Criminal Minds 909: Strange Fruit

A couple is in bed - still awake - when they hear some kind of a loud crash from outside! The man gets a gun from the nightstand and tells the woman to stay in bed. Which is just a crazy thing to do. If you're together, then you know where the other one is, and there's less chance that one of you ends up shot because you forgot the other one. Also, you know, you can both help each other fight, so there's that.

He gets to the door and looks outside, then tells the lady to call the police... but why?

The show is teasing us pretty hard here, because it immediately cuts to the next day, where it turns out that it was just a broken water main. Which is absolutely worth calling 911 about, but not in an alarmed tone. Seriously, before you told your wife to call 911, you'd say 'it was just a water main breaking, don't worry about it'. Unless you like tormenting her, I guess. This sets up what will presumably the real crime this week, since the city hydro people have to tear up the neighbour's yard, but the neighbours haven't been seen in a little while...

Buried in the yard? Dead in the house? What will it be?

More sneakiness with JJ and Esai - she wants to tell people that the two of them are on a special assignment, which is why they keep sneaking off for chats, so that people will stop thinking they're having an affair. I predicted we wouldn't find out their backstory until at least episode 15, but maybe they're speeding things along!

Confusingly, JJ and Garcia meet Joe coming off the elevator. Garcia chides him for not reading his text messages better - the crime scene is just five miles away! But, wait... it's a work day, isn't it? I mean, JJ and Esai were already there having a meeting, so it's not the morning - there has to have been time for the water guys to find something in the neighbours' yard or house, and by the time they started looking it was already broad daylight... did Joe just not bother coming in to work today?

It seems that there were two bodies buried in the back yard of the house - well, skeletons, really - and there's no initial clue as to how long they've been there! So the couple who's been in the house for 35 years might be on the hook, or might be in the clear!

More importantly, though, why are six FBI agents hanging around in a back yard? This is two very old skeletons. It might not even be murder, let along serial murder. This is the definition of a local matter. If they'd found three or more bodies, that would be one thing, but this is just weird.

It's like there's a sub-theme this year about how half the cases don't seem like something the team should have been called in on. Between the parental kidnapping, the killed mass shooter, and now two skeletons in a yard, that's a third of the episodes so far this year where it absolutely strains credulity that the FBI would be involved at the stage the team shows up.

In what has to be the most confusing phrasing I've heard in ages, we're told that the Johnsons have lived in the house for 35 years, Mrs. Johnson is currently home, and 'The husband and son work at the father's construction company, they're on their way home now'.

Wait... is that the husband's father, so the grandfather? Or is the husband also the father in that sentence? If so, why would you change how you referred to him halfway through the sentence? Also, irrespective of who the owner is, why not just say 'the family construction business'? Why do you have to make everything so difficult, writers?

Anyhow, when the son hears about the dead bodies, he runs off down the street, but Greg catches him really easily. Oddly, he had to walk away from a truck that he had the keys for to flee on foot. Why not just get back in and drive away?

I'd say we'll find out after the credits, but we absolutely won't.

The family is split up into three different cars, and all members claim to not know anything about the corpses. The son is a dick about it, of course, because he's the one who ran. The M.E. reports that both skeletons were women in their 30s, so that's a lead!

Greg and Esai chat about interrogation practices. The idea is that you put the people under a bunch of stress, then give them good news. The innocent people should act relieved, while the guilty ones will not, since they know that there's still another shoe left to drop.

The family offers no useful information, and the son accuses Greg of being a racist, which makes me wonder why Greg is the one to interview him - as the cop who caught him and pointed a gun at his head, the guy is going to be incredibly nervous around Greg. Perhaps they want to use that as part of their 'increase the stress' plan, but right now it's causing a lot of wholly irrelevant conflict between the men that can only confuse the situation.

More from the M.E. - the women were beaten to death! Also their genitals were probably mutilated, based on damage to the bones. Ick. Since they were the son's age, the team immediately decides he's the killer, and starts trying to figure out how to get him to confess!

Greg goes back in to talk to the son again, who continues calling Greg a racist, then violently reacting when Greg suggests that he's impotent. So the guy's a treasure, basically.

Question - did he hulk out, or are the interview room tables not bolted to the floor? Isn't it strange that there's a bar on there to attach handcuffs to, but the table itself isn't bolted down. Not a great way to secure someone, team.

Jeanne and Reid flip through the family album in the house - the son isn't in any photos from the past decade! Did they suspect he'd turned evil and had been seguing him out of the family unit even while he still lived at home?

More importantly, no one seems to be mentioning how coincidental that the timeframe in which the women were killed - around ten years ago - coincides with the time during which it's established that the son tried to move out and make it on his own, only to fail miserably and return home a loser! Was he even living in the house when these women were killed? Maybe it's nothing, but it's worth a followup, isn't it?

Garcia looks into his backstory, and finds that he's never been able to hold down a job because of severe problems with authority. Interesting, but not relevant at all as a precursor to sexual violence. Then the parents weigh in from their interviews. The mother explains that her heart sank when she found out she had a boy, because of America's history of murdering black men. Which, you know, fair enough.

