Episode: “Blood Relatives” (6 December 1996)
Writer: Chip Johannessen
Director: James Charleston
Quote: “How could anyone abandon a child? But millions of people do it. Millions. God, it’s scary. We have home after home filled with kids like James. And we know they’ll turn violent. How do I tell the survivors that no one saw it coming? They’re out there, Frank… People full of holes.” –Catherine Black
Profile: The narrative twists of this episode remind us of the shades of grey involved in profiling and the investigative process as a whole. It is for this reason that James Dickerson finds himself under suspicion for so much of the investigation. In addition to insinuating himself into families during their grief at the funerals of men comparable in age to him, he is noted to have been collecting souvenirs from the personal effects of the deceased.
As we have seen before, killers will sometimes collect souvenirs from a kill to remind themselves of the experience, and in a different way Dickerson does the same thing here to remind himself of the personal connection he has made with the families he has encountered. As Catherine Black’s analysis of his history notes, “He’s a classic lost child. And there’s an army of them just like him. Put up for adoption at one-and-a-half, never placed, in and out of foster care, reform school, abuse. He essentially raised himself… No-one showed him how to connect with the world. Odd as this may sound, going to funerals is his attempt.”
Dickerson’s resulting absence of self-worth and self-concern is so acute that when his mother rejects him again to his face once he is in custody, he even admits to two murders that he never committed. This is the tragedy at the heart of this story, of the psychological damage wrought on him as a child from his experiences. Frank notes to Peter Watts that he fits the profile and that he is capable of committing murder. But, as it turns out, he is not guilty. Capability coupled with behavioural similarities to those exhibited by killers does not imply that someone necessarily has made or ever will make that leap to murderous violence.
We actually know much less about the killer himself: Connor, trustee of the halfway house at which Dickerson resides. From his attitude towards Dickerson and his reaction to the sight of his mother we know that he takes a great interest in him, even to the extent of concealing him from the police. Quite what his motives are we can only guess at, but it seems likely that his own background mirrors Dickerson’s in some way and that he is seeking to compensate for this, to create a family of sorts. They may well also be a sexual component in his apparent special interest in Dickerson, but there is no overt evidence to support this. We can, however, be almost certain that his previous record would have been unblemished in order for him to be able to hold such a position as trustee of the halfway house in the first instance.
We do learn a little more about Connor from his modus operandi, though, and in particular the mutilation of his victims. The nature and physical origin of a wound pattern can often inform an assessment of the motivation behind a murder and the character of the killer. This is true for injuries that represent overkill, control-oriented, defensive or precautionary force, or how or where on the body that force was administered, plus whether it was inflicted before or after death.
Frank is able to discern that the words “STOP LOOKING” that were carved into Tina’s abdomen were done with care and consideration. This mutilation and the same words traced in pollen on the clothing of Jeffrey Cort as discovered by Peter Watts, were both inflicted after death and therefore directed at someone other than the victim. With the style of the “S” copied from the style of the Skorpion Salvage yard where Connor concealed Dickerson and the wording itself copied from the motivational message on a board in the halfway house, there are strong indications that the messages were intended for Dickerson.
This was a warning from Connor to Dickerson to stop looking for a sense of family elsewhere, an attempt to retain control, power and ownership over him, whether or not there is an implied sexual aspect underlying these motivations. It is this same motivation that leads Connor to attack Mrs Dechant, seeking to strike at the heart of Dickerson’s estranged and fractured family. James Dickerson’s entire life has been devoid of any real sense of familial love, and Connor’s unnatural interest in him represents yet another failing of the system to support his welfare in its absence.
Investigation: James Dickerson remains the prime suspect throughout much of the investigation, with his personal and criminal past plus his stalking of bereaved families all seeming to provide additional evidence of his guilt. Catherine Black also provides good insights into the social care system and the effects of its failings upon those caught up in it. It is only when tracking Dickerson to the halfway house that things begin take a turn, with Connor being obviously obstructive to the police. Discussing the case with Catherine, Frank makes the leap that the message “STOP LOOKING” is not a message from Dickerson but to him, and it is this realisation that leads Frank to visit Dickerson’s mother, narrowly rescuing her from becoming Connor’s next victim.