|“||You were always special, Derek.||”|
— Buford in "Restoration"
"You saying I had nothing to do with making you who you are?"
Carl previously lived in the Cabrini-Green neighborhood of Chicago, Illinois, where a street gang called the King Cobras was active. He had an apparently positive relationship with the gang that was otherwise never elaborated on, but it allowed him to use those connections to protect children in Cabrini-Green from them. Later on, he managed the Upward Youth Center, earning several awards for his work with local children. However, he was secretly a pedophile who would molest some regular visitors (it was revealed in Restoration that he molested over fifty boys in total), among them Derek Morgan, who became close to him after his father was shot and killed. Carl was also responsible for getting Morgan's small criminal record expunged. In addition, he molested boys living in Cabrini-Green; among these boys was Rodney Harris. Carl would later let an adult Rodney deal drugs near his community center in exchange for his continued silence. For his entire life up to the point of investigation, Morgan and all of the other victims kept the sexual abuse a secret.
"Look, Derek, I never hurt you. You could have said no."
In 2006, Carl kills his third known murder victim, Damien Walters. Before that, he had killed a boy in December 1991 and another in 2002, both remaining unidentified to this day. After Damien Walters's murder, then-Chicago Detective Stan Gordinski, who had been antagonizing Morgan for years after arresting him during a brawl, arrests him again, this time on suspicion of all three murders, using a profile submitted to him by Gideon a few months earlier as evidence. Upon hearing of Morgan's arrest, the BAU comes to Chicago to try and exonerate him. As the questioning of Morgan goes on, the team questions Carl. Upon the discovery that Morgan doesn't like talking about him, despite having been helped by him so much in the past, Hotch connects the dots and goes to the Youth Center, which Morgan has gone to after escaping his cell.
Morgan confronts Carl, who at first claims Morgan is relying on false memories and denies any guilt. After eventually admitting, since the statute of limitations meant that he can't be charged with molesting Morgan, he argues that Morgan could just have said "no". Gordinski, who has overheard the conversation, arrests Carl. When Carl asks Morgan for help, he simply replies "You go to hell" and watches him as he is hauled off. Years later, Morgan brought up Carl while comforting a teenage boy in Arizona who escaped from his abductor. Later, Morgan tells JJ that without Carl and what he did to him, he wouldn't have joined the BAU.
"Of all my boys, I thought you'd be the last to come back to me."
It is revealed that sometime following his arrest, Carl converted to Islam so he could fit in with the presumably large Muslim demographic inside; he went as far as changing his name to Mohammed Alam and studying Malcolm X and Islamic knowledge. When four middle-aged men are murdered with the phrase "Look up to the sky" left behind in at least two of the crime scenes, Morgan traces the connection and decides to visit Carl in jail to learn more information about the unsub. He requests a list of all of the boys Carl molested. Carl initially declines, but changes his mind when Morgan threatens to disclose unrevealed information about the reasons for his arrest, therefore making him a target to the other inmates. Carl writes down the names of about fifty of his molestation victims, intentionally leaving out certain names for reasons unknown. To finalize the deal, Carl has Morgan shake his hand. When he does, Carl tells him that he had been "always special" before the agent breaks off and leaves.
Eventually, the unsub, identified as one of Carl's molestation victims, Rodney Harris, whose name had been left out of the list, is apprehended. Gordinski holds a live press conference regarding Rodney's motivations, and when a reporter asks if all victims of sexual assault turn out to become criminals and murderers, Morgan quickly intervenes and states that not all such victims turn out that way. Carl and several other inmates watch the press conference, and one inmate asks Carl about his pre-conversion name. He responds that he is indeed the person being mentioned in the news conference, adding that he "loved" Morgan. Sometime later, Carl is ambushed by several inmates, who kill him. Morgan learns of Carl's death while returning home to Quantico, news that shocks him. The episode ends with Morgan standing in his new apartment and looking up at the sky.