The father tosses out some names - Emmet Till, Oscar Grant. And while the first one is a man who was famously lynched, I had to look the second one up. Turns out he was Fruitvale Station guy who was murdered by a transit cop. That's a weird one to jump to, but maybe they're going somewhere with this. The next name is Trayvon Martin, so yeah, the kid had a problem with authority because his dad constantly told him that the cops were going to kill him for being black. Although if that's the way they're going, it's weird that two of the murders the father names were people who got killed when the son was already in his 30s. Can't go back to Medgar Evars?

At this point, I should probably mention that the family is black, because all that stuff about the son calling Greg a racist might be confusing if I didn't make that clear.

The parents talk about how the son had a history of acting out and sudden bursts of violence. Joe points out that he was obviously suffering from depression, and asks if they ever looked into that. It turns out the father doesn't believe in psychology or medication, and just worked the son like a mule in hopes of getting him over his funks. So not exactly a prize, the father.

In the viewing area, Esai observes that the son keeps rubbing his hands, which means that he's hiding something. Or, you know, he has pre-arthritis from the manual labour that takes up all of his time. A DNA test comes back with some news - one of the dead bodies was a high school classmate of the son's! But did they know each other? Time to tear apart the house to find out!

Esai and JJ go in to the interview room to ask the son if he knew the victim. He claims he didn't, but is obviously lying. He does seems genuinely surprised when he discovers that it's her body in the back yard, though. Which seems odd, even if he is innocent, since the picture they show him of her is a missing persons poster from ten years ago.

Okay, I'm actually kind of happy now - that's a poster for Gods of Combat, the terrible fake video game the show created for their 'gamers are evil' episode last year. That's a nice callback, people, I tip my had to the production folks who put that poster together.

Searching son's room, Reid and Jeanne turn up a lockbox full of mementoes! A huge knife, a bunch of pictures, including him posing with the dead woman! They also turn up testosterone pills prescribed to him when he was 18! Reid theorizes that those kinds of drugs could have pushed him into a vicious rage, if he was still taking them when the murder happened. Which would be a stretch, since all he has is a half-full bottle that was filled 22 years earlier - 12 years before the murder. I'd have to imagine if he'd taken them with any sort of regularity, they probably would have run out some time ago.

JJ and Esai go into the interview room, armed with the pictures and the pills, and demand a confession out of him. He starts to freak out, and confesses, but he's obviously lying, and quite distraught. Is no one going to ask how the parents felt about their son dating a white woman? I'd have to imagine they weren't pleased with the prospect.

Semi-related question based on their theory that he went on a testosterone-fueled rampage: would those pills even be good after 12 years? Do those kinds of hormone pills expire?

Over at the crime scene, they turn up a third corpse! The ME announce that it looks like a male, but the prop people didn't uncover the pelvis yet:

And the ribcage and skull don't seem so unusually large it it feels like medical professionals would be ready to make that guess.

The son keeps trying to confess, even when he hears about the new victim, but it turns out that the third body was from back when the parents moved into the house, which basically clears the son of all involvement. I mean, it would be a weird coincidence if he'd buried corpses in the same backyard his parents had, right?

Joe then goes to talk to the father, and wins the Prentiss Award for this thing that's both incredibly stupid and immensely dangerous:

Um, Joe? The problem is not cops being fooled by false confessions. The problem is cops specifically trying to do whatever it takes to get a confession and not caring whether it's true or not. Cops don't need to be trained to identify false confessions, they need to be trained to not be corrupt and/or lazy.

Then Joe refers to a 5-year-old child as a 'toddler', and I just shake my head in shame that at one point, roughly twenty-five years before shooting this scene, this actor was on the set of 'House of Games'.


Joe points out that the father is the only adult male with access to the yard during all the deaths, and since it's statistically unlikely that the wife mutilated and buried people, he's definitely the killer, and should probably just confess. The father's response: prove it, whitey.

Reid and Jeanne search the father's bedroom - the husband and wife aren't sleeping in the same bed, btw. They turn up a bottle of testosterone pills in the exact same kind of bottle they found in the son's room! Could it have been the father's prescription all along? Isn't that something Garcia should have looked into when you found the pills?

The wife exclaims that they didn't do anything, and Greg thinks that rings true. Could the crimes be motivated by retaliation for something? Is that why the husband has so many trinkets from the past in his bedroom? That seems like a bit of a stretch, actually. Plenty of people like to keep mementoes around without having tragic backstories attached to them. Not the guy from Memento, obviously, but plenty of other people.

Joe finally accuses the father of murdering the son's girlfriend because of racism, but naturally the father doesn't confess, because it's a half-hearted attempt at best, and there's still twenty minutes left in the episode. Joe keeps trying, though, talking about how strange it is to be sexually mutilating people across gender lines. What could they have done to make him so angry?

Son is then nice enough to confirm that he was, in fact, dating the woman, but maintains that his father didn't kill her. Which is looking less and less likely by the second.

