|“||You've got your perfect hair and your perfect face and your perfect life. Deep down... you and I are the same...||”|
"You said you wished I was never born! That I was an ugly little girl, inside and out! Well, here I am, Mom. You were right. I'm a monster!"
Desi was born on June 26, 1987, to fifteen-year-old Lara Gutierrez. Her childhood was an unhappy one as Lara proved to be a poor mother and was emotionally abusive towards her young daughter, bombarding her with devastating statements on a regular basis. She told Desi that she was "an ugly little girl" and that she wished Desi had never been born. Both of these claims had a lasting impact on her. However, Lara's cruelty did not end there. She would also lock Desi in the shed in their backyard as punishment almost daily and leave her in the cramped, hot space for long periods of time. The shed was infested with snakes, which initially terrified the young Desi. As the hours went by, the snakes would surround Desi, but they never bit her, which Desi saw as curiosity, attention, and affection she had never received before. This caused her to develop a deep emotional connection and obsession with the species. Eventually, Desi reported the abuse which led to an investigation by Child Protective Services and Lara was ordered to take parenting classes as a result.
On September 2, 1996, Lara gave birth to Desi's sister, Tina. By comparison, Tina received ideal parenting from their mother and it was clear that Lara preferred her younger daughter to her elder one. While her mother's poor treatment of her presumably ended, by then, Desi had developed a deep seeded hatred of Lara and herself as well as sadistic tendencies. She also resented her younger sister for being "the perfect one" and being spared their mother's disdain. As a teenager, Desi committed petty offenses that resulted in her spending time in juvenile detention. At some point, she may have developed a substance abuse problem and became dependent on Tina for money. By 2014, her family kicked Desi out, after which she sought out a local tattoo artist named Ryan Kash, claiming that she liked his work. He hired her as an artist and taught Desi about scarification and tongue splitting, two popular forms of body modification that he specialized in. Because of her self-loathing and obsession with snakes, Desi went to great lengths to change her appearance in order to erase any trace of Lara from her life. This included wearing reptilian contact lenses, getting numerous tattoos and piercings and even incorporating hissing sounds into her speech. Desi completed her serpent persona by splitting her own tongue so it was forked like a snake's and carved several wounds on her left forearm in the shape of snake scales.
In 2016, Desi left to open her own tattoo parlor. Out of guilt for her past actions, Lara bought Desi a property handled by her company and gave her money to start up the business. Desi also started amasing a collection of pet snakes in the shop, including a boa constrictor. However, the venture ultimately fell through for unknown reasons and the shop, Dust & Bones, never opened. Two weeks prior to Dust and Bones, Lara was named "Austin Real Estate Person of the Year" by a local newspaper. In a lengthy interview, Lara spoke about her rise to success and her pride in her daughter Tina but made no mention of Desi at all. Enraged by this and the popularity Lara gained from the article, Desi snapped and abducted an accountant named Hannah Accord. Desi disfigured her face before leaving Hannah in her car outside a property being sold by Lara, hoping her mother would take notice of what she had done.
Dust and Bones
A few days after attacking Hannah, Desi abducts another woman named Liz Meyer and disfigures her face in the same way. After leaving Liz outside another of Lara's properties, Desi returns to the tattoo shop and is first seen cleaning the instruments she uses on her victims. She then picks up a mouse from a container and is about to feed it to one of her snakes as the camera focuses on her snake lensed eye. She waits for her next victim, Tricia Smoots, a nurse, to enter her car and get bitten by the snake Desi left inside earlier. After Tricia is subdued, Desi brings her back to the tattoo shop, where Tricia regains consciousness. Desi grips her tongue with a forceps while using a scalpel to slice it into a forked tongue before disfiguring her face and leaving her outside a residential area where Lara was in charge of selling a house. Tricia later indicates to Reid and JJ that her assailant also had a forked tongue and whispered: "We are now the same" during the torture. Desi is later seen tattooing over her self-inflicted injuries, drawing blood. She runs her gloved fingers through the blood and licks them. She then pets her boa, gently wrapping its body around her neck.
