Criminal Minds 415: Zoe’s Reprise

The episode begins with Joe Mantegna failing to believably read from a book.

He's supposedly reading the foreward of his tome, but all he's done is opened the cover. The only thing he could possibly be looking at is the title page, which certainly doesn't have any information about about sexual psychopathy in it. Hey, wouldn't it be great if this was shot in the same bookstore that Geoff Pierson had been in back in season 1? I suppose it's way too late to bring up my preference for him taking over the Mandy Patinkin part, right? Not that I'm complaining about Joe - love the guy - it's just they'd already established a John Douglas figure in the world, so having another one turn up is just peculiar.

Anyhow, in the audience a red-haired woman is taking copious notes. Which is an odd thing to do, considering she could just grab a copy of the book for herself and read the actual text he's reading.

You know, this might actually be the same bookstore (which is being shot at a library, apparently) - I should dig out my DVDs of the first season to check...

The red-haired girl, the 'Zoe' of the title, approaches Joe after the reading and asks him if the team is looking into the 11% increase in murders they've had in Cleveland in the past month. She thinks a serial killer is working, but no one is listening to her! Joe doesn't believe her either, because the five murders she's pointed out were all featuring different M.O.s and victim types. Joe blows her off, leaving her with a card and a suggestion to keep investigating.

Which she does by wandering around the crime scene where the last murder was committed alone, in the middle of the night. Then a guy walks up to her, and she immediately tells him exactly why she's there and what she's doing.

Seriously? She pulled a Naomi Misora? I swear to god, this girl is supposed to be an expert on serial killers, yet when she runs into a creepy twenty-something guy hanging around one of the crime scenes in the middle of the night (why is she going alone in the middle of the night?) she immediately starts telling him that she's close to catching the killer? What is wrong with this woman?

Zoe, I'm sorry to have to say this, but you were too stupid to continue to live.

Now very dead, all Zoe can do is offer a motivation for Joe to get involved in the case, which is exactly what happens. See, they found his business card on her body, and immediately called him. Which is nice, but it raises an important question - why did the killer murder Zoe? Yes, she told him that she was investigating the recent spate of murders, but he, theoretically, anyhow, was going out of his way to commit those murders in random and disconnected ways to keep the cops from realizing he was out there. Yes, Zoe was on to him, and could have brought his crimes to light, but wouldn't killing someone at the site of the latest murder also go a long way towards attracting the attention of the police, and convince them something more serious than a few random crimes was occurring?

I guess we'll find out after the opening credits?

Joe looks over the crime scene and asks to see Zoe's notebook, then decides, after meeting with her mother, that he's going to stick around and work on the case. Why? Because it just got personal!

That's Zoe's room. It's not relevant to the plot, I just thought that the Silence of the Lambs poster next to the collection of goth dolls was a little on the nose.

The team meets to discuss Zoe's case, and look over all the crime scene photos. The murders are notable because each is completely different - gay guy shot in a park, prostitute with a slashed throat, teens shot in a parked car, woman murdered BTK-style in her apartment. And by BTK-style I mean exactly BTK-style.

Right down to the killer using a lamp cord to tie her up. Luckily the team notices that all of the killings are designed to look exactly like the work of famous serial killers! But how can they use this information to catch him? The team rushes to Cleveland to help with the case, gathering up a list of students taking classes in Criminology. The team gives the standard profile (white male, 20s, blah, blah, blah) but Joe doesn't help out. He's distracted by Zoe's death, and unable to concentrate on the case. It's more difficult, he's learning, to emotionally distance yourself from the case when you personally know one of the people involved. Which isn't a very deep point, but at least Joe's character is getting a little depth.

Joe and JJ go to talk to a local crime reporter, asking her to plant information in her next column about that might help draw the killer out. The information? That the cops have figured out his identifying signature! Not sure how lying is going to help, unless they consider 'pretending to be famous serial killers' a signature. Which, according to the dialogue, they do not.

