|“||See all those people out there?! Huh?! They're all gonna know me!||”|
— Peterson shortly before his death
Michael Lee Peterson was a psychopathic and international copycat, thrill killer, budding serial rapist, one-time school shooter, one-time cop killer, one-time pedophile, and serial-turned-spree killer. He appeared in the Season Eleven episode of Criminal Minds, "Tribute".
Peterson was born on February 19, 1981 in Joliet, Illinois, to Vincent and Lorraine Peterson and was raised in a poor household. Vincent was later sent to prison for two counts of armed robbery and served most of his sentence at Stateville Correctional Center]], where mass murderer Richard Speck and serial killer John Wayne Gacy were also imprisoned. Lorraine and her son visited Vincent every weekend, and during those visits, the latter observed the inmate hierarchy, in which serial killers would be at the top in terms of respect while snitches and pedophiles were at the bottom. It was also presumed that he may have seen Speck during some of the visits, and possibly even interacted with him, judging by Peterson's conversation with the boy. This exposure triggered a deep fascination of serial killing, as well as a passion for extreme thrill-seeking and a desire to gain the respect his father never got. In March 2005, Vincent had to be transferred out of Stateville Correctional and into Regan Penitentiary for his own safety, after he was stabbed repeatedly and nearly killed when he was about to testify against his partner-in-crime. Peterson later started picking fights at school, resulting in him being expelled from four different schools. On November 7, 2006, Lorraine, who raised Peterson alone for most of his life, died of a stroke.
In 2010, Peterson got a job as a deckhand for a crab-fishing vessel, allowing him to easily seek out thrills due to the dangers of the job. When his father died in 2014, he took advantage of his job to begin serial killing in different countries. For his crimes, he chose to emulate the M.O.s of the most infamous serial killers of the past, as a way to seek out more thrills through the pressure of being actively sought by the public. His first murder occurred on September 12, 2014, at Rostov, Russia, where he raped, mutilated, and killed a girl named Natasha Dudechenko in an emulation of the M.O. of Andrei Chikatilo, "The Rostov Ripper". Peterson was spotted at the crime scene by Russian police, but he managed to escape before they could apprehend him. In March 2015, Peterson arrived at London, England, and began killing prostitutes in the Whitechapel area, as an emulation of Jack the Ripper. Interpol became aware of the murders and assisted investigators in tracking him down, with Emily Prentiss taking supervision of the joint investigation. Prentiss eventually got the idea of luring Peterson out with an undercover officer and selected Detective Inspector Louise Hulland for the job, despite the higher-ups' disapproval of the idea. However, the operation failed, resulting in Hulland's murder and Peterson's escape. The botched operation has since traumatized Prentiss.
"Who's next? You? You. Decisions, decisions! ...You win, rich girl!"
Peterson is first seen in Prentiss' flashback about the undercover operation. In the middle of the operation, Prentiss comes into the warehouse to rescue Hulland. Once she finds her, badly wounded from multiple stab wounds, Peterson appears and incapacitates Prentiss. She grabs her handgun and shoots at him, but he is protected by a bulletproof vest. Peterson starts to laugh at Prentiss' attempts to kill him before escaping. Hulland dies from her injuries afterward.
In the present day, Peterson returns to the U.S. and continues killing in 2016. First, he emulates the Boston Strangler's M.O. in Boston in August. A month later, he proceedes to the Bronx, New York City, to emulate David Berkowitz. His emulation of Berkowitz's first shooting alerts Prentiss, who calls in the rest of the BAU to help her in the investigation. Peterson is then seen in his hotel room cleaning up his bloodied clothes in the sink. Afterward, he goes to the main room, where he listens in on a Discovery Channel episode about the life cycle of salmon. He sits on the bed, grabs his revolver, and opens it. Then, he grabs a bullet, puts it in his mouth, and plays around with it. Afterward, he takes it out, puts it in the gun, closes the chamber, and lies down on the bed. Meanwhile, Monica DeJesus, who was shot in the leg by Peterson, but left alive by him as part of the emulation, is interrogated by Prentiss and JJ and provides a composite sketch of her attacker.
The following night, Peterson spots a wealthy couple, Trent and Rhonda Klein, in Queens. Whipped into a frenzy by their affluence, he kills them in an emulation of elements of Berkowitz's second and sixth shootings. When he is spotted by police entering the warehouse a block away, the BAU is informed, but they miss him and instead arrive at the scene of the Kleins' deaths, which frustrates Prentiss. Later, Peterson returns to his hotel room, where he is seen packing up his gear and then leaving. Then, he travels to Chicago by taking a bus. During the bus ride, Peterson reads a book about America's most infamous killers. Just then, he notices a boy sitting across from him staring at him and trying to read the book, and he tells him that it is not polite to stare. Peterson then starts talking to the boy and gives him a bullet, which he claims is lucky because it doesn't have the boy's name on it. The next morning, the bus arrives in Chicago in a bus depot. The passengers start to get off the bus and the boy tries to give Peterson back the bullet, but he tells him to be quiet, keep the bullet, and not to tell his mother about their conversation. The boy hides the bullet from her and they both leave the bus. Before the boy gets off, Peterson says goodbye to him by imitating a gun being fired and the boy does the same thing.
