Season 5
Number 8
Writer Jerry Stahl
Director Richard J. Lewis
Original Airdate November 18, 2004
Previous Episode: Formalities
Next Episode: Mea Culpa

Ch-Ch-Changes is the eighth episode in Season Five of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.


The CSI team investigate when a woman is found with her throat slashed. They soon discover that the woman underwent a sex change operation and have to delve into the world of the Las Vegas transgender community to find the killer.


Victim: Wendy Garner (deceased)

On the case: Entire team

A woman speeding down a dark highway gets pulled over by an officer. She tells the officer that she's being followed and has video to prove it; however, the officer doesn't believe her and asks for her license and registration. The woman is next seen in her car with her throat and private parts slashed. Catherine and Grissom are on the scene; there, they find a camcorder with no tape in it and tire tracks insinuating that the victim was run off the road.

In autopsy, David Phillips tells Catherine that the victim had lots of surgical procedures: artificial breasts, cheek implants, and collagen lips. He also pulls an expensive-looking diamond ring off the victim's finger. Meanwhile, Sara and Warrick process the victim's car. Warrick finds a woman's cosmetic bag containing various creams and lotions, while Sara finds the victim's work card under a floor mat, which identifies her as Wendy Garner. In the glove compartment, Warrick finds the car's registration and a driver's license. Both belong to Walter Clancy, leading Sara to believe that the victim either borrowed the car or stole it.

Doc Robbins tells Catherine and Grissom the surprising news—during his examination of the victim, he found a prostate, meaning that the victim was likely assigned male at birth and had undergone genital realignment surgery. The victim's cause of death was a severed carotid artery and jugular complex, and the cuts were made with a very sharp instrument. Doc Robbins estimates the time of death at between 8:00 PM and midnight. Based on the violent crime, he guesses that the attacker was someone emotionally involved, while Catherine theorizes that things escalated from a sexual assault to a hate crime.

Brass talks to Officer Mann, the officer who pulled the victim over. He recounts the events—after pulling the victim over for speeding, he was told that she was being chased and had the video to prove it; however, he didn't bite. She then told him that the car belonged to her brother and that she didn't have her license, but she had her brother's license instead. Officer Mann says he let the victim off with a warning, which Brass thinks is too light. Brass hypothesizes that Officer Mann was turned on and met the victim further up the road in a secluded spot. While they were making out, he found out the victim was transgender and reacted violently. Officer Mann, who already has a sexual harassment flag in his file, denies this. Brass puts him on administrative duty until the case is resolved and asks for a DNA sample.

In the A/V lab, Catherine informs Warrick and Archie that the fingerprints run through AFIS came back with two results—Wendy Garner, a dancer at the Tangiers, and Walter Clancy, a blackjack dealer at the Riviera in the mid-'90s. With the two photos side by side, Archie removes all of Wendy's surgical enhancements. They find that Wendy and Walter are the same person, with Walter being Wendy's male persona. Mia Dickerson tells Sara that Wendy's mouth had two foreign DNA donors, but none of them match Officer Mann. Sara, meanwhile, has Wendy's diamond ring under a microscope and is able to find a serial number etched into it.

Grissom and Brass speak to Wendy's fiancé, Aaron Laner, in his home. Aaron says that he had known Wendy for a year and that they had met in a grief support group where Wendy was mourning the loss of her "twin brother," Walter. Sara walks through the house and discovers that Aaron and Wendy were sleeping in separate beds; there are also separate sinks in the bathroom. In the cabinet on Wendy's side, Sara finds several bottles of pills along with a note indicating when each pill should be taken when. Sara also curiously finds a blood-stained pad in the garbage. As Grissom, Sara and Brass leave the house, Grissom says that it's impossible that Wendy had her period due to her surgery. They contemplate telling Aaron about Wendy's transgender identity, but Grissom wonders if Aaron already knew.

