|“||You know, you've got...real pretty eyes.||”|
Born on February 6, 1981, Earl was the son of Lloyd, who was a taxidermist, and Trish Bulford. Trish, who suffered from retinitis pigmentosa, a degenerative eye disease which eventually leads to blindness, died in a car crash on August 23, 1989, when he was eight years old. After that, he was expelled from school for getting into a fight with another student and attempting to gouge his eyes out. From that point, his father educated him completely on his own and taught Earl hunting and taxidermy. He eventually racked up a petty crime record, including three counts of animal cruelty. After Lloyd died of emphysema on October 7, 2009, Earl's life, which had been dependent on him, started to fall apart when he wasn't able to pay taxes or run the business on his own, and had an eviction imminent. On November 2, 2009, Earl claimed his first victim, John O'Heron, a customer of the shop, when he complained about the way he had put eyes into a stuffed animal. He then bluntly removed his eyes and placed the body in the nearby wilderness.
The Eyes Have It
Two days later, he proceeds to kill Megan Chirtau and Bina Sukarto, two teenage girls, and remove their eyes more carefully. At this point, the BAU is called in. Earl then kills Tracy Copper and removes her eyes as well. On his next murder, Earl targets a couple in a park, but gets into a defensive struggle with the man which results in the man's left eye being damaged. As a result, Earl leaves the damaged eye as well as the other eye in its socket, but still takes both of the woman's. This action causes the BAU to realize that they are dealing with a taxidermist, as they have the training required to cut through animal flesh and remove eyes. When they track down Earl, he is already following a lone woman named Jaime on a walk with the intention of killing her, but ends up in a struggle with her. Hotch, who is nearby, rushes to the scene and arrests him. While awaiting booking at the police station, Earl notices JJ and, in a somewhat disturbing tone, tells her she has pretty eyes, prompting Morgan into moving him to another waiting area.
Apart from John O'Heron's murder (as he was killed during the day by being bludgeoned with a brass bowl and dumped on a remote farm road), Earl would kill his victims at night by slashing their throats with a knife so they would bleed to death instantly. Afterwards, he would leave their bodies behind at the crime scenes. As he kept killing, his murders became increasingly complex, involving traps and planning similar to that used by hunters. His signature was gouging his victims' eyes out using surgical instruments and taking them with him after each murder. The only exceptions were John O'Heron, whose eyes were removed bluntly, since it was his first murder and he had not fully developed his style yet; and Wes, whose left eye was left behind after Earl damaged it in a struggle.
The eyes would then be placed in a cooler filled with ice and in jars filled with water as ways of preserving them. Once they were fully preserved, they would next be placed in the eye sockets of stuffed animals. He searched for new victims whenever he made a home delivery by sticking around. He initially killed every two days, but as he got closer to losing his father's business, he started killing daily. For reasons unknown, he apparently had a pattern in the amount of the victims he attacked: he started with one victim and later escalated to killing two simultaneously, then went back to killing a lone victim, only to escalate to killing two victims again, and so on.
The unsub is classified as an enucleator, a type of offender who gouges his victims' eyes out. They usually have mental disorders and low social skills, and their murders are disorganized and sloppily. However, the murders committed by this unsub are more organized and controlled. It is believed that he may have known his first victim since it was more spontaneous and violent, while the rest of his victims were chosen at random. Since he sets up traps, lays in wait, and kills his victims by a quick and efficient slash, he may have a hunting background. He attacks in different areas of the city in public places; his large kill zone may be related to a travel pattern in his life, indicating comfort while in these neighborhoods. The reason for the short time period between the murders is believed to be because he is on some type of mission that requires him to collect a certain amount of eyes in a certain amount of time in order to complete a task. He is believed to be a white male, aged 27 to 35 years old, who drives a van or a pickup truck that is easy to clean. He may recently have applied for a hunting license and has some medical or surgical training, but not enough to make a career out of it. He may have been in a half-way house or a treatment facility, with his family having moved him away only for him to return. He kills at night, employs hunting tactics, and is patient; he will wait until he is alone with his victims.
The BAU later figured out that the killer worked as a taxidermist; they would also have the training required to cut through flesh and remove eyes from skulls. Additionally, he would require a perfect pair of eyes in order to make them worth bringing with him since just one eye wouldn't be enough to fill the sockets of the animals he stuffed. A taxidermist would also have the hunting skills necessary for such strategic kills.
Earl may have been loosely based on The Eyeball Killer, a serial killer based in Dallas, Texas, who also removed the eyes of his victims with near-surgical precision.
- September-December 1989: Unnamed student (assaulted and attempted to gouge his eyes out)
- November 2: John O'Heron (was bludgeoned with a brass bowl in Lloyd's store; his eyes removed bluntly and taken; dumped his body on a remote farm road)
- November 4: Megan Chertow and Bina Sukarto (slashed their throats in a parking lot; carefully removed their eyes and took them)
- November 6: Tracy Copper (tripwired her while jogging on a trail, slashed her throat, and carefully removed and took her eyes like the previous victims)
- November 7: Wes and Sandy (Wes's left eye was damaged during a struggle, so it was left behind; both of Sandy's eyes were taken; both were killed in a park)
- November 8: Jaime (assaulted, attempted to kill in an alleyway, and intended to remove her eyes post-mortem)
- Earl Fulford (similar to Bulford) is the name of a former U.S. Army officer who was present at the Roswell crash site in 1947. He recently appeared on A&E's UFO Hunters to tell his story. The writer of "The Eyes Have It", Oanh Ly, was a writing assistant to Breen Frazier, who wrote several episodes of Roswell in the 1990s. Therefore, the name of Earl Bulford may have been a nod to the Roswell incident.
- According to his arrest record, Earl's Social Security number is 960-35-7843.