After Peterson leaves the bus, he goes to Northeast State University in nearby Evanston with the intention of emulating Richard Speck's attack on a townhouse. He wanders around and eventually approaches a student named Megan Ross, striking up a friendly conversation with her. He pretends to be a new professor and asks where Mason Hall, a sorority dormitory, is, claiming to be meeting an assistant there. All the while, he eyes Ross' jewelry, and when she leaves, he frowns bitterly at her. The following night, at Mason Hall, Ross' roommate Charlotte comes into her room and tells her about a serial killer that the FBI is looking for. When shown a wanted poster with Peterson's photo, Ross is shocked and tells Charlotte about her earlier encounter with him. They both call the FBI hotline, but are interrupted by Peterson, who steps into the room and orders Ross to put the phone down, which she does. He then takes both girls hostage and forces them to another room. When a student named Kasey answers Ross' knocks and opens the door, Peterson takes her hostage as well. Once everyone is inside the room, Peterson kills Kasey. Afterward, he drags her body to another location. Ross takes advantage of the distraction to grab a nearby pair of scissors. Peterson then reappears and holds both girls at gunpoint, taunting them and asking out loud who he should kill next.
Eventually, Peterson chooses Charlotte, but when he is about to kill her, Ross stands up, yells at him to let her go, and tries to stab him with the scissors. However, he grabs her arm and stops her, but both girls manage to hold onto Peterson's arms, which causes his revolver to go off. The BAU, having just arrived at Mason Hall, are alerted to his location by the gunshots. Charlotte bites Peterson's arm, which causes him to drop his revolver. Then, in a fit of rage, he throws Charlotte onto the bed and subdues Ross by throwing her against a picture frame, causing her to drop the scissors. Charlotte manages to escape, finds the BAU, and tells them that Peterson is going to kill Ross. Prentiss, JJ, and Rossi step inside the room, as Peterson holds Ross at gunpoint. Though he threatens them that he will kill her if they come close, Prentiss steps forward and reminds Peterson about their encounter in London. This surprises him, who comments that she followed him all the way to the U.S. She then adds that police agencies all over the world are looking for him. The agents then try to talk him down by telling him that he will be all over the news if he surrenders. Embellished by this, Peterson starts ranting about how they are going to write books about him and how everyone in the world will know about him. When he turns his head towards the window to observe responding police officers, still ranting, Prentiss shoots Peterson through the side of the forehead in mid-sentence, killing him instantly.
As Peterson copied the M.O.s of infamous serial killers, he killed his victims through a variety of means, such as strangulation, throat slashing, and shooting. In the case of Natasha Dudechenko, he raped her to emulate the sexual assault Andrei Chikatilo performed on his victims, most notably his first victim, nine-year-old Lena Zakotnova. He originally went out of his way to emulate every detail of the original murders, by operating in the same areas and even shooting a victim but allowing her to live in order to emulate David Berkowitz's first shooting.
However, in his later killings, he became increasingly less focused as he channeled his rage towards people of affluence. By the time he attempted to emulate Richard Speck during the attack on Mason Hall, he ignored the more important aspects of Speck's M.O.: he targeted college students at a sorority dormitory instead of nurses at a townhouse, staged his attack in the northern and more affluent side of Chicago instead of the southern side, shot his victims instead of stabbing or strangling them, apparently had no intention of raping or torturing his victims, and attacked three victims instead of eight (likely because it was the most reasonable number of potential victims he could achieve)
His signature was loitering at the scenes of the killings so he could be spotted by responding police officers and get a rush out of narrowly escaping them. He would always kill his victims between the months of March and September since he would be busy working as a deckhand between October and February.
"They're gonna write books about me! I'm even gonna make you famous..."
The unsub is a narcissistic copycat killer. While most copycats emulate other murderers due to either low self-esteem, identity issues, or low confidence, this unsub is different as he has high confidence in himself. He is brazenly copying high-profile murders and he is currently doing so locally. The fact that he is only active between the months of March and September means he has a way to make money between the months of October and February in order to finance his crimes; it is probably a cash business occupation so he does not leave a paper trail. Given his particular skill set, he is likely a thief, drug dealer, or a member of an organized criminal organization. He is extremely mobile, so he may be going to an airport, train station, or bus station that could take him to the location where he will kill next. His fascination with serial killers is deeply embedded in his psyche and is part of what drives him, meaning he was exposed to the subject at a young age. He may be a victim who survived, related to a victim who survived or was killed or even connected to a perpetrator.