Later, Desi meets Tina in a parking lot, who comments on her changed appearance. Desi tells her that she needs Tina to come with her, to which her sister replies that she can't give her any more money. Desi denies wanting money and when Tina tells her that she has to study for finals, Desi replies "It has to be you. She doesn't want anything to do with me. She'll come if it's you", intending to use Tina to lure Lara to her. She grabs Tina by the wrist, but she breaks free and starts walking back to her car. Desi follows and pushes Tina forward, hitting her head off the car roof, knocking her unconscious. Desi then places Tina in the car and uses her phone to call Lara and tells her to come to Dust & Bones. Back at the shop, as she restrains Tina, Desi asks her if their mother ever sent her "out back for punishment", telling her about the abuse and her connection with snakes. She then asks Tina if she is afraid of her, which she denies. Desi tells her sister that she is a bad liar and that deep down, they are both the same before cutting Tina's arm with a scalpel. Then, Lara enters the room, shocked by her daughter's actions and appearance. As she approaches them, Desi holds the scalpel to Tina's face, forcing Lara to comply and taking her captive. Restraining her in a chair, Desi asks her mother what she thought of "her work". Lara answers that she knows that she didn't do things right and tried to make it up to Desi by giving her money and the tattoo shop. Desi furiously reminds Lara of what she said when Desi was a child. She says that Lara was right about Desi being a monster, which Lara denies. Desi angrily states that Lara put her in the shed every day despite knowing there were snakes inside as she puts on her snake-handling gloves. Taking a snake in her hands, Desi approaches Tina and adds that she was terrified and alone. She tells them that if Tina is like her; if she is worthy and honest, then she won't be bitten while smirking sadistically. Releasing the snake, Desi watches as it bites Tina's neck, much to Lara's dismay.
As the snake's venom has its effect on Tina, Desi sits in front of Lara. She claims that they "have work to do" because, while Desi may be a monster, so is Lara. As she takes the scalpel in her hands, Lara tells Desi that she is sorry. She tells her mother to say it again. Lara apologizes again, adding that Desi was a child and that she was selfish and angry. She tells her daughter that she would give anything to go back and treat her better. With the forceps, Desi says that there is no going back before she tells Lara to open her mouth. Just as she is about to split Lara's tongue, JJ and Alvez break into the room, having identified Desi as the unsub, and hold her at gunpoint as she holds the scalpel to Lara. They tell her to put it down and that they know about what Lara did. An emotional Desi responds that she was scared and tried to erase Lara from her life, but couldn't stand to see people think she was the perfect mother. Alvez tells her that if she surrenders, then everyone will know what she's done and Lara will have to live with that. Despite JJ's warning, Desi sheds a single tear before pushing her snake habitat off the table, releasing the snakes inside and running out of the room. She escapes through the back door, only to be confronted by Simmons, who tells her to get on her knees. After a moment of hesitation, Desi instead tightens her grip on the scalpel. Simmons orders her to drop the blade, but Desi charges at him, forcing Simmons to shoot her twice in the chest, killing her instantly.
"We are now the same."
The women attacked by Desi were primarily victims of opportunity. She targeted women with successful careers in their 30s who were well-liked by friends and colleagues and, like Lara, held in high esteem. She would locate women who left their car windows slightly open due to the high temperatures in Texas during the day. When she found a car with a window open wide enough, she would slip an eastern brown snake she owned through the gap and lie in wait for the women to return to their cars. When the women entered their cars, the snake would bite them when it was provoked by their screams. Despite its status as the second most deadliest snake in the world, because a bite from the eastern brown snake produces a low amount of venom, Desi was almost guaranteed that the bite would only incapacitate the victims and not kill them, allowing her to abduct them with ease. She would then use the victims' own cars to transport them back to her tattoo shop. There, she would restrain them until they woke up then use a scalpel to disfigure their faces, slicing away the symbolic masks they wore to hide their true personalities.
Afterwards, Desi would again use their cars to transport and leave them at disposition sites next to properties handled by Lara as a way of getting her attention and making her mother notice her as she had dismissed her in the interview. As Desi grew in confidence, she inflicted more serious injuries on her victims. She would leave a white mask on the passenger seat to represent exposing the women's true faces. In the case of Tricia Smoots, Desi not only sliced her face, but also split her tongue in two like she had with her own and whispered "We are now the same" afterward. However, her abduction of her sister Tina was far less organized as she hadn't intended, but was forced to do so when Tina refused to come with her willingly. She subdued Tina by bashing her head into the roof of her car, rendering her unconscious, and then used the vehicle to bring her back to the shop to lure Lara to her. There, Desi restrained Tina and briefly used a scalpel to torture her by cutting her arm. After she took Lara captive, Desi allowed a snake to bite Tina and intended to disfigure her at a later stage like the previous victims. She intended to disfigure Lara in the same manner and attempted to split her tongue, but was interrupted by the arrival of the BAU. When she was cornered by JJ and Alvez, Desi destroyed a snake habitat she kept, releasing them so they would attack the two agents and give her time to escape. When she tried to kill Simmons, Desi attempted to stab him using the same scalpel she used to torture Tina.
