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No. It wasn't crazy at all. After I heard that story, it all made sense. The voice in my head. The two me's. There was only ever one real me all the time. Russell Smith. That's who I am. That's who I've always been.
Kestler to Aidan Donahue

Willie Kestler was an abductor, one-time cop killer, spree killer, and copycat of Russell Smith who appeared in the Season Eight episode of Criminal Minds, "Perennials".


"My grandpa always said I had the Devil inside me...the soul of a killer..."

On January 19, 1988, during Kestler's birth at Hobson Regional Medical Center in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, which was two weeks after he was due, his mother Beverly required a C-section to get him out. Simultaneous to his birth, a serial killer named Russell Smith was rushed to the same hospital, mortally wounded from a shootout with police. Smith was placed next to Beverly in the emergency room. Just as Kestler was removed from Beverly's womb, Smith died from his wounds, something that was observed by Beverly's father Bill (who presumably found out the nature of Smith's death afterwards and became unhinged by that). When Kestler was five, Beverly died, leaving Kestler under the care of Bill, who was extremely abusive towards Kestler, repeatedly accusing him of having "the Devil" inside of him and having the soul of a killer. A few years before the events of the episode, right before Bill died of an unspecified cause, he told Kestler about everything that happened on the day of Kestler's birth. Intrigued, Kestler became an avid researcher of reincarnation, a religious concept in which the spirit of a body that has died travels into the body of a newborn. As a result, Kestler became convinced that he is the reincarnated form of Smith.

Three months prior to Perennials, in Chandler, Arizona, where Kestler had a residence, Kestler was injured in a one-car accident. He claimed that someone cut his brake lines, wanting the Chandler police to figure out who did it. The police found no sign of foul play, but Kestler was obsessed with it. For weeks, Kestler kept showing up at the local police station, saying that someone was after him, but was ignored. That was the trigger that got Kestler to travel to the Deep South and start killing people that he believed were reincarnated forms of the eight prostitutes that Smith killed because he believed that one of Smith's victims had come back to get him. Kestler started by killing Charlie Clayton, a resident of a rundown neighborhood in Gulfport, Mississippi, and Nina "Floressa" Skinner, a member of a religious sect in Citronelle, Alabama. He left behind larvae and animal hair he brought to both crime scenes, believing this would ensure that neither victim would come back in human form.


"One of you found out where I was, and you tried to come and cut off my brakes, and kill me. So I had to find you. All eight of you."

In the episode, Kestler recreates a scar prominent on Smith's jaw and confronts a waitress named Brianna Wells later that day in Pensacola, Florida, calling her "Carol". Brianna becomes uneasy around Kestler and offers him the free food he requested. The following night, he ambushes Brianna in her car and kills her. Later, he arrives at a house, intending to kill one of the residents named Ted Sissler. Kestler knocks on the door, and it is answered by a college student named Kyle Owens, who is renting the house. When Kyle tries to close the door, Kestler swiftly knocks him out, and then holds Jane, Ted's wife who is still present in the house, at gunpoint, asking her where Ted is. When she tells him that Ted died from cancer, Kestler demands information about the date and location of his death. He then uses the information provided by Jane, finding a boy named Aidan Donahue and leaving the house without killing Jane or Kyle. Hours later, Kestler proceeds to abduct Aidan and take him to a downtown motel in Pensacola, where he explains his motivations to a terrified Aidan. By the time he is finished and intends to kill Aidan, the BAU and local police arrive, having deduced his location.

Recognizing only one possible escape route, Kestler releases Aidan and flees to Escambia Memorial Hospital, intending to kill himself in the presence of a newborn baby so then he can be reincarnated. He approaches a hospital clerk and asks where the baby rooms are. However, the clerk refuses to answer, as he needs to be a relative in order to have access. This prompts Kestler to shoot and kill the clerk in a fit of rage, in front of many witnesses. After killing a responding security guard, he makes his way around the hospital, searching for the baby rooms. He eventually finds them, forces a nurse out, and holds one of the babies hostage. The BAU burst into the room and hold him at gunpoint, ordering him to put the baby down. Kestler obliges, but once he does, he fires two shots, one of which hits Morgan, and the BAU shoot him in return. Kestler relishes in the fact that he will be reincarnated into the baby, but JJ carries the baby away to safety, and to his horror, he has dropped a box containing some of his larvae, one of which is crawling on his arm. Hotch bitterly watches as Kestler dies, moaning, "No, no, no." It is revealed by the end of the episode that Morgan was protected by a bulletproof vest.

Modus Operandi[]

Kestler targeted people he believed were reincarnated forms of Smith's victims. Judging by how he found Aidan Donahue, he likely figured out his victims' names by typing in the dates of Smith's victