Criminal Minds 722: Profiling 101

We open on Joe sitting outside, going over a list of scratched-off names - all women. The list has 40 typewritten names on it, and a 41st added in pen. Might that be significant? Greg shows up to escort the distracted Joe to some kind of a large gathering where the whole team is waiting. Joe's so flustered he has to splash water on his face first. What's making this class he's going to lecture in front of so stressful?

The team announces that they're going to be talking about what makes a serial killer. They show two women from different backgrounds and classes, saying that they couldn't be more different-

(Other than the whole thin and pretty thing, I guess)
The one thing they had in common? Crossing paths with 'the most profilic serial killer the BAU has ever seen'! Wow, so they're starting an episode talking about Frank? That's amazing! This show basically never references earlier cases, so I'm excited about the twist.

The team talks about how this killer probably grew up in a monstrously abusive household, but that people shouldn't be prejudiced against the monstrously abused, since they don't all become killers. Joe furthers his point by saying 'not all' psychopaths become killers, as if that's some kind of revelation. The vast majority of psychopaths don't become killers, Joe - you should know that.

Okay, so it turns out they were lying about the 'most prolific' thing. The killer they're talking about is still out there, and he butchers women up and down the California coast. But he's only got 40 victims so far, and Frank was well into 3 digits. Still, the team thinks this is a good case to use, although I'm not sure why, since you can't talk about someone's past definitively until you know what it is, and they apparently haven't caught this one yet. I guess we'll find out what they mean (and why Joe was freaked out) after the opening credits!

It's a classic Joe story! The reason he's so invested in the case is that he's been working it since the 90s - making it the third case that has 'haunted him all these years' and the second that has done the severe haunting without ever being mentioned on the show! We see Joe at the autopsy of the very first victim-

Looking amazingly unlike he did back in '92-

Of course, that's not the show's fault - after all, what were they to do, hire Kevin Corrigan to play the 20-years younger version of Joe Mantegna?

Actually, that probably would have worked out just fine, come to think of it. It's certainly better than having Joe walking around looking like 'Old Ron Silver' in Timecop.

Before we move on, I'm going to file my standard objection: isn't it a little weird that they flew Joe all the way across the country because a single runaway turned up dead? This is the first victim, remember - there's no reason for Joe to pay more attention to the case than a polite phone call so far.

They explain the methodology of forensics - 50+ stab wounds means overkill, he was probably young because the women were, and he was able to use a ruse to isolate them before the attack. They explain that he must have grown more confident between the first and second killings because he went after a runaway first, and a college girl second. Which would be a great piece of analysis, except that based on those two victims you have no idea if he was stalking them or knew anything about their lives. According to the flashback the killer got his second victim by lurking outside a bar and waiting for a drunk woman to stumble out unescorted. When that happened, he killed her. That's not exactly a complex scheme requiring a lot of planning or wit.

While the lecture continues Joe gets a phone call, which he takes backstage. He gets on the phone with a warden, and discovers that he won't get to visit someone today because of a riot. Oh, so the guy's already in jail - that's a relief, anyhow.

The rundown continues, with the team explaining that if they just could have figured out why the killer was mutilating the victims' genitals, that would be an important clue to solving the case. Why always leads to who, they explain. Only it never has in the history of the show. Fingerprints lead to who.

It seems after the first couple of murders the case went cold until five years later, when two bodies turned up in San Francisco! And it's on this trip that Joe first met Greg! No mention of Mandy is made in any of these scene, or explanation offered as to why he isn't working the cases. Greg and Joe discuss the killer's M.O., and figure that since he went underground after the first two murders were covered in the press, he'd likely do the same if these latest bodies turned up. It's too late to get the cat in the bag, though, and Joe's face winds up plastered all over the papers as the man who's trying to catch the 'Womb Raider'.


Yes, I know the killer removes uteri, but no one would ever call him that, especially not in the press. It would full-stop never happen. Screw you, Criminal Minds.

There was another murder in 2005, which the whole team showed up to investigate - Mandy, once again, goes unmentioned. And since they'd caught the first victim right away, and he always kills in pairs, they knew the general kind of woman he'd be going after in a second victim. But would they be able to find her in time? The team explains that they made a profile - loser, white, owns a van - but doesn't explain how that may be of any use in tracking the guy down. They frame is as a way of 'narrowing down' the kind of person they're looking for, but in 90% of these cases the killer is a white loser with a van, so how much narrowing down do you really need to do?

More significance is given to the uterus removal, hoping that figuring out the symbolism will lead them to the motive that they're sure will lead to the killer. Of course, while explaining this Joe admits that the motive probably only makes sense within the killer's diseased mind - which would probably make that information useless to investigators. Unless, you know, he kills his victims in places that form the shape of a uterus on a map, and his mother lives in the middle of the shape. Then it might help.

The team continues telling the story - which is proving to be a super-distancing way of framing a narrative, by the way - of how a second victim never turned up, and the case went cold one more. Thrilling. This time we cut to 2009, after Joe was back on the team. This gives us a chance to see Reid in a hilarious wig-

That accurately represents how terrible Reid's hair was back then. How could anyone ever take this man seriously?

This time the team had a plan, though - go to Seattle (where both the first and latest killings took place) and set a trap for the killer! The nature of the trap? Announce that you've caught the killer! They explain that hopefully this will get the killer reacting to them, rather than them just reacting to him. Proactivity sounds great in theory, but practically speaking, once the FBI has announced they're all over the case the killer has just three possible responses:

1 - Go underground again because the cops are onto him.
2 - Send a letter to the cops letting them know that he's still out there.
3 - Kill another woman immediately to prove that he's still out there.

Notice how 66% of the outcomes are the exact opposite of what the team wants to have happen? How is that a good bet?

The next night after the message goes out the killer abducts another woman - which is what he was planning on doing anyways. It seems to me like the press strategy was a total waste of time.

Well, other than the fact that it created a giant timeline problem in the show. Remember how this latest abduction was shown to be a reaction to the 'we've got him' broadcast?

The next flashback is to the team finding out about the second abduction while flying to Seattle. So did they do the broadcast in Quantico with an elaborate fake set? That makes no sense, so it can only be that the producers lost track of the show's timeline.

At least we get an audience member being incredulous at the idea that the team has their own jet. Thank god someone said it.

It turns out that the latest victim was abducted from the exact same location as the second victim in '92! This means the spot is ridiculously significant, so Garcia searched every possible database to find something noteworthy that happened in the alley. She came up with: A rape! Which is pretty bad, especially when she violates medial records to discover that the victim became pregnant and had the child! Sadly, the mother died right after childbirth during... an emergency hysterectomy!

Well, that ties a neat little bow on the uterus removal, doesn't it? And it also gives them a name for the killer. They search his records and - yup, he was abused his whole childhood. So not a huge shock there. Prison psychological records showed that the killer super-hated the grandmother who abused him his whole life, and since she'd just been moved into a hospital in Seattle, the team figures that he must have come back to his home town in order to deal with her!

Luckily the killer left the address of his killing room as his point of contact with the hospital when he was admitting his grandma, so it's easy enough for them to track him down and save the latest victim. A questioner in the audience asks why this guy's existence isn't common knowledge, to which Derek responds with the standard 'there are hundreds of serial killers out that that you know nothing about, man' refrain, while offering the Prentiss Award-Winning line of the night.

Efrain Saldivar - Killed patients in a hospital. Caught because there was a spike in the death percentages.
Edward Parker Ray - Built a torture dungeon, captured when a victim escaped by stabbing his accomplice in the neck with an icepick.
John Edward Robinson - Made women sign pieces of paper before killing them so he could type letters to their families saying they had run away and would be incommunicado. Caught when someone he beat but didn't kill went to the cops and reported him.

Also, do you not watch the show, Derek? You close between 22-25 cases a year. The only team you dipped near 15 was due to a writers' strike. And new ones 'seem to pop up' because CBS keeps renewing you. I feel if that stopped happening there would be a startling dip in the incidence of serial killing in America.

The killer went to jail and was sentenced to death, all without comment. Joe then received a call from him a full year later. He wanted a deal, it seems - the killer announces that in addition to the victims the team knows about, there are nearly a hundred others. He hands Joe a list of 40 names to prove that he's on the level, then suggests a deal - no death penalty, and a transfer to the east coast, and he'll start giving up names. The caveat? He'll only give them to Joe, one name a year, once a year.

So I guess that's what's going on with the riot and calls to a warden? Did Joe do the deal? I hope not - it's a terrible deal.

Actually, of course he made the deal - that's why there was one added in pen to the end of the list. The deal was made two years ago, and he added one name last year.

The show then lets us see a few scenes of Joe informing people that their daughters are dead, while explaining to the audience that they made the deal not to give the killer power, but to bring closure to those families.

Really? You don't think that scale is a little skewed? These people haven't talked to their children in somewhere between 5-20 years, and have therefore either decided to imagine that they're alive and happy somewhere, or made peace with the fact that they're probably dead. How is going to their house and confirming that fact going to improve their lives? And then they get to find out that their wrenching heartbreak is being delivered at a cost of the man who tortured their daughters to death NOT DYING? And the killer gets to make an FBI agent dance to his tune, and relish in the misery he causes once a year?

On what planet did you think this was a good deal, Joe?

