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Bad Words
WriterSarah Goldfinger
DirectorRob Bailey
Original AirdateApril 15, 2004
Previous Episode: Bad To The Bone
Next Episode: Dead Ringer

Bad Words is the nineteenth episode in season four of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.


Warrick, Catherine, and Nick try to determine the cause of a house fire that kills a teenage girl. The fire is in the same neighborhood as a similar arson fire. Grissom and Sara investigate a man found dead with letter tiles in his stomach. The man was a competitor in a word game tournament.


In a house, smoke comes under the bedroom door, where a woman is asleep. The smoke goes through various bedrooms. Outside, firemen lead the woman out, as well as an older woman, who is calling for Sam. A fireman brings out a little boy, and asks the mother if anyone else is in the house; the mother says no. Catherine and Nick arrive; Warrick tells them that he was at a fire on the same street ten days ago.

Another fireman brings out a girl; the mother says that Sabrina wasn't supposed to be there, she was supposed to be spending the night at a friend's house. The paramedics work on the girl, but she's dead; Catherine comments that their arson just turned into a homicide.

Mrs. Abernathy comments that Sabrina wasn't even burnt; Catherine tells her that smoke inhalation can happen quickly and be fatal. She asks where Sabrina was supposed to be, guessing that she should have been with her father, but Mrs. Abernathy says that her husband died five years ago in a car accident; Sabrina was supposed to be at a friend's house for a sleepover, and was not in the house when Mrs. Abernathy checked the doors and went to bed around 11 or 11:30 p.m. Nick takes pictures of the crowd; the grandmother asks him about her medications and he tells her that they'll get replacements to her by the morning. Sam, the little boy, sits in the fire engine and talks to the fireman, who shows him all the gadgets in the truck, saying that they're there to help people. Sam says, "But not my sister." Warrick watches.

At a hotel, Brass takes Sara and Grissom to a body in the bathroom; they note that he's wearing a shirt with "735" on it, and Brass wonders, noting his girth, if that was his goal weight? Grissom notes a cut on the victim's forehead, and blood on the floor; Sara examines the broken bathroom mirror, and comments that he probably got his head smashed in on the mirror. She takes a blood sample from the mirror; Grissom notices something blue floating on top of the blood on the floor. He checks the victim's eyes and determines that asphyxia was the cause of death.

The Fire Marshall takes Warrick and Catherine through the house; he tells them that the smoke detector batteries were all dead, and that Sabrina's room is the one that was worst damaged by the smoke. They note that she wasn't in her bed at the time of the fire; she was on the floor, reading.

In the kitchen, he notes that the linoleum is old and one crack would give the fire a clear path to follow; Warrick notes that the back door isn't locked and Catherine comments that Mrs. Abernathy said that she locked all the doors before she went to bed. In the living room, the Fire Marshall tells them that all the items there are highly flammable, and notes that the couch completely burned away, and it was a high-intensity burn. Catherine suggests that it might be the point of origin for the fire; the Fire Marshall comments that it was the place that sustained the heaviest damage from the fire, which may have started there and moved to the kitchen.

Nick examines the exterior of the house and finds a stack of newspapers by the garage; the ones on top are burned, but there's no other fire damage there. Warrick checks for prints on the door and finds some weak partials; Nick comes in with the papers, noting that they were not in the path of the fire. Warrick comments on the fire that happened down the street, saying that it was started in the garage using lighter fluid as an accelerant; he then adds that Sabrina may have provided access to the house for the arsonist when she came home from her friend's house early. Back at the lab, Nick reviews the videos of the crowds from both fires and sees a familiar face in the second fire scene; a woman who was also watching the first fire. He remembers her name; Viva Charles, and she has a record for attempted arson.

Nick interviews Viva Charles who says that she was exonerated of the charges; she explains that she's not an arsonist, she's a pyromaniac, and doesn't do it for money or to cause damage. She says that when he goes home after a long day at work, he puts on a racy video to relax, but she sets fire to her junk mail to relax; it's an impulse control disorder and she doesn't burn down houses or kill children. Nick comments that maybe she doesn't do that on purpose, but accidents happen.

At the lab, Nick asks Greg if he'd like to assist on the arson case and gives him the match that he found by the newspapers as well as a bag full of match books from Viva Charles's house; he wants Greg to see if the match fits any of the missing matches from the books. Dr. Robbins begins the autopsy on the body from the hotel bathroom; he tells David that there are three common causes of asphyxiation; David puts his money on choking for this victim. He cuts open the throat and finds a round tile with the letter "S" on it in the victim's larynx.

