|“||Are you ready, Sarah Jean? Gonna ride the lightning, baby!||”|
An only child, Dawes was abused emotionally and sexually by his mother throughout his childhood. Later in life, Dawes became a carpenter, married Sarah Jean Mason, and began torturing and murdering teenage girls around 1985. After claiming at least eighteen victims, with twelve of them being buried underneath his workshop, Dawes was interviewed by police in 1990 after Mason, overcome by guilt, made an anonymous call to the authorities. Realizing the police were likely to come back, and wanting to flee before that happened, Dawes, thinking his two-year-old son Riley was merely a liability, ordered Mason to kill him and dispose of the body. Though Mason told Dawes she murdered Riley, she had actually given him to the Sheffields, a family she cleaned for. When the police came back with a search warrant, they arrested the pair after discovering the twelve bodies under the workshop. Dawes confessed to the murders, while Mason confessed to killing Riley, and both of them were sentenced to death and imprisoned in the Florida State Penitentiary.
Riding the Lightning
In the episode, Dawes is interviewed by Hotch, who is hoping to find out if he is responsible of any more murders, but he will not confess to any of them; instead, he wants to play card games. When JJ walks into the interrogation room, Dawes agrees to confess to one more murder for each time that Hotch and JJ win, but if he wins, he will get to smell JJ's hair. Hotch declines at the same time that JJ agrees to the deal. When Hotch wins, Dawes tells them there are no more girls. Then, Hotch claims that the State granted a delay of execution for Mason. Believing it to be true, Dawes becomes enraged and tells them where she had buried Riley, only to be discovered that the body is not Riley, but another victim, Ashley Farley. Hotch goes back to question Dawes, but he is denied any more information. When Dawes is being walked to the chair, he begins yelling about how he and Mason are meant to be and die together and that they are "gonna ride the lightning". As Dawes is about to die, Hotch holds up the picture of the teenage Riley, proving Mason's innocence, which ruins Dawes's plan to take Sarah Jean with him. Hotch tells him he lost and Dawes becomes angry, growling out, "No." He is then executed.
A psychiatric evaluation of Dawes done during his imprisonment diagnosed him as a sexual psychopath who craved power, manipulation, and control, was incapable of guilt or remorse, and who saw Mason as merely a possession he could dominate, like his victims. Human sexuality is a complex dynamic consisting of three components: biological, physiological and emotional. Dawes' emotional needs were formed by his mother's long-term emotional and sexual abuse, which formed the template of his love map, and resulted in his disorder. As Dawes was alone during the abuse he suffered, he would logically need to be alone with his victims while torturing them to properly fulfill his fantasies.
"I made my peace eighteen times, and each one was prettier than Him."
Dawes targeted blonde, Caucasian teenage girls, and told police Sarah Jean (whose stated involvements in the abductions were undoubtedly a lie) would lure them from mall parking lots and into his truck by promising them marijuana. After abducting them, Dawes took the girls to his workshop, where he tortured them to death with his tools and dismembered the bodies with a bench saw. The remains were originally buried under the workshop, but, after running out of room, Dawes began burying them under structures he was hired to build, like his mother-in-law's living room and another client's gazebo.
Dawes has some similarities to John Wayne Gacy - Both were prolific and ephebophilic serial killers who were abused by a parent (Dawes' mother and Gacy's father respectively), targeted teenagers of a certain gender (females in Dawes' case, males and also young men in Gacy's), lured them to their houses using a ruse, tortured them, and both disposed of the bodies by burying them under the floor in their houses, and were sentenced to death and executed. Also, Mason painting while in prison could be a slight nod to Gacy, who also made paintings while on death row.
Another possible source of inspiration may have been Fred West - Both were prolific and ephebophilic serial killers and who tortured and killed young girls and buried them on their property. West was also aided by his wife, which Dawes was incorrectly believed to have been.
- Unspecified dates from 1985 to 1990: Killed at least 18 victims during a five-year span. Named ones are:
- Ashley Farley
- Hilary Dickson (his last victim)
- September 1990: Riley Dawes (his son; attempted; had ordered Sarah to kill him)