Catherine and Grissom head to the Tangiers and speak to Wendy's fellow dancers. The dancers say that they knew Wendy was transgender, but they say that all of the best showgirls are. Catherine asks where one would go to get work done and they are told to go see Dr. Mercer. In the doctor's office, Dr. Mercer tells Catherine and Warrick that the law requires that transgender/gender reassignment surgery candidates have to spend one year on hormones and one year living out as their own gender. Wendy wanted to fast-track the process, but Dr. Mercer refused; therefore, she sought out a different medical expert. The doctor adds that the surgery is the easy part, but the hard part is adjusting to life afterwards. He's shocked and saddened to hear that Wendy didn't commit suicide and that she was murdered, lamenting the fact that the world may not have been ready for her.

Mia informs Sara that the blood collected from the pad was Wendy's and that it contained traces of EDTA, an anticoagulant. Since the blood contained no epithelials or fibrinogen, however, it's not menstrual. They conclude that Wendy was having blood drawn and putting it on the pad to fake her period. Mia guesses that Wendy had to have someone helping her do that and Sara wonders if that someone was Dr. Mercer. Meanwhile, Greg tells Grissom that all of the pills recovered from Wendy's cabinet were Mexican knockoffs since HMOs in the United States don't consider being transgender a life-threatening condition. The pills range from heavy-duty hormonal supplements to tranquillizers and antibiotics. During the conversation, Grissom gets a call from Mimosa, one of the dancers, and agrees to meet her for lunch.

At the lounge, Mimosa tells Grissom that she had been with Wendy through her whole transition and was going to be her maid of honor at her wedding. Wendy then called Mimosa and was hysterical, showing great concern for a video tape. Mimosa adds that, in the end, Wendy was tearing herself apart for reasons unknown to her. She also confirms that Aaron didn't know about Wendy's identity. Mimosa says that Wendy revealed all of this in group therapy and tells Grissom that the doctor's name is Dr. Lavelle.

In the lab, Warrick photographs the clothes Wendy was wearing the night she was murdered. Mia interrupts and tells him the blood on Wendy's shoes didn't match Wendy or Officer Mann and that the blood belongs to a male. Meanwhile, Grissom and Brass visit the Lepidro Clinic to speak to Dr. Lavelle. There, they meet Francis Lavelle and his daughter, Tippi, mistaking Francis for the doctor. After being corrected, they speak to Dr. Mona Lavelle. She tells them that Wendy originally came to her devastated that she was denied surgery and she tried to help her work through that. Wendy lacked patience, Dr. Lavelle says, and that made her an unacceptable candidate for surgery. The doctor says that she saw Wendy the night she was murdered for an individual consultation. Wendy was worried about what her husband would do when he found out and refused to have him come with her to the group sessions and/or find out the truth. Dr. Lavelle also tells Brass that she never videotapes the sessions, as that would violate doctor-patient privilege.

In the A/V lab, Nick and Warrick pull up a map and mark off Wendy's address, the address of the doctor's office, and the location where she was pulled over for speeding. Nick says that Wendy left Dr. Lavelle at 8:00 PM and was pulled over at 8:24 PM. She was found dead two miles south of where she was pulled over; however, they figured out that it only takes ten minutes to drive from the clinic to the crime scene, leaving 14 minutes unaccounted for. They look at one of the post-it notes that Sara took from Wendy's bathroom cabinet that reads "G-105, Section E" with numbers underneath it. Nick mentions that there are a lot of storage facilities in the area near the crime scene. Catherine, Nick and Warrick head to the storage facility. As they walk down the hall, they see bloody shoeprints on the ground. Nick is able to open the lock using the combination from the post-it note. Inside, they find a surgical table with a dead woman on it and blood everywhere.

Catherine, Nick and Warrick photograph and process the scene. Nick asks for Catherine's take on the situation, and she comments that the victim outsourced her operation to the wrong doctor. Brass enters and relays the facility manager's statement—the renter paid cash, was a guy, and "seemed normal." The body is brought to autopsy, where Doc Robbins finds piano wires on the x-ray of the lower abdomen. After a rather grotesque description on what they're used for, he tells Catherine that the victim seems to have gone in for a repair due to an infection. The doc puts the victim's death at two days ago, meaning that it happened before Wendy's death. The cause of death is labeled as accidental, with Doc Robbins telling Catherine that it looks like the victim's first surgery was botched and she ended up being "repaired to death."

