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Is it worse than you thought?
Dr. Howard while he makes his victims experience their worst fears

Doctor Stanley "Stan" Howard was a serial killer who appeared in the Season Three episode of Criminal Minds, "Scared to Death".


Born in Portland, Oregon, in 1964 and raised by an abusive mother, Howard developed a severe fear of the dark in his childhood, his fear having presumably originated from his mother locking him in the closet as a means of punishing him. Howard grew up to be a psychiatrist, telling his wife Jane (who he adopted a daughter named Jessica with) that his mother was the inspiration for him taking up the profession, yet never elaborating on what he meant by that. Howard's mother died in 2006. He shut down his practice on August 23, shortly after her death, not telling his family this and covering his tracks by continually renewing the lease on the building he once operated out of, even after the structure was demolished. Setting up an office in a property owned by his wife's family, Howard made the empty building appear as if it was in use and began his killings, murdering fifteen people over a year by using their worst fears against them.

Scared to Death[]

The episode begins with Howard murdering a claustrophobic woman named Jenny Whitman by sealing her in a box until she suffocates. Afterward, he dumps her corpse over in the same backwoods trail where he buried his other victims. The mass grave is discovered by the authorities a short while later.

Howard then meets with an aquaphobic patient named Patrick Walker and takes him to a lake. As part of his therapy, he slowly lowers Patrick into the water using a shepherd's crook in order to help him overcome his fear. However, when he says that he has had enough, Howard lets go of the crook and watches him drown. Afterward, Howard returns to his office and listens to a news broadcast about the discovery of his dumpsite while he turns off the lights of the office in an attempt to get over his fear. The same broadcast also warns potential victims (those new to town without friends and no strong ties to family) to be cautious. Going home, Howard is nagged at by his wife for returning home late and he throws a tantrum, briefly viewing Jane as his abusive mother. Going to see Jessica after the ordeal with his wife, Howard tucks her in and, against her wishes, turns off the lights, noticing the fear that flashes across his daughter's face when he does so.

The next day, Howard meets another patient, Missy Cassell, who has a fear of being buried alive. Stating that he can cure her anxiety in just one session, Howard tells her to come back in a few hours. He then takes a shovel and several bags of dirt down to the basement of the building. When Cassell returns, Howard drugs her with some spiked tea, leads her downstairs, and pushes her into a pit; the fall knocks her out. Preparing to fill the hole, Howard suffers a flashback to his traumatic childhood and falls to the floor, muttering to himself, but is brought back to his senses moments later when Cassell regains consciousness and starts begging him to let her go. Completely covering her with dirt, Howard hears sirens approaching and calmly walks outside, where he is spotted by Hotch and Morgan. Chased to the top of the building, Howard stands on the ledge. Trying to talk Howard down, Hotch tells him that he will not be able to overcome his own fear by killing others and himself; ignoring Hotch's words, Howard tells him that most people join law enforcement to help others and says "I think your greatest fear is that you can't save everyone" before committing suicide by allowing himself to fall off the roof. Cassell is later found by the BAU and rescued in time.


The unsub is a male sadist in his 40s who craves control, who is coming from a place of weakness and trying to demonstrate strength, meaning that he was likely abused in his childhood. The reason he has gotten away with murder is that he has been very meticulous at every stage, from how he chooses his victims, to their torture, and their burial. The victims appear to be non-specific, other than being new to Portland, and all they seem to share is a tortuous death. However, the tortures lack a sexual component, which is incredibly rare, and as a result, it is believed that it is not about exerting power but overcompensating for a lack of it.

The lack of sexual assault could be as simple as suggesting impotence, something that the unsub is trying to hide. A man this obsessed with control feels powerless in his everyday life, so he would most likely crave stability and security. He is most likely married, possibly adopting a child to keep up appearances if he is impotent. As the victims had no defensive wounds on them, it was apparent that they willingly put themselves in the situations that killed them, meaning the unsub is probably a figure of authority or someone easily trusted. He is also calculating and intelligent. While the unsub would likely be a legitimate psychiatrist, his use of the outdated word "phobia" means that he probably received his training sometime in the 1980s. If caught, it is unlikely that he would go quietly and would probably commit suicide rather than being arrested.

The profile is mostly correct, with the exception that Howard did not appear to be a sadist: he showed no emotion at all as he watched his victims die. He did not seem to crave control either, and his motivation for the killings appeared to be a delusion that killing people using their fears would somehow help him get over his own fears (which appeared to be successful).

Modus Operandi[]

Howard targeted random people who recently moved to Portland and lived alone. He set up an office in one of the empty buildings his wife's family owned and lured victims by creating a fake company which promised one hundred dollars for participating in a program that claimed to be able to cure phobias. Howard placed flyers advertising the program in public places and had those who called fill out a questionnaire which asked things like if they were close to their family and made friends easily; those who answered no were picked due to it likely taking longer for someone to notice they were missing.

When his patients felt they were ready to face their fears, Howard would let them die in the scenario he had set up to test them, asking "Is it worse than you thought?" as they panicked and struggled to escape. After his victims died, Howard would write down their names, how they died, and how long it took them to die in his notebook, finishing by rating their anxiety levels on a scale of one to ten (all were presumably ten). Howard buried the bodies in the Wildwood Trail deep in the woods (except for Patrick Walker, whose body was left in the lake he drowned in since the authorities found where he buried his victims) and also sent fake going-away messages to the victims' families through their email accounts.

Known Victims[]

  • August 2006-July 2007: Twelve unnamed victims (all killed by various causes)
  • 2007:
    • February:
      • Unnamed man (helterphobic; hanged)
      • Unnamed woman (hemophobic; exsanguinated)
      • Rick Holland (pyrophobic; burned alive)
    • July 4: Jenny Whitman (claustrophobic; suffocated in a small box)
    • July 6: Patrick Walker (aquaphobic; drowned in a lake; body was not buried)
    • July 7: Missy Cassell (taphephobic; attempted, but barely survived; was buried alive and left for dead, but rescued)


  • Stanley Howard is the third of only eleven 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:
  • Howard's backstory and spree is uncannily similar to that of Dr. Peter Ross, the main villain in the horror movie Phobia!. Ross was afraid of water after watching his sister drown, so his father abused him by throwing him into a lake to get him over his fears. It was successful, so Ross became a therapist and specialized in treating phobias. When he felt like his practices weren't reaching his patients, he snapped and started killing them based off their fear as a destructive alternative.
  • Its interesting to note that Brandon Killham (who plays Howard in his youth) previously played another young serial killer through flashbacks in two episodes of Dexter. The second episode was his previous role prior to "Scared to Death".