Bad Words
Season 4
Number 19
Writer Sarah Goldfinger
Director Rob Bailey
Original Airdate April 15, 2004
Previous Episode: Bad To The Bone
Next Episode: Dead Ringer

Bad Words is the nineteenth episode in Season Four of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.


Catherine, Nick and Warrick try to determine the cause of a house fire that kills a teenage girl. The fire is in the same neighborhood as a similar arson fire set ten days before. Meanwhile, Grissom and Sara investigate a man found dead with letter tiles in his stomach. The man was a competitor in a word game tournament.


Victim: Sabrina James (deceased)

On the case: Catherine Willows, Nick Stokes, Warrick Brown

In the Abernathy residence, smoke creeps under the various doors in the house. Soon thereafter, the house is ablaze and firemen are on the scene trying to put it out. A woman, Jessica Abernathy, is led out of the house, followed by her mother, Martha. Eventually, Jessica's son, Sam, is also rescued; everyone in the house is alive. Jessica confirms that there's nobody else in the house.

Catherine and Nick arrive on the scene, surprised that they got paged before the fire has even been extinguished. Warrick, who is standing with an arson investigator, informs them there was another fire on the block ten days before; they could be looking for a serial arsonist. Another fireman carries out a girl, Sabrina, who isn't breathing. Jessica is in anguish, crying out that her daughter wasn't even supposed to be home. The paramedics work on Sabrina, but she's dead; Catherine comments that their arson just turned into a homicide.

Jessica notices that Sabrina wasn't even burnt; Catherine tells her that smoke inhalation can happen quickly and be fatal. She asks where Sabrina was supposed to be, guessing that she may have been with her father, but Jessica says that her husband died five years ago in a car accident. Sabrina was supposed to be at a friend's house for a sleepover, and wasn't in the house when she checked the doors and went to bed around 11:00 or 11:30 PM. While he takes pictures of the onlookers gathered behind the police tape, Nick is interrupted by Martha, who is concerned about her medication. He assures Martha that they'll get replacements to her by the morning. Elsewhere, Sam sits in the fire engine and talks to a fireman, who shows him all the gadgets in the truck, saying that they're there to help people. "But not my sister," Sam sadly replies while Warrick looks on.

The arson investigator leads Catherine and Warrick through the house, noting that the smoke detector batteries were all dead. Sabrina's room was the only one damaged by the fire, as the other bedrooms were untouched. Based on the way the bed is made, they can tell that Sabrina wasn't in her bed at the time of the fire; a flashback shows that she was on the floor, reading and listening to music. This would explain why the firemen didn't find her right away. In the kitchen, the arson investigator notes that the adhesive used to put down the linoleum tile is highly flammable; one crack would give the fire a clear path to follow. Warrick finds that the back door isn't locked and Catherine recalls that Jessica said that she had locked all the doors before she went to bed. An unlocked door would give an arsonist easy entry into the house. Warrick dusts the doorknob for prints, but is only able to recover a few weak partials.

In the living room, the arson investigator tells Catherine that all the room decorations were highly flammable. A bar containing some liquor bottles also helped contribute to the spread of the fire. They see that the couch completely burned away and that it was a high-intensity burn. Catherine suggests that it might be the point of origin for the fire; the arson investigator comments that it was the place that sustained the heaviest damage from the fire, which may have started there and moved to the kitchen.

Nick examines the exterior of the house and finds a stack of newspapers by the garage; the ones on top are burned, but there's no other fire damage there. He shows the papers to Catherine and Warrick, noting that they weren't in the path of the fire. Warrick comments on the fire that happened down the street, saying that it was started in the garage using lighter fluid as an accelerant and a match to light it. They wonder if the arsonist uses accelerants he finds at the scene, and Warrick figures they might be looking for the same guy if they're able to find a match in all of the debris. He then adds that Sabrina may have provided access to the house for the arsonist when she came home from her friend's house early and left the door unlocked.

