Criminal Minds 203: The Perfect Storm

Cruelty’s afoot in Jacksonville, Fla, as a husband and wife receive a mysterious DVD in the mail – one depicting their college-age daughter being tortured to death, all to the tune of ‘Only the Good Die Young’! There’s not just one murder, though, as the father has a heart attack while watching the video and dies!

Who could possibly be so vile as to taunt the parents of the victim? I’m guessing we’ll find out soon, since, with the exception of a two-parter, none of the episodes have ended without someone being caught for the crimes.

Mandy immediately makes the leap that there must be two killers because one of the killers seems to be performing for someone, and not just the family watching it. This would be a useful insight, if the camera, which should be on a tripod, hadn’t moved while the killer is torturing his victim, proving the existence of a cameraman.

On the plane to Florida they discuss the psychology of team killers, and how they reinforce each others’ crazed obsessions, escalating them faster than they would on their own. The old saw about ‘would they have killed if they’d never met’ gets brought up, which is the mostly hilariously useless hypothetical question imaginable, especially when your job is to catch these people.

A trip to visit the grieving (twice-over!) mother proves fruitless except for the mention of a ring, which proves missing from the body, and will no doubt show up as a trophy later on. Meanwhile Mandy heads to the scene of the body dump which, despite the fact that they already had pictures of the dead body on the plane, still contains the unmoved body. How long does it take to get a few snapshots?

While talking with the local detective in charge of the case Mandy mentions the fact that there are two killers, and when questioned about the basis for this guess, they mention the psychological mumbo-jumbo, rather than the more concrete “because someone was holding the camera”. In addition to the five known victims the team manages to pick out another two bodies that seem to fit the M.O., except for some different DNA in the victim. In another interesting piece of information it seems that the DVDs were always sent specifically to the mothers, because the victims are just that dickish.

There are still a few unanswered questions, such as why the killers leave the bodies lying around, while hiding the victims’ cars, but the team feels ready to offer a profile. It proves to be some general and unhelpful blather about how their personalities interlock, creating a ‘perfect storm’ like the DC snipers or Colombine kids. The whole thing is so profoundly unhelpful that the show actually has the blonde girl interrupt it with knowledge of a new abducted victim.

Over in the world of real policework they’ve finally tracked down pieces of the various cars at a single used car dealership in Georgia, all sold by a guy named Joey. His background of petty crime suggests to them that he must be the lesser of the two killers, and they head out to bust him immediately. In a burst of profound stupidity Joey has his crippled father run interference for him, then convinces the cops to shoot him so that he won’t have to go back to prison.

Um, you know, if you give up your partner (or partners, since it’s too early in the episode for him to be one of the actual killers) they’ll probably let the auto theft and complicity charges slide. The crippled claims to have no idea what his son was up to, even after a lock of hair turns up in his son’s room. Their next step – hunting down his cellmate (and natural first suspect for being a murder partner) Anthony Paul Canardo. Their first stop? Joey’s last place of work, where they’re complete dicks to the garage owner when he’s more than happy to give them information about Joey’s cellmate Tony.

Putting the final nail in the coffin of Tony being the killer when it turns out that he’s got a cute blonde wife.

If you don’t know why this is the most important clue, then you weren’t living in Ontario during the early-mid 90s. Good for you.

She professes ignorance to what her husband’s been up to, then heads to a friend’s house while waiting for Tony to get home to work. They neither send cops to pick Tony up at work, nor search Tony’s house. Why? Because they’re terrible at their jobs. This allows Tony’s wife to show up at the police station with a split lip and black eye, ‘admitting’ that her husband’s crazily abusive.

Wow, she seems to be turning him in pretty hard core, doesn’t she? Yet her story doesn’t add up, because Tony heads home moments later and gets into a fight with Derek, who was apparently waiting to catch the serial killer all by himself. Huh. So, despite the fact that his wife supposedly warned him that the FBI was after him, he still drove home from work.

Again, no one finds this suspicious. They finally get around to searching his house, though, which turns up all the serial killer videos, which were sitting in plain view.

Now they just need one more thing – the location of their last, still-living, victim. Paul isn’t giving that information up easily, though. Wait, not Paul. Tony. Sorry about that.

Their have a plan for how to get the information out, though – send the wife in to talk to him. She grudgingly agrees after Mandy uses the power of psychology to convince her that she’s the last victim’s only hope of survival. There’s a tense scene of the husband and wife talking, and the husband is clearly annoyed that he’s being accused of seven murders, rather than just five. Somehow the fact that he keeps looking puzzledly at the first two victims, and the fact that he keeps hitting the number ‘seven’ really loudly doesn’t tip the team off that he wasn’t involved in the first couple of deaths. So he tells them about a storage unit that the crippled father owns, and they believe it.

Because they’re idiots.

The storage unit proves to be empty, which finally clues Mandy in on the true scenario, that the wife is in charge of the murdering. Of course, the psychological insight proves moot, because the tech girl had already took apart the sound on the tape enough to reveal the wife’s voice on it. But they’re too late, she’s already escaped the police station!