Then it's off to the new crime scene, where the killer has strangled another person to death! That's two strangulations in a row! Has the killer found his fetish? Derek certainly thinks so, although Reid points out the crime's similarity to that of Altemio Sanchez, the bike-path rapist. The name-check gives me an excuse to mention him later in this article, mostly because the story of how he was captured is an amazing tale of police incompetence.

It's in this scene that we get the 'Emily Prentiss Award for Stupidest Thing Said By An FBI Agent' for this episode, with Reid's line:

Now, technically in this episode the signature actually did 'wash away', since it was a kiss on the forehead - but there's no reason he should be assuming that's the case. What if the signature was a strip of clothing stolen? A piece of jewelry taken as a souvenir? A pentagram carved into the heel of the left foot? Would any of those things likely have 'washed away'? Or did everyone overlook this line because they already knew what the signature was, and didn't think anything of writing the episode as if the characters did?

Reid points out that it's possible there are other victims they've missed, since they're operating only on Zoe's notes, and she was basing her analysis entirely on news reports of homicides. His observation? Not every murder is reported in the press, so there could have been other serial killings she didn't catch!

Hold on a second there - maybe this is just because I live in a city where it's a big deal if we get twenty murders in a year, but in a town like Cleveland would there really be so many murders that they don't all make the papers? I mean, I know they had a serial killer last year (or maybe it was 2009...), but Cleveland can't have more than 100-150 murders a year. Why wouldn't they all get reported on?

I feel like this is the point of view of someone living in Los Angeles accidentally slipping into their writing where it really shouldn't.

Zoe's mother then drops by the police station - she's angry because Joe went behind her back to pay for Zoe's funeral. Which she's completely against, BTW, feeling that, as a single mother, she should spend a lot of money on a funeral to show just how much she valued her child. I'm making it clear that I can't relate to this, right?

There's another murder while they're discussing Joe's socially awkward situation (remember, in the world of Criminal Minds, every killer is a spree killer), and the team rushes over to the scene, hoping the freshness of the corpse will give them a lead.

This is three strangulations now, so the team is pretty sure he's not a copycat any more. Also interesting is the fact that he wiped the woman's forehead clean. Why would he do that? They check Zoe's body for a similar mark, and discover that he likes to kiss the foreheads of his victims! It's the signature that they were desperate to find! I'm not sure how leaking the information to the press so that he knew to destroy evidence was the better choice, rather than just carefully examining the body.

Joe, assuming (for unclear reasons) that a clue can be gleaned from Zoe's notebook, carefully reads it over and over again.

It's Garcia who comes back with the solution, however - there's a DNA match from the evidence on the body to a local villain who studied criminology in prison! Wait, did Garcia just solve the crime again? I love it when she does that!

The team tracks him down to a local park, where he's pretending to attack his girlfriend as part of a sick rape-fantasy game. They arrest him at the scene, but when the girlfriend reveals that it was all a put-on, the team discovers they don't have a case. Well, other than the DNA found on Zoe. The killer agrees to talk to Joe, so he heads in for a confab, but given the team's complete inability to 'Cracker' people, I don't hold out much hope.

So, what's the killer's play? He intimates that he had more than eight victims, and he wants a deal if he's going to tell them who the other dead people are! JJ confirms that there are four other missing persons within the time window who could be his other kills. The detective in charge of the case immediately jumps to the conclusion that the DA will have to give the killer a deal, although I'm not sure why. Isn't this something that those families should be consulted on?

Here's the choice - A) your loved one's crime will 'officially' go unsolved, but the guy who did it will be dead. B) Get a body to bury, but in doing so, ensure that the person who killed your loved one will not get the death penalty.

How many people are really likely to pick B?

Nonetheless, Rossi tries to bluff the killer into giving away some information, but the killer keeps quiet. There's a helpful clue in his apartment, however - framed pictures of four odd places. Wait, for missing people and four pictures... could that mean something?

What is Rossi bringing to the table? Guessing that the kiss on the forehead is some kind of twisted show of demented love! Is that helpful? Nope!