Back at the lab, Nick reviews the videos of the crowds from both fires, figuring that they could be looking for a neighbor. He tells Warrick that arsonists often commit crimes where they're most familiar, and a neighbor would know everyone's comings and goings. As he scours the photos of the crowds, Nick sees a familiar face in the second fire scene—a woman who was also watching the first fire. He remembers her name, Viva Charles, and discovers that she has a record for attempted arson. Under interrogation, Viva says that she was exonerated of the arson charges and explains that she's not an arsonist, she's a pyromaniac. The distinction is that she doesn't set fires for money or to cause damage. She says that when she goes home after a long day at work, she sets fire to her junk mail to relax; it's an impulse control disorder, and she doesn't burn down houses or kill children. Nick comments that maybe she doesn't do that on purpose, but accidents happen.

Nick asks Greg if he'd like to assist on the case and gives him the match found at the first arson scene, as well as a bag full of matchbooks from Viva's house. He wants Greg to determine if the match fits any of the missing matches from the books. Greg performs the tedious task of connecting the match to one of Viva's matchbooks, but strikes out on every one of them.

As Warrick goes through the evidence from the fire scene, Nick points out that arson is usually a property crime. Warrick states that Jessica Abernathy had credit card debts, but not a lot of coverage on the house, so the fire probably wasn't set for insurance purposes. He also notes that when people set fire to their own homes, they usually remove their personal mementos first, and that wasn't the case here. Nick picks up the stack of newspapers and focuses on a front-page story written by Sabrina, the school paper's editor-in-chief. The story rips into the school baseball team, who conducted a hazing ritual that had something to do with "several hookers and a lot of testosterone." Sabrina suggested that the student-athletes should be expelled, if not arrested for their actions. Nick wonders if someone on the baseball team set fire to the house as an act of revenge.

At the baseball diamond, Nick talks to the coach, Rick Chilson, and tells him that Sabrina Abernathy died. He wants to know where Cody Chilson, the coach's son, was at 1:00 AM on Saturday. Rick insists that his son was in bed by 10:00 PM, as he is every night. Nick comments that it would be every night except when he's with hookers, adding that expulsion from school and an arrest would look bad on Cody's college applications. The coach tells him that the hooker night happens every year with every team, and he doesn't know why "that little bitch" had to target Cody in her story. He adds that he's sorry she's dead, but his son didn't burn her house down.

David Hodges tells Catherine that there was no trace of accelerant on the couch residue despite the obvious liquid pour pattern found. The couch was made with polyurethane foam, which was outlawed in 1988 due to its incendiary nature. When set on fire, the foam acts as its own accelerant, heating up and creating a burning pool of burning liquid. It would only need a spark to set it off.

Catherine, Nick and Warrick are still perplexed as to the cause of the fire, as no accelerant or matches have been found. The CSIs go through the evidence from the scene; Nick finds a cigarette butt and says that it smells like a menthol. He adds that cigarettes are an unreliable way to start a fire, as they take too long to burn and may leave DNA trace behind. It doesn't make sense in the scope of an arson, but Warrick believes the cigarette may be in play if the fire was unintentional.

Catherine and Warrick talk to the Abernathy family, telling them about the cigarette butt found in the debris. Jessica says that she doesn't smoke and doesn't believe Sabrina did, either. Her mother, Martha, replies that she quit 20 years ago. Catherine tells them that she'll need a urine sample from all of them to see if there's nicotine in their systems. An incensed Jessica can't believe that she's being asked to pee into a cup on top of everything else that's happened to the house and her family. However, she agrees to do so in order to help with the investigation. Greg tests the urine samples, including one from Sabrina, and finds that Jessica is on Valium, Sabrina was taking Ritalin, and Martha smokes—making her a liar.

Nick looks at the blueprints for the house and digitally recreates the furniture layout. He then runs tests, having the fire start in the living room on the couch, but the temperatures aren't right. Warrick talks to Martha about the nicotine in her urine sample; she repeats that she doesn't smoke, but when he asks her to empty her handbag, she sees a pack of cigarettes inside and suddenly remembers that she does.

