Criminal Minds 307: Identity

The episode opens with an explosion, as a scarred man speeding along the road in a stolen car gets pulled over by the cops. Unable to escape he decides to take the honorable way out.

Yeah, it was a grenade. Also, he seems to have been moving a load of flour in the back of his car. Who might have guessed? Why did this man kill himself? We won’t find out immediately – first it’s time for the team to check out Joe’s office and try to profile him a little. He interrupts the session, which, sadly, does not result in hilarity ensuing. Then it’s time for the briefing: Three women have been abducted in the past year and a half, never to be seen again. The car that exploded belonged to a fourth woman who was abducted that morning. A woman who wasn’t in the car! So where could she be:

Oh, there she is. Sorry lady, but you’re not going to make it. Scarface died in the teaser, which means you’re the one who gets killed halfway through the proceedings before they rescue victim number three.

A prediction that I’m sure will come true after the opening credits!

The team is headed out to Montana, which is militia country, home of people who massively dislike the FBI. I see this leading to awkwardness! Yup, almost immediately they find local militia groups unwilling to help them identify the killer. Luckily they don’t need the help, since Garcia is able to identify the guy based on their guess that he was in the military. As if there’s only three guys who were military in that area of Montana.

Reid and Joe head over to the killer’s address and find that he doesn’t live there any more. A quick search of the property turns up few clues of note, other than a series of videotapes of the killer explaining his philosophy. Apparently he wanted to theme his life around the concept of him being a feudal king. Yeah, he’s not just a crazy militia guy, he also wants to pretend that he’s a king with women as slaves.

They drag in the killer’s wife to ask a few questions about his personality – coincidentally all the victims look like the wife. It seems that the wife’s parents own some land. They head out there immediately, and find the corpses of all four women, along with a variety of torture paraphernalia. The most significant find is that the last victim was killed less than an hour earlier – meaning the killer had an accomplice!

Part of the team heads over to the local militia headquarters, hoping to find out who the killer hung out with, thereby identifying his likely accomplice. It’s made rougher by the fact that all the militiamen are still sore over Ruby Ridge – Derek’s appeal to their sense of community is enough that they can get a partial description.

None of this is getting them anywhere, but luckily they have another clue to work on – there were roses planted over the corpses, roses that must have been bought somewhere! It turns out the sidekick was employed at a garden shop, and they get his name as a result!

They attempt to profile the sidekick’s obsession with the killer, but don’t get deep enough to realize just how crazy he is – so crazy that he dyes his hair brown and slashes his face to look more like the killer. He immediately heads out and abducts another woman in front of witnesses. Which updates the team to his new appearance, at least.

The team tries to profile the sidekick’s new behaviour, explaining his transformation into a fake version of the killer. As if that’s a useful way of spending their time. The conclusion that they come to is that they shouldn’t be looking for the sidekick, they should be looking for the killer, since the sidekick is now acting like the killer. The show attempts to make this sound like the kind of logical leap that only a brilliant profiler could make, but that’s hindered a little by the fact that any random observer would come to that conclusion based on the fact that the sidekick is already looking and acting like the killer.

So where could he have taken his latest victim? The audience knows – a random mountaintop. In an amazing coincidence, there was a picture of the killer standing in front of a random mountaintop. I wonder if that could be the place he went?

Naturally it is. So they call in the local militia chief, who happens to be an expert sniper, who murders the sidekick before he can kill the latest victim.


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

Nope. I wish I could elaborate more, but this was an especially profiling-lite episode.

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

Totally were. They identified the killer from his military records, asked his wife where the guy’s hideout was, identified the sidekick based on concrete evidence, then after he kidnapped another woman they went to the one location that there was evidence of in the killer’s house. All pretty straight-line stuff.

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

1/10 – Lots of delving into the psyche of the killer this week. Too bad none of it had anything to do with catching him.

I do want to bring up one question about the case, though… where was Scarface going at the beginning? He abducted a woman and stole her car from a public place. He had to have some idea that the police would be looking for him. 40 minutes later he’s speeding down a stretch of highway and kills himself.

First off, that timeline should have made it much easier to find his house. The guy left the parking lot and must have driven somewhere – at least five minutes away, more likely ten. Then figure ten minutes to get the woman squirreled away somewhere, and you’re left with just twenty minutes – at most – that he could have driven from his hideout to that stretch of road. Now, given how far everything is from everything else, and how few roads there are in that part of Montana:

There can’t have been that many places he could have hidden her, right?

More to the point, though – where was he going? Scarface had successfully grabbed a woman and brought her back to home base. Why did he immediately turn around and leave in the stolen car?

Now, you might say ‘to get rid of the car’ – but that would suggest that he was aware the cops were looking for him generally, and the car specifically. Wouldn’t the far smarter move be to lock the car away somewhere out of sight, somewhere, oh, I don’t know…

Like this big empty garage on your property?

Seriously, though, where the hell was that guy going? This is the kind of things that the writers really ought to know, but I can’t imagine they have a clue about this one. He left the lair for the sole reason that by leaving the lair he’d be able to be caught by the police and blow himself up.

