The Descent of Man
Season 9
Number 19
Writer Evan Dunsky
Director Chris Leitch
Original Airdate April 9, 2009
Previous Episode: Mascara
Next Episode: A Space Oddity

The Descent of Man is the nineteenth episode in Season Nine of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.


The near-death of a skydiver whose parachute was sabotaged turns out to be connected with the deaths of two men who were killed from the sky. A prophet of a grass-roots cult is found dead, his head struck by something hard in the middle of the desert.


Victim: Pierre Delongue (alive)

On the case: Nick Stokes, Riley Adams


Victims: Ismail Javid and Allen McKenna (both deceased), Officer Andy Akers and Gretchen Javid (both alive)

On the case: Catherine Willows, Greg Sanders, Jim Brass

A helmet video camera is turned on and a French man tells his two female companions they're rolling. They soon jump out of a plane to skydive. After doing some stunts, the girls deploy their parachutes, but the cameraman's gets tangled up and he freefalls into a shed, cracking the helmet camera. As the girls and another man call the paramedics, the camera is still recording. A few minutes later, paramedics take it off him and after half an hour, Nick and Riley are brought in by request of the local sheriff, who knew the victim, Pierre. While CSIs aren't usually called out to something like this, the sheriff says that Pierre was a successful paratrooper in the French Foreign Legion and would never have something like this happen accidentally. As the sheriff departs to get the girls for questioning, Riley finds the helmet camera and sees that it's still recording.

As they interview the girls, a car with a large dent in its front drives up to them. A man with a broken leg emerges and identifies himself as Max Girard; he and Pierre own the jump school. Regarding his leg, Max explains that the injury occurred during his car accident; he plays it off as if it was nothing. When asked if Pierre is dead, Nick replies that he's at the hospital, still alive. Max tells them that if they need him, he'll be at the hospital by Pierre's side, and tells the girls to accompany him.

In the lab, Riley tells Nick that Pierre has broken just about every bone in his body, but he's still alive. Nick has compared Pierre's parachute with a properly-packed one. He determines that Pierre's rig suffered a double failure—not only did his riser not release, but the reserve parachute also didn't deploy despite Pierre pulling the reserve handle. Since these guys are professionals and should be fanatical about checking safety equipment, Nick guesses that someone did, in fact, tamper with the parachute. He tells Riley that he'll swab the mechanisms for DNA.

Nick and Riley watch the video from Pierre's helmet camera. In the pre-jump audio check, Nick sees that there's tension between the two female companions and notes that, based on their hand positions during the jump, either one of them could've deployed Pierre's cutaway release. Nick questions the ladies separately, and both start out amicable towards each other and Pierre. Things get a little more mean-spirited when it's revealed that one of them is Pierre's fiancée, much to the disbelief of the other woman. When Max is questioned, he wonders if both women could've tried to kill Pierre together and calls them whores.

Catherine and Greg are later called to a double homicide in Seven Hills. Inside the house, Gretchen Javid is hysterical—her husband is dead in the backyard and his bodyguard, who never left his side, is missing. In the backyard, Catherine and Greg find the bodies of Ismail Javid and his business partner, Allen McKenna; both men are slumped over in lawn chairs. Officer Akers tells Catherine that there was no sign of forced entry at the scene and no sign of any struggle. Since both men have their wallets, robbery is an unlikely motive. The officer gets excused when he looks like he's going to throw up. David Phillips puts their time of deaths early the night before and doesn't find any external injuries. Both victims show signs that they suffered simultaneous heart attacks. Thinking that the victims may have been poisoned, Greg offers to bag everything and take it to Tox.

Later, in the lab, Officer Akers suffers a near heart attack; luckily, Langston is there to save him. In the hospital, the officer recounts the steps he took at the Seven Hills crime scene, admitting that he wasn't wearing gloves when he checked the victims' pulses. Catherine tells Langston that she believes Officer Akers was exposed to the same things the victims were; before she can finish her sentence, Gretchen is wheeled into the hospital on a stretcher. Since a contact toxin appears to be involved, Catherine phones Brass and has him quarantine the house and adjacent yards.

Henry swabs all of the items from the backyard and finds that they all tested positive for digitoxin, which causes death in high doses. He explains to Catherine and Greg that it becomes inert quickly, which is why Officer Akers and Gretchen survived the exposure. When the backyard is checked, it's found that the digitoxin was sprayed in the one specific area where the two victims were sitting.

In the layout room, it's concluded that the house was targeted specifically and that the toxins were dropped from above. Hodges, who is assisting, wonders what kind of aircraft could fly that low and that quiet to catch the victims off guard. Greg is quick to answer; he's found that ultralights are extremely maneuverable and are able to fly very low without stalling. The theory is that the pilot cut the engine when he neared the house to minimize the noise, then revved it back up and landed somewhere after the toxins were dumped.

Using the latitude and longitude of the house, Archie is able to find the flight pattern of the one Ultralight in the area the night of the murders. Greg wonders how the pilot knew the victims would be in the backyard at that specific time, and Catherine figures that the missing bodyguard tipped him off. When the map is widened, it's found that the plane took off and departed from Denim Field. When they look at the street view of the private airstrip, Catherine sees that Max & Pierre's Jump and Flight Academy is right there. She calls Nick and tells him that their cases appear to be connected.