He gives it to Grissom and tells him that this is the cause of death; Grissom suggests that he may have swallowed it accidentally and when he began to choke, he tried to give himself the Heimlich, hitting his head on the mirror and knocking himself out, but Dr. Robbins says that might be the case except for the fact that he found five more tiles in the victim's stomach, so this was no accident.

In the lab, Greg compares the ripped out match to the missing spots in the match books. Warrick goes through the evidence from the fire scene; Greg comes in and tells him that there were no matches for the match; it didn't come from any of Viva Charles's match books. Warrick notes that Mrs. Abernathy had credit card debts, but not a lot of coverage on the house, so it probably wasn't set for insurance purposes. He also notes that when people set fire to their own homes, they usually remove their personal mementos first, and that was not the case here.

Nick suggests that it might have something to do with the baseball team; the newspapers that he found were from the school that Sabrina went to and she'd written a story exposing the baseball team and a wild night they had with hookers, and stated in the story that they should be expelled. Sara tells Grissom that the blood on the floor in the bathroom was the victim's but the blood on the mirror wasn't; he's doing anagrams with the letters that were in the victim's stomach. Brass arrives and tells them that the victim's name was Adam Brenner; he was a postal worker in Orlando, and was in Vegas for a Logos Tournament.

They go to the hotel where the body was found, which is where the tournament is taking place; the organizer tells them that Adam was one of the top players and once set a tournament record of 735 points in one game; Sara notes that that was the number on his shirt. The organizer doubts that anyone there could have killed him, but Brass says that the only people that Adam talked to were other players, so they'll need a list of all of his opponents.

At the baseball diamond, Nick talks to the coach, Rick Chilson, and tells him that Sabrina Abernathy died; he wants to know where Cody Chilson, the coach's son, was at 1 a.m. on Saturday. The coach says that Cody was in bed by 10 p.m. as he is every night; Nick comments that it would be every night except when he's with hookers, adding that expulsion from school and an arrest would look bad on Cody's college applications. The coach tells him that the hooker night happens every year, with every team, and he doesn't know why "that little bitch" had to target Cody in her story; he adds that he's sorry she's dead, but his son didn't burn her house down.

At the tournament, Grissom watches the players; he sees a player challenge a word and call for a ruling. When the game ends, he sits down with the winner, Wilson Janek, and starts a new game. He asks Wilson about Adam Brenner; Wilson has heard about his death, and Grissom notes that Adam was alive when he beat Wilson last night; he then tells Wilson who he is, and that he'd like a DNA sample. Wilson tells Grissom that he can ask Uncle Sam for the DNA sample, saying that he's served his country in the Gulf War and saw enough killing over there.

In another part of the room, Sara takes a DNA sample from Craig, and notes that he lost three times in a row to Adam; he loses his game, but doesn't seem bothered by it. In another part of the room, Brass interviews another player, the last one to see Adam alive; the player tells him that killing Adam so that he could win instead isn't really a valid theory because the prize money is only $2,000 which barely covers his expenses. Brass tells him he'd like a DNA sample.

Hodges tells Catherine that the problem with getting your furniture from the curbside is that it tends to be old; and old furniture is sometimes unsafe. The sofa in the Abernathy living room had polyurethane foam in it, which is its own accelerant, and a disaster waiting to happen, according to him. He tells her that it would only need a spark to set it off. Catherine, Nick and Warrick go through the evidence from the scene; Nick finds a cigarette butt and says that it smells like menthol; Warrick comments that cigarettes are an unreliable way to start a fire if it's an arson, and it makes no sense. Nick says that it makes sense if it wasn't an arson.

Catherine and Warrick talk to the Abernathy family, telling them about the cigarette butt found in the debris. Mrs. Abernathy says that she doesn't smoke; the grandmother says that she quit 20 years ago. Catherine asks if Sabrina smoked; they don't think so. Catherine tells them that she'll need a urine sample from all of them to see if there's nicotine in their systems. Mrs. Abernathy is upset, saying that her house burned down, her daughter died, and now they want her and her family to pee in a cup? She then agrees to do so. Greg tests the urine samples, including one from Sabrina, and tells Catherine that the mother was on tranquilizers, Sabrina was taking Ritalin, and the grandmother smokes.

