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Face Lift
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Season 1
Number 17
Writer Josh Berman
Director Lou Antonio
Original Airdate March 8, 2001
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Previous Episode: Too Tough to Die
Next Episode: $35K O.B.O.

Face Lift is the seventeenth episode in season one of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.

Synopsis

Catherine, Grissom and Nick handle a case in which the fingerprints of a victim in an old kidnapping case turn up at the scene of a murder. Meanwhile, Sara and Warrick investigate the case of a woman who was incinerated in her easy chair; Sara suspects it's a case of spontaneous human combustion.

Plot

Victim: Joseph Felton (deceased)

On the case: Catherine Willows, Gil Grissom, Nick Stokes

A couple discovers that the pottery store they own has been robbed—and a dead body lies near the empty safe. The victim, 44-year-old Joseph Felton, isn't an employee of the store and has no reason to be there. Only $300 in small bills was taken from the safe, and Nick observes the odd burn mark on the safe's door used to pry it open. Grissom sees that the victim suffered multiple contusions to the back of the skull and figures that the team is looking at a homicide.

In autopsy, Doc Robbins tells Catherine and Nick that the victim suffered three hits to the head; trauma to the brain stem resulted in immediate death. There's yellow, glittery trace from Joseph's wounds, and the doc can only identify the glitter as an unknown mineral. Catherine spots something in Joseph's hair and combs out plant spores. She believes the spores are from a fern, and Nick recalls that the back entrance to the pottery store was overgrown with them.

Grissom runs fingerprints from the store through AFIS and gets one hit: Melissa Marlowe, a girl who was kidnapped from her Colorado home 21 years ago. She's been presumed dead, but that clearly isn't the case now. Grissom doesn't believe she's a suspect in the murder, as her fingerprint had dust on it, indicating that it was at least a few weeks old. He offers to take charge of the kidnapping case, while Catherine and Nick will continue working the homicide.

Nick discovers that the safe was cracked with a plasma lance, a high-powered electric blaster. A similar M.O. was used in a robbery case in 1999, when Joseph Felton was arrested and granted immunity in exchange for his testimony against his partner, Darin Hanson. Darin was the one who used the plasma lance to crack open that safe. As it turns out, he was recently released from prison and his last known address is in Vegas. Nick theorizes that Darin and Joseph hooked up again to rob the pottery store. During the robbery, Darin killed Joseph as revenge for testifying against him and putting him in prison.

Darin is tracked down and questioned. He claims that he hasn't seen Joseph since the trial two years ago; however, the two go way back, as they were neighbors for 15 years. When told that a plasma lance was used to break into another safe, Darin says that Joseph was actually the lance guy, which would be why the M.O.s are the same. Everything points to Darin, but he provides receipts that prove he was out of town at the time of the robbery and murder.

Grissom speaks with Melissa's parents, who are shocked that their daughter is still alive. Despite the positive news, Grissom adds that they don't know where Melissa actually is, as her fingerprints in the pottery store only put in town as recently as two weeks ago. Because Vegas is a tourist town, she could've just been passing through. Forensic anthropologist Teri Miller is called in to assist, She explains that she can use computer software to determine what Melissa looks like now based on what she looked like in her childhood photos. The photo of a 25-year-old Melissa will then be sent to every law enforcement agency in the state.

Catherine brings Tammy Felton down to the morgue to identify her father; upon seeing the body, she begins to cry. When Tammy turns away, Catherine spots plant spores on her sweater similar to the ones found in Joseph's hair earlier. The spores are collected as evidence, and Tammy eventually admits to being at the pottery store with her father. However, she claims that she was only trying to stop him from robbing the store, walking away before the act was carried out. When asked why she didn't just say that outright, Tammy says that she was just trying to preserve the good memories she had of her father.

Teri uses the computer software to perform age-progression on a photo of a four-year-old Melissa. She explains that eyes stay the same as we age; however, the face elongates and the hair pattern gets set. A photo of Melissa's mother is used to fill in the rest of the genetic gaps, and a photo of a 25-year-old Melissa is developed. Grissom happily shows Catherine, who immediately recognizes the woman as Tammy Felton. She tells a surprised Grissom that she and Tammy have already met. The new theory is that Tammy may have killed the man who raised her, and Joseph may be the same man who kidnapped her. Despite her fingerprint at the crime scene not being fresh, Grissom says that she could've cased the store two weeks ago and worn gloves when the robbery occurred.

