February 25 2024

CSI Files

An archive of CSI, NCIS, Criminal Minds and crime drama news

Precious Metal

By Patti Vickers
Posted at April 6, 2003 - 1:18 AM GMT

See Also: 'Precious Metal' Episode Guide


The rider of an ATV falls off her vehicle after missing a jump on an ATV course. While lying on the ground, she notices a barrel marked “Hazardous Waste” and concerned that it appears to be buckling, she calls the police for assistance. The HazMat team investigate, but when they open the barrel, they find what appears to be a dead body.

Gil and Catherine are called out to look at the body in the barrel. They find that it is in a stage of adipocere, which is where the fat in the body has, during its natural decomposition process, turned into a soapy wax-like substance, about one to two months after death. The body and barrel are transported back to the lab for autopsy and evidence gathering.

Dr. Robbins arranges for the body to be dumped from the barrel onto a wire-mesh screen so that the thick body fluids can be separated from the actual body. While combing through the mess of fluids, Robbins and Grissom find electrical wire and a ring, with the Greek letters omega, zeta and alpha inscribed on it. About this time, Grissom is alerted to the fact that a body, missing in the morgue for eleven days, has been located.

Reviewing photographs of the wounds on the now-found-but-not-yet-identified body, Gil and Warrick note the victim’s face is sunburned and there are several scars on his lower legs. The previously done autopsy reveals that the victim died of blunt force trauma to the head. Moving on to the personal effects, Grissom notes a strange yellowish substance on victim’s belt.

Catherine attends the rest of the autopsy for the victim found in the barrel. Dr. Robbins tells her that his investigation disclosed that the victim’s foot has been severed from the rest of his body. Catherine questions whether that could be the result of an industrial accident, but Dr. Robbins doesn’t believe so. Industrial accidents, he says, are messy – this was cleanly cut off. He also indicates the victim had a serious head wound and suffered several fractures to the skull. With still no name for their victim, Dr. Robbins extracts a DNA sample from one of the victim’s bones with the hopes of identification.

Taking the lead on the case, Catherine assigns Sara to see if she can find out more about the ring found with the victim. Nick is assigned to test the barrel. Under the rim of the drum, Nick finds a small patch of metal that appears to have been filed down. To see if he can raise the serial number on the barrel, Nick cuts that section of the drum away and tests it with a magnaflux yoke and tiny magnetic particles. The test reveals the serial number and he tries to trace the drum to its origin. Meanwhile DNA results are in – the victim is Christian Cutler, a former Army sergeant.

All drums that contain or are intended to contain hazardous waste must have a serial number, so that they can be accurately accounted for. Nick, Catherine and Jim Brass head to the warehouse where the drum came from. Inside, the warehouse, they find a game in play – a game called “Robot Rumble”, where the contestants are remote controlled robots designed to destroy the other robots in the competition. Looking around at the robots, or “bots” as they are called, the team are amazed by the number of what could be considered weapons adorning the machines.

Ginger Kellen, the owner the warehouse, also runs the competition. Shown a picture of the victim, she admits that she knew Chris Cutler. He was a player in the robot game, but she hasn’t seen him in about six weeks. He had won the competition that night, and several of the other competitors were angry as he gloated about his victory. Speculating that one or more of the bots could be the murder weapon, the CSIs take them back to the lab for examination.

Trying to get an ID on their victim, Grissom and Brown speak to the wife of a man who was reported missing ten days earlier. Now identified as Keith Mercer, Cheryl Mercer tells the CSIs that she and her husband had taken separate mini vacations: She had gone to her sister’s house in Taos, while Keith had gone to Yosemite for rock climbing. When she came back, his gear was back in the house, but he was nowhere to be found. She had immediately called the police, requesting assistance, but had been dismissed. Grissom assures her that he’s listening to her now and asks if they can examine the couple’s house for any evidence that might lead to her husband’s killer.