Peterson is similar to Milton Johnson - Both were serial/spree killers, rapists (Peterson budding serial), and cop killers from Joliet, Illinois, targeted victims of both genders, killed them with guns or bladed weapons (though Peterson's M.O. was various), shot couples in their cars, took items from them afterwards, killed during specific periods of time (Johnson operated on weekends, while Peterson only killed between March and September), and their last crimes occurred in their home state of Illinois (though Johnson operated there exclusively while Peterson killed in several states and even other countries). Their names also seem to mirror each other slightly.
Peterson may have been inspired by Ted Bundy - Both were serial killers and serial rapists (budding at least) who were very charming, primarily targeted women (though Peterson also killed men, and Bundy claimed to have), had a varying M.O. (including strangulation), operated in multiple states, and were originally organized but later devolved as their killings came to a close, with their last attacks being in a sorority dormitory. Also, the fact that Peterson's first victim was a little girl may be an allusion to Bundy's unconfirmed first victim being a little girl.
Peterson may have also been inspired by Stephen Griffiths - Both were narcissistic serial killers who had a criminal parent, lived most of their childhood and adolescence with their mothers, owned books about infamous killers and had a deep fascination with serial killing from an early age, were regarded as violent juvenile delinquents, and classified as psychopaths. Though not exactly a copycat killing, the way Griffiths chose Bradford to commit his murders in order to "honor" another serial killer, Peter Sutcliffe, is similar to how Peterson went out of his way to kill victims in the same locations as the serial killers he was copying, as a tribute to them.
Peterson may have been based on Yoo Young-chul - Both were serial/spree killers and rapists (Peterson budding serial) who grew up in poor neighborhoods (which caused them to resent the wealthy), racked up lengthy criminal records at an early age, targeted both single victims (usually prostitutes) and couples, stabbed some of them to death, and in one case a female victim was left for dead and found, but was unable to be saved in time.
- Unspecified dates: Numerous unspecified fights
- September 12, 2014, Rostov, Russia: Natasha Dudechenko (raped, mutilated, and fatally strangled; mutilated again and removed her eyes and tongue post-mortem; based on Andrei Chikatilo)
- March-April 2015, London, England, U.K.: The Jack the Ripper-based killings:
- Allison Cobb (eviscerated and her throat slashed)
- Carol Archer (eviscerated and her throat slashed like the previous victim)
- Detective Inspector Louise Hulland (stabbed in the stomach, slashed her throat, and left for dead)
- Emily Prentiss (incidental; assaulted after she found Louise)
- 2016, U.S.:
- August, Boston, Massachusetts: Unnamed woman (sexually assaulted, then strangled with nylon stockings; based on the Boston Strangler)
- New York City, New York: The David Berkowitz-based shootings:
- September 11: Camille Harrison and Monica DeJesus (both shot with a .44 Charter Arms Bulldog revolver; based on Berkowitz's shootings of Donna Lauria and Jody Valenti):
- Camille Harrison (shot once in the head)
- Monica DeJesus (assaulted; shot once in the leg and left alive)
- September 12: Trent and Rhonda Klein (both shot repeatedly with the same revolver; partially based on Berkowitz's shootings of Carl Denaro and Rosemary Keenan, and Alexander Esau and Valentina Suriani):
- Trent Klein (shot seven times and stuffed his own watch down his mouth post-mortem)
- Rhonda Klein (shot at least six times)
- September 11: Camille Harrison and Monica DeJesus (both shot with a .44 Charter Arms Bulldog revolver; based on Berkowitz's shootings of Donna Lauria and Jody Valenti):
- September 13, Evanston, Illinois: The Mason Hall shooting and standoff (based on Richard Speck's townhouse attack):
- Megan Ross (assaulted and intended to kill; later held at gunpoint)
- Charlotte (assaulted and attempted to kill)
- Kasey (shot once in the head with a revolver)
- Peterson appears to have been based on at least eighteen unsubs from the show's past and is tied with Kevin Decker for having the highest number of inspirations (with a total of eighteen). This makes Peterson the unsub with the highest number of inspirations. They are:
- Season One
- Franklin Graney ("Plain Sight") - Both were serial killers and rapists (budding at least) who primarily targeted women (Peterson also killed a man) and killed them in their homes by strangling them with ligatures.
- Eddie Mays ("Blood Hungry") - Both were spree killers who slashed their third victim (both female)'s throats and eviscerated them post-mortem.