Catherine interviews Jessica and asks if Sabrina had A.D.D, as they found Ritalin in her system; she notes that teens sometimes use it as an upper. Jessica is shocked to hear that Sabrina was doing drugs, but Catherine points out that she was taking drugs, as well—Valium. The distressed mother tells Catherine that she and Sabrina would have horrible fights, with Sabrina screaming that she couldn't wait to get out of the house. She then becomes agitated over what her life has become—being stuck home alone with two kids and a "70-year-old infant." Jessica denies covering for her mother, but admits that part of her wants the state to take her away, saying that Martha does more harm to the household than good. However, she says that she never saw her mother smoking. Catherine suggests that maybe Martha came out of her room after Jessica was asleep, but this notion is rejected when Jessica admits that she locks her mother in her room after she goes to bed.

Nick tells Catherine that the burn scenarios don't match up with the data. He explains that the problem is that the refrigerator magnets have been demagnetized, and for that to happen, the temperature in the kitchen had to have been at least 932 degrees. With all the scenarios that he ran, he couldn't get the temperature that high in the kitchen if the fire started in the living room. Catherine wonders if perhaps the fire didn't start in the living room; it started in the kitchen, instead.

They go back to the house and reexamine the kitchen. While doing so, they find an incandescent light bulb that's melted and bent towards the kitchen, showing the direction of the fire. Catherine wonders how they missed it earlier, and Nick points out that the living room seemed like the reasonable point of origin based on the amount of combustible materials present. They start shoveling the ashes and debris from the kitchen and find the word "Bitch" burned into the floor.

Back at the lab, Hodges pulls samples from the piece of kitchen floor and tests them. The accelerant is identified as chafing dish fuel, and Catherine notes that the fire has gone from intentional to accidental to personal. She, Nick and Warrick review the suspects: Viva Charles has no personal motive in the fire, while the coach and his son have an alibi—they were gambling at a casino the night of the fire. Warrick believes that Martha is incapable of writing on the floor due to her arthritis, and Catherine points out that Jessica seemed more frustrated than desperate. The son, Sam, is ruled out because "bitch" is more of a teenage girl word. This shifts the focus back to Sabrina, who may have been unhappy with her life and tried to take her whole family down with her. The theory seems plausible, but how do they prove it?

Catherine and Warrick go back to the house looking for traces of accelerant using a black light. The hope is that whoever wrote the dirty word also touched something else in the house. Sure enough, they find something on the doorknob leading to Sam's bedroom. Inside, Catherine finds tissues in the garbage that show traces of accelerant, and Warrick spots smudges on a bedpost. When he lifts the mattress, he finds dozens of matchbooks hidden underneath. Catherine comments that his mother was locking the wrong door at night.

At the station, Jessica watches from outside of the interrogation room as Warrick questions Sam. As he talks, Warrick lights matches and drops them into a mug of water. He then passes the box of matches to Sam, who begins playing with them, lighting them and dropping them into the water as he converses with Warrick. When asked, Sam says that he sometimes has trouble sleeping when he gets woken up, which is what happened on the night of the fire, Sabrina woke him up when she knocked on the door to be let in.

Sam continues; he couldn't go back to bed because he got hungry, so he started looking through the cupboards. It was then that he found the chafing dish fuel, which he describes as "purple jelly." He knew what it was because his mother used it every year on everyone's birthdays for the chocolate pot; however, since his grandmother has come to live with them, they don't do that anymore because she can't have chocolate. He adds that ever since his grandmother moved in, they can't do anything fun anymore. Continuing, Sam says that he "played" for a while; in reality he was writing "bitch" on the kitchen floor and lighting it on fire. When "playtime" was over, he went back to bed and was rescued by the firemen hours later.

The entire description from Sam has been told without emotion, and very dull-voiced, until he reaches the part of the story with the firemen. He was excited when the firemen arrived and showed him their fire truck and let him sit in it, telling him that he might even get to meet a fireman's dog. Warrick asks Sam about the word that he wrote on the floor, and where he heard it. Sam replies that he hears it all the time: his mother says it, his grandmother says it, and his sister says it. He then amends this to, "Well...she used to say it." As his mother watches from behind the glass with tears in her eyes, Sam lights a match and blows it out before dropping it into the mug of water.

