No, now it's my turn...
James to the Hartways before killing them

James Thomas was a serial-turned-spree killer and one-time mass murderer who appeared in the Season Six episode "Compromising Positions".


James and his wife, Mary-Ann, were regular swingers. He would usually select husbands for Mary-Ann, let them have sex with her and then step in himself. In his personal life, he worked as a freelancing locksmith. In 2009, he suffered from a condition called prostatic hyperplasia. He went in for a routine surgery which went bad, forcing the doctors to remove the whole prostate, rendering him impotent in the process. He and Mary-Ann still kept attending swingers' parties, even though he couldn't take part in the activities. One day, his wife became pregnant by another man, intending to try and make James happy by making him a father. This loss of control drove James to murder the man who impregnated Mary-Ann. Sometime later, being further spurred by his impotence, he started serial killing, targeting couples whose husbands were alpha males that he met previously.

Compromising Positions

At the beginning of the episode, James, having claimed the lives of the Kepplers a week prior, has completed his ritual again, forcing the Hartways to have sex in a car and then killing them. The two double homicides lead to the BAU being called in by the local police department. During his attack on the Wilsons, the husband puts up too much of a fight, completely destroying the fantasy. After a long struggle, James is able to reach his gun and shoot the husband to death. He then turns to the wife, forcing her to say she wants him. In an attempt to survive, she plays along, even taking off her robe, only to be shot and killed as well. The following night, James attends another swingers' party. The host of the party, Leslie Sanders, lets him in, knowing him but asks why Mary-Ann isn't with him; James claims that she is on her way and is trusted. On the dance floor, he sees a dancing couple being approached by another man, which is his usual fantasy. As the trio make out on a couch, James watches them and grows increasingly frustrated until he snaps, pulls out a pair of handguns, and shoots the two men and any other man in his sight. He then begins moving around the house, shooting any men he can find and escapes. When investigating the scene of the mass shooting, Reid and Rossi discover that James unlocked a door by successfully picking it rather than shooting it open (even though it was a deadbolt lock that could be easily shot through), an act which only a professional can do.

Garcia narrows down the list of potential suspects to James. The BAU and local police raid his home and find Mary-Ann, who, surprisingly, is pregnant. They question her, trying to learn who the father is, but she keeps claiming that James is the father, even though his impotence predates her pregnancy and there is no record of them using insemination to try and conceive. Reid shows her crime scene photos of men who have been killed by the same type of weapon that James uses. When she sees one of them, she breaks down and admits that he is the father, not James. They ask her about their prior sexual habits since James, based on the BAU's profile, is most likely revisiting old patterns. She tells them that they used to do pickup roleplays at a local bar named Dunley's.

Craig Sheffer

Prentiss and James at the bar.

The BAU go to the bar and find James there. Since he is highly mentally unstable and there will be a lot of collateral damage if provoked, Prentiss goes in pretending to be a fellow swinger who met him years earlier when together with a boyfriend. She begins chatting him up in order to distract him while the others approach him. Realizing that she is lying when she gets his pattern wrong (he always chose husbands for Mary-Ann, never boyfriends), James grabs a gun within his jacket. While SWAT enters, Prentiss reaches into her handbag and shoots James through it. As he lays dying, he tries to ask Prentiss to tell Mary-Ann that he loves her. Though he is unable to complete the sentence, Prentiss understands and says that she will, right before he dies.

Modus Operandi

James targeted couples of various races and socio-economic lifestyles. He always previously came across the husbands during his line of work; they were always educated and overly achieving alpha males. From this, James knew their wives would be beautiful since it is typical of alpha males to marry the most attractive women. He obtained their personal information by using his skills as a locksmith to open their gym lockers and duplicate the keys for their homes and cars. He would then use the keys to break into the couples' homes or cars and waited until they were inside. Once they were, he would force them at gunpoint to bind themselves with handcuffs, make the men ingest Viagra, and force them to undress and have sex in front of him. To give the atmosphere a romantic feeling, James set up a scenery with candles and soft music (depending on what kind of background scene was permitted of the act). He also made the husbands wear a condom to make things as comfortable as possible. Once the couple was done, he would kill the husbands by repeatedly shooting them with a suppressed 9mm handgun and stab the wives repeatedly with a knife. The shots were usually not immediately fatal, so as to assure that the husbands would live long enough to see James kill their wives.

