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Chaos Theory
WriterJosh Berman,
Eli Talbert
DirectorKenneth Fink
Original AirdateOctober 4, 2001
Previous Episode: Burked
Next Episode: Overload

Chaos Theory is the second episode in season two of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation


The CSI team suspects foul play when university student Paige Rycoff vanishes into thin air. The team soon discovers she had an affair with a married professor, along with a lot of other seemingly unrelated events. When her body is found in a trash heap, the team has to find out what led to her death.


A co-ed walks down the hall to her room, frat boys go by and then turn to follow her, a pizza guy delivers a pizza; in room 410, a girl looks out the window at the rain, her suitcase is packed and ready to go. Her cell phone rings, and as she puts on her coat, she tells the taxi driver on the phone that she'll be right down. She looks out and sees the taxi....

The same window, cruisers arrive; Brass tells Grissom that Paige Rycoff has been missing for four days; she dropped out of college and was going home to Boulder, but never arrived. Grissom goes to her room and asks everyone to leave. All the officers leave; Brass stays, and notes that she left her suitcase behind, as well as her purse, and didn't take the taxi that arrived for her. Brass speculates that maybe she had a change of plans, but Grissom points out that there's no sign of a struggle and nothing is out of place. Grissom leaves the room, and then there's a knock on the door; Brass answers it; it's Grissom who notes that the door locks automatically when it closes. Her keys are missing from her purse; Grissom wonders why she didn't come back in if she had her keys with her? Brass says that maybe she vanished; Grissom says that it's a molecular impossibility.

At the front entrance to the dorms, Warrick comments on all the cameras and security; Sara arrives and can't get in because she doesn't live in the dorm. Grissom tells Nick to check the cameras; he and Sara check the room, while Catherine and Warrick check the halls. Sara notes that Paige had asked for all of her mail to be forwarded, including her security deposit. Grissom examines the walls, and finds a substance, which he tastes,and comments that it's minty. Sara says that it's the poor man's Spackle, toothpaste; it's a cheap way to leave the room the way that you got it so that you'd get your security deposit back. Sara notes that there are two beds, and asks about a roommate; Grissom says that there was a roommate, Jennifer Riggs, who left two weeks into the semester, and Brass is checking on her. Grissom notes that there's something missing; Sara suggests that it might have been an area rug, which could have been used to hide a body and carry it out of the dorm.

A newscast on TV reports on Paige's disappearance; officers use scent dogs in the hallway. Catherine and Warrick check the garbage chute in the hall; Catherine is rigged up to go down the chute; she opens the door and it snaps shut; she comments that it's quick. Warrick holds it open while she lowers herself into the chute. In the security office, Nick goes over the tapes with the security officer; he sees the real-time tape of Catherine going down the chute, then has the officer go back to when Paige disappeared. They find a spot on the tape where the camera is covered; Nick asks how the guard missed this, and the guard says that they can't watch every minute. They examine the footage, and Nick notes that the camera gets more than it shows; they extend the picture and see that the person who covered the camera put his hand on the wall for leverage.

In the chute, Catherine looks at sides of walls and finds between something on the sides between the first and second floors; she thinks it might be blood. She sniffs it and realizes that it's pizza. She continues down and ends up in the dumpster, and tells Warrick via radio that the chute is clear. She notes that the dumpster also seems to be clear, and the trash is picked up every morning. The scent dogs are circling around by the dumpster; they've lost the scent.

In the room, Sara checks the walls and beds for stains, finds evidence of semen on the mattress and circles it for testing. Nick checks the hallway and dusts for prints where the person leaned to cover the camera; he gets a palm print. Sara comes out and tells him that she got DNA, blood and semen in the room.

Grissom talks to Mr. and Mrs. Rycoff, who want to know what's going on and what they're doing to find their daughter. Grissom doesn't tell them much, he just asks them to let him do his job. He tells them that the only connection that they have to their daughter right now is through the evidence that he and his team are collecting and interpreting, so he needs to think. Catherine comes to see him in the security room where he's viewing the tapes, looking at the part where the lens was covered; he asks her what it is, and she suggests that it looks like someone carrying something; maybe a rug. Nick comes in and tells Grissom that he got a name to go with the palm print.

They interview Henry McFadden, a frat boy; he admits that he covered the camera, and tells them that he did it, but he wasn't alone. They realize that they're not talking about the same thing; Henry says he's talking about 'boosting' some of the furniture from the 4th floor as a prank, and says that he and his friends took some lamps, a coffee table, toilet paper; Nick asks why they took the stuff from the 4th floor, and Henry says that the 4th and 7th have the best stuff, and the 4th is closer to the door, so it's faster to get out. Grissom asks if Henry knows Paige; Henry admits that he does, that they live in the same dorm and have Economy class together, but then says that he had nothing to do with what happened to her. Grissom asks if they went out, and Henry admits that they did; he tells them that it was only once or twice and then they didn't go out again because she was seeing some other guy, someone older and more mature than him, but she never told him who it was. Grissom tells him that he can go; Brass tells him to return the things that he took. After he goes, Grissom comments that they've hit a dead end which is the worst place to be on a missing persons case.

