Crminal Minds 107: The Fox

Synopsis – It’s a cold night in suburbia as a happy family packs and prepares for their week-long trip to Disneyworld! All seems well enough, except for the fact that they can’t locate their dog… it seems that the dog is busy eating a drugged piece of steak while a serial killer lurks nearby. The next morning the wife wakes to discover her husband tied in a chair next to the bed. So who is she sleeping beside? It’s the serial killer!

Cut to three days later, as Mandy Patinkin and the team are looking at pictures, trying to figure out if it was a serial killer or murder/suicide, because while the rest of the family was stabbed, the husband was shot in the head, apparently by his own hand. While the evidence certainly looks bad, let’s consider how we last saw the husband:

Wouldn’t the welts from the gag make the coroner a little suspicious?

Anyhow, they quickly figure out it wasn’t a murder/suicide, because another family had been murdered using the exact same MO one month earlier. Exact same to the point that both families were attacked on the night before leaving for a one-week vacation, kept alive for four days inside the house, and then somehow found immediately one day after being killed, two days before anyone would know they were missing. I hope they explain how both families were found after the same amount of time but before they were missing, because that seems like kind of a stretch, as coincidences go.

Their first suspect? The violent biological father of the first family, who had been divorced from his wife for a while. In a wonderful piece of casting, that father is played by Tony Todd! Ah, Tony, you can’t possibly be the killer, and not just because you were found out about very early in the show. No, if you had been the killer (murdering your former family and the new husband/father is a pretty common thing, after all) then there would have been no reason for you to kill the second family in exactly the same way. Really, the cops should have dismissed you as a suspect immediately, despite the blood on your clothes. Nevertheless, I’m happy that there’s going to be a scene with Tony Todd, and that’s all that matters right now.

Mandy and Derek head into the crime scene and try to figure out the killer’s MO based on the evidence. Eventually they come to the conclusion that they were brought down one at a time in order to better control the victims. This is accurate, but the logic used to arrive at the conclusion is incredibly poor, and contradicts facts as established in the episode. Derek suggests that the victims might have been tied up to keep them from running away. Mandy responds that not only were there no restraints found at the scene, but no ligature marks on the bodies.

Um, excuse me? Can I refer you to the picture above? Or this one, below?

That husband is tied up fairly intensely. This had better be explained later.

Back at the office, Greg and the blonde realize that the killer is taking wedding rings as trophies, while the nerd goes to talk to Tony Todd. The fact that Tony Todd is in this scene is in and of itself enjoyable, making this complete red herring enjoyable. The nerd tries to profile Tony, going into his childhood history of violence, which has absolutely nothing to do with the case. Yes, if his family were the only victims, this would be relevant, but since it’s clearly the work of a serial killer, he’s a waste of an interview except as a witness.

He lets out an interesting fact, though – the blood on his clothes is because he found the bodies! But then he apparently didn't report it to the cops, worried that he’d be a suspect. Which still leaves the question of who found the bodies and reported it to the cops two days before anyone knew they were missing.

Over at the crime scene, Mandy notices that people across the street should have heard the screaming, raising the question of just how the killer controlled the family so completely. They actually address the whole ‘restraints without a leaving a mark’ thing, but then they show the mother and father with the nylons in their mouths and hospital restraints on their arms. While it’s true that hospital restraints are the most gentle, if you struggle against them for any amount of time at all, as they’re shown doing in the flashbacks, they will certainly leave welts, scratches, and bruises.

Now it’s time for another red herring! It turns out the wife in the most recent murdered family had a mentally handicapped brother! Once again, he only has a connection to one of the families, the most recent one, so he can’t possibly be the killer. He does offer an important piece of information, though – that the family was forced to play-act a family dinner with the killer, but he wasn’t smart enough to figure out that something suspicious was going on. Here's another guy who could have found the bodies before they were missing, but didn't. Are they ever going to explain how those two different families wound up being found at such strange times?

Sure that they’re looking for a stranger, the team retires to brainstorm a little, giving Derek the chance to make a statement so qualified that I can’t believe the actor didn’t refuse to say it: “We can be pretty sure that he’s probably found another family by now”. Not only was that poorly phrased, Derek, but why would you think he’s about to strike again? There was a month between the first two killings, and it’s only been a week since the second. More to the point, his MO is dependent on a family having a dog (so he can fit through the doggy door – they know from the witness that he’s only 5 feet tall and has red hair) and planning to leave on an extended vacation. That would make tracking down a new target something of a daunting task, wouldn’t it?

Of course not, this is the world of fiction, where serial killers all work really, really fast. We’re immediately introduced to another family preparing for a trip – since it’s going to take four days before they’re killed, this will give the rest of the episode an all-important ticking clock!

Once we’re back from the commercial, Derek announces that he’s checked every possible connection between the families, and hasn’t found one. Then it’s time for one of their profiling scenes, where they go through all sorts of information about the type of killer they’re dealing with, which has no useful information that might help them solve the crime. Luckily, the new girl actually points this out. Finally this makes them realize that two of the victims worked for the government in different branches. After interviewing their co-workers, they discover an important similarity – both were seeing family counselors!

Uh… how didn’t they know this already? Derek spent the last scene talking about how he’d checked every possible connection, but he missed the fact that both families were in therapy? That’s just awful policework.

They swing by the family medical centre, and the woman who saw both families. For some reason the first question out of their mouths isn’t ‘is there a short guy with red hair who works here?’ Eventually they get to the important information, who were they referred to. Of course, they both went to the same therapist, and the killer is revealed. In an absence of subtlety, he actually keeps fingerpaintings by his victims on the wall of his office. There are eight of them, suggesting eight families had been killed. Which you’d think someone would have noticed, since they all had to have been people he met through his work counseling families.

Now it’s just a matter of figuring out which family he’s currently in the process of murdering. They check with his ex-wife, who just received a weird call from him, including crying children in the background. Naturally, they can just call the phone company and discover where the call came from, right?

Apparently not – in the next scene, they’re searching through his files, looking for evidence. They happen upon a file that matches their criteria, and rush over to the house immediately, finding him in the basement, holding a baby hostage. Luckily, everyone else is perfectly fine. The killer is arrested with only minor incident, and brought back to HQ. Because they don’t have any physical evidence from the other crimes, Mandy announces that they’ll need a confession, which is insane on its face. They’ve got him for four counts of kidnapping and the attempted murder of a baby and a federal officer. He’ll be going away forever, whether or not they get him to admit to the other crimes.

Mandy is able to get inside the killer’s head enough to make him freak out and brag about the killing – how does he do it? By putting the pictures of the victims in the wrong order. He’s such a control freak that he needs to correct them, and that’s that. Meanwhile, back at the killer’s office, Greg makes a terrifying discovery back at the killer’s office. A little box containing… eight wedding rings!

Seriously? He’s supposed to have killed six other families as well? For a total of nine families, including the one he was interrupted at? Wouldn’t someone have noticed? We’re given the timeline of his wife leaving him and taking the kids out of state five years ago, meaning the absolute earliest he could have started was sixty months earlier. Is it really plausible that no one in the city (or even state) would have noticed the relatively unusual crime of a father stabbing his wife kids and then shooting himself in the head eight different times in just sixty months? The family always consisting of a husband, wife, one son and one daughter? And given the timeline he works on and the suggestion that he only really got stressed when his wife cut off all contact two years earlier, the idea that no one noticed thirty-two murders in twenty-four months becomes even more ridiculous!

Oh, and here’s one other thing – where did the guns come from? They mention that the gun was left by the father’s body in each case, with powder burns on his hand (he didn’t struggle against having the gun put in his hand and shooting himself in the head after finding his whole family dead? Really?), but just whose gun it was never came up. Did he also only kill families that owned a handgun? It’s never addressed, and kind of a big plot hole.

Also, and I'm not a family counselor, so maybe this is normal, but if your job was to help families work through crises, and seven of the families you counseled wound up with the fathers killing the entire family and themselves, would people still go to you for counseling? Wouldn't you get a reputation for being basically the worst family therapist in the history of the profession?

They normally catch angels of death because a statistically unusual number of people die while they're in charge. Nobody noticed how many of this guy's patients slaughtered their families?

“Unnamed Family Destroyer”

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

Not in the least. If you remove all the opining about his personality type and Mandy’s obsession with what the children’s drawings say about the murderer’s worldview, you’re left with a simple A-B-C situation. Two families were murdered. Those families had a single person in common. That person was the killer. Psychology never entered into it.

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

Um, yes. This time, it actually was. The BSU team worked exclusively as traditional cops throughout this episode. I’m not even sure why Mandy’s team was called in. Once the police saw two really similar crimes, couldn’t they have just checked out commonalities themselves?

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

1 - Absolutely no psychology was used this week, the crime was solved through completely traditional police methods. Apparently realizing this, the episode really plays up the fact that Mandy’s going to have to Fitz a confession out of the killer in order to put him away for all the murders. While the psychological trickery he pulls with the photos is nice, even that little bit of psychology is rendered totally irrelevant in the next scene, when Greg presents the team with the wedding rings he found at the killer’s office. So they have all the evidence they need to put him away forever, irrespective of the confession.

Had Mandy just called in sick that day much the same outcome would have been achieved.


Anonymous said...

I know it's hella old but my assumption would be that since every family has a dog and seems to be somewhat well off that they were found the next day by the dog walker/house sitter. Not that it's not probable that they were going to kennel the dog or take him along but since he was still there the night before, chances are not bad they had someone coming by to feed and walk him.

Anonymous said...

Just started listening to your Podcast Profiling Criminal Minds. I am liking it but in Episode 107: The Fox you disagree with the other host about 8 families. Even she corrects you in saying you said it in your synopsis of the show. I just re watched it to clarify. Your original synopsis was correct because The Fox only took the rings of the father never the mother. Meaning that there were 8 fathers killed. Now does this mean 8 families no because in the beginning of his killing he could have just killed fathers only but that is never explained.