|“||Is it worse than you thought?||”|
— Dr. Howard while he makes his victims experience their worst fears
Born in Portland, Oregon in 1964 and raised by an abusive mother, Stan developed a severe fear of the dark in his childhood; his fear having presumably originated from his mother locking him in the closet as a means of punishing him. Stan grew up to be a psychiatrist, telling his wife Jane (who he adopted a daughter named Jessica with) that his mother was the inspiration for him taking up the profession, yet never elaborating on what he meant by that. Stan's mother died in 2006 and he shut down his practice on August 23, shortly after her death, not telling his family this and covering his tracks by continually renewing the lease on the building he once operated out of, even after the structure was demolished. Setting up an office in a property owned by his wife's family, Stan made the empty building appear as if it was in use and began his killings, murdering fifteen people over a year by using their worst fears against them.
Scared to Death
In the episode, Stan murders a claustrophobic woman named Jenny Whitman by sealing her in a box until she suffocated. Afterward, he dumps her corpse over in the same backwoods trail he put the rest of his victims. The mass grave is discovered by the authorities a short while later. After killing an aquaphobic patient named Patrick Walker by letting him drown in a lake, Stan returns to his office and hears a news broadcast about the discovery of his dump site while he turns off the lights of the office in an attempt to get over his fear. The same broadcast also warns potential victims (those new to town without friends and no strong ties to family) to be cautious. Going home, Stan is nagged at by his wife for returning home late and he throws a tantrum, briefly viewing Jane as his abusive mother. Going to see Jessica after the ordeal with his wife, Stan tucks her in and, against her wishes, turns off the lights, noticing the fear that flashes across his daughter's face when he does so.
The next day, Stan meets another patient, Missy Cassell, who has a fear of being buried alive. Stating that he can cure her anxiety in just one session, Stan tells Missy to come back in a few hours. He then takes a shovel and several bags of dirt down to the basement of the building. When Missy returns, Stan drugs her with some spiked tea, leads her downstairs, and pushes her into a pit; the fall knocks her out. Preparing to fill the hole, Stan suffers a flashback to his traumatic childhood and falls to the floor, muttering to himself, but is brought back to his senses moments later when Missy regains consciousness and starts begging him to let her go. Completely covering Missy with dirt, Stan hears sirens approaching and calmly walks outside, where he is spotted by Hotch and Morgan. Chased to the top of the building, Stan stands on the ledge. Trying to talk Stan down, Hotch tells him that he will not be able to overcome his own fear by killing others and himself; ignoring Hotch's words, Stan tells him that most people join law enforcement to help others and says "I think your greatest fear is that you can't save everyone" before committing suicide by allowing himself to fall off the roof. Missy is later found by the BAU and rescued in time.
The unsub is a male sadist in his 40s who craves control, who is coming from a place of weakness and trying to demonstrate strength, meaning that he was likely abused in his childhood. The reason he has gotten away with murder is that he has been very meticulous at every stage, from how he chooses his victims, to their torture, and their burial. The victims appear to be non-specific, other than being new to Portland, and all they seem to share is a tortuous death. However, the tortures lack a sexual component, which is incredibly rare, and as a result, it is believed that it is not about exerting power but overcompensating for a lack of it. The lack of sexual assault could be as simple as suggesting impotence, something that the unsub is trying to hide. A man this obsessed with control feels powerless in his everyday life, so he would most likely crave stability and security. He is most likely married, possibly adopting a child to keep up appearances if he is impotent. As the victims had no defensive wounds on them, it was apparent that they willingly put themselves in the situations that killed them, meaning the unsub is probably a figure of authority or someone easily trusted. He is also calculating and intelligent. While the unsub would likely be a legitimate psychiatrist, his use of the outdated word "phobia" means that he probably received his training sometime in the 1980s. If caught, it is unlikely that he would go quietly and would probably commit suicide rather than being arrested.
The profile is mostly correct, with the exception that Stan did not appear to be a sadist: he showed no emotion at all as he watched his victims die. He did not seem to crave control either, and his motivation for the killings appeared to be a delusion that killing people using their fears would somehow help him get over his own fears (which appeared to be successful).
Stan targeted random people who recently moved to Portland and lived alone. He set up an office in one of the empty buildings his wife's family owned and lured victims by creating a fake company which promised one hundred dollars for participating in a program that claimed to be able to cure phobias. Stan placed flyers advertising the program in public places and had those who called fill out a questionnaire which asked things like if they were close to their family and made friends easily; those who answered no were picked due to it likely taking longer for someone to notice they were missing.
When his patients felt they were ready to face their fears, Stan would let them die in the scenario he had set up to test them, asking "Is it worse than you thought?" as they panicked and struggled to escape. After his victims die, Stan would write down their names, how they died, and how long it took them to die in his notebook, finishing by rating their anxiety levels on a scale of one to ten (all were presumably ten). Stan buried the bodies in the Wildwood Trail deep in the woods (except for Patrick Walker, whose body was left in the lake he drowned in since the authorities found where he buried his victims) and also sent fake going-away messages to the victims' families through their email accounts.
- August 2006-October(?) 2007: Twelve unnamed victims (all killed by various causes)
- Unnamed man (helterphobic; hanged)
- Unnamed woman (hemophobic; exsanguinated)
- Rick Holland (pyrophobic; burned alive)
- October 7: Jenny Whitman (claustrophobic; suffocated in a small box)
- October 9: Patrick Walker (aquaphobic; drowned in a lake; body was not buried)
- October 10: Missy Cassell (taphephobic; attempted, but barely survived; was buried alive and left for dead, but rescued)
- Stanley Howard is the third of only twelve serial killers on the show who have killed at least a dozen victims, yet not be a prolific killer since their crimes did not occur over the course of at least three years. The others are:
- Pablo Vargas ("Machismo") - A serial rapist and abductor-turned-serial killer who killed at least 13 victims within a two-year span.
- Charles Holcombe ("Legacy") - A "house cleaner"-type serial killer who killed at least 64 victims within at least a year.
- Jonny McHale ("True Night") - A serial-turned-spree killer, one-time mass murderer, abductor, and vigilante who killed 14 victims within a 16-day span.
- Armando Salinas ("Catching Out") - A serial-turned-spree killer, robber, and one-time cop killer who killed 14 victims within a 32-day span.
- Eric Olson ("Zoe's Reprise") - A serial killer, copycat, and budding serial rapist-turned-spree killer who killed 12 victims in an almost two-month span.
- James Thomas ("Compromising Positions") - A serial-turned-spree killer and one-time mass murderer who killed 15 people in at least two weeks.
- Trevor Mills ("A Thin Line") - A serial killer, family annihilator, and abductor-turned-spree killer and attempted assassin who killed 17 people within an eight-day span.
- Larry Feretich ("Poison") - A poisoner, serial-turned-spree killer, and one-time mass murderer who killed 15 people within a 29-day span.
- Jake Logan ("Killer App") - A serial killer, mass murderer, serial bomber, one-time cop killer, workplace shooter, and one-time abductor-turned-spree killer who killed at least 379 people in an almost two-year span.
- Kevon Winters ("Miasma") - A "house cleaner" and "angel of death"-type serial killer and poisoner-turned-arsonist who killed 13 people within a 24-day span.
- Mark Henshaw ("All You Can Eat") - A poisoner, stalker, and serial killer-turned-mass murderer who killed 12 people in a three-day span.