Then more DNA results come in - this time it's the man from the shed! Wait, what? He was killed in 1978. How did they get a DNA match, when he was dead long before databases? It's not like cops are going around, collecting DNA from possessions of people who went missing 30 years ago and putting them into a database in case remains are ever discovered. Who would pay for that? Maybe we're being asked to believe that the test turned up a relative, but wouldn't that take a lot longer, considering that the guy's children or siblings would only be partial matches, and also have to be in one of the databases?

Let's not forget that this has all happened within three hours of the body being uncovered. Years of watching CSI prepared me for fantasy science, but even by that standard this is crazy.

Turns out that the dead body was of a klansman! And he'd been klan buddies with the father of the son's girlfriend! This gives Joe an operating theory - the father killed one klansman because he wanted revenge for something that happened when they were younger, and then killed the girlfriend because the coincidence was just too much!

The father tries to start a conversation about how everyone in the past was super-racist, so it's not strange that he would have had run-ins with the klan, and it doesn't prove anything. Then Joe tries to get him to open up by confessing to an incident of racial violence he was a part of as a teen. The confession doesn't get him to open up.

The crime scene team finds yet another body - this one another guy from 35 years earlier. Then Garcia finishes a search of the dead guys' Klan chapter, which is apparently something that's easily searchable from a computer? I know the FBI kept records on the klan, but were obscure chapters from the 60s really a priority for digitization and archiving? Oh, and they've identified the other woman as well - two of the klan guys died before the father could kill them, and years later they each had a daughter get murdered and sexually mutilated.

It's weird how no one is talking about how the guy is obviously getting payback for a rape, right? Joe mentioned something about an event causing the guy to be sexually angry about both men and women, but he didn't pursue the line of questioning at all.

Searching through the files, it turns out that one of the klansmen had a half-sister who died of cancer shortly before the killings 35 years ago started. So obviously she was the father's interracial girlfriend, and they were targeted by the klan for the relationship, then after she died he went nuts and wanted revenge, then years later when his son was interracial dating the klansman's daughter, it all started up again. That tracks pretty logically.

Joe apologized to Derek for the racist incident, and sends him in to talk to the father - but the father will only talk to Joe! Luckily just before Joe goes in JJ turns up with a letter from the cancer lady's stepsister, giving them all the evidence they need to elicit a confession, hopefully!

The letter was a deathbed confession from the cancer lady, admitting that she's lied about being raped by the father! It's even crazier than I predicted, though - she wasn't dating him secretly, she was literally just out after curfew with her boyfriend, and when she got caught coming home, she said she'd been raped by the father. Which is kind of crazy and random. Then again, it was the south, and the klan was always looking for any excuse to torture black people, so...

He explains that he was beaten and castrated by the klansmen, so he took revenge on them or their families. And really, who could blame him?

It seems the son doesn't know he's not father's biological child, and the father wants that kept under wraps. Joe offers to keep it a secret if the father reveals where the rest of the bodies are - there were six klansmen who tortured him, so that means two more corpses.

That doesn't seem like a fair trade - I mean, the son's going to find out one way or the other. This is going to be a media-friendly case, what with a brutally tortured black guy getting revenge on the klansmen and their families. Obviously the details of the case are going to come out.

Still, the guy confesses, then Joe walks away, sad about the contribution that he made to the amount of racial hatred in the world.

The End.

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

Uh... no? This is absolutely the case where psychology should have factored in, given that it's literally an episode entirely about interrogations, but it didn't help in any practical way. They spent a lot of time trying to get a confession they didn't need, since they had all the evidence in the world.

They found a couple of women's bodies on the property who were sexually mutilated, suggesting a man did it. At the time the bodies were buried, only one man lived in the house. Then they found a bunch of dead guys also in the back yard who were also sexually mutilated, and the same guy lived there at the same time. Doesn't exactly take Cracker to wrap this one up, does it?

I guess you can say that psychology was used to get the guy to sign a confession and tell where the last two bodies were, since Joe blackmailed him with a revelation about his son's paternity, but A: the son's finding out anyway, and B: The bodies are definitely in the back yard.

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

There were six bodies in a guy's back yard. I'm not even sure why they called the FBI.

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


They can't even make psychology and profiling important in an episode about an extended interrogation. How bad are these people at their jobs?

More importantly, though - wow, did Garcia drop the ball this week. She normally raids everybody's medical files the second there's the slightest connection to the crime, yet they find out the guy's got a prescription for testosterone - and has had it for at least 25 years - and she doesn't check into that? Garcia should have come back with the castration almost immediately, which would have instantly given them a reason for the sexual mutilation.

Also, I didn't mention it earlier, because it was so stupid as to not be relevant, but Greg claims in passing that the father was a sociopath, and he'd keep talking instead of lawyering up because he felt like he could talk his way out. Even the most clever and arrogant sociopath in the world l Also there's nothing about his demeanor or family relationships that would make you suggest that the guy is incapable of empathy. Don't just toss these words around, team. They mean things.

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