During the Wilson murders, James shot both of them to death when his ritual was interrupted and his fantasy destroyed by the violent retaliation of the husband. During the mass shooting at the swingers' party, he utilized an unsuppressed pair of his usual handguns and targeted only the men, ignoring any women he came across at the property. When he killed his first victim (the same man who impregnated his wife), he shot him with the same silenced 9mm handgun out of revenge.


The unsub is an emasculated Caucasian alpha male in his 40s with a near obsessive-compulsive need for control, and judging by the repeated details of the murders, it seems that his ritual is essential to him. These patterns are how he maintains dominance in a world that he feels powerless in, both sexually and socially. He is a troilist, or someone who gets off on staging scenes and participating in them, such as recording sexual acts on camera or coming to swinger parties.[1] The point for him is the overall performance of the act. He almost definitely has some woman in his life, most likely a wife, as he would otherwise not be allowed to enter inside a swingers' party alone.

The fact that his fantasy involves two men (himself and his male victims) with one woman (his female victims) suggests that it was about sharing his wife with an unmarried man and then stepping in to prove his masculinity. He practiced this fantasy in his ordinary life, but, when he became impotent for some reason, he could no longer complete it and began killing to regain control. He is forcing the men to have sex with their wives instead of his wife and attempting to prove his masculinity over them by shooting them and letting them live long enough to see the overkill he performs on their wives by stabbing them, instead of having sex with them due to his impotence. He would not have been the only one questioning his manhood, as his wife would have done so as well. She may have cheated on him or left him; either way, his wife would have been his first loss of control. The involvement of contraception in his rituals seems to be an important detail as well.

Paul Wilson's attack showed him how physically weak he was, and Debra Wilson's enticement reminded him of how futile his fantasies were. Because of his last murders, which went very wrong and disrupted his ritual, he will begin a process called "decompensating", which describes the collapse of OCD patterns that mentally-ill patients use to cope; once one pattern fails, they all do. This means that, since his ritualized fantasy has failed, it will affect his future ones, making him extremely dangerous to the public, and since his first loss of control was most likely his wife, he will start pursuing new fantasies. If he is decompensating, his wife will be the pattern he will attack next as part of the breakdown or women like her. At the end of a decompensation, the unsub will go in a temporary psychotic break and start revisiting old patterns to see if they would still work. When he finds that they do not, he will be compelled to destroy them and anyone involved in them.

Real-Life Comparison

James may have been based on David Berkowitz (who he was compared to in the episode) - Both were serial killers who shot and killed at least one couple in their car with a hand-held gun at night, and had a similar cooling-off period.

Known Victims

  • 2010:
    • July-September: Richard Johnson (father of Mary-Ann's unborn baby)
    • October 3: Robert and Allison Keppler (killed in their house)
    • October 10: Scott and Kathy Hartway (killed in their car)
    • October 12: Paul and Debra Wilson (both were shot at point-blank range in their house)
    • October 13:
      • Eight men killed, and likely several others injured, in the swingers' party massacre. Known casualties are:
        • The two unnamed men shot first (both shot repeatedly)
        • An unnamed man (shot in the head)
        • An unnamed man having sex with the host (the last fatality in the shooting)
      • The Dunley's bar standoff:
        • Numerous unnamed bar employees and customers (intended to shoot)
        • Emily Prentiss (attempted to shoot)


  • James Thomas is the seventh of only twelve serial killers in the show's history to have killed at least a dozen victims, yet not be a prolific killer because the span of their crimes was less than three years. The others are:
  • James seemed to have been inspired by Floyd Hansen ("Paradise") - Both were serial killers who targeted couples, found their victims through their occupations, had a sexual component in their crimes (Thomas would force the couples to have sex in front of him, while Hansen would rape the wives), taunted the husbands by forcing them to see their wives being victimized, and committed a murder that was initially undetected by the local authorities and the BAU (which was also their very first). The BAU also initially assuming that James was a sexual sadist seems to be an allusion to how Floyd was a sexual sadist.



  1. This is an incorrect term, since troilism actually refers to sexual activity involving three participants (which is what James would do during his first stage of killings)
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