When the hangar at the academy is searched, an ultralight is found that tests positive for digitoxin. At the hospital, Brass pays a visit to Pierre, who has Max at his bedside. Brass asks them about the glider and Pierre, who is now using a computer to speak, starts to tell him what happened. Max cuts him off and does the talking instead, telling Brass that someone paid him $5,000 to fly at night and threatened his family if he refused. On the way to the airport, he was nervous and got into a car accident, injuring his leg. He called Pierre and told him about the job. A flashback shows Pierre being held at gunpoint while he flew over the house, his passenger dumping the digitoxin on the two victims. Pierre knew he did something wrong, but Max told him to keep quiet. When asked whether the killer tampered with his parachute, Pierre responds that he rigged it to fail himself, as he tried to kill himself out of shame.

Max provides the name of the passenger who, alongside the bodyguard, is arrested for the two murders. The news report embellishes some of the details, much to the disbelief of the CSIs.

Victim: Mark "Holy Steven" VonGrovestreet (deceased)

On the case: Raymond Langston, Jim Brass

Langston is called out to the middle of the desert, where a man dressed in religious garb has been found dead. Based on the position of the legs, Langston believes that the man may have been meditating in the lotus position. The only set of shoe impressions towards the body is from the responding officer, who retraced his own steps after getting to the scene. There's also one set of barefoot human tracks, likely from the victim. Langston, taking notes on his recorder, wonders if there was someone else at the scene who covered their tracks after committing the murder.

Langston and Hodges process the body. The victim had a decent amount of water with him, meaning that he likely didn't die from dehydration. In one of the victim's pockets, Hodges finds some cracked pistachios. When they cut the victim's clothes, they find tattoos on both sides of the body—the tattoo on his chest reads "Holy Steven," while the one on the back reads "Spread the word. I am come."

In autopsy, Doc Robbins tells Langston that all of the animal bites on the victim were postmortem. A check of the victim's brain reveals an amoeboid-shaped bleed on the cerebrum, which the doc says is large enough to be the cause of the death. The bleed also corresponds with a spherical mark on the top of the victim's head. Langston notes that the victim was sitting cross-legged when he died, meaning that it's virtually impossible to fall and hit the very top of your head in that position.

Brass calls Langston and informs him that Steven, whose real name is Mark VonGrovestreet, likes to preach at downtown shelters. When they go to Steven's "church," they see that the sign on the front now reads "Church of the Holy George," as Steven's name has been duct taped over. Inside the office space, they find pictures and pamphlets of Steven. They speak to George, who is thrilled to have visitors. George says that he had a vision that Steven would die and recollects the two of them walking into the desert for three days and two nights. On the third day, Steven handed his staff to George and told him to go back into town to spread the Word. Brass theorizes that George killed Steven with the staff in order to take over the whole operation. Surprisingly, George confesses to the murder and begins to meditate as Langston and Brass confusedly look on.

Wendy informs Langston that there were two sets of prints on the staff's handle belonging to Steven and George; however, there was no blood or epithelials on the other end. It would seem that the staff isn't the murder weapon, so why would George confess to murder? Langston shows Wendy a humorous video of one of Steven's teachings and says that he believes George is innocent. Under interrogation, George tells Brass that he confessed to murder because he was trying to live his life according to one of Steven's proclamations. Brass has the agreeable George submit to a psychological evaluation.

The case goes cold, but as Langston recites Ancient Greek literature during a briefing (much to the annoyance of the rest of the team), he realizes what happened and goes back to the crime scene. There, he finds a tortoise shell with the DNA of the victim on it—a bird of prey mistook the Steven's bald head for a boulder and tried to smash the shell open on it, killing the meditating Steven in the process.


Main Cast[]

Guest Cast[]


  • The death of Holy Steven is inspired by the death of Aeschylus, a Greek tragedian who was killed in almost the exact same fashion: a falcon dropped a tortoise on his head, believing he was a boulder to break with the shell.
  • Eric Allen Kramer, who played the Deputy Sheriff, also appeared in the Season Five episode Hollywood Brass, playing Vic 'The Eagle' Patterson.
  • The landscape photographer, Joe Ochman, who discovers the body in the desert says: "he used to be into bird watching, but he gave it up. Too much death." This is a reference to both Art Imitates Life (2008)—where he discovers the bodies of a married couple while bird watching—and Got Murder? (2003)—where he was part of a group who discovered a human eye in a raven's nest.

See Also[]

CSI:Las Vegas Season 9
For WarrickThe Happy PlaceArt Imitates LifeLet It BleedLeave Out All The RestSay UncleWoulda, Coulda, ShouldaYoung Man with a Horn19 Down...One to GoThe Grave ShiftDisarmed and DangerousDeep Fried and Minty FreshMiscarriage of JusticeKill Me If You CanTurn, Turn, TurnNo Way OutMascaraThe Descent of ManA Space OddityIf I Had a Hammer...The Gone Dead TrainHog HeavenAll In