Catherine and Grissom visit Dr. Philip Kane, the department psychologist. He believes that since Melissa was kidnapped when she was four years old (after she developed cognitive memory), she may remember some things from her former life. The inability to contextualize a latent memory may lead to sociopathic tendencies—including the inability to feel guilt, compassion, or love. Dr. Kane adds that the sociopath's most defining characteristic is their instinct for survival; there's nothing they won't do. Before Catherine and Grissom leave, they're warned that Tammy may be dangerous because sociopaths don't function by the same moral code as everyone else.

Greg identifies the glittery trace from Joseph's head wound as uranium. Grissom tells Nick that back in the day, oxidized uranium flecks were used as color enhancers in things like paints and glazes. Since Joseph was killed in a pottery store, there has to be a connection. Nick heads back to the store with a Geiger counter and discovers that a gnome figurine tests positive for radioactivity. He picks up the figurine and sees pieces of hair and blood on the chipped backside.

Grissom sits down with the Marlowes and tells them that Melissa has been found; however, she's a suspect in a homicide. Against his better judgment, he allows them to observe Tammy through the glass as Catherine questions her. Grissom says that he can't allow the Marlowes to speak to Tammy, but when the questioning ends early, Mrs. Marlowe runs up to Tammy in the hallway and hugs her. Tammy rebuffs the hug, bluntly telling Mrs. Marlowe that she's not her daughter. When told that Melissa goes by the name Tammy Felton now, the Marlowes reveal that Mara Felton was Melissa's babysitter. During her interrogation with Catherine, Tammy had mentioned that Mara was her mother, and that she died four years ago. The Marlowes leave, determined to get a lawyer for their daughter, while Catherine questions Grissom's judgment.

A warrant is obtained for Tammy’s house, and the CSIs discover a pair of gloves with yellow paint on them inside. The paint tests positive for uranium, putting Tammy at the scene of the murder. When confronted, she denies ever wearing the gloves, claiming they belonged to her mother. Grissom disproves this by lifting a fingerprint from the glove and positively matching it to Tammy's print. Now cornered, Tammy claims that there was a third person at the crime scene: Melissa Marlowe.

It's possible Tammy has a split personality, and Dr. Kane believes that Tammy is the dominant one. If this is the case, Melissa is the one who killed Joseph Felton as an act of revenge for the kidnapping 21 years earlier. Brass has an alternate theory: Tammy is playing everyone for fools, pleading insanity after being confronted with the evidence against her. Catherine and Grissom advise that they need to be open to all possibilities.

The Marlowes arrive with their attorney and tell Tammy that she's their daughter who was taken from them 21 years ago. Tammy's bail has been set at $500,000, and the Marlowes vow that they'll do whatever it takes to keep their daughter out of jail. During the conversation, Tammy fixates on the necklace Mrs. Marlowe is wearing and seems to come to start remembering things from her childhood.

Catherine goes to the jail to visit "Melissa" upon her request. "Melissa" claims that she knows who she is now after spending time with her real parents; however, she's scared about what's going to happen to her since she killed Joseph. "Melissa" asks for Catherine's help, since she was so kind and understanding when Joseph's body was identified earlier. She also hopes that Catherine could explain things to a jury, adding that she only has memories of being a little kid. Catherine sees through the lie, informing Tammy that, if this is the case, she shouldn't know who Catherine is. Tammy angrily tells Catherine to leave, but not before showing off the innocent childlike voice she plans to use in court.

The Marlowes pay Tammy's bail and she skips town. Grissom tells Catherine that the Marlowes lost their house and life savings to free Tammy, an act which will never be paid back. As far as the CSIs are concerned, the case is closed.

Catherine pulls the Marlowes' credit card receipts, discovering that they purchased 22 bus tickets to 22 different states. They helped Tammy flee the city and made sure that she couldn't be tracked by the police. When told that they aided and abetted the flight of a suspected felon, the Marlowes willfully allow themselves to be arrested, happy that their daughter is free.

