Precious Metal
Season 3
Number 18
Writer Andrew Lipsitz,
Naren Shankar
Director Deran Sarafian
Original Airdate April 3, 2003
Previous Episode: Crash & Burn
Next Episode: A Night at the Movies

Precious Metal is the eighteenth episode in Season Three of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.


Catherine, Nick and Sara investigate a badly decomposed body found in a chemical waste barrel. They soon learn the victim was involved in something called 'Robot Rumble'. Meanwhile, Greg helps Grissom and Warrick solve the murder of a man whose body is found in an alley after being killed in his own home.


Victim: Chris Cutler (deceased)

On the case: Catherine Willows, Nick Stokes, Sara Sidle, Jim Brass

The rider of an ATV falls off her vehicle after missing a jump on an ATV course. While lying on the ground, she notices a barrel marked “Hazardous Waste” and, concerned that it appears to be buckling, she calls the police for assistance. The HazMat team investigates, but when they open the barrel, they find what appears to be a dead body.

Catherine and Grissom are called out by Brass to look at the body in the barrel, and they're soon overwhelmed by the stench emanating from it. They find that it's in a stage of adipocere, which is where the fat in the body has, during its natural decomposition process, turned into a soapy wax-like substance, about one to two months after death. The body and barrel are transported back to the lab for autopsy and evidence gathering.

Doc Robbins arranges for the body to be dumped from the barrel onto a wire-mesh screen so that the thick body fluids can be separated from the actual body. While combing through the mess of fluids, he finds electrical wire and a ring with the Greek letters omega, zeta and alpha inscribed on it.

Catherine attends the rest of the autopsy for the victim found in the barrel. Doc Robbins tells her that his investigation disclosed that the victim’s foot has been severed from the rest of his body. Catherine questions whether that could be the result of an industrial accident, but Doc Robbins doesn’t believe so. Industrial accidents, he says, are messy—this was cleanly cut off. He also indicates the victim had a serious head wound and suffered several fractures to the skull. Unable to go off of dental records due to the victim missing most of their teeth, the doc extracts a DNA sample from one of the bones with the hopes of identification.

Taking the lead on the case, Catherine assigns Sara to see if she can find out more about the ring found with the victim. Nick is assigned to test the barrel. Under the rim of the drum, Nick finds a small patch of metal that appears to have been filed down. To see if he can raise the serial number on the barrel, Nick cuts that section of the drum away and tests it with a magnaflux yoke and tiny magnetic particles. The test reveals the serial number and he tries to trace the drum to its origin. Meanwhile, the DNA results are in—the victim is Christian Cutler, a former Army sergeant who was honorably discharged three years ago. Sara tells Catherine the ring found is not a fraternity ring, but a ring belonging to a mechanical engineering honors society.

All drums that contain or are intended to contain hazardous waste must have a serial number so that they can be accurately accounted for. Catherine, Nick and Brass head to the warehouse where the drum came from. Inside, they find a game in play—a competition called “Robot Rumble,” where the contestants operate remote-controlled robots designed to destroy the other robots in the competition. Looking around at the robots, or “bots” as they're called, the team are amazed by the number of what could be considered weapons adorning the machines. Combined with the money involved and the amount of testosterone in the room, they're looking a large number of potential suspects.

Ginger Kellen, the owner the warehouse, also runs the competition. Shown a picture of the victim, she admits that she knew Chris Cutler. He was a player in the robot game, but she hasn’t seen him in about six weeks. The last time he was seen alive, he was dominating his competition, dismantling several opponents' bots in a night of glory. Chris then gloated about his victory, angering the other competitors. Speculating that one or more of the bots could be the murder weapon, the CSIs take them back to the lab for examination.