Hodges tells Grissom that the blue he found in the blood on the bathroom floor is a plastic usually used for logos on t-shirts; Grissom comments that everyone at the tournament had things written on their t-shirts. Sara comes in and tells them that she found a match for the blood on the mirror.

In the interview room, Brass and Sara interview the player that Brass got the DNA sample from; Pierce. Brass asks him about the scrapes on his knuckles; Pierce says that he had a game against a "Blue Hair" that he lost, and shouldn't have, but she talked the entire time that they were playing and he couldn't concentrate, and after he lost, he went into the bathroom and punched the mirror. He tells them that Adam wasn't in the bathroom when he was there. Brass comments that if he took that loss badly, maybe he took his loss to Adam even harder, but Pierce says that just being at the same table as Adam was an honor, like taking painting lessons from Picasso.

Nick looks at the blueprints for the house and recreates the furniture lay-out, then runs tests, having the fire start in the living room on the couch, but the temperatures aren't right. Warrick talks to the grandmother about the nicotine in her urine sample; she repeats that she doesn't smoke, but when he asks her to empty her handbag, she takes out a pack of cigarettes and then admits that she does smoke.

Catherine interviews Mrs. Abernathy and asks if Sabrina had A.D.D, as they found Ritalin in her system; she notes that teens sometimes use it as an upper. Mrs. Abernathy is shocked to hear that Sabrina was taking Ritalin; Catherine points out that Mrs. Abernathy was taking drugs as well; Valium. Mrs. Abernathy tells Catherine that she and Sabrina would have horrible fights, and Sabrina would scream that she couldn't wait to get out of the house and away from her mother. She tells Catherine that her dream life was to be going out on Saturday nights with her husband, but instead she's stuck at home with her husband dead, looking after two kids and her mother, who is really just a 70-year old kid.

Catherine asks if she's covering for her mother; Mrs. Abernathy says she's not, adding that she'd like to say that she is, but she never saw her mother smoking. Catherine suggests that the grandmother came out of her room after Mrs. Abernathy was asleep; Mrs. Abernathy looks at Catherine and says that Catherine can judge her if she wants, but the truth is that she locks her mother in her room after she goes to bed.

Nick tells Catherine that the burn scenarios don't match up. He explains that the problem is that the fridge magnets have been demagnetized, and for that to happen, the temperatures in the kitchen had to be 932 degrees. With all the scenarios that he ran, he couldn't get the temperature that high in the kitchen if the fire started in the living room.

Catherine and Nick go back to the house and re-examine the kitchen. They find an incandescent light bulb that is bent, showing the direction of the fire; Catherine wonders how they missed it earlier, and Nick says the living room seemed like the reasonable point of origin. They start shovelling the ashes and debris from the kitchen floor and find the word, "Bitch" on the floor.

Hodges pulls samples from the piece of kitchen floor back at the lab and tests them. Catherine tells Warrick and Nick that the accelerant was chafing dish fuel, like Sterno, noting that the fire has gone from intentional to accidental to personal. They review the suspects: Viva Charles, but she has no personal motive in the fire; the coach and his son, but they have an alibi - they were gambling at a casino the night of the fire; the grandmother, but Warrick says that her arthritis would keep her from writing on the floor as well as the fact that she was locked in her room at night; the mother, but Catherine says that she seemed frustrated, not desperate; the son, Sam, but Catherine comments that the word "bitch" is very much a teen aged girl word. That leaves Sabrina; Warrick asks if they think that she was willing to burn down the house, killing herself and her whole family.

Sara does anagrams with the letters, looks at the rules and Adam's notebook; she tells Grissom that Adam was a meticulous note-taker, and documented all the plays that he made, but one of the games doesn't add up. In the game that Adam played against Craig, there are 60 points missing; his notes for that game show that something had been erased, and using ESDA, Sara discovered that what he'd written originally was "exvin." That accounts for five of the six letters that they found in his body; everything but the "s". Grissom asks what "exvin" means, but Sara doesn't know and it wasn't in the dictionary. She also notes that Craig played a word later on in the game that used an "x", and that there's only one "x" in the game tiles, so where did the extra "x" come from?

They go to Craig's room at the hotel; Grissom finds a pistol that has blood on it, but Craig says that it's a replica that he bought in a pawn shop as he's a collector. Grissom comments, "Fake gun for a fake word." He speculates that Adam played "exvin" and convinced Craig not to challenge it; then when Craig played an "s" on the same word, making "exvins", Adam challenged it, successfully.