A TV newscast shows an interview with Mr. and Mrs. Rycoff, who say that Paige wanted to come home, and that she was going to make a new start on life; Grissom watches. In the lab, Greg tests Paige's personal items for DNA and gets a sample of hers from her toothbrush, and tells them that the blood and semen aren't hers, but that there was Rohypnol in the blood. Sara comments that it's possible that they're looking for two victims: one who was raped and one who is missing.

Nick and Catherine watch the security tapes of the frat boys stealing the furniture, then move on to the outside tapes of the taxi waiting for Paige.

Brass takes Grissom and Sara to the Riggs' home, telling them that Jennifer was sexually assaulted. Inside, Jennifer asks them how they knew, since she never told anyone about it, not even Paige. Sara tells her that they found semen on the bed, and evidence of Rohypnol in the blood that they assume is hers; she then says that it might be the same person, as they both shared the same room. They want to know what Jennifer remembers about the rape, but she can't remember anything at all; Grissom tells her that this is a side-effect of the drug, and the attacker might have been counting on this. She tells them what little she knows: it was a floor party, and that's why she left, because someone that she lived with did this to her, and she would never know who it was.

At the dorm, Sara, Grissom and Warrick take the elevator up, and Sara asks Grissom why a rapist would volunteer his DNA? Grissom points out that they're looking for evidence in Paige's disappearance, and Warrick explains that they're pulling a 'bait and switch' where they get the DNA for use in one case, but once they have it, they can use it for any other purpose. They take samples from all the boys, and take them back to the lab; Greg tests them and gets a match to the semen.

At the baseball diamond, Brass and Grissom talk to Kevin Watson, and tell him that they know he assaulted Jennifer Riggs. He claims that he doesn't know anything about that or about Paige; Grissom tells him that they got the semen from the bed and matched it to his sample that he gave. He tells them that he was out of town on away games when Paige disappeared; they arrest him for the rape of Jennifer Riggs, and Warrick confirms that the team was away when Paige went missing.

Catherine and Nick continue to watch the security tapes; Catherine notices that the same car has circled around six times, and comments that circling twice might have meant that the person was looking for a parking spot, but six times is suspicious. They zoom in on the picture and note a parking permit in the front of the car, and that it's a silver Volvo. At the campus, they find the car; it belongs to Professor Robert Woodbury. They check the trunk of the car and find a blanket covering something; they pull it off and find golf clubs. Grissom tells Nick to take the car to the lab and process it.

In Professor Woodbury's office, they ask him about Paige; he admits that she was in his introductory course in philosophy. Grissom finds some broken pottery on the floor and comments that it could be signs of a struggle. Prof. Woodbury isn't telling them much, so Grissom tells him that Paige has been missing for six days now and they want to know where she is; they know that he was outside her dorm on the night that she disappeared, and his silence is only confirming his guilt for Grissom. Catherine tells him that they'll find out whatever it is that he's hiding; they'll get a warrant and search his house. Prof. Woodbury tells them that he's married, which they already know; he admits that he had an amorous relationship with Paige, but tells them that she was never in his car or his house, only in the office. He also tells them that he knew she was leaving and went to the dorm to talk to her before she went, to try to convince her to stay, or to say good-bye, but she never came down. Brass suggests that they continue the conversation at the station; Prof. Woodbury asks if he can meet them there, as he wants to go home and talk to his wife first. Brass allows him to do this, but sends an officer with him, just in case.

At the lab, Nick examines Professor Woodbury's car and finds hair caught between the seat and the headrest; there are skin tags on them, which he has tested, and they're Paige's.

They interview Professor Woodbury at the station; he tells them that the only thing that he had to hide was his affair from his wife, and now that she knows, he's willing to talk. They tell him that they found Paige's hair in the car, and he repeats that she was never in his car; he suggests that maybe it was transfer from his sweater, but they tell him that the hair was ripped from Paige's head. They also show him phone records that show a call was made from his home to Paige's room; he tells them that he only ever used his cell phone to call her, and on the day that the call from his home was made, he was at a faculty lunch and has witnesses who will corroborate this. Grissom asks about Mrs. Woodbury, and whether she works or not. They question Mrs. Woodbury, asking about the call made from the house, and whether she has keys to the Volvo; she says that they share the car, so yes, she has keys. She then tells them that she knew that her husband was having an affair, she's known about all his affairs. She says that she called Paige, and then took her for a ride to 'explain the facts of life,' to her; that Professor Woodbury was married with children, a house and a mortgage, and wouldn't be leaving any of those things. She admits that she wanted to attack Paige, and that she pulled her hair, but then apologized for it, and that was it. Grissom's cell phone rings; it's Warrick, and they've found the body at a garbage site where the compacted dumpster contents are dumped. Grissom meets him there and they find the compacted bundle with Paige's face in it.