As they go over the evidence from the storage shed, Catherine finds a bloody fingerprint on a toothpaste tube and Mia collects sweat from the inside of one of the bloody gloves. Nick runs the fingerprints through AFIS and finds a match to Vern Saldusky, who has aliases of Tawny, Peaches, and Vava. Vern's last known address was at the Cockpit Lounge, a transgender-owned club. Grissom and Nick visit the establishment asking about Vern and are told to speak to Mercedes. As they walk to the back of the club, several people are shown getting silicone injections into their cheeks. Grissom questions Mercedes about doctors who perform surgeries for those who have been turned down previously. She mentions the name "Benway" and tells the CSIs that Benway botched her surgery, adding that a friend of hers had to see Benway four times. The mystery doctor's whereabouts are unknown; Mercedes only knows that he's around to perform the surgery and that he's gone before the patient wakes up—no one has ever seen him. Nick asks Mercedes if she knows Vern; Mercedes tells him that Benway just did "Tawny's" surgery.

In the break room, Catherine tells Sara and Warrick that the fingerprint from the toothpaste tube came back to a Dr. Karl Benway. Sara adds that the abdominal retractor they found is only sold in surgical supply stores and that, other than hospitals, the only person to acquire one in the Vegas area in the last year and a half is Dr. Benway. Grissom and Nick enter, with Nick happy to share the information they have on the doctor; however, everyone in the room already knows. Sara tells Grissom that Dr. Benway isn't registered with the AMA, doesn't have a driver's license, and has no passport issued in the state of Nevada. Greg comes in and says that, after extensive research, he found that Dr. Benway was a medic in the Vietnam War. He was later arrested in Mexico and deported for performing illegal abortions. Greg puts a mugshot of Dr. Benway on the table, which Grissom examines. Dr. Benway was also photographed protesting outside the Supreme Court, and Grissom recognizes a similarity in the photos between Dr. Benway and Dr. Mona Lavelle.

Dr. Lavelle is brought in for interrogation. There, she admits to having been Karl Benway in a past life and also admits to performing surgery on Vern. She tells Grissom and Brass her life story and how she has always helped those who have been cast out by gender politics. Grissom reminds her that she has been performing surgeries without a medical license. Dr. Lavelle admits that Vern's death was an unfortunate accident, but claims that she doesn't know what happened to Wendy. Brass guesses that Wendy saw Dr. Lavelle with Vern and threatened to expose her, resulting in her death. Dr. Lavelle, however, maintains that she went straight to her daughter's soccer game after her session with Wendy at the clinic. Grissom obtains the doctor's DNA.

Mia informs Catherine that she found female DNA in one of the bloody gloves in the storage facility. Since both Dr. Lavelle and Vern were assigned male at birth, this means that someone else was present during the surgery. Nick and Warrick search Dr. Lavelle's clinic, much to the anger of her husband, Francis. After Francis yells at them and is escorted outside, Nick swabs some spit from a table. In the utility room, Warrick finds vials of clear liquid along with a camcorder video cartridge with the film pulled out. They hear more yelling coming from outside; Amber Hamshaw, the clinic's nurse, has arrived to drop off Tippi. Francis tells Amber to take Tippi away; when Amber says that she can't, Francis tells her that Tippi is "her kid, too" and that she should take some responsibility. Amber relents, finishes smoking her cigarette, and drops it to the ground. Nick walks over to it and collects it as evidence.

Amber is brought in for questioning. Nick tells her that the DNA from the cigarette butt matched the sweat found inside of the bloody glove, placing her at Vern's surgery. Amber explains that Dr. Lavelle and Francis are like family to her; they helped her become a surrogate mother to Tippi and paid for her nursing degree. However, she also says that she was at Tippi's soccer game when Wendy was murdered. Brass is later able to confirm this with other soccer moms that were in attendance.

Warrick and Archie look at the contents of the video cartridge and find footage of Wendy's bridal shower. Suddenly, the footage is interrupted with footage from the storage unit. Vern's dead body is on the operating table and Wendy is crying, saying that she just wanted to keep her secret from her husband and wondered how Dr. Lavelle could do this to someone. The footage then goes back to the bridal shower. Greg interrupts and says that the fingerprints recovered from the video cartridge came back to Francis Lavelle.

In interrogation, Brass tells Francis that Wendy videotaped the storage area in an effort to expose Dr. Lavelle's "good work" because the doctor was threatening to tell Wendy's fiancé that she wasn't what she appeared to be. Catherine adds that based on DNA found in Wendy's cheek, Francis was having an affair with her. Francis denies being unfaithful to his wife, but does admit to having had a sexual rendezvous with her earlier in the day. A flashback shows Francis driving to the storage facility to get rid of Vern's body. There, he saw Wendy leaving and getting into her car. He followed her and eventually killed her for trying to expose his wife's work.

Catherine is somewhat surprised that Francis would admit to murder but not infidelity. Sara guesses that after his sexual act earlier in the day, Francis transferred his wife's DNA over to Wendy while he was killing her. Meanwhile, Grissom talks to Mimosa in his office and informs her that Wendy was killed by someone in her community.


Main Cast[]

Guest Cast[]

  • Aisha Tyler as Mia Dickerson
  • Archie Kao as Archie Johnson
  • David Berman as David Phillips
  • Lindsay Crouse as Dr. Mona Lavelle
  • Kate Walsh as Mimosa
  • Don McManus as Francis Lavelle
  • Katy Selverstone as Amber Hamshaw
  • Sam Anderson as Dr. Mercer
  • Raphael Sbarge as Aaron Laner
  • Sarah Buxton as Wendy Garner
  • Kevin Fry as Officer Mann
  • Jazzmun as Mercedes
  • Savannah Ajar as Tippi Lavelle
  • Brian Beacock as Irv
  • Marci Bowers as Bev
  • Peter Breitmayer as Ed
  • Deprise Brescia as Purple
  • Cassandra Cass as Pink
  • Bijoux Deluxe as Raspy Transgender Woman
  • Amber Lee Hardin as Dina
  • Hunter as Toni
  • Jody Vaclav as Mrs. Claus
  • David Michael Fordham as Transgender Person (uncredited)

Episode Title[]

  • Ch-Ch-Changes is a reference to the 1971 David Bowie song called, "Changes," which is thought to be a chameleonic manifesto.


Brass: Lepidro. What kind of name is that?
Grissom: It's from Lepidoptera, meaning "butterfly." Walter Clancy started out a gender-dysmorphic caterpillar and turned into a bloody butterfly.
Brass: Love hurts.


  • As Nick and Warrick are assessing Wendy Garner's travel path and find that there are 14 minutes unaccounted for, the screen says "Wendy Jones' House." Her last name is Garner, her old last name was Clancy, and her fiancé's last name is Laner; therefore, it makes absolutely no sense to have "Jones" on the screen.
  • Nick says Wendy lived at Sunshine Road when the map reads Sunshine Lane.
  • Greg isn't using gloves to recover prints from the cassette, same thing later with Archie while rewinding it with a pencil.


  • We by Home Video


  • This is CSI's 100th filmed episode.
  • The episode is inspired by John Ronald Brown, a.k.a. "Butcher Brown", an unlicensed surgeom guilty of botched gender reassignment surgeries, them an amputation of a healthy leg of a man with body integriyt disorder, resulting in the man dying.
  • Lindsay Crouse (Dr. Mona Lavelle), Kate Walsh (Mimosa) and Sara Buxton (Wendy Garner) are women in real life, while Jazzmun (Mercedes) is a transgender woman.
  • Both Kate Walsh (Mimosa) and Katy Selverstone (Amber Hamshaw) played girlfriends of Drew Carey in The Drew Carey Show. Walsh is perhaps more recognizable for her role as Addison Montgomery in the shows Grey's Anatomy and Private Practice.
  • This episode received the 2005 Emmy nomination for "Outstanding Makeup For A Series" (Non-Prosthetic).
  • This is the only episode about transgender identity or the trans community.

See Also[]

CSI:Las Vegas Season 5
Viva Las VegasDown the DrainHarvestCrow's FeetSwap MeetWhat's Eating Gilbert Grissom?FormalitiesCh-Ch-ChangesMea CulpaNo Humans InvolvedWho Shot Sherlock?SnakesNesting DollsUnbearableKing BabyBig MiddleCompulsionSpark of Life4 x 4Hollywood BrassCommittedWeeping WillowsIcedGrave Danger, Part 1Grave Danger, Part 2