Emily's having a much better time with the girlfriend. Interviewing her about their sex habits, she reveals all the public places where they made love. Since they're all in the places where murders had happened, the team can use their freaky sex-play to determine where the crimes were committed! Confronted with this information, the killer admits to all his other crimes, says that he did it for no other reason than because he loves murder, and the case is solved!


Except for a scene of David canceling his book tour, because after Zoe's death he doesn't feel comfortable publicly talking about serial killing for a while. JJ suggests that maybe he should continue, since it was one of his talks that convinced her to join the FBI in the first place! Why? The heartwarming story of the time he managed to save a kid who'd been kidnapped by a serial killer!

Which the show continues to treat like it's a strange and rare occurrence, even though it literally happens every single week.

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

It was an especially bad week for profiling, as the case was solved entirely based on DNA evidence.

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

See above in re: It was. I've got to wonder why they didn't look into the gun, though - now that once they'd figured the killer was trying to ape the Son of Sam, right down to using the same type of gun, why not check on places he might have gotten that weapon, and seen if they'd remembered someone looking for an oddly specific firearm?

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

1/10 - DNA solved the case, and a simple interview of the girlfriend let them know where other bodies were buried. They barely did anything that could be considered 'solving' this week, and the whole 'leaking signature' thing only served to make it more difficult to find the killer - it was just dumb luck that Zoe's body still had evidence on it. Simply asking the coroner to do their job and carefully examine the corpse would have gotten the same result.

Criminal Minds: Factcheck!

This week's episode wasn't actually about Altemio Sanchez, the bike-path rapist. But since there's never going to be an episode about the scumbag, this might be my only chance to regale you with the amazing story of police inattention that prolonged his killing spree.

Murdering and/or raping women over a 25-year period, Sanchez escaped prosecution for so long due entirely to the lack of a single question being asked in 1981. A few days after her brutal rape at the hands of Sanchez, an unnamed woman spotted her attacker getting into a car in a mall parking lot. She took down the license plate number and gave it to the police, who questioned the owner, a Latino man who basically conformed to the woman's description. Questioned about the rape, the man offered an alibi - he had been at a party on the day and time in question, and had a dozen witnesses who could confirm his presence. The police, loathe to seriously investigate rapes (Sanchez didn't kill his first victim until 1990, at this point he was a serial rapist), left the car owner alone and eventually gave up on the case.

So, here comes the audience participation portion of this article. What single question, based on the facts of the case listed above, if asked at this juncture, could have solved the crime as well as prevented a dozen rapes and at least three murders? It's the question that would, in fact, solve the case 25 years later, when a police officer asked it of the Latino man after finding the details of the rape case in deep in the department's files.

Lock in your guesses now, because directly below is the answer:

“Did you drive the car to the mall yesterday?”

That's right. The cops never bothered to confirm whether the car owner was the man that the victim had seen at the mall. No photo array, no lineup, nothing. When finally asked this question 25 years later, the man didn't remember that specific day, but volunteered that he regularly lent his car to his nephew, Altemio Sanchez, who could have easily been the man at the mall that day. A quick DNA test later, and they had a serial killer in custody!

What's the moral of the story? Simple: Investigate rape cases more thoroughly, and you'll catch more serial killers!


Anonymous said...

I'm not sure, but I think the reason he killed Zoey in the first place is because he thought she was with the police somehow. That's the impression I got anyway.

feenix219 said...

even though they save someone every week, combined with the fact that each are spree killers, and there are 3-10 victims they don't save for each case, then the one they do save literally every week, is still a very small percentage. just saying.

Cooper said...

I would pick B if my son's body was missing, and out there somewhere. I wouldn't sleep at night with that piece of information. Of course it is an impossible decision, because I would want the monster dead, but without a plea, there is a chance of acquittal (ahem OJ ahem) or not guilty by reason of insanity. The plea secures the guilty verdict which is why it is done in the first place. Yes, I would pick B. I'd want my son's body and the guilty plea locked in. That question took me to a very dark place...pandemics will mess with the mind.