What the Killer Sees: Jim Pensyres

Killer: Jim Pensyres (Chris Ellis)

Episode: “Dead Letters” (8 November 1996)

Writers: Glen Morgan & James Wong

Director: Thomas J. Wright

Quote: “The subject is angry that his life will go unnoticed, that he will have left nothing.  The hatred of himself is directed toward the world, which has held him back because it objectified him, reduced him, reduced us all to universal barcodes.  We are animals in a caged shelter, controlled by dogcatchers. The grey tape makes the victims look like how he feels: faceless, a dead letter lost   at the post office.  He’s killed before, when he was young—most likely a female prostitute—after an early setback: a girlfriend, a job.  He sought out a woman that wouldn’t turn him away.  The solicitation increased his feelings of nothingness and so he killed her before sex.  My guess: he was never caught.  He got away with it.  The subject has felt guilt ever since, angered at a world that should have punished him but didn’t.  The murder, however, was the most significant event in his life.  He’s returned to this place, to the event.  He wants nothing more than to be stopped, but he will do everything in his control to remain significant.” –Frank Black

Profile: Frank Black’s non-sequitur of a profile given to James Horn over a barbecue at his house, as cited above, arguably gives us as much insight into the mind of Jim Pensyres as we need.  It offers a great deal of insight into his underlying motive, suggests aspects of his modus operandi, and indeed frames him as a particular type of killer that was often presented on Millennium: one that reflects some common ill or sense of ennui endemic to modern society.  He feels inconsequential and desperately seeks some kind of recognition—that much is certain—but of course the vast majority of people who feel such a way would not resort to murder.  So what marks him out as being so different?

Pensyres is a highly organised killer.  Frank believes he had killed once before when he was younger and now he certainly seems confident, exhibiting great care in both planning his crimes and staging the scene where he disposes of the bodies.  Tellingly, there is an implication of a sexual component underlining Pensyres’ wider feelings of impotence with Frank noting, “It appears that the murder created a charged psychological release in the killer, but the only physiological release he could perform was defecation.”  This is perhaps key to his psychological disorder and thus his motive.  In spite of and seemingly in contradiction to his sense of impotence, he seeks to assert a level of superiority over the police investigating his killings by leaving oblique messages for them at the scenes of his crimes.

There is certainly a long history of killers taunting police in one form or another—most commonly letters—such as David “Son of Sam” Berkowitz, the Zodiac killer and even as far back in history as Jack the Ripper.  What marks out Pensyres as different in his messages is, of course, how obtusely these are communicated, etched upon a single human hair left at the crime scene in each instance.  In doing so, he targets his message specifically at the investigative team who would be examining such forensic evidence so closely, daring them to find it whilst also seeking to highlight his individuality and thus reflecting how he feels: “faceless, a dead letter”.  Perhaps it is this aspect of his psychology from which Frank Black is able to intuit that the hidden messages are to be found at the crime scene in the first instance.

Kills: 3

Investigation: The most notable aspect of this investigation is of course in James Morrison’s character of James Horn, a man who mirrors what Frank Black could be and almost once became himself and the study of whom forms this episode’s most compelling narrative drive.  Suffering personal problems with his family, Horn is increasingly finding himself unable to depersonalise the cases he is investigating.  As Frank warns him regarding Pensyres, “He hasn’t killed our wives or our families and he’s not going to.  If you make every one of these personal, you’ll go insane—and that’s from   having been there, James.”  Not only does Horn give us a glimpse of Frank Black’s own past, but he also reveals the true craft of the profiler: to put himself into the mind of a killer, rather than—as Horn had increasingly started to do—vice versa.


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