In the lab, Nick and Sara dismantle each of the bots completely and examine their parts for the presence of blood. Finding many of the parts have blood on them, they take several swabs for testing. They then put the robots back together, and Nick does further testing on them. He hangs a leg of a dead pig and attacks the limb with each of the bots to see if he can match the wounds on the victim; however, he soon discovers that none of the tool marks are a match. The swabs Nick and Sara took were given to Greg for testing. He finds that Chris’ blood is found on parts of three different bots.

Chris Cutler had a partner, Brian Kelso. Brian is questioned by Nick and Brass, and he says that he has no reason to want Chris dead, as the two of them made good money in their hobby. When asked about Chris' disappearance, Brian tells them that he wasn’t worried that his friend seemed to be missing, for the man had a habit of taking off for weeks at a time and then popping up again. Another one of Brian's hobbies just happens to be going out to the desert on his ATV to record ambient sounds—the same area where Chris' body was discovered.

Noting that Brian's house is small, Nick asks him if he has a workspace where he works on his bots. Brian confirms that he rents a warehouse and he provides its address. It’s a large warehouse where many of the competitors rent small spaces—and there, they find Brian and Chris’ bot, which has been cannibalized for parts. On the floor of the workshop, Nick spots a circular rust mark 23 inches in diameter, which is the size of the drum Chris’ body was found in. Examining the location further, they find blood spatter, which seems to be about ankle high, and an elaborately decorated fake fingernail. Catherine remembers that Ginger Kellen had similar fingernails and she was missing one of them when they spoke earlier.

A skin scraping found under the nail is tested and found to be a match for Chris Cutler. Ginger is called in for questioning. She admits to Catherine that she owns the warehouse where the shops are located and claims that she had an argument with Chris in the shop. They were alone and he tried to harass her with his robot. A struggle ensued and she broke off a nail in the fight. She says that the "geeks" at the robot fights fantasized about her, but never acted on it. Chris was different, however, and he didn't take no for an answer. Catherine thinks Ginger killed Chris, but Ginger vehemently denies it.

A search of the mechanical engineering honors society directory for Chris' name comes up empty. Catherine deduces that Chris never went to college, something that wasn't a part of his military service record. Nick has the idea to look for Brian's name, and they find it in the directory. Brass calls Brian in for questioning, and it only takes moments before Brian breaks down, declaring that his partner’s death was an accident.

After their bot, Smash-'n-Burn, won the competition that night, it needed some repairs. Having made some adjustments, Brian was testing the bot, but it was acting flaky and sluggish. Chris approached the bot and, as he did, the bot “went crazy" and attacked, killing Chris. It didn’t seem to be responding to the commands Brian was issuing it via remote control. After Smash-'n-Burn stopped its attack, a scared Brian cleaned up the blood and disposed of Chris’ body.

Nick and Sara put Smash-'n-Burn back together again to see if Brian’s story could possibly be true. Testing the bot, they find that it's completely unresponsive to the controls. The CSIs discover that the transmitter and receiver being used in the bot are operating on different frequencies. As a result, they conclude that Brian wasn't controlling the bot when it attacked Chris. Nick believes that Brian had no idea the bot was being controlled by someone else at the time of the murder. Catherine responds that this could be true, or Brian could be covering for someone.

Catherine and Nick interrogate Ginger again and accuse her of killing Chris and having sex with Brian. She reveals that she's actually married to a lawyer and advises that all future questions about the investigation go through him. The CSIs then go back to the workshop to see if they can discover which competitor may have been controlling Smash-'n-Burn when it attacked Chris. Reviewing a box of transmitters, they think that the owner of the bot called Hammer of God was controlling Smash-'n-Burn from a loft area in the workshop. The transmitter is tested for DNA to confirm this.

Luke, a fellow bot competitor, is brought in for questioning after his DNA is found on the transmitter in the workshop. He denies any involvement, but after being told of the DNA, Brian Kelso had told investigators that Luke was in the shop when the accident happened. After manipulating the bot and killing Chris, Luke then manipulated Brian into thinking he was at fault for the accident, and he convinced Brian to dispose of Chris’ body. Luke’s bot, Hammer of God, was badly damaged by Chris in the earlier competition and, angry over the loss, Luke killed Chris. He laments that something he created was destroyed, calling it "perfect." Catherine responds that the only flaw, then, must've been the operator.

