criminal Minds 104: Plain Sight

Synopsis – On a sunny afternoon in San Diego, California, a woman is brutally raped and murdered in her home. In a distrubing twist, her eyes are glued open so that her dead eyes will be left looking out the window. Even stranger, all of her dishes, silverware, and appliances have been taken out of their drawers and placed on the floor in a pile. In an insulting writer’s contrivance, apparently the press has dubbed this serial rapist/murderer ‘The Tommy Killer’, because, what with the eye gluing, he wants his victims to ‘see him and feel him’. Classy.

On the trip to San Diego, they identify a quote left at the crime scene as a 17th Century ballad about a rich woman begging death not to die, and death responding that riches are no defense when your time has come. All of the crimes are taking place in the same upper-class neighborhood, but far enough apart that the killer must be driving from place to place. Yet no one reported seeing anyone suspicious in the area.

Meanwhile, an older lady is attacked in her kitchen by an attacker wearing a hoodie. It’s a copycat, though, a black man who works at the nearby grocery. Far too much of the episode is taken up by the hunt for this unrelated character.

Back at base, Spencer (the young one) figures out that the killer didn’t start leaving notes until the fourth victim. From this they’re able to figure out that the killer craves attention, and because the police and press hadn’t figured out a serial killer was working the area, he decided to add a flashy bit of writing to his MO, and leave the messages. It’s a good inference, but it’s based on the flat-out ridiculous premise that the police didn’t realize a serial killer was running around the rich part of town even after three murders. That’s right – three upper-class women were raped and murdered in their own homes in broad daylight, their flatware and appliances smashed and left in a pile, and their eyelids were super-glued open, yet somehow the police couldn’t figure out that the same guy was behind it all. Sure.

Then comes their profiling scene, where they make broad pronouncements about the man they’re looking for. Because he brought a killing kit, he’s definintely an organized killer, who probably has a skilled, high-tech job and a company van so he can blend in around the area. Because he’s a rapist, they feel he’s striking out at a powerful woman he feels threatened by.

Knowing that he’s obsessed with publicity and attention, the police announce that the young black man is the ‘Tommy Killer’, he immediately calls in to claim responsibility, just as they knew he would. This would normally allow them to trace his call, but it’s masked in the most advanced way imaginable, so they fail at their attempt.

Obviously, this means the skilled job he works at will be a telephone technician, but it takes the team a full five more minutes of the show to figure that out. Instead of just thinking about the skill he’d need to defeat their phone trace, they simply drive around the neighborhood, eyeing various vans, hoping to get lucky. In a prfoundly stupid exchange, spencer and the Black One are talking in the front seat of a car about how hard the guy is to find, and the Black One comments that it’s like looking for a needle in a haystack. Spencer responds that it’s more like looking for a needle in a pile of needles, since a needle would stand out in a haystack.

This is a line written by someone who has never seen a haystack. Or a needle.

It’s only after Mandy goes into the house of the last victim and lies on the bed that he realizes the significance of the corpses being left staring out the window – that they’re looking directly at telephone poles. This tips them off to the whole phone company man thing about twelve hours later than they should have figured it out. They go through the phone records to check which repairman was in all the areas around the time of each killing. Then it’s off to the phone company to find out where his truck is!

It’s a good thing they find it, too, since he’s already in the next woman’s home, getting ready to murder her. Mandy sneaks in, but then hits a squeaky board, alerting the killer, who puts a gun to his victim’s head and threatens to kill her unless he’s released. Now Mandy breaks out the old profiling and tells the killer that if he hurts the woman, Mandy will shoot him and not tell anyone that he was the serial killer, so he’ll never get the attention he so richly craves. Being given the opportunity to join the ranks of famous serial killers is all the incentive the man needs, and he surrenders immediately.

1 - Was profiling in any way helpful in solving the crime?

Slightly. It’s through identifying the kind of perpetrator they’re dealing with – i.e. one that wants attention – that leads to their ability to taunt him into calling them. Of course, that realization is based around the idea that the police didn’t notice a serial killer was working the town, so it’s an incredibly contrived device. Profiling also comes into Mandy’s interpretation of the glued-open eyes, and, of course, it helps him talk the killer down at the end.

2 - If so, was the profiling plausible, or was it more magical and out of left field in the way it helped?

It was a little iffy this time around. Especially in their announcement that an organized killer would likely work in a high-tech job. Plenty of organized killers don’t work in high-tech jobs, or even with their hands – this is just a line they dropped in to make them sound more impressive.

3 - Could the crime have been solved just as easily using conventional police methods given the known facts of the case?

This time the profiling actually helped quite a bit. It seems like the police already should have been looking for people who can go undetected in the neighborhood, deliverymen and the like, but the idea to provoke the killer was actually a very helpful one. Of course, the second psychological revelation was utterly superfluous, as anyone who found out about a call being made untraceable even to the FBI’s best experts should have jumped to the conclusion that he worked for the phone company immeditately.

So, on a scale of 1 (Dirty Harry) to 10 (Tony Hill), How Useful Was Profiling in Solving the Crime?

3/10 – Recognizing that this was a killer who would respond to provocation was a decent catch, although the awful writing that led to their revelations kept it from being a good episode for profiling overall.


Anonymous said...

At the end we have another surprise checkmate. That doesn't happen if you're smart and have basic skills.

Anonymous said...

A needle in a pile of needles? A killer in a pile of killers?

Anonymous said...

The "Black One" has a name too! its Morgan. Also, its 2015

Anonymous said...

The "Black One" has a name. It's Morgan. Why aren't you using it?