Pledging Mr. Johnson
Mr Johnson
Season 1
Number 4
Writer Josh Berman,
Anthony Zuiker
Director Richard J. Lewis
Original Airdate October 27, 2000
Previous Episode: Crate 'n Burial
Next Episode: Friends & Lovers

Pledging Mr. Johnson is the fourth episode in Season One of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.


A woman's severed leg found in Lake Mead leads Catherine and Grissom to uncover a case of adultery. Meanwhile, Nick and Sara investigate a fraternity student's apparent suicide, but find out that it may have been caused by the student's pledging going terribly wrong.


Victim: Wendy Barger (deceased)

On the case: Catherine Willows, Gil Grissom, Jim Brass

In the middle of the night, two men fishing in the middle of Lake Mead discovered a severed female leg. Catherine and Grissom arrive on the scene, seeing that the leg is a femur, the strongest bone in the body—and it's been sliced clean through. Evidence suggests that the woman drowned; however, she was wearing three-inch heels, which seems out of place for a trip to the lake.

In autopsy, Dr. Williams tells Catherine that the leg was severed postmortem. Grissom wheels in the rest of the body, which was found half a mile away. The victim's skin is too shriveled to get viable fingerprints, so Grissom comes up with an idea: fit the victim's hand over Catherine's, like a glove. Doing so gives the team solid fingerprints to match in the database.

The victim is identified as 34-year-old Wendy Barger. Her husband, Winston, never reported her missing, despite the fact that she had been in the water for two days. There's evidence of recent sexual activity; combined with injuries from a struggle, it seems that she was raped. Catherine and Grissom question Winston and learn that his marriage was on the rocks—the couple had not had sex for several months. They ask him for a DNA sample to assist in the investigation; however, it doesn't match the semen recovered from his wife.

It seems rather clear that Wendy was sleeping with someone on the side. Further inspection of her body reveals a head wound embedded with splinters and lime green paint. The absence of water in her lungs means that she didn't drown; she was dead before she fell into the water. Her stomach contents lead Catherine and Grissom to a restaurant near the lake. A waitress recognizes Wendy’s picture and remembers that she had dinner with a Phil Swelco.

Catherine and Grissom track Phil down and question him. He's distraught at the news of Wendy’s death and admits that they were having an affair; however, nobody knew about it. Phil says that he recently divorced his wife and was assuming that Wendy was going to do the same with Winston. However, Wendy was scared to go through with the divorce, as she believed that Winston would "break" if it happened. Phil mentions that Wendy always parked at the marina to avoid her car being spotted in the driveway. Therefore, to maintain privacy, they would take the boat to and from the marina. He recalls that after their date, Wendy took her boat across the lake back to her car. When the marina is later searched, the boat in question is missing.

As they leave Phil's house, Catherine and Grissom spot Winston waiting for them outside. He says he was following them and asks how Phil is related to Wendy’s death, adding that he knows Phil "informally." After Winston leaves, Catherine mentions that they're going to eventually have to tell him about his wife's affair. However, Grissom replies that their focus is only on the facts and that they only need to tell Winston how his wife died.

While Catherine searches for the boat, Grissom uses a simulation tank in the lab to recreate the water conditions on the night Wendy died. He determines that the boat drifted to Barring Point Bridge, and Catherine soon calls him to inform him that the boat was found in the same location. The boat is white with lime green trim, which matches the splinters in Wendy's head wound.

When processing the boat, Catherine and Grissom find a piece of skin and traces of blood. Under interrogation, Phil reveals to Brass that he cut his hand while cleaning fish, which would explain the blood in the boat. In the hallway outside, Winston appears and wonders why Phil is being questioned. Catherine talks to Winston privately and reveals that his wife was cheating on him with Phil. When Grissom gets wind of this conversation, he admonishes Catherine and reprimands her for compromising the case because of her personal feelings.

Grissom realizes that Wendy ran out of gas that night. He encourages Catherine to get into the boat and repeatedly pull the cord. When Catherine finishes and replies that her arm is sore, Grissom states that he solved the case. After her date with Phil, Wendy took the boat back to the marina; however, on the way, the boat ran out of gas. Stranded in the middle of the lake and beginning to panic, she repeatedly tried to restart the engine. In the process, she dislocated her shoulder, lost her balance, hit her head, and fell into the water, where her leg was later severed by a barge's propeller. Her death was an accident.

Catherine and Grissom visit Phil to tell him the news and find him dead in his house. Winston sits nearby with a gun in his hand, sobbing that Phil killed his wife. However, they inform Winston that Wendy's death was an accident and that he killed an innocent man.