A little glimpse into the wife’s background reveals her backstory/motive – she was regularly brutalized and raped by her father and brother, and her mother covered it up. Ick. This revelation leads to an hilarious exchange between Reid and the Tech Girl:

Reid – “Strange. In this case, the abused actually became the abuser.”
Techie – “That doesn’t happen a lot?”
Reid – “One in eight.”
Techie – “We found the one.”

Yeah. Let’s take a moment to let that sink in. Reid just announced, with no citation, the statistic that 1 out of every 8 victims of child abuse goes on to become an abuser themselves. This is a fact he knows well. Yet he considers it ‘strange’ to hear that, in this case, the abused became the abuser? No, 1 in 8 isn’t 1 in 4, or even half. But it’s a lot. And when you consider the fact that 1.5 million children are abused annually, that means there are something in the neighbourhood of two hundred thousand new abusers being made every single year*.

That’s got to be pretty close to the definition of commonplace, doesn’t it?

(* All statistics on child abuse come from the US Department of Health and Human Services' annual report on Child Maltreatment - 2007 Edition)

Let’s set the math aside for a second, though, lest we overlook the rank stupidity of Reid’s initial statement. ‘Strange. In this case, the abused actually became the abuser.’ Um, you’re a criminal psychologist, Reid. Where exactly did you think abusers were coming from, if not by being abused themselves?

‘Strange’? If this truism – ‘abused becomes abuser’ – didn’t exist, then you wouldn’t have a job.

But hey, so it’s a profoundly stupid line that makes everybody involved in this show look like a complete moron, what’s the big deal? Let’s move on, right? There’s a victim to rescue in the nick of time!

How is this accomplished? By Mandy hitting Tony’s feelings of betrayal about his wife killing before she met him? Yup. He lets them know about a cabin in the woods where all the killing was done, and they get there just in time to rescue the girl and beat the wife up, who hilariously announces that ‘they’ve got nothing on her’. Um, other than the fact that you were in the process of trying to murder one of the victims in the place where the rest were killed. But other than that yeah, you’re good.

Also on the grounds of the cabin was the body of her old partner, which ties off that plot thread rather nicely.

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

Marginally, yes. After an episode full of them getting it wrong over and over again, finally Mandy pulled a Hail Mary in the closing seconds, and actually accomplished something useful – he convinced Paul to tell them where the girls were killed. Of course, this really wasn’t ‘solving the crime’, they were only able to leverage his insecurity because the crime had already been solved, but I’ll still give them half-points for the rescue.

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

Again, it was conventional police techniques that did, in fact, solve the case. The clue that broke the whole thing – the scrapped car parts – was crime solving at its most basic. And a perfect example of them trying to make the main characters look smart by having regular cops look stupid. There’d been three years of women and their cars disappearing, then having the women turn up but the cars stay gone, and it didn’t occur to anyone to just keep calling every single used car and parts dealership in the state until they found a lead? Would it have taken a while? Sure. But not three years.

Likewise it wouldn’t have been that hard to rescue the final victim using conventional police techniques either – if the cops had been doing their job the wife wouldn’t have been able to wander off to put the last victim in danger, and they would have had all the time in the world to perform a title search and discover that the couple had a hunting shack in the middle of nowhere.

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

4/10 – Like I said, I can only give them half marks this time. Psychology didn’t solve anything, but it did kind of help them rescue the last victim. So that’s certainly a win for profiling. Ish.


Any Canadian reading this will no doubt recognize this episode as being based on the Paul Bernardo/Karla Homolka killings of the early 90s. having grown up in Ontario at the time, I personally have clear memories of the case, and the terror that the entire province felt, knowing that there was a crazed team of serial killers out there, murdering high school girls. Yeah, the real life girls were younger, all three of them.

The writers of the episode didn’t bother hiding their influences at all – their male killer’s name is A. Paul Canardo, which, considering the real killer’s name, is only slightly more subtle than ‘Shmaul Shmernardo.

They veered off of the facts of the case in a pretty major fashion, though – there was no twist in real life, the husband was the dominant, monstrous personality. Although if fiction was stranger than truth, then reality was far more unpleasant. While the episode flirted with the story’s hook by giving the wife a backstory involving incestuous rape, it was nowhere near as harrowing as the true events, which had Karla drug her own 15-year-old sister with animal tranquilizers so that her husband (a famous rapist) could rape her unconscious body as a Christmas present.

I feel dirty just typing that.

Anyhoo, the sister died from a bad reaction to the tranquilizers, and it was this death that convinced the husband and wife team that murdering girls was more entertaining than just raping them.

This led to the famous kidnappings, extended torture, and murders of Leslie Mahaffee and (who’s the other one), the stories of which held the public’s attention for weeks. In addition to the plea from the families that showed up in the episode, profiling also came into play in the real-life case. This was actually my first experience with profiling outside of a movie, and I clearly remember newspaper articles explaining that the killers would be a team of two men, one of them in charge, and the other submissively carrying out orders.