Sara notes that there are six letters missing from Craig's Logos box, the letters for "exvins" and comments that Craig made Adam eat his word. Craig tells them that he wanted to make it as hard for Adam to swallow as it was for him, and that he thought that Adam was faking when he started choking. Grissom asks what Craig thought after Adam fell down and stopped breathing.

Catherine and Warrick go back to the house looking for traces of accelerant using black light. In Sam's bedroom, they find tissues in the garbage that show traces of accelerant, and Warrick finds matches under his mattress. Catherine comments that Mrs. Abernathy was locking the wrong door at night. At the station, they interview Sam; his mother tells him that he'd better start talking, and Catherine takes her out of the room.

They watch from outside while Warrick talks to Sam; as he talks, Warrick lights matches and drops them into a mug of water. He then passes the box of matches to Sam, who begins playing with them, lighting them and dropping them into the water as he tells Warrick that he only has trouble sleeping when he gets woken up, and the night of the fire, Sabrina woke him up when she knocked on the door to be let in.

Sam continues that he got hungry, so went to the kitchen, and when he looked through the cupboards, he found the chafing dish fuel. He knew what it was because they used to use it every year on his mother's birthday for the chocolate pot, but since his grandmother has come to live with them, they don't do that any more, because she can't have chocolate. He adds that ever since his grandmother came, they don't have any fun any more. He tells Warrick that he played for a while, wrote the word on the floor, and then lit a match and threw it on the floor, and went back to bed.

The entire description from Sam has been told without emotion, and very dull-voiced, until he reaches the part of the story when he says that the firemen arrived and showed him their fire truck and let him sit in it, and that he might get to meet one of fireman's dog. Warrick asks Sam about the word that he wrote on the floor, and where he heard it. Sam says that he hears it all the time: his mother says it, his grandmother says it, and his sister says it; he then amends this to, "Well, she used to say it." He lights a match and blows it out before dropping it into the cup of water.


Main Cast

Guest Cast

  • David Berman as David Phillips
  • Wallace Langham as David Hodges
  • Tracey Needham as Jessica Abernathy
  • Max Jansen Weinstein as Sam Abernathy
  • Larry Poindexter as Fire Investigator Jack Clarke
  • Michael Gaston as Rick Chilson
  • Jason Kravits as Pierce
  • T.E. Russell as Wilson Janek
  • Andy Comeau as Jason
  • K Callan as Martha Abernathy
  • Christopher B. Duncan as George the Fireman
  • Christopher Shea as Craig Kaufman
  • Lisa Rotondi as Viva Charles
  • Oliver Ryan Anderson as Cody Chilson
  • Mike Bruner as Adam Burrows
  • Michael Miranda as Opponent
  • Gena Shaw as Sabrina James
  • Roz Witt as Blue Hair
  • Erin Chambers as Molly Zimmerman (uncredited)


  • Mend These Trends by South
  • Mysterious Traveller by Simon J. Hunter


Greg: Everyone but the little guy was gettin' high and gettin' by. Daughter was on uppers, Mom's on downers and Grandma was on the cancer stick.
Catherine: Ritalin, Valium and Grandma's a liar.
Greg: Pants on fire.


  • The matches found under the boy's mattress are matchbooks but he's using box matches in the flashback.
  • The paramedic at the beginning is performing artificial respiration without opening the victim's mouth. Much more inefficient than the proper procedure of tilting her head back and opening the airways. The only time the mouth is not always opened for AR is for infants and toddlers when the attendant-on-scene's mouth can completely cover both airways with their mouth.
  • The boy's matchbox in the interview room changes from face-forward to back-forward several times.


  • Although Gena Shaw is listed as playing as Sabrina James, the dead girl's last name actually was Abernathy and James was her maternal grandmother's name.
  • Tracey Needham made her a special guest as Jessica in this episode, then she is the star as Meg Austin in the military drama series JAG for only first season.

See Also

CSI:Las Vegas Season 4
Assume NothingAll For Our CountryHomebodiesFeeling the HeatFur and LoathingJackpotInvisible EvidenceAfter the ShowGrissom Versus the VolcanoComing of RageEleven Angry JurorsButterfliedSuckersPaper or PlasticEarly RolloutGetting OffXXBad To The BoneBad WordsDead RingerTurn of the ScrewsNo More BetsBloodlines