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.


Warrick, Catherine, and Nick 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. 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 at the scene are trying to put it out. A woman, Jessica Abernathy is lead out of the house, followed by her mother, Martha James. Eventually, Jessica's son, Sam, is also rescued; everyone in the house is alive. Jessica confirms that there is nobody else in the house.

Catherine and Nick arrive on the scene, where Warrick is standing with an arson investigator. He says that there was another fire on the block ten days before and that they could be looking for a serial arsonist. Another fireman brings out a girl, Sabrina. Jessica cries out that she 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 comments 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 should 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 was not in the house when she checked the doors and went to bed around 11 or 11:30 p.m. Nick takes pictures of the crowd, where Martha interrupts him to ask him about her medications. Nick tells her that they'll get replacements to her by the morning. Sam sits in the fire engine and talks to the fireman, who shows him all the gadgets in the truck, saying that they're there to help people. Sam says, "But not my sister." Warrick watches.

The arson investigator takes Warrick and Catherine through the house; he tells them that the smoke detector batteries were all dead, and that Sabrina's room is the one that was worst damaged by the smoke. They note that she wasn't in her bed at the time of the fire; a flashback shows that she was on the floor, reading. In the kitchen, he notes that the linoleum is old and one crack would give the fire a clear path to follow. Warrick finds that the back door isn't locked and Catherine comments that Jessica said that she locked all the doors before she went to bed. In the living room, the arson investigator tells them that all the items there are highly flammable, and notes that the couch completely burned away, and 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. Warrick checks for prints on the door and finds some weak partials; Nick comes in with the papers, noting that they were not 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. 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 are 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.

Back at the lab, Nick reviews the videos of the crowds from both fires and 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 she has a record for attempted arson. Nick interviews her and brings up her past record. She replies that she was exonerated of the arson charges and explains that she's not an arsonist, she's a pyromaniac, and doesn't do it for money or to cause damage. She says that when he 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 see 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 notes that Jessica Abernathy had credit card debts, but not a lot of coverage on the house, so it 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 was not the case here. Nick suggests that it might have something to do with the baseball team; the newspapers that he found were from the school that Sabrina went to and she had written a story exposing the baseball team and a wild night they had with hookers, stating in the story that they should be expelled and/or arrested.

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 a.m. on Saturday. The coach says that Cody was in bed by 10 p.m. 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 the problem with getting your furniture from the curbside is that it tends to be old; and old furniture is sometimes unsafe. The sofa in the Abernathy living room had polyurethane foam in it, which is its own accelerant, and a disaster waiting to happen, according to him. He tells her that it would only need a spark to set it off. Catherine, Nick and Warrick go through the evidence from the scene; Nick finds a cigarette butt and says that it smells like menthol. Warrick comments that cigarettes are an unreliable way to start a fire if it's an arson, and it makes no sense. Nick says that it makes sense if it wasn't an arson.

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 her mother, Martha, replies that she quit 20 years ago. Catherine asks if Sabrina smoked; they don't think so. Catherine tells them that she'll need a urine sample from all of them to see if there's nicotine in their systems. Jessica is upset, saying that her house burned down, her daughter died, and now they want her and her family to pee in a cup? She then agrees to do so. Greg tests the urine samples, including one from Sabrina, and tells Catherine that the Jessica was on Valium, Sabrina was taking Ritalin, and Martha smokes.

Nick looks at the blueprints for the house and recreates the furniture layout, 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 takes out a pack of cigarettes and then 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 taking Ritalin; Catherine points out that she was taking drugs as well - Valium. Jessica tells Catherine that she and Sabrina would have horrible fights, and Sabrina would scream that she couldn't wait to get out of the house and away from her mother. She tells Catherine that her dream life was to be going out on Saturday nights with her husband, but instead she's stuck at home with her husband dead, looking after two kids and her mother, who is really just a 70-year old kid.

Catherine asks if she's covering for her mother; Jessica says she's not, adding that she'd like to say that she is, but she never saw her mother smoking. Catherine suggests that maybe Martha came out of her room after Jessica was asleep, but she looks at Catherine and says that Catherine can judge her if she wants, but the truth is that she locks her mother in her room after she goes to bed.

Nick tells Catherine that the burn scenarios don't match up. He explains that the problem is that the refrigerator magnets have been demagnetized, and for that to happen, the temperatures in the kitchen had to be 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. They find an incandescent light bulb that is melted and bent, showing the direction of the fire. Catherine wonders how they missed it earlier, and Nick says the living room seemed like the reasonable point of origin. They start shoveling the ashes and debris from the kitchen floor and find the word "Bitch" on the floor.

Hodges pulls samples from the piece of kitchen floor back at the lab and tests them. Catherine tells Warrick and Nick that the accelerant was chafing dish fuel, like Sterno, noting that the fire has gone from intentional to accidental to personal. They review the suspects: Viva Charles has no personal motive in the fire; the coach and his son, but they have an alibi - they were gambling at a casino the night of the fire; Martha, but Warrick says that her arthritis would keep her from writing on the floor as well as the fact that she was locked in her room at night; Jessica, but Catherine says that she seemed frustrated, not desperate; the son, Sam, but Catherine comments that the word "bitch" is very much a teenaged girl word. That leaves Sabrina; Warrick asks if they think that she was willing to burn down the house, killing herself and her whole family.