- Season Two
- Carl Buford ("Profiler, Profiled" and "Restoration") - Both were pedophilic serial killers who targeted children (once in Peterson's case) and sexually assaulted them before strangling them to death. Buford also appeared in Season Eight.
- Sarah Danlin ("Jones") - Both were copycats and serial-turned-spree killers who copied Jack the Ripper and emulated his M.O. by eviscerating their victims.
- Season Three
- Season Four
- Eric Ryan Olson ("Zoe's Reprise") - Both were psychopathic copycats, budding serial rapists, and serial-turned-spree killers who devolved, copied the M.O.s of famous serial killers from the past, including Jack the Ripper and David Berkowitz, and who killed someone close to the investigation (Peterson killed an undercover police officer, while Olson killed a college student independently investigating his murders), which subsequently caused a BAU member connected to these victims to feel responsible and take said investigation on a personal level. Also, at one point, Lewis assumed that Peterson might be trying to search for an M.O. he could personally get off on, much like what Olson was doing.
- George Foyet ("Omnivore", "To Hell and Back, part 2", and "100") - Both were serial-turned-spree killers and cop killers who killed victims of both gender by shooting them with revolvers or stabbing and mutilating them with knives, were personally involved with one BAU agent, and were ultimately killed by that BAU agent. Foyet also appeared in Season Five.
- Hugh Rollins ("A Shade of Gray") - Both were pedophilic budding serial rapists and serial killers (budding at least) who targeted children (once in Peterson's case) and sexually assaulted them before strangling them to death.
- Season Five
- Earl Bulford ("The Eyes Have It") - Both were enucleators and serial-turned-spree killers who killed at least three of their victims by slashing their throats and removing their eyes post-mortem.
- Ronald Boyd ("[[[A Rite of Passage]]") - Both were copycats, one-time cop killers, one-time enucleators, and serial-turned-spree killers who removed the eyes and cut out the tongue of one of their victims' post-mortem, killed one female cop who was involved in the investigations of their murders, and were ultimately shot and killed by a BAU member.
- Billy Flynn ("Our Darkest Hour" and "The Longest Night") - Both were psychopathic serial-turned-spree killers, serial rapists (budding at least), and one-time cop killers who used revolvers, had varying M.O.s (including rape and shooting), had odd habits of putting their revolver bullets in their mouths, and were ultimately shot and killed by a BAU agent who had a personal grudge against them for killing a law enforcement agent. Flynn also appeared in Season Six.
- Season Seven
- Caleb Rossmore ("True Genius") - Both were organized serial killers and copycats who copied the M.O.'s of real-life serial killers, are based on real-life serial killers (Peterson is based on Ted Bundy, while Rossmore is based on Heriberto Seda), killed their first victims (who were also children) by strangling them, and committed a double homicide in which they killed a couple in their car by shooting them with a revolver.
- Season Eight
- Season Ten
- Claire Dunbar ("If the Shoe Fits") - Both were serial-turned-spree killers with criminal fathers and stuffed their third victim's watch down their throats post-mortem.
- Patrick Jon Murphy ("Breath Play") - Both were rapists and serial killers who primarily targeted women (Peterson also killed a man), witnessed crime at an early age (Peterson's father was a criminal and he saw many murderers while visiting him in prison, while Murphy saw his neighbor accidentally kill his wife), and later killed women in their homes by strangling them with ligatures.
- Jerry Tidwell ("Beyond Borders") - Both were serial killers who were active in the U.S. and foreign countries, were triggered to commit their murders after one of their male relatives died, worked in the fishing industry, occupations that they took advantage of to travel around to commit their international killings, and were shot and killed while holding a female victim at gunpoint.
- Danny Lee Stokes ("Protection") - Both were serial-turned-spree killers who shot two victims repeatedly at night while they were in a vehicle, having to reload at least once.
- Daniel Dryden (Killer Profile) - Both were copycats, serial-turned-spree killers, and one-time cop killers who devolved, copied the M.O.s of famous serial killers from the past (including Berkowitz), and killed a member of law enforcement. Both also went out of their way to emulate the M.O.s almost exactly, all the way down to the approximate location of where the original murders occurred. In addition, their last attacks involved unsuccessful attempts to copy the M.O. of Richard Speck.
- Season One
- Possibly coincidentally, Peterson had a pattern in the number of victims he killed. He killed one victim in Rostov, then three in London, then one in Boston, then three in New York City, then one in Chicago.
- While Speck was indeed imprisoned at Stateville Correctional, Gacy was not in real life; he was actually executed at that prison, while he was incarcerated on death row at Menard Correctional Center
- The fictional Northeast State University, while stated to be in Chicago, was clarified to be in Evanston in this CBS article, as a reference to its real-life counterpart Northwestern University