The team then leaves the lecture hall and Joe climbs back up on the cross, refusing to let the team come along with him to support him when he visits the killer that very day. It's only now that the killer's face is finally revealed:

I'm not sure why they were hiding it - it's not like they got someone famous for the part. Then the big reveal - the killer is doing this to ruin Joe's birthday every year! What a dick!

Seriously, why would you go along with this plan? Why would you let the killer have even the smallest victory? I'm not psychic, but if you could poll the various families who'd lost daughters up and down California and tell them that their daughter might have been killed by a serial killer and then give them two choices-

A) You never find out for sure if your daughter is dead, but the killer dies horribly.
B) You find out your daughter is dead, but the killer gets to live out the rest of his natural life, cackling sadistically about how much he loved murdering your child.

Which of those options would the majority of people pick? Like I said, I'm not psychic, and I can't speak for those affected by violent crime, but my guess is a majority of people would fall neatly into camp A.

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

No. In fact, it failed to solve the crime over and over again for 17 years.

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

The killer let everyone know that a certain alley was super-important. Then Garcia discovered that the only significant thing to have happened there was the killer's conception. She did this using easily searchable police records.

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


Hey, how come they were only able to tag 6 victims to this guy? If he really killed 100 women, why weren't more corpses with missing uteri showing up? They said time and again that he followed a pattern killing a low class woman followed by a high-class woman, and he only bothered burying the second. Shouldn't there be fifty bodies we know about? If not, why did he only do that low/high thing four times?

You know, with the 40 names he already gave you, you should have a pretty good idea of his movements over the past twenty years. How difficult could it possibly be to map out his assumed locations and check that against missing persons in the area? At least make a few attempts before you sign this terrible deal.

If nothing else, it's nice that they acknowledged how long these cases can take in an episode - I'm actually going to consider this episode a sly nod to John Douglas' famous inability to catch anyone, ever.

Criminal Minds FactCheck!

Henry Lee Lucas - in addition to being the basis for decent film 'Henry: Protrait of a Serial Killer' was a maladjusted drifter who wandered the country, doing wrong by people. As the show suggested, he'd had a monstrously abusive upbringing, including episodes of sexual humiliation that involved him being forced to wear a dress.

Unlike the character in this episode Lucas actually did kill his mother, and went to jail for the crime for a full decade before being let out into the world, even more unstable than he had been previously. It's in this period, between 1975 and 1983 that all of his supposed murders took place. I say 'supposed' because eight years isn't much time to commit over 200 murders. From a rational standpoint he'd have to be killing one person every two weeks non-stop for that entire period of time. As a man without any particular resources, this would be nearly impossible for him to pull off.

There's no doubt that Lucas was a rapist and murderer, and he may have killed as many as a dozen people, but after being jailed he discovered that he could earn preferential treatment for copping to crimes, so he began doing so as frequently and aggressively as he could, ending up with a number in the hundreds. Of course these numbers were inflated to the point of absurdity, and some of the cases were committed in different states at approximately the same time, so at least one of them had to have been a lie. In all likelihood, the vast majority of them were.

Why would he lie so extensively? When faced with a lifetime in prison, it makes sense that he'd want the time to go as smoothly as possible, and Lucas quickly discovered that he would be allowed travel and decent meals if he would simply be willing to go to various jurisdictions around the South and confess to some open murders. It was a win/win situation - Lucas was treated like a king (comparatively speaking) and a bunch of cops got to announce that they'd solved outstanding murders, making themselves look good.

Lucas only ever able to lead the authorities to a couple of bodies, and criminologists now surmise that he likely only killed fraction of those he claimed. Despite the exposure of his lies, Lucas' death sentence was commuted to life in prison by George Bush in 1998. It's notable for being the only time W thought a death-row inmate didn't deserve to die. And Lucas was an admitted rapist and murderer.

Thankfully, Lucas died of a heart attack just a few years later.

The moral of the story? Don't trust the word of criminals without independent corroboration. Offering great incentives for jailed people to tell you information mostly just gives them motivation to lie.


Anonymous said...

They did mention Mandy, actually. Hotch mentions calling Rossi instead of Gideon because he knew how involved Rossi was in the case

Anonymous said...

Did you mean most people would probably fall into camp A? Because otherwise you set up that whole rant about the deal only to contradict yourself at the end!

W.C.P. said...

What's funny is I knew who one of those killers was, and I knew the other two's crimes. I just thought it was funny. Also I like your reviews and it helps find ones that are entertaining to watch. Also keep up the good work :D

Unknown said...

Did anybody else catch that Prentiss was in the flashbacks when we know she didn't work for them back of that point? That's what really ruined it for me.

Anonymous said...

What kind of rubbish review is this? You are so negative, dude. I regretted reading you. Go get a life.

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Cooper said...

I also wondered why the show was being so cagey about the face reveal. You'd damn near expect Johnny Depp with that level of obfuscation.