Victim: Adam Brenner (deceased)

On the case: Gil Grissom, Sara Sidle, Jim Brass

At a hotel, Brass leads Sara and Grissom to a body that was found in the bathroom by the morning cleaning crew. There's no ID on the body; the only thing found is a piece of paper that appears to be written in some kind of code. The victim is wearing a red shirt with "735" printed on it; based on the victim's girth, Brass jokes that 735 was the victim's goal weight. Grissom notes a cut on the victim's forehead and blood on the floor. Sara examines the broken bathroom mirror and figures that this is how the victim got his head smashed in. While she takes a blood sample from the mirror, Grissom notices a piece of black trace floating on top of the blood on the floor. He checks the victim's eyes and determines that, based on petechial hemorrhaging, asphyxia was the cause of death.

Doc Robbins begins the autopsy on the still unidentified victim. He quizzes David Phillips and tells him that there are three common causes of asphyxiation; David puts his money on choking for this victim. Doc Robbins cuts open the throat and finds a round tile with the letter "S" on it in the victim's trachea. He gives it to Grissom and tells him that this is the cause of death. Grissom suggests that he may have swallowed it accidentally and when he began to choke, he tried to give himself the Heimlich, hitting his head on the mirror and knocking himself out. However, Doc Robbins says that might be the case, except for the fact that he found five more tiles in the victim's stomach. This was no accident.

Sara provides Grissom with some interesting information—the blood on the floor in the bathroom was the victim's; however, the blood on the mirror wasn't. Grissom, meanwhile, is focused on doing anagrams with the letters that were in the victim's stomach. Sara notes that a six-letter word has 720 possible combinations, but, obviously, not all of them are words. Brass arrives and tells them that the victim's name was Adam Brenner; he was a postal worker in Orlando and was in Vegas for a Logos Tournament.

They go to the hotel where Adam's body was found, which is also where the tournament is taking place. The organizer tells them that Adam was one of the top players and once set a tournament record of 735 points in one game, which would explain the number on his shirt. But, could one of Adam's opponents been jealous or a sore loser? The organizer doubts that anyone there could've killed him, but Brass says that the only people that Adam talked to were other players, so they'll need a list of all of his opponents.

At the tournament, Grissom starts a game with Wilson Janek, one of the players who lost to Adam the night before. Wilson has heard that Adam is dead, but says that he's more of a "make words, not war" kind of guy. He served in the Gulf War and saw enough killing over there; memorizing words was his way of performing a sanity check. Meanwhile, Sara takes a DNA sample from another player, Craig Kaufman, and notes that he lost three times in a row to Adam in tournament play. The even-keeled Craig seems to be okay with losing to his current opponent, telling Sara that "a loss for one is a win for another." Elsewhere, Brass interviews the player who was the last one to see Adam alive. The player tells him that killing Adam so that he could get a shot at the big cash prize isn't really feasible, as the prize money is a whopping $2,000, which barely covers his expenses. Brass tells him he'd like a DNA sample.

Hodges tells Grissom that the black fiber he found in the blood pool on the bathroom floor is a plastic usually used for logos on t-shirts; Grissom comments that almost everyone at the tournament was wearing a t-shirt with a saying on it. Sara comes in and tells them that she found a match for the blood on the mirror; it belongs to the player Brass got the DNA sample from.

In interrogation, Brass and Sara interview the player, Pierce. Brass asks him about the scrapes on his knuckles, and Pierce says that after losing to a "blue hair" who chatted incessantly during the game, he went into the bathroom and punched the mirror. He tells them that Adam wasn't in the bathroom when he was there. Brass comments that if he took that loss badly, maybe he took his loss to Adam even harder. However, Pierce says that just being at the same table as Adam was an honor, like taking painting lessons from Picasso.

