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CSI on Fire
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Season 13
Number 8
Writer Carol Mendelsohn,
Richard Catalani
Director Jeffrey Hunt
Original Airdate November 21, 2012
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Previous Episode: Fallen Angels
Next Episode: Strip Maul

CSI on Fire is the eighth episode in season thirteen of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.

Synopsis

When eight bodies are found in what appears to be a meteor site in the middle of the desert, Finn recognizes one of the casualties, prompting her to revisit her past.

Plot

Victims: Janet Warren (deceased), Stephanie Hollinger (deceased), Sunshine Vanletti (deceased), Ashley Brinn (deceased), Sarah Jones (deceased), Tiffany Alcott (deceased), Jennifer Sutterman (deceased), Kinley Summer (deceased)

On the case: D.B. Russell, Greg Sanders, Julie Finlay, Morgan Brody, Nick Stokes, Jim Brass

Two hikers in the desert witness a fiery object crash to the ground. The object is from the nearby Air Force base; however, while investigating the crash, the responding sheriff stumbles across what he believes to be a mass grave. Finn and Russell confirm the sheriff's hunches, but are told by the FBI to vacate the premises. Russell recites a phony regulation to keep the CSIs in the area and the FBI off their backs.

Evidence shows that the first three bodies dug up have been there for over five years. Hodges unearths a fern leaf and notes that they don't grow in the area. When combined with the rich, dark soil the bodies are buried in, the team believes the bodies were buried in a northern climate and moved there. Russell unearths a fourth victim that's completely mummified, indicating she was exposed to the elements shortly before death. As Finn continues to dig, she finds a diamond pendant. She hurriedly removes it and rushes to her laptop; the pendant is a match to a missing case from Finn's past. The victim, Janet Warren, is a supposed victim of Seattle serial killer Tom Cooley.

Back at the lab, Finn is itching to notify Dr. Monica Warren that her daughter's body has been found after two years. Russell tells her not to get ahead of the evidence and wait for a positive identification on the body before calling Dr. Warren. Between the pendant, the condition of the body, and the soil, Finn believes there's no way the body isn't Janet. Russell reminds her that the last time she got ahead of the evidence, Tom Cooley sued the Seattle Police Department and she ended up getting fired.

Morgan and Hodges sift through the dirt from the grave site, uncovering a finger bone, an insect and a class ring that appears to belong to a man. Hodges fills Morgan in about the Tom Cooley case - Finn compromised a case in Seattle when she illegally obtained Tom's DNA. The team had hair, carpet fibers and semen from Janet's car, but Finn's actions and Tom's snake of a lawyer had the case thrown out of court.

Nick charts all the insects found in the dirt and determines that the bodies were originally buried outside of the Seattle metropolitan area. The question now is: why would someone move the bodies from Seattle to an extremely remote area of Nevada?

Greg runs the fingerprints from the mummified body and confirms they belong to Janet Warren. He gives the good news to Finn over the phone, then relays his findings to Russell. Finn is suddenly unreachable, and Russell tracks the GPS on her phone. She's gone to Seattle to give the news to Janet's mother. Before she can do so, she's pulled over by Seattle police captain Mike Robinson - who is also Finn's ex-husband.

Mike takes Finn for a ride and shows her Tom Cooley's ranch. The land where the ranch was is now fully developed and covered with residential homes. Finn already knows that Tom covered his tracks after he moved the bodies. There's no way they can dig up the property now, as the homeowners wouldn't consent to it. Finn wants to notify Dr. Warren about Janet's body being found, but Mike tells her that the press caught wind of the case and that Dr. Warren is already in Vegas.

Dr. Warren demands to see her daughter's body, something Doc Robbins advises against. Before the disagreement between the two escalates any further, Russell appears and greets Dr. Warren. He shows her the pendant recovered at the burial site, and Dr. Warren knows her daughter has been found. She tells Russell to go after Tom Cooley.