Catherine and Warrick go back to the house looking for traces of accelerant using black light. In Sam's bedroom, they find tissues in the garbage that show traces of accelerant, and Warrick finds matches under his mattress. 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 tells Warrick that he only has trouble sleeping when he gets woken up, and the night of the fire, Sabrina woke him up when she knocked on the door to be let in.

Sam continues that he got hungry, so went to the kitchen, and when he looked through the cupboards, he found the chafing dish fuel. He knew what it was because they used to use it every year on his mother's birthday for the chocolate pot, but since his grandmother has come to live with them, they don't do that any more because she can't have chocolate. He adds that ever since his grandmother came, they don't have any fun any more. He tells Warrick that he played for a while, wrote the word on the floor, and then lit a match and threw it on the floor, and went back to bed.

The entire description from Sam has been told without emotion, and very dull-voiced, until he reaches the part of the story when he says that the firemen arrived and showed him their fire truck and let him sit in it, and that he might get to meet one of fireman's dog. Warrick asks Sam about the word that he wrote on the floor, and where he heard it. Sam says 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." He lights a match and blows it out before dropping it into the cup of water.

Victim: Adam Brenner (deceased)

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

At a hotel, Brass takes Sara and Grissom to a body in the bathroom; they note that he's wearing a shirt with "735" on it, and Brass wonders, noting his girth, if that was his goal weight? Grissom notes a cut on the victim's forehead and blood on the floor. Sara examines the broken bathroom mirror, and comments that he probably got his head smashed in on the mirror. She takes a blood sample from the mirror; Grissom notices something blue floating on top of the blood on the floor. He checks the victim's eyes and determines that 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 larynx. 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, so this was no accident.

Sara tells Grissom that the blood on the floor in the bathroom was the victim's, but the blood on the mirror wasn't. Grissom finds this fact interesting, but he is also focused on doing anagrams with the letters that were in the victim's stomach. 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 the body was found, which is 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; Sara notes that that was the number on his shirt. The organizer doubts that anyone there could have 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 watches the players; he sees a player challenge a word and call for a ruling. When the game ends, he sits down with the winner, Wilson Janek, and starts a new game. He asks Wilson about Adam Brenner; Wilson has heard about his death, and Grissom notes that Adam was alive when he beat Wilson last night. He then tells Wilson who he is, and that he'd like a DNA sample. Wilson tells Grissom that he can ask Uncle Sam for the DNA sample, saying that he's served his country in the Gulf War and saw enough killing over there.

In another part of the room, 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. During the conversation, his opponent scores a lot of points on his turn, but Craig seem bothered by it. Elsewhere, Brass interviews another player, the last one to see Adam alive. The player tells him that killing Adam so that he could win instead isn't really a valid theory because the prize money is only $2,000 which barely covers his expenses. Brass tells him he'd like a DNA sample.

Hodges tells Grissom that the blue fiber he found in the blood on the bathroom floor is a plastic usually used for logos on t-shirts; Grissom comments that everyone at the tournament had things written on their t-shirts. 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 he had a game against a "Blue Hair" that he lost and shouldn't have, but she talked the entire time that they were playing and he couldn't concentrate. After he lost, 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, but Pierce says that just being at the same table as Adam was an honor, like taking painting lessons from Picasso.

Sara does anagrams with the letters and looks at the rules and Adam's notebook. She tells Grissom that Adam was a meticulous note-taker and documented all the plays that he made, but one of the games doesn't add up. In the game that Adam played against Craig, there are 60 points missing; his 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". Grissom asks what "exvin" means, but Sara doesn't know and it wasn't in the dictionary. She also notes that Craig played a word later on in the game that used an "x", and that there's only one "x" in the game tiles, so where did the extra "x" come from?

They go to Craig's room at the hotel; Grissom finds a pistol that has blood on it, but Craig says that it's a replica that he bought in a pawn shop as he's a collector. Grissom comments, "Fake gun for a fake word." A flashback shows Adam playing the word "exvin" and coming up with a convicing definition when questioned about it. Craig not to challenge it, but when he played an "s" on the same word, making "exvins", Adam challenged it successfully.

Sara notes that there are six letters missing from Craig's Logos box, the letters for "exvins," and comments that Craig made Adam eat his word. 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.


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.
  • this episode aired a days before the punisher 2004 film aired.


  • 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.
  • this episode aired a day before the punisher 2004 film.


  • Although Gena Shaw is listed as playing as Sabrina James, the dead girl's last name actually was Abernathy and James was her maternal grandmother's name.
  • Tracey Needham made her a special guest as Jessica Abernathy in this episode. She would later play Meg Austin in the military drama series JAG for only first season.
  • thismepsiode aired in the day before the punisher 2004 film was aired.

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