Sara shows Grissom that Adam was a meticulous note-taker, documenting every turn of every game he ever played. Using the notes, she recreates the games he played before his death and finds that one game doesn't add up. In the game that Adam played against Craig Kaufman, there are 60 points unaccounted for. Adam's notes for that game show that something had been erased, and using ESDA, Sara discovered that what he'd written originally was "exvin." That accounts for five of the six letters that they found in his body; everything but the "s". Neither Grissom nor Sara knows what "exvin" means, and she didn't find the word in the Oxford English Dictionary. Grissom mentions that bluffing is allowed in the game; if the player is called out, he or she takes their tiles back, loses a turn, and loses one minute off the game clock. Sara also notes that Craig played a word later on in the game that used an "x"; however, there's only one "x" in the game tiles. So, how did Craig end up with extra "x"?

They go to Craig's room at the hotel, where Grissom finds a pistol with blood on it. Craig explains that the pistol is a replica he bought downtown at a pawn shop, as he collects replicas from the fall of the Soviet Union. Grissom puts two and two together, determining that Craig used "a fake gun for a fake word." A flashback shows Adam playing the word "exvin" and coming up with a convincing definition when questioned about it. Craig decided not to challenge it, but when he played an "s" on the same word (making "exvins"), Adam challenged it successfully.

Sara determines that there are six letters missing from Craig's Logos box: E-X-V-I-N-S. She comments that Craig made Adam eat his word, and a flashback shows Craig confronting Adam in the bathroom. Upset that he was duped, Craig force fed Adam the tiles while holding him at "fake" gunpoint. Craig tells them that he wanted to make it as hard for Adam to swallow as it was for him, and that he thought that Adam was faking when he started choking. Grissom asks what Craig thought after Adam fell down and stopped breathing. Ironically, Craig is out of words.


Main Cast[]

Guest Cast[]

  • David Berman as David Phillips
  • Wallace Langham as David Hodges
  • Tracey Needham as Jessica Abernathy
  • Max Jansen Weinstein as Sam Abernathy
  • Larry Poindexter as Fire Investigator Jack Clarke
  • Michael Gaston as Rick Chilson
  • Jason Kravits as Pierce
  • T.E. Russell as Wilson Janek
  • Andy Comeau as Jason
  • K Callan as Martha Abernathy
  • Christopher B. Duncan as George the Fireman
  • Christopher Shea as Craig Kaufman
  • Lisa Rotondi as Viva Charles
  • Oliver Ryan Anderson as Cody Chilson
  • Mike Bruner as Adam Burrows
  • Michael Miranda as Opponent
  • Gena Shaw as Sabrina James
  • Roz Witt as Blue Hair
  • Erin Chambers as Molly Zimmerman (uncredited)

Episode Title[]

  • The episode's title is two-fold, referring to the wordplay tournament as well as the bad word written on the kitchen floor.


  • Mend These Trends by South
  • Mysterious Traveller by Simon J. Hunter


Greg: Everyone but the little guy was gettin' high and gettin' by. Daughter was on uppers, Mom's on downers and Grandma was on the cancer stick.
Catherine: Ritalin, Valium and Grandma's a liar.
Greg: Pants on fire.


  • The matches found under Sam's mattress are matchbooks, but he's using box matches in the flashback.
  • The paramedic at the beginning is performing artificial respiration without opening the victim's mouth. This is much more inefficient than the proper procedure of tilting her head back and opening the airways. The only time the mouth is not always opened for AR is for infants and toddlers when the attendant-on-scene's mouth can completely cover both airways with their mouth.
  • Sam's matchbox in the interview room changes from face-forward to back-forward several times.


  • The episode’s fatal arson is inspired by the Austin Messner case, where the then-boy at age 5 burned his trailer home with a lit cigarette and killed his infant sister.
  • Although Gena Shaw is listed as playing as Sabrina James, the dead girl's last name was actually Abernathy (James was her maternal grandmother's name).
  • Tracey Needham was a special guest as Jessica Abernathy in this episode. She previously played Meg Austin in the military drama series JAG for only the first season.

See Also[]

CSI:Las Vegas Season 4
Assume NothingAll For Our CountryHomebodiesFeeling the HeatFur and LoathingJackpotInvisible EvidenceAfter the ShowGrissom Versus the VolcanoComing of RageEleven Angry JurorsButterfliedSuckersPaper or PlasticEarly RolloutGetting OffXXBad To The BoneBad WordsDead RingerTurn of the ScrewsNo More BetsBloodlines