In a real-life example of the uselessness of profiling, this theory actually led the police to focus on pairs of male offenders for a brief period, wasting valuable time that could have been spent elsewhere.

Another interesting point about this case is that it has a fairly definitive answer to the old sophist saw ‘if these two had never met, would those girls still be dead?’ Unlike the stooge in the episode, Paul Bernardo was, as I mentioned above, a famous rapist long before meeting and marrying Karla Homolka. Known as the ‘Scarborough Rapist’, he’d attacked at least 20 of victims before moving on to murder with his wife’s help. It’s interesting to note that it was an actual idiotic police department that led to his being allowed to kill in the first place – there was a dragnet where the police were taking DNA samples from basically suspicious man in the area, and Paul had turned up on their list because he liked to brag about being the Scarborough Rapist to his friends, and one of their wives found that suspicious enough to warrant going to the cops.

During Paul’s interview everyone noticed that he looked almost exactly like the description of the rapist that a few of the victims had given. The cops hadn’t investigated further, though, because Paul seemed like a nice enough guy, and they assumed that a serial rapist would have to be ‘creepy’. They didn’t even move his DNA to the top of the testing list, just to be safe.

So even though Bernardo’s DNA was always going to be tested, and he eventually would have been caught for all of his rapes, lazy policework left him free to murder for a full 30 months after that police interview.

The cops finally got around to testing Paul’s DNA, but he was captured before the results came in, when, after a significantly brutal beating, Karla went to the police and turned him in. She testified against him in court in exchange for a lesser charge of manslaughter being pursued against her.

In a final, unbelievably unpleasant point of correlation between the real-life murders and the show, there actually were videotapes of the victims’ torture. They weren’t sent to anyone – in point of fact, no one knew they existed for quite some time. It wasn’t going to do Paul any good to let people know they existed, and Karla, who testified against Paul in exchange for a deal, had a vested interest in keeping them secret. You see, much like the gradually-stripped audio from the episode’s tape, the Bernado/Homolka tapes revealed that the wife had been much more involved in the killings than she’d let on. Not so much that you’d call her the ‘dominant’, as in the episode, but enough so that an entire country wanted to explore the possibility of retrying her for the murders when they found out she hadn’t been the passive victim of Bernardo’s madness the way she’d claimed.

There was no second trial, however, and the worst the courts could do to her was to prevent her from changing her name. To avoid public scrutiny after having a child in 2007, she moved to the West Indies, where she presumably lives in relative anonymity. Paul Bernardo is currently serving his 25-year sentence in Kingston Penetentiary.

Tammy Homolka, Leslie Mahaffee, and Kristen French, as of the time of this writing, remain dead.


Anonymous said...

Completely agree that this was a (probably intentionally) poorly disguised reference to the Bernardo/Homolka case.

I have to take exception to your statement that Bernardo was the dominant one, and that he was a famous rapist before he met Karla. As far as I can tell from the evidence, he had committed two rapes before he met her. Very early on in the relationship he asked her how she would feel if he were a rapist and I believe her answer was "That would be cool".

One of his early rape victims (December 23rd - forget which year - I seem to remember that it was in an underground parking garage) said in her statement to police that there was a woman present with something in her hands that appeared to be a video camera. They discounted what she said as being unbelievable. The Henley island rape victim testified to a blonde woman driving by and waving just as she was ambushed by Bernardo.

Additionally, there seems to be plenty of forensic evidence (which was squashed and remained unexamined due to the hurried nature of the ON Crown`s "deal with the devil") that it was Homolka, not Bernardo, which actually committed the killings (e.g. the bruises on Leslie Mahaffey and Kristen French's backs). This was substantial enough that this theory was presented in the Canadian Senate as an incentive for the Senate to consider using its legislative powers to rescind Karla's deal.

Somewhat like the Amber character, Karla had studied BWS in order to be able to fake the characteristics, and there is some evidence that she purposefully incited that last beating. Oddly, for a battered wife, she was photographed at the hospital ***stil wearing Kristen French's Mickey Mouse watch***. Just like Amber's character appearing at the police station wearing her victim's ring.

Some links which help dispel the 'Bernardo was the dominant one' theory:




So the premise of this episode wasn't as far off the original case as you may have believed. Society doesn't want to believe that women are as fully capable of violence as men. Which leaves their victims (I'm one of them) to carry on this fight on their own, with everyone else denying the evidence in front of their eyes and suppressing honest investigation.

Anonymous said...

you know you harangue the CM team for messing up, being idiots, and just flat getting it wrong a lot and yet you yourself talk about how the actual police did that exact thing with this case, with the DC Sniper case, etc...

so basically you complain that they're not realistic in their case portrayals and yet apparently also too realistic?

Bedazzled Crone said...

For the 1st Anon: Paul Bernardo was also the Scarborough Rapist - 24 rapes over a 5 year period - not 2
Everyone was up in arms after they found the tapes and wanted to retry her - but the deal was the deal for better or worse.