The unsub is using his victims to send a message. There is an element of spectacle to these crimes, so the victims serve more as statements than they do to surrogates. The removal of the first dermal layer of tissue is similar to a technique used in scarification, which, like tongue splitting, is a popular form of body modification. The slicing of the tongue could simply be an escalation but, according to the doctors, the cuts are clean with no signs of hesitation so this was not the unsub's first time doing this. This suggests the unsub is, at the very least, familiar with or part of the body modification community. Those who engage in various forms of modification often do so with the intent to reveal an aspect of themselves that they feel has been suppressed. The masks he was leaving behind with each victim is the unsub's way of exposing them for who they really are and peeling away they hide behind. Historically, snakes have been depicted as not just evil, but deceitful. For example, the snake in the Garden of Eden is a liar. The unsub's anger could be directed at what he perceives to be hypocrisy or duplicity. While the women he has targeted are, by all accounts, model citizens, they may represent a specific woman in his life he believes has two faces; a public and a private persona that are at odds with each other. The search for suspects should start with tattoo and body modification artists in Austin and it's likely serpent imagery will play a part in his work.
After Lara was identified as the common link between the crimes, the BAU theorized what kind of stressors would give rise to this kind of offender. People who alter their faces, whether through surgery or alternative means like scarification or tongue splitting, are often battling issues of self-esteem and self-worth and, in fact, sometimes there's even an underlying compulsion to destroy a piece of them that's tied to an early emotional trauma. If Lara is indeed the woman at the center of this threat, then it's likely she's the one the unsub views as wearing a mask; that she's a mother and a successful real estate agent, but perhaps, underneath all of that, there is a side of her that the rest of the world doesn't see. It was then realized that the profile made sense if the unsub was a woman. Female offenders are more likely to attack the physical appearances or the looks of their victims. The venom from the snake bites essentially incapacitated the victims, making them easier to maneuver, especially for somebody of a smaller physical stature. Also, there have been no signs of sexual assault, which is odd given the level of rage on display. The unsub may be displaying a kind of internalized misogyny. A form of self-hatred, this is someone lashing out, destroying the faces of their victims because they can't stand their own. After Desi was identified as the unsub, Reid mentioned that since she had been leaving her victims on her mother's doorstep, it stood to reason that one of Lara's properties would play a part in her endgame.
- November 3: Hannah Accord
- November 7: Liz Meyer
- November 7-8: Tricia Smoots (also split her tongue; did not leave a mask in her car)
- November 8:
- Tina Gutierrez (her sister; assaulted, abducted, held captive, tortured by cutting, briefly held at knifepoint, bitten by a snake and intended to disfigure and kill; was rescued and cured)
- Lara Gutierrez (her mother; also held captive, intended to split her tongue and kill her; later held at knifepoint; was rescued)
- Jennifer Jareau and Luke Alvez (attempted; released snakes to attack them)
- Matthew Simmons (attempted to kill with a scalpel)
- Desi seems to be based on a few other unsubs from the show's history:
- Tommy Yates, a.k.a. "The Womb Raider", a prolific serial killer who appeared in Seasons Seven and Twelve. Both were born to then-teenage mothers, suffered emotional abuse at the hands of a maternal figure (in Yates' case, the abuser was his grandmother Trudy who also physically abused him) and targeted female victims exclusively (although Yates did kill one male victim in his youth).
- Mark Jackson, a serial killer, and stalker from Season Eight. Both were misogynists who have a deep hatred for their mothers, and both crimes involves tongues (Desi mutilated the tongues while Mark would cut out the tongues of his victims).
- Joe Bachner, a serial killer, and rapist from Season Nine, who was also abused by a female relative who forced them in sheds that contained animals capable of harming people (although in Desi's case, the snakes did not harm her, while the bees in Joe's case actually did harm him).
- Her original signature of leaving white masks in her victims' cars is similar to Max Poole, a budding serial killer from Season Three, who left nearly identical masks at the abduction sites of his own victims. Coincidentally, Max also operated Texas.