At the house, Grissom and Brown see Keith’s camping and rock climbing gear in the living room, just as his wife said. While surveying the room, Grissom notices an odd film on the hardwood floor. Warrick treats the floor with phenolphthalein, which discloses the presence of some biological fluid. Further, Warrick uses luminol on the floor, which reveals bloody footprints leading to a bookshelf. Grissom also finds what he believes is a blood smudge on a small wooden box on a nearby bookshelf. The box is curiously empty. Also examined is a statue on the fireplace mantel. Once sprayed with luminol, it also tests positive for blood. .

Nick and Sara dismantle each of the bots completely and examine each part for the presence of blood. Finding many of the parts have blood on them, they take several swabs for testing. They then put the robots back together, and Nick does further testing on them -- he hangs a leg of a dead pig and then attacks the limb with each of the bots to see if he can match the wounds on the victim. He makes microsil casts of each of the cuts on the pig’s leg and compares them with the cuts on the victim. None of them match. The swabs Sara and Nick took were given to Greg Sanders for testing. He finds that Chris’ blood is found on parts on two different bots. The CSIs theorize that a third robot was involved and that it has since been disassembled and its parts used in other bots.

Christian Cutler had a partner – Brian Kelso. Brian is questioned and tells the investigators that he wasn’t worried that Chris seemed to be missing. Chris had a habit of taking off for weeks at a time and then popping up again. Asking him about the bots, the CSIs find out that Brian built the bots in a rented workshop and Chris ran the bots in competition. Brian gives them the address of his workshop. It’s a large warehouse where many of the competitors rent small spaces – and there they find Brian and Chris’ bot, which has been cannibalized for parts. On the floor of the workshop, Nick sees a circular rust mark, 24 inches in diameter, which is the size of the drum Chris’ body was found in. Examining the location further, they see blood spatter, which seems to be about ankle high and an elaborately decorated fake fingernail. Catherine remembers that Ginger Kellen had similar fingernails.

A skin scraping found under the nail is tested and found to be a match for Chris Cutler. Ginger is called in for questioning. Ginger admits she owns the warehouse where the shops are located and claims that she had an argument with Chris in the shop. They were alone and he tried to harass her with his robot. A struggle ensued and she broke off a nail in the fight.

In the lab, Warrick is busy examining the statue from the Mercers’ house. He tests the statue with a substance called amido black, which is protein dye solution that will stain the protein in a blood-contaminated fingerprint. Lifting several partial prints, he discovers that the blood is Keith Mercer’s, but the fingerprints are Cheryl Mercer’s.

Cheryl is brought in for questioning and asked about the statue. She says that when she arrived home from visiting her sister, the statue was on the floor. She didn’t think much of it, since her husband often moved the statue. It had become a running joke – the statue was a wedding gift that he hated and joked about getting rid of. As a result, she often found the statue in odd places – in a closet, in the garage. She assumed this was just another one of his jokes so she moved the trinket back to the mantle. Grissom asks Cheryl what was in the small, empty box he found on the bookshelf. She tells him that it contained a coin collection that she and her husband had inherited – and had planned on saving it to sell “for a rainy day”.

Sara determines what organization the ring found with Cutler’s body is from. It belongs to a prestigious mechanical engineering society. Having reviewed Cutler’s background and determined the ring could not belong to him, the CSIs look to his partner, Brian. Detective Brass calls Brian in for questioning, and it only takes moments before Brian breaks down, declaring that his partner’s death had been an accident.

After their bot, Smash and Burn, won the competition that night, it needed some repairs. Having made some adjustments, Brian was testing the bot, but it was, in his words, acting “flaky”. Chris approached the bot and while as he did, the bot “went crazy”. It didn’t seem to be responding to the commands Brian was issuing it via remote control. After Smash and Burn stopped its attack, a scared Brian cleaned up the blood and disposed of Chris’ body.

Someone has attempted to use Keith Mercer’s ATM card. The bank machine kept the card, which has been sent to Warrick for fingerprint testing. He places it in a superglue-fuming tent and finds a clear print. Running the print through AFIS, they get a hit: a homeless man with a record named Willy Reddington. Reddington is brought in and interrogated, but it’s clear that he is not the killer. To be sure, they examine his clothes and shoes, but find no evidence of blood. Nor do the treads on the shoes match the shoeprints found at the Mercer house.