Morgan works on the class ring that was found in the dirt and sees that it's from Hardison High School, which is located just ouside Seattle. The ring is from the Class of 1987, and the class president that year was...Tom Cooley. Meanwhile, Henry tells Russell that two of the buried bodies have been identified - both women were blonde, athletic, in their 20s and last seen in places in Seattle's Capitol District. It's the same area where Janet went missing, and Russell notes that Tom had an office in the neighborhood. Tox reports from the bodies show high levels of Flunitrazepam, a date rape drug, and the bodies also showed signs of strangulation. Russell shows a Henry a cell phone video of the last time Janet was seen alive; in the video, she's sitting next to Tom at a bar and her hand is on his thigh.

Finn and Mike find out that only one Hardison High School alumni has ordered a replacement ring in the past. That person is Eric Louie, who is now an officer in the Seattle Police Department. He tells Finn and Mike that he gave the ring to his high school sweetheart, and that she claims to have lost it after they broke up and she started dating the quarterback. The woman, Marla, is now his wife. Marla confirms that she did lose the ring, but doesn't remember when or where. She denies ever having anything to do with Tom Cooley, but does say that she dated Tom's best friend, Max Liston, for a few weeks. Back in the day, Max took her to a party at Tom's ranch, but she doesn't know if that's where she lost the ring. When Marla excuses herself to get a refill on her coffee, Finn and Mike confirm that she's hiding something from them.

Over the phone, Russell advises Finn to tread carefully, as Marla's husband is a cop. Finn sends Russell a link to a news article, which states that Max Liston, a contractor, was hired by Tom to develop the former ranch. The ranch was also paved over, and Finn believes the bodies were moved from the site before that happened. Finn believes Tom negotiated with Max to make that a reality. As the story goes, Max became an instant millionaire, retired and moved to the Virgin Islands - where he died in a scuba diving accident three weeks later.

Tom pulls a fast one by coming to Vegas and scheduling a press conference, where he offers a $100,000 reward to anyone with information leading to the arrest and conviction of Janet's killer. He then plays the victim, much to Finn's anger and frustration. During the press conference, Tom puts Finn in the crosshairs, calling her an "overzealous CSI."

Nick discovers that the land where the bodies were found is actually federal land that was part of a big government land grab in the '90s. He presents a document called a "Covenant of Appurtenant," which states that the land can never be developed, which would make it a good place to bury a body - or eight. Some digging reveals that the land is owned by one of the biggest real estate firms in Seattle. Tom's family just happened to make their fortune in real estate, so the land in the desert could've belonged to the Cooley family. If true, this would be enough to compel Tom's DNA.

However, Tom's lawyer tells Brass that there's no way his client is offering up a DNA sample. Tom introduces himself to Brass with an extended hand, but Brass refuses to reciprocate. Instead, he tells Tom that he's the prime suspect in the eight murders and cites the evidence found so far. After Brass accuses Tom of having his buddy Max move the bodies from Seattle to Vegas, Tom and his lawyer leave. Brass tells them not to leave town.

Finn arrives back in Vegas and immediately heads to Tom's suite at the Mediterranean. When Tom opens the door, she storms in and begins reciting the story about how he picks up young women, has sex with them and kills them. She's eventually able to get Tom riled up before leaving and going back to the lab.

In his office, Russell gets a call from Brass that Tom has surprisingly committed suicide in his hotel suite. Tom's time of death is believed to be within the last few hours, but Finn arrives and says she can narrow the window down to 30 minutes, much to Russell's exasperation. The CSIs head to the hotel, and Russell tells Finn that he's not going to lie for her. As they get briefed by Brass in the hallway, a father and son walk by; the son complains that the soda machine stole his dollar. Tom's lawyer, Gavin Pearson, also has trouble entering the adjoining suite using his key card.