A younger Carl reappeared for a couple of seconds in a flashback, without his face being seen, when Morgan tells his father Hank about the molestation he suffered.
Carl targeted prepubescent African-American boys. Using his influence as a community hero to do favors for them, Carl would make sure that the boys he molested would have a lot to lose if they ever told anyone. He would take some of them, including Morgan and a local kid named James Barfield, up to his private cabin. There, he would give them Helgeson wine to intoxicate them, go skinny-dipping in a lake with them, eventually rubbing up against them and then finally molesting them. He would say "You better man up boy, look up to the sky" when he felt like they wanted him to stop. He molested some of the boys, including Morgan and Rodney Harris, more than the others.
Carl later killed three of his victims and did so by strangling them with his bare hands, later placing their bodies in some secluded area. His exact reason for killing them is not specified, with the exception of Damien's murder, which was intended to stop Damien from telling Morgan that Carl was molesting James, and to frame Morgan for all three murders. One possibility is that he molested them and killed them in order to silence them since he couldn't coerce them like the others.
Based on the first two murders, the unsub is an African-American male aged 25-35 years old with knowledge of the area and likely a criminal record. He is considered non-threatening to children, either because they know him well or he is normal enough not to scare them. The way the first victim's body was placed gently on a mattress instead of just being thrown on the ground suggests feelings of guilt within the killer, meaning he will probably revisit the scene of the crime or even the grave of the victim himself. The killer would probably try to inject himself into the investigation and keep tabs on it.
Carl was able to inject himself into the investigation thanks to his friendly relationship with Detective Stan Gordinski, who had known him since he was a beat cop. Carl's status as a local hero and youth mentor, in addition to his friendship with Gordinski, also allowed him to evade suspicion and even manipulate the investigation.
First and foremost, Carl is considered a pedophile over a serial killer. The motivation for his crimes was to molest vulnerable and at-risk boys. His reasoning for killing, as aforementioned, is unknown, though it could be as means to silence them.
Carl's murders may have been to some extent inspired by the Atlanta Child Murders, for two of which one Wayne Williams was found guilty. In both cases, the killer targeted young African-American boys and killed them by asphyxiating them. However, there were some differences: Carl exclusively targeted that group and was sexually motivated; while the Atlanta Child Murderer killed a number of older victims, did not molest any of the victims, and had two victims who were female.
Buford may have also been inspired by Russian serial killer Anatoly Slivko, who was also a preferential sex offender targeting young boys. Like Buford, Slivko got away with his crimes for decades before finally being apprehended. Both also molested dozens of victims, lured their victims to locations where they molested them, made sure that they never discussed those activities with anyone else, were involved in murder investigations (in Buford's case, it was for his own murders; in Slivko's case, it was for the murders being committed by Andrei Chikatilo), killed their murder victims by asphyxiation, and died while incarcerated.
Buford is also similar to Léopold Dion, a.k.a. "The Monster of Pont-Rouge". Both were pedophilic serial killers who targeted and molested numerous young boys, used ruses on their victims before sexually abusing them, killed their murder victims by strangling them, and were killed by inmates while they were incarcerated.
- In The Popular Kids, it is possible that there was some foreshadowing related to Carl being offered: when Reid mentions to Morgan that he has been having nightmares, he tells him that he isn't the right guy to talk to about nightmares.
- Further possible foreshadowing to Carl may have been offered in P911 as well: Morgan seems to treat the case personally when an elementary school principal is arrested as a suspect, and also given that the profile given to the unsub matches Carl's position.
- Season Two
- Season Three
- "Lucky" (referenced)
- Season Seven
- "Foundation" (mentioned)
- Season Eight
- Season Ten
- "The Boys of Sudworth Place" (mentioned)
- Season Eleven
- "Derek" (uncredited; via flashbacks; face unseen)
- Season Thirteen
- "Lucky Strikes" (indirectly referenced)