Victim: James Johnson (deceased)

On the case: Nick Stokes, Sara Sidle

Nick and Sara arrive at a fraternity house (Phi Alpha) where James Johnson, a pledge, is hanging in an apparent suicide; no suicide note is found. Two fraternity members, Kyle Travis and Matt Daniels, tell the CSIs that James didn't get into the fraternity. The young men wonder if James became depressed because of this and decided to commit suicide.

Autopsy shows signs that James was asphyxiated, but suicide isn't ruled out. His tongue is missing teeth marks, a common side effect of hanging, and ink is found on his penis. Nick and Sara question Kyle and Matt again and learn about an initiation that all pledges must go through: going to sorority row and having different parts of their bodies signed. James was caught signing his own "Johnson" and was humiliated in front of the other pledges as punishment. The young men admit to hazing, but deny being involved in anything that led to James' murder.

James’ autopsy also reveals a strip of raw liver with threads of fabric embedded in it in his throat. When Nick and Sara accuse Matt and Kyle of hazing, Kyle explains that James asked for one more chance to prove himself, so they made him swallow raw liver. James choked on it and died even after they performed the Heimlich Maneuver; they staged the hanging to avoid suspicion. Kyle has just admitted to murder; however, because his father is a defense attorney, he believes that he and Matt will get off with manslaughter.

Sara believes that Kyle is lying and is incensed that he can get away with a lesser sentence. Nick mentions that if the Heimlich maneuver was actually performed, there would be evidence of trauma on James' body. When x-rays reveal no rib fractures or bruising, the CSIs conclude that they were lied to; nobody tried to help James when he started choking.

It's also discovered that James actually did get his penis signed by a girl: Jill Wentworth of the Delta Delta sorority. When questioned by Nick and Sara, she mentions that Kyle is her boyfriend. The CSIs search Kyle's room and find a bloodied twine noose in the trash basket.

They confront Matt with this information, and he finally confesses that Kyle, angry over his girlfriend signing James’ penis, tricked James into swallowing the liver, assuring him that he would pull it out as part of a trust-test. However, he yanked the noose so that the liver remained lodged in James' throat. When Matt arrived and saw what happened, Kyle assured him that his father would get them off the hook and enlisted Matt to help stage the suicide. Nick and Sara let Kyle know that he's under arrest for first degree murder and will be joining another fraternity upstate.

CSI: Warrick Brown

Warrick goes to court to testify in a case but is frustrated to find that the case has been continued. Judge Cohen, who considers Warrick to be in his debt, tells Warrick to compromise the evidence for a rape case because he owes the rapist’s family. Warrick protests, but Judge Cohen doesn't let him refuse. He orders Warrick to break the chain of custody in order to get the case kicked out of court.

Warrick returns to the lab and attempts to sign out the evidence in the rape case, but cannot bring himself to do so. Morally conflicted, he turns to Grissom for guidance. After their meeting, Warrick calls the judge and asks to meet him in person, as there's something in the evidence that he needs to see.

Warrick meets Judge Cohen and asks him for assurance. He leads the judge into outlining his exact wants, which include having Warrick break the evidence seal. With the cat out of the bag, Brass appears to arrest Judge Cohen, and Warrick reveals that he was wearing a wire. As the judge is hauled away, Warrick defiantly says that nobody owns him.


Main Cast[]

Guest Cast[]

  • Eric Szmanda as Greg Sanders
  • Judith Scott as Jenna Williams
  • Harrison Young as Judge Cohen
  • Jim Ortlieb as Winston Barger
  • Vyto Ruginis as Phil Swelco
  • Mark Famiglietti as Matt Daniels
  • Craig Allen Wolf as Kyle Travis
  • Grant Heslov as Dr. James Corbett (coroner)
  • John Livingston as THD Audio Tech
  • Deborah Landis as Anne Vickers
  • Robert Dolan as Hank—Fisherman #2
  • Mark Daneri as George—Fisherman #1
  • Paul Terrell Clayton as Homicide Detective Kane
  • Amy Collett as Martie, the Waitress
  • Nicole Tarantini as Jill Wentworth
  • Chris Demetral as James Johnson (victim)
  • Elliott Grey as Barger's Attorney
  • Cheryl Lawson as Wendy Barger (victim)


  • It's implied that Grissom knew that Eddie was cheating on Catherine but didn't tell her. 


  • Last appearance of Harrison Young as Judge Cohen.
  • This episode was inspired by an actual hazing death: the 1959 death of Richard Swanson, a pledge at the Kappa Sigma fraternity at the University of Southern California.

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