In the desert, Tammy meets up with Darin Hanson at a bus stop. It's revealed that he told her the truth about her kidnapping, knowing that she would respond by killing Joseph Felton. The two drive off into the sunset on the way to their next adventure.

Victim: Nadine Winston (deceased)

On the case: Sara Sidle, Warrick Brown, Ray O'Riley

Sara and Warrick are called to the house of Larry and Nadine Winston. Nadine burned to death in her armchair and was reduced to ashes. Sara believes they could be looking at the first ever case of spontaneous human combustion, but Warrick chooses to look at things more realistically. Her theory is backed up a little more when she finds a cotton fiber that's barely been scorched, as if Nadine burned to death wearing fire retardant clothes. Warrick is alerted to a hole in the ceiling; the flames rose straight up from the armchair and burned a hole in the roof.

Under interrogation, Larry claims that he loved his wife and has no idea what happened to her. He tells Sgt. O'Riley that when he went to bed, Nadine was alive; when he woke up ten hours later, she was a pile of ash. Sgt. O'Riley notes that the couple was sleeping in separate beds. When asked if he knows how to operate a blowtorch, Larry becomes incensed and ends the interrogation.

All that’s left of Nadine is her foot; the rest of the body was incinerated and the ashes tested negative for an accelerant. In autopsy, David Phillips observes that the ankle bone is completely hollowed out. The bone marrow was reduced to ash, which means the foot was burned off the body, not severed. This supports Sara's spontaneous combustion theory. David takes a blood sample from the foot and has it sent to toxicology in order to check for any flammable compounds.

No evidence has been found indicating foul play, and it's determined that Larry had no motive for killing his wife. Back at the Winston house, Sara continues to back her spontaneous combustion theory. Warrick busts out the ion detector to pick up the smallest traces of hydrocarbon fumes and determine what accelerant was used. Much to his surprise, though, the ion detector picks up nothing.

Using a pig carcass, Warrick intends to disprove the existence of spontaneous human combustion, once and for all. He tells Sara that Nadine had a pack of cigarettes on the end table and her blood contained enough sleeping pills to knock out a horse. The thought is that Nadine fell asleep, ignited herself with cigarette, and was unable to wake up. Warrick dresses the pick carcass up in a cotton nightgown and sets it ablaze with the cigarette.

The experiment is successful, as the carcass is reduced to ash. Warrick explains to Grissom that the fat acted like candle wax, burning hot, slow, and intense. Grissom is impressed, and he asks if there was a "wick"—the origin of the fire. He sifts through the ask and finds a piece of fabric that's been scorched, but not completely burned. Sara recalls they found the same thing at the crime scene, and Grissom explains that in the "wick effect," the fabric acts like a wick and burns the body inward, which explains the high temperatures that destroy the bone. He also reveals that he knew about the ashes and wanted his CSIs to form a logical conclusion through experimentation. When Grissom asks if they really thought Nadine spontaneously combusted, Warrick says they didn't, covering for Sara.

Cast

Main Cast

Guest Cast

Goofs

  • Grissom mentions to Nick that Peter Parker was bitten by a radioactive spider and became Spider-Man in the 50s. Spider-Man's first appearance was in 1962 in Marvel Comics' "Amazing Fantasy #15."

Notes

  • Sara stopped eating meat after Sex, Lies and Larvae when Grissom used a dead pig to estimate postmortem insect growth.
  • Teri Miller tells Grissom that their chance for a relationship has passed.

Trivia

  • Reginald VelJohnson played department psychologist Dr. Phillip Kane. He's best known for playing police officer characters, such as Carl Winslow in the show Family Matters and Sgt. Al Powell in the movies Die Hard and Die Hard 2.

See Also

CSI:Las Vegas Season 1
PilotCool ChangeCrate 'n BurialPledging Mr. JohnsonFriends & LoversWho Are You?Blood DropsAnonymousUnfriendly SkiesSex, Lies and LarvaeI-15 MurdersFahrenheit 932BoomTo Halve and to HoldTable StakesToo Tough to DieFace Lift$35K O.B.O.Gentle, GentleSounds of SilenceJustice is ServedEvaluation DayStrip Strangler
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