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Walter Kern

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Walter Kern
Name Walter Kern
Alias The Keystone Killer
Gender Male
Birth Date 1958
Family Anne Kern (wife)
Occupation Former alarm installer
Former county worker
Former claims adjuster
Various white-collar jobs (at the time of arrest)
Pathology Serial Killer
Budding Spree Killer
Modus Operandi Manual strangulation (originally)
Suffocation with a plastic bag (later)
No. of Victims 8 killed
1 attempted
Status Incarcerated
Portrayed By Aaron Lustig
First Appearance "Unfinished Business"

"I need to do this. I can't stop it."

Walter Kern, a.k.a. "The Keystone Killer", is a serial killer and stalker who appeared in Season One of Criminal Minds.


Walter started killing in Philadelphia in 1986 and garnered the nickname of The Keystone Killer. It is mentioned that he served in the Reserve Officers' Training Corps in high school, got a degree in criminology from Villanova at some point, and served in the U.S. Air Force for four years. He then held down several short-lived jobs, including a county worker and a claims adjuster. During his initial serial killing phase, he was an alarm installer; all of his jobs gave him easy access to peoples' homes. At some point, he worked together with Scott Harbin, a fetish burglar who was suspected of being the Keystone Killer. He apparently selected his victims before he started killing them; all were brunette women in their twenties at the time. When Walter was about to kill Carla Bromwell in 1988, he was involved in a car accident on September 21, which severely damaged his spinal cord. He recovered, but lost a lot of strength in his right side. During his recovery period, he apparently suffered from depression, which went away when he started killing again. At some point in his life, he got married.

Unfinished BusinessEdit

Starting with Carla Bromwell, whom he targeted because he was compelled to finish the job with her, he began killing again in 2006, his M.O. having been drastically changed as a result of the car accident. After killing Carla Bromwell in "Unfinished Business", he sent a letter to Max Ryan, the former profiler who chased him in the 80s and went on to write a book about the Keystone Killer. After investigating Carla Bromwell's murder and being led to Scott Harbin via a puzzle sent along with the letter provided the clue, Max, who was temporarily employed as a consultant, and the BAU realized that Walter changed his M.O. because he had to. Narrowing the list of suspects down, they found Walter and arrested him just as he was about to kill another woman named Sylvia Gooden, whom he had been stalking since the 80s. As he was arrested by Morgan, Walter taunted Max. He would go on to be specifically mentioned in Pay It Forward as an example of serial killers who go dormant for long periods of time or completely quit.


Max's original profile of the unsub described him as someone in his late 20s who would have a possible military background, drive a late-model American-made sedan, and live in Philadelphia for his entire life. He would also possibly hold some position of authority at work.

The more recent profile of the unsub described him as a white male in his late 40s. He is a narcissistic sociopath who kills because he wants to, rather than a psychopath who kills because he has a compulsion to do so. He is apparently also a perfectionist, having to complete the series of killings he started. Much has changed in the last eighteen years; the Keystone Killer has gotten older as well as his victims. Most unsubs have specific fantasies, as if they are killing the same person over and over. Originally, he had a preference to young brunettes, but is now moving on to older women. It is possible that he could be devolving into a frenzy; it is only a theory, but if he is in a frenzy, there is no telling how much he will fall apart or how many people he will kill. As the killer's puzzles contained references to even the smallest details of the crime scene, it meant that he was probably taking pictures of the places he killed at, using the photographs to relive the murders. The Keystone Killer's change in M.O., which included blitzing his victims, meant that he may have been partially incapacitated in some way, either due to a stroke or (more likely) an injury.

Modus OperandiEdit

When Walter killed during the 80s, he used his various occupations to gain access to his victims' homes without force and also apparently stalked his victims for some time prior to the kill. He then tied them up, using an intricate knot as part of his signature, and strangled them manually. When he returned, he had lost a lot of strength in the right side of his body due to the car accident and had to use flex cuffs, which he forced the victims to put on themselves at gunpoint, pistol-whipping them to incapacitate them. He then placed a plastic bag over their heads, suffocating them. He would write taunting letters to the police, like Son of Sam and the Zodiac Killer, as well as word search puzzles which contained key words of the crime scenes. He also took photos of his victims, before and after they were killed, developed them himself, and then collected them in a scrap book. He also took their driver's licenses as trophies.

Real-Life ComparisonsEdit

Walter has several similarities to the Zodiac Killer and Dennis Rader, the BTK Killer. Like him and the Zodiac, he writes taunting letters containing some sort of puzzle (Zodiac sent ciphers; Walter and BTK sent word search puzzles) to the police. Like BTK, Walter worked as an alarm installer until 1988 and was in the U.S. Air Force for some time. Also, they both strangled their victims, or at least most of them, and stopped killing in the 80s only to return in the present.

Known VictimsEdit

  • Unspecified date in 1986: Abby Tolbert
  • Unspecified dates from 1986 to 1987:
    • Amber Binder
    • Cynthia Fullerton
    • Victoria Fitzgerald
    • Gloria Devlin
    • Unnamed victim
  • Unspecified date in 1987: Amy Jennings
  • September 21, 1988: Carla Bromwell (intended to kill)
  • 2006:
    • February 25: Carla Bromwell
    • February 27: Sylvia Gooden (attempted, but survived; was non-fatally suffocated with a plastic bag)



  1. A copy of Max's book about Walter can be seen on Zoe Hawkes's bookshelf

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