Before Finn can enter Tom's suite, Brass pulls her aside. A room service waiter told police that there was a woman in the suite with Tom; the woman matches Finn's description. Brass knows it was her, and he prevents her from going in to process the suite. Russell examines Tom's body and sees that he hung himself with a necktie he hung around a doorknob. There's also a bottle of Flunitrazepam on a nearby table, and Brass notes that both doors in the room are locked from the inside. From out in the hallway, Finn points out that a narcissist like Tom wouldn't hold a press conference and then kill himself a few hours later. She is steadfast in her belief that this is a homicide.

In autopsy, Doc Robbins labels Tom's cause of death as asphyxiation due to ligature strangulation; however, he cannot determine whether it's a suicide or homicide. Tom's blood alcohol content was three times the legal limit and Flunitrazepam was also found in his system. Russell wonders if someone in Tom's state could have tied a knot. Finn excitedly enters with some news: Tom's DNA matches the semen that was found in Janet Warren's car two years ago. Tom definitely killed Janet, but whether or not he killed the other seven women is undetermined. Finn believes that, outside of Max Liston, Tom must've had someone else helping him move bodies. If Tom went down for murder, then his accomplice would, too. This would be a good enough motive for murder.

Finn heads back to Seattle to speak with Marla Louie. When pressed, Marla eventually admits to going to a party at Tom's ranch with Tom and two of his friends, Max Liston and Gavin Pearson. She drank a bit and unexpectedly blacked out; when she awoke, the three young men were burying her alive. She escaped, but as she ran off, Tom yelled out that nobody would believe her story. Finn tells Marla that she was likely roofied, and Marla admits that she was raped that night.

Greg runs through the timeline of the evening, noting Finn's departure from the hotel and Gavin drinking in the casino bar. Based on the timeline, Gavin had three minutes to kill Tom. Gavin admitted to having drinks with Tom in the suite earlier, so it's likely he dosed Tom's drink with Flunitrazepam at that time. This would have allowed plenty of time for the drugs to kick in; all Gavin would have to do is come back later, tie up Tom and let gravity do the rest. However, there's one problem: both doors to the room are locked from the inside.

Russell walks into the hallway and remembers two things: Gavin's busted key card and the malfunctioning soda machine. When he goes to examine the soda machine, Russell finds a magnet stuck to the side of it. He concludes that Gavin used the magnet to enter Tom's room, and used it again when left. Gavin then stuck the magnet in his pocket, which demagnetized the key card. Knowing he couldn't be found in possession of the magnet, he stuck it to the side of the soda machine and fried its circuit. Gavin is arrested and, under interrogation, he gives the names of the four buried women who had yet to be identified.

Finn goes back to Seattle and gives Dr. Warren closure with her daughter's murder. Dr. Warren thanks her, and Mike commends her for sticking with the case despite everything she lost.

Cast

Main Cast

Guest Cast

  • Larry Mitchell as Officer Mitchell
  • Litha P. Johnson as Female FBI Agent
  • Gonzalo Menendez as Sheriff Anderson
  • Lilli Birdsell as Dr. Monica Warren
  • Brian Van Holt as Captain Mike Robinson
  • Eric Steinberg as Eric Louie
  • Sarah Joy Brown as Marla Louie
  • Scott Lowell as Gavin Pearson
  • Dylan Walsh as Tom Cooley
  • Mark Provencher as Father
  • Cameron Hunt as Son
  • Drew Osborne as Young Tom Cooley
  • Lauran Irion as Young Marla Louie

Notes

  • Jorja Fox (Sara) is credited on this side and on IMDb; however, she does not appear in the episode.
  • The case of Tom Cooley was first mentioned by Finn in the season 12 finale Homecoming.

See Also

CSI:Las Vegas Season 13
Karma to BurnCode Blue Plate SpecialWild FlowersIt Was a Very Good YearPlay DeadPick and RollFallen AngelsCSI on FireStrip MaulRisky Business ClassDead AirDouble FaultIn Vino VeritasExileForget Me NotLast Woman StandingDead of the ClassShelteredBackfireFearlessGhosts of the PastSkin in the Game


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