Victim: Keith Mercer (deceased)

On the case: Gil Grissom, Warrick Brown, Sam Vega

Grissom is alerted to the fact that the body of Keith Mercer, missing in the morgue for eleven days, has been located. Reviewing photographs of the wounds on the now-found body, Grissom and Warrick note the victim’s face is sunburned and there are several scars on his lower legs. It was previously thought that Keith was homeless due to the fact that he was poorly bathed and had no identifying effects on him, such as a wallet or keys. The previously done autopsy reveals that the victim died of blunt force trauma to the head. Moving on to the personal effects, Grissom notices a strange yellowish substance on the victim’s belt. He notes that they're dealing with evidence that has no context, making it difficult to draw conclusions regarding the circumstances of the death.

Keith's wife, Cheryl, tells the CSIs that she and her husband had taken separate mini vacations: she had gone to her sister’s house in Taos, while Keith had gone to Yosemite for rock climbing. When she came back, his gear was back in the house, but he was nowhere to be found. She called everywhere trying to find him—his office, the park service, hospitals, etc. She finally called the police, requesting assistance, but had been dismissed. Grissom assures her that he’s listening to her now and asks if they can examine the couple’s house for any evidence that might lead to her husband’s killer.

At the house, Grissom and Warrick see Keith’s camping and rock climbing gear in the living room, just as his wife said. While surveying the room, Grissom notices an odd film on the hardwood floor. Warrick treats the floor with phenolphthalein, which discloses the presence of some biological fluid. Furthermore, Warrick uses luminol on the floor, which reveals bloody footprints leading to a fireplace mantle. When Warrick sprays a statue with luminol, it's base also also tests positive for blood. Meanwhile, Grissom finds what he believes is a blood smudge on a small wooden box on a nearby bookshelf. The box is curiously empty.

In the lab, Warrick is busy examining the statue from the Mercer's house. He tests the statue with a substance called amido black, which is protein dye solution that will stain the protein in a blood-contaminated fingerprint. Lifting several partial prints, he discovers that the blood is Keith Mercer’s, but the fingerprints are his wife's.

When questioned about the statue, Cheryl says that it was wedding gift that Keith wasn't particularly fond of. The two of them had a sort of "game" where Keith would leave the statue in various places around the house. When she arrived home from visiting her sister, the statue was on the floor. Thinking it was part of the running joke, she picked it up and placed it back on the mantle. Grissom asks Cheryl what was in the small, empty box he found on the bookshelf. She tells him that it contained a coin collection that she and her husband had inherited and had planned on saving it to sell “for a rainy day."

Someone has attempted to use Keith Mercer’s ATM card. The bank machine kept the card, which has been sent to Warrick for fingerprint testing. He places it in a superglue-fuming tent and finds a clear print. Running the print through AFIS, they get a hit: a homeless man with a criminal record named Willy Reddington. Willy is brought in and interrogated, but it’s clear that he isn't the killer. To be sure, Warrick examines his clothes and shoes, but finds no evidence of blood, nor do the treads on his shoes match the shoe prints found at the Mercer house. Grissom and Warrick also realize Willy has no car to transport a dead body and, if he had robbed the Mercer house, he didn't take a lot of stuff. This leads Grissom to conclude that the killer knew what he was going to steal—the coin collection.

Greg is unable to pull any DNA off of Keith's personal effects, but the mass spectrometer is able to identify the yellow substance on Keith's belt as sulfur. According to Greg, disreputable coin dealers have been known to use sulfur to artificially enhance the shininess of coins for sale. He concludes that the killer they're after is either a coin collector or a coin dealer and that the person in question transferred the sulfur to the body when he or she was disposing of it.