How would this have really been any different if he’d kidnapped the woman weeks ago, and been driving around in her stolen car to run errands when the cops spotted him?

I know this show likes its ticking clocks, but damn was this one ever poorly-conceived.


What’s that? Is it a new look at the murder map! You’re darn right it is! And wow, does it show no continuity with the map we saw last time! Like… none at all.

No green pins at all to denote successful cases, just a bunch of red ones we haven’t seen before. One of them is this week’s case (thanks for that – saves me a trip to googlemaps), the second is in the middle of Kansas, and the third might well be the New York City one from earlier, but it’s red now instead of green, so who knows?

I’ll be maintaining the proper map, though, and trying to figure out what’s going on with theirs. Are there currently-operating serial killers in Kansas and New York? Are we going to get episodes set there soon? I hope that’s the level of pre-planning that goes into a season of Criminal Minds, but somehow I doubt it.

Here’s how our map looked last time:

Here’s an addition for Great Falls, MT

And that’s the current map. Who knows where the next dot will take us?


Ah, finally a FactCheck that I don’t have to look up on the internet! As a Canadian who was aware of current events in the 80s and 90s, I’m extremely familiar with the details of the Leonard Lake/Charles Ng killings, for reasons that will become clear towards the end of this recap.

After meeting in the early 80s, Lake and Ng realized that they shared a passion for brutalizing women and the novel The Collector, a story about a man who kidnaps women and brutalizes them. If ‘The Collector’ sounds familiar to you, it’s because Criminal Minds did a ‘Collector’ themed episode as their first season cliffhanger.

Or I may have mentioned it here in the FactCheck section before, because it’s a really, really popular book among serial killers. Told from the killer’s point of view, it tells the tale of a guy who comes into some money and uses it to build an evil lair where he’ll drag a woman and force her to love him. It doesn’t go great. But at the end the woman has died from illness caused by her captivity, and the killer has taken a step towards deciding that maybe it’s not love that he wants after all, maybe it’s ‘more victims’.

What’s interesting about ‘The Collector’ is that the second half of the book retells the same events from the victim’s point of view, allowing us to get a good look at what a monster the killer is, without all of his rationalisations and judgements of the upper classes (from which his victim is drawn) getting in the way.

I profoundly doubt that any of the killers who love this book have ever read the second half.

Using the book as a general guideline, the team came up with something they called ‘Project Miranda’ (Miranda being the victim in the book), where they would enslave a harem of women to service them in their ranch retreat while society crumbled outside after a nuclear war. They weren’t much better at managing slaves than they were at any of the other jobs they’d attempted in life, so they just wound up sexually humiliating the women before torturing them to death.

In addition to the women they murdered (and videotaped, the show had that detail right), their scummy crimes included getting poor and homeless people to come up into the woods to help them build up their ‘bunker’, and then murdering them. They burned their victims in pits and then buried the ashes – as a result the authorities have no reliable number for how many people they’d killed.

Just as their lives made for more interesting drama than Criminal Minds’ version, their capture was also far more entertaining. Naturally it had nothing to do with profiling – in point of fact, they were two of the majority of serial killers that the police had no idea were operating up until they were captured for a single crime. This, despite the fact that the pair largely killed people who knew them, and presumably told third parties where they were going before they disappeared. Hell, Lake even killed is brother and an old army buddy without anyone figuring it out.

And who knows how long they could have gotten away with it if it weren’t for the shoplifting.

The submissive character in their relationship, Charles Ng, was, in addition to his other flaws, a compulsive shoplifter. He stole a pot while he and Lake were leaving a garden supply store, and the clerk noted their car’s license plate and called the police.

After being pulled over Ng made a run for it, but Lake remained, assuming he could talk his way out of the situation. Unfortunately for his chances he was driving the car of one of his victims, as well as using the (photoless) driver’s license of another. The lack of a photo wasn’t a problem for the cops, since the license identified its owner as a man at least fifteen years younger than Lake. Placed under arrest, Lake knew the game was up – it was only a matter of time before they ran his fingerprints, would would reveal his name and lead to his murderhouse. So he asked the officers for a glass of water during the interview, and used it to help him take a cyanide pill that he’d concealed in his collar.

Ng fled to Calgary, Alberta, where he was once again arrested for shoplifting. The police quickly identified him, and told the American authorities that they’d found the serial killer. This led to one of the longest and most controversial extradition fights in history – you see, Canada has no death penalty, and considers its use to be so abhorrent that it was the country’s policy not to extradite criminals to another country where they would be subject to death for their crimes. When California wouldn’t take the death penalty off the table for Ng, the lawyers went all the way to the supreme court of Canada, which eventually decided to just let America have the guy.

Back in California, Ng was charged with the murders of the 17 people whose identities they could confirm, and in 1998 he was convicted on all counts and sentenced to death.

Sadly, as of this writing some 12 years later, that sentence has yet to be carried out. The now-49-year-old Ng remains alive on death row in San Quentin state prison.

His victims, as of this writing, remain dead.

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