Dr. Robbins tells them that the compactor didn't kill Paige; she was dead before that happened. He notes that she has a ruptured spleen from a blunt force trauma that came via her rib cage. He doesn't know what kind of weapon was used, and might never find out, since her body is so twisted that it's hard to tell.

They go back to dumpster and check it out again; Warrick finds some blood inside, not much, but enough for testing. Nick notes a scrape on the side of the dumpster, and some vehicle paint chips on the ground by the dumpster. Nick speculates that it might have been a hit and run accident and from the level of the scrape the car would have been something large like an SUV, he figures that the driver hit Paige and then threw her body in the dumpster. Catherine comments that the Woodburys have a silver car, not black like the vehicle paint that they've found at the dumpster. At the lab, Grissom finds that the car paint is from a car that was white, then red, then black; Nick finds that it's from a Cherokee, which narrows their scope. Warrick comes in and tells them that the blood in the dumpster is Paige's; Nick tells them that Brass has found the driver of the car, and is waiting for Grissom in the interview room. Mark Doyle tells them that his wife is expecting, and on the night that Paige disappeared, he got a call from her and thought that she was in labor, so he was rushing home, and took a short-cut through the university campus. He admits that he hit the dumpster when he swerved to miss a parked car, and that it was dark and wet, but insists that he only hit the dumpster and not a person. He tells them that if he'd hit a person, he would have stopped. They check his car and find that the scraping on his fender shows a clean hit against the dumpster, which means that he didn't hit Paige. Grissom comments that this is another dead end; he then says that since their solution is not 'neat, plausible and not wrong' then perhaps what they need is something that is messy, not plausible and right. What they're looking for are random events, like the chaos theory, that when applied to this situation all end in Paige's death; that somewhere between Paige's room and the dumpster holds their answer.

At the dorm, they re-create the evening; Sara looks out window and sees traffic, the cab waiting, and so turns to get her suitcases. Grissom points out that Paige didn't take the suitcases with her, so something else happened. Sara, acting the way she imagines Paige did, comments that she's been cleaning all day, and wants her security deposit back. Grissom asks her what's missing; Sara goes over the contents of the room and realizes that the trash can is missing. Grissom comments that the last thing that you do after cleaning is throw out the trash. They borrow a trash can from the room next door, and take it to the garbage chute; Sara notes that it snaps back the same way that Catherine did. Grissom stops a boy walking down the hall and tells him to count to 100, then drop the garbage can down the chute. Grissom and Sara go downstairs; just as they arrive at the dumpster, the garbage can comes down and goes into the dumpster. Grissom tells Nick, Catherine and Warrick that the garbage can was missing from Paige's room; Nick wonders how Paige ended up in the dumpster and Catherine says that Paige had to improvise, because there's no way to get it from the front, so she shows them by going behind the dumpster and climbing part-way in to reach the garbage can. Grissom comments that while Paige was reaching for the garbage can, Mark Doyle came along and hit the dumpster, knocking it into the wall, not even knowing that Paige was there. She was crushed between the dumpster and the wall, and died, falling into the dumpster as she did so.

At the station, Grissom tells Mr. and Mrs. Rycoff what happened, according to the evidence. They can't believe it, and won't accept that no one is to blame for their daughter's death. Mrs. Rycoff insists that someone must be responsible. Grissom tells them that no one is guilty of any crime. They say that they're not going to accept that, and they'll hire a private investigator to find out who is to blame. They leave; Catherine tells Grissom that the Rycoffs wanted closure; Grissom says that the truth brings closure, but Catherine points out that that's not always the case.


Main Cast

Guest Cast

  • Eric Szmanda as Greg Sanders
  • Robert David Hall as Dr. Al Robbins
  • Archie Kao as M. Blaze
  • Paula Francis as News Anchor
  • Dale Midkiff as Prof. Robert Woodbury
  • Clayne Crawford as Henry McFadden
  • Garrett M. Brown as Mr. Rycoff
  • Sherry Hursey as Mrs. Rycoff
  • Danielle Nicolet as Jennifer Riggs
  • Shelby Fenner as Paige Rycoff
  • Kate McNeil as Sharon Woodbury
  • Grant Garrison as Kevin Watson
  • Jon Hershfield as N.D. Student
  • Brent Sexton as Mark Doyle

Major Events

  • This episode marks Archie Kao's first appearance. But in this episode appears as security technician "M. Blaze." However, he is only known as "Archie Johnson" in future episodes.

Featured Music

  • "Glory Box" by Portishead


  • Archie Kao's first appearance in this episode for a special guest as M. Blaze.

See Also

CSI:Las Vegas Season 2
BurkedChaos TheoryOverloadBully for YouScuba Doobie-DooAlter BoysCagedSlaves of Las VegasAnd Then There Were NoneEllieOrgan GrinderYou've Got MaleIdentity CrisisThe FingerBurden of ProofPrimum Non NocereFelonious MonkChasing The BusStalkerCats in the CradleAnatomy of a LyeCross JurisdictionsThe Hunger Artist