Records from Keith’s cell phone are examined and it turns out that he had made two calls to Jones Collectibles. A slip of paper from Keith's wallet also contains the phone number of the establishment. Having studied coins with his grandfather for years, Greg is sent in to Jones Collectibles to see if he can identify specific coins from the Mercer's collection. He offers up his collectible 1906 penny for a piece from the Mercer's collection, which Mr. Jones happens to have. He also shows Greg other valuable pieces in this collection box.

Greg, Grissom, and Vega go back to Jones collectibles and confront Mr. Jones with the stolen coins. The proprietor denies any wrongdoing, but when the CSIs examine his car, they find both traces of sulfur and blood. When the blood from the car comes back as Keith's, Grissom theorizes that Mr. Jones broke into the Mercer's home to steal the coins after Keith had called him to inquire about selling them. Mr. Jones was under the impression that the Mercers were away for the weekend. Unfortunately, Keith came home and surprised Mr. Jones, who attacked Keith with the statue, killed him, and then disposed of the body.

In the lab, Grissom notices Greg's enthusiasm doesn't match the enthusiasm he had when confronting Mr. Jones. Greg tells him that every time he makes a DNA match, his world gets a little smaller; out in the field, though, he felt big. Grissom informs him that working in the field means taking a pay cut, to which Greg says the money doesn't matter to him. Grissom is intrigued and tells him that this is good to know.


Main Cast[]

Guest Cast[]

  • Geoffrey Rivas as Detective Sam Vega
  • Jeffrey D. Sams as Cyrus Lockwood
  • Katherine LaNasa as Ginger
  • Matt Winston as Brian Kelso
  • Garret Dillahunt as Luke
  • Matt DeCaro as Mr. Jones, Coin Dealer
  • Blake Adams as Willy Reddington
  • Sarah Lancaster as Cheryl Mercer
  • Katherine Boecher as Red Rider
  • Christopher Crotty as Bouncer
  • Wiley M. Pickett as Christian Cutler
  • Craig Welzbacher as Jimbo
  • Alexandre Chen as Vomiting Rookie Coroner's Assistant (uncredited)


  • When discussing hobbies with Greg, Grissom tells him that he races cockroaches. This is a little callback to the Season 2 episode Ellie, where Grissom raced them off-screen while attending a conference. 


  • Sara mistakenly says the name of one of the bots as "Slaughter 10" when it shows the bot's name as "Slaughterhouse 10," obviously a play on the name of Kurt Vonnegut's novel "Slaughterhouse Five."
  • On the printout containing Christian Cutler's Department of Defense information that Catherine is reviewing, it lists Cutler as a E-5 Sergeant. However, the photo also on the printout is that of a U.S. Army General Officer. You can tell by the star on left shoulder and the flag of a U.S. Army General Officer in the background on the left.
  • When the ring first falls out of the 55 gallon drum the close-up, it shows the three Greek letters (Omega-Zeta-Alpha) running diagonally across the faceplate, upper left to lower right. Later, when Catherine is looking at it in a plastic bag, the letters have changed direction and are now straight (horizontally) across the middle of the faceplate.
  • Warrick is spraying luminol at the bloody footprints and placing down evidence number plates next to them at a fairly slow speed, even though it is stated in another episode ('Scuba Doobie-Doo') that luminol reflection only lasts 30 seconds.

See Also[]

CSI:Las Vegas Season 3
Revenge is Best Served ColdThe Accused is EntitledLet the Seller BewareA Little MurderAbra-CadaverThe Execution of Catherine WillowsFight NightSnuffBlood LustHigh and LowRecipe for MurderGot Murder?Random Acts of ViolenceOne Hit WonderLady Heather's BoxLucky StrikeCrash & BurnPrecious MetalA Night at the MoviesLast LaughForeverPlay with FireInside the Box