Sara and Nick put Smash and Burn back together again, to see if Brian’s story could possibly be true. Testing the bot, they find that it indeed is not responding – at all. Nick and Sara discover that the transmitter and receiver being used in Smash and Burn are operating on different frequencies. As a result, they conclude that Brian was not controlling the bot when it attacked Chris.

Sanders is asked to test the yellow material found on Keith Mercer’s belt. Mass spectrometry testing indicates that it is sulphur. Disreputable coin dealers have, apparently in the past, used sulphur to artificially enhance the colour of coins for sale. Records from Keith’s cell phone are examined and it turns out that he had made two calls to Jones Collectibles. Having studied coins with his grandfather for years, Greg is sent in to Jones collectibles to see if he can identify specific coins from the Mercers’ collection.

Nick and Catherine go back to the workshop, to see if they can discover which competitor may have been controlling Smash and Burn when it attacked Chris. Reviewing a box of transmitters, they think that the owner of the bot called Hammer of God was controlling Smash and Burn from a loft area in the workshop. The transmitter is tested for DNA to confirm this.

Grissom and Sanders go back to Jones collectibles and confront Jones with the stolen coins. Jones denies and wrongdoing but when the CSIs examines his car, they find both traces of sulphur and blood. Grissom theorizes that Jones broke into the Mercers’ home to steal the coins after Keith had called him to enquire about selling them. Unfortunately, Keith came home and surprised Jones, who attacked Keith with the statue, killed him and then disposed of the body.

A man known only as Luke is brought in for questioning after his DNA is found on the transmitter in the workshop. He denies any involvement, but after being told of the DNA Brian Kelso tells investigators that Luke was in the shop when the accident happened, and it was with his help that he disposed of Chris’ body. Luke’s bot, Hammer of God, was badly damaged by Chris in the earlier competition and, angry over the loss, Luke killed Chris.


One of the features of the very stylish CSI is flashbacks. To explain the crime and the science, often we are transported back in time, and see things as they actually happen. For example, during an autopsy, we have gone inside the neck of a victim of strangulation and seen the hyoid bone break. The visuals are slightly askew, slightly off coloured, which lets us know we are in seeing things as they happened to our victim. Usually there a few per episode, just enough to so we can say… visualize what happens to the internal organs as a bullet rips through the kidneys.

But this episode… this episode was so full of them, I wanted to scream. There must have been ten in the “bot” storyline alone. Okay, so maybe not, but there certainly more than in the normal CSI episode. And by the end of the episode, I was very sick of this usually welcome plot device.

I guess it didn’t help that I simply didn’t buy either storyline in the episode. Brian, the engineering genius, couldn’t figure out that the bot wasn’t responding to his commands but to someone else’s? I know people panic is stressful situations, but it just seemed a little ridiculous. Every engineer I know would have taken the thing apart themselves to figure out what went wrong. And the coins… I liked the fact that Greg involved himself in the case, that he showed Grissom his desire to head into more of a CSI role instead of remaining a lab tech, but again, I thought the story was weak. I was intrigued at the beginning, when Grissom mentioned that the body had been lost and recently found. They could have done one interesting storyline around those few words.

I did find it interesting when Nick was doing the testing with the pigs’ legs. I’m sure every member of PETA is now ready to boycott CSI and CBS and I’ll get hate mail, but it was really fascinating science. Filling the wounds with Microsil and then doing a visual comparison, I don’t know if it’s actually doable in a lab, but as I said, it was intriguing.

In addition, the show opener with the body in the advance state of adipocere, was remarkable. The gross-out factor was high, but the explanation of what happens when a body is disposed of in a certain way, was truly astonishing. While my TLC education has included many shows about dead bodies, I can’t remember getting a decent explanation of the phenomenon sometimes known as mortuary wax.

Interesting though it may be, it wasn’t enough to make ‘Precious Metal’ an episode I will look forward to seeing again.

Discuss this reviews at Talk CSI!

Find more episode info in the Episode Guide.

Patti Vickers reviews CSI: Crime Scene Investigation and CSI: Miami episodes for CSI Files.

You may have missed