|“||How you feeling? ...You cold? ...That's from the fever.||”|
— Cunningham to Russell Holmes
Cunningham was born in 1986, likely in Two Rivers, Wisconsin. On April 21, 1999, his younger brother Hunter contracted rabies after being bitten by an infected bat during a camping trip. Cunningham was twelve years old at the time, considered an impressionable age. Three weeks later, Hunter was admitted to a hospital to receive treatment for the disease after the symptoms began to worsen, but when it became clear that it was too late to save him, his parents Patrick and Wanda signed him out a week after his admittance so he could die in the safety of their home. As Hunter suffered, a curious Cunningham recorded it on a tape recorder and was left with an impacting psychological imprint. Eventually, his parents decided to kill Hunter in order to put him out of his misery and buried his body in a local wildlife reserve. As time passed, Patrick died and Wanda moved to Las Vegas, Nevada.
Likely because he was unable to see out Hunter's suffering in its entirety, Cunningham built up increasing psychopathic tendencies for the rest of his life, keeping the tape recorder and becoming an avid researcher on rabies, owning several books on the subject. He eventually began working jobs at pest-control companies in Milwaukee, at least two of which he was fired from due to stealing equipment from them. He later came to acquire some sort of rabid animal, which he would later use to infect his first victim, a randomly chosen man named Melvin Lewis (who was also coincidentally a pest-control worker), after he finally snapped in October 2013. By March 2014, Cunningham had claimed the lives of two more victims (their bodies being buried in the same wildlife preserve where Hunter's body was buried at) and had a fourth victim, a woman named Liz Foley, infected with rabies.
In the beginning of the episode, Cunningham abducts a man named Russell Holmes off the streets. He takes him to the animal shelter, where he holds him captive and begins recording him with his camera. The following morning, his dump-site is discovered by the authorities, leading to the summoning of the BAU. After a while, Cunningham incapacitates Holmes and has a manic Foley bite him. He then watches as Holmes begins to slowly succumb to the symptoms of rabies over a long period of time. However, Foley manages to escape from her captivity after she breaks free from her restraints by biting through them, and she is eventually captured by the BAU after she wanders aimlessly around town, frightening other residents with her manic behavior and nearly biting some of them. Garcia later finds the animal shelter following the options given to her, and the BAU break into the building unsupported by backup. They find and rescue Holmes, while Cunningham is apprehended after engaging in a short fight with Morgan and Reid. By the end of the episode, Holmes is successfully cured, but Foley slips into a coma as a result from her rabies infection and eventually dies off-screen.
"If you try to fight or run, you get the stick."
All of Cunningham's victims were chosen at random (though his first three victims were all coincidentally single and lived alone), since the infection process and death from rabies was the only thing that mattered to him. After abducting them, likely through some kind of ruse (judging by the scene of Russell Holmes' abduction, in which he posed as a vagrant), he would take them over to an abandoned animal shelter, where he would restrain them (usually to beds inside animal cages), torture them by spraying them with water using a powerful hose, and electrocuting them with a cattle prod. He would threaten to use the latter torture method on them if they fought back or tried to escape, as means of subjugating them.
After a while, Cunningham would then incapacitate them and then set a previously abducted victim, who was infected with rabies, upon them (except for his first victim, Melvin Lewis, who was instead bitten and infected by an unknown animal suffering from the disease). The new victims would be bitten and slowly infected, while the old victims would die of cardiac arrest, being buried together in the same wildlife preserve Hunter was buried at afterwards. Cunningham would record the entire infection process (and likely death) with a handheld camera and upload the footage onto a laptop. He would always wear protective gear to avoid being infected by his victims. After a while, he would repeat the process of his M.O. again, abducting a new victim to infect. With each victim, it took progressively less time for the symptoms of the rabies to appear, as Cunningham became more efficient in reducing the incubation period.
Based on the area's demographics, the unsub is a white male in his mid-20s to late-30s. All of the victims that were found had died from rabies, with the last two having human bite marks. Dental records confirmed that those bite wounds came from the other victims, which means that one way or another, he is facilitating biting attacks between the victims. He is a sadist who gets off on watching the attacks and may record them so he can relive the moment over and over again. Being around since documented history, rabies has the highest case to mortality rates in existence and is arguably the deadliest disease known to man; the vaccine is only effective if it is taken within 24 hours of infection, but once the symptoms appear, death is inevitable. It is also contagious and it is at great risk to the unsub for him to be using this method to kill, meaning that it holds some special significance to him, likely through the loss of a pet or even a relative to the virus. It is not easy to get a sample of the virus, so he most likely started with an animal that has rabies. As a result, he may have worked at a veterinary clinic or a pest control company. What he is doing takes deliberation and patience and is rooted in a need-based desire, so he is not going to stop on his own.
He is taking progressively less time with infecting his victims, which means he may have found a way to decrease the incubation period. He may also be some kind of symphorophiliac, but instead of setting a fire or causing an accident and watching the ensuing mayhem, he just wants to watch his victims die. He will be holding his victims in a building that is isolated, industrial, or abandoned.
The dates denote when the victims were abducted
- October 28: Melvin Lewis (infected by an unknown animal; died on December 28-29)
- December 29-30: Rudy Hightower (infected by Melvin Lewis; died on January 29-31, 2014)
- January 29: Susan Clark (infected by Rudy Hightower; died on February 26)
- February 22: Liz Foley (abducted, held captive, and infected by Susan Clark; she escaped on March 12, but slipped into a coma and died shortly afterwards)
- March 11: Russell Holmes (abducted, held captive, tortured, bitten by Liz Foley, and intended to kill; was rescued two days later and successfully cured)
- March 13: The raid at the abandoned animal shelter:
- Steve Monroe, the actor who portrayed Cunningham, also played Jordan Raines, a copycat killer, in the drama series The Following.
- A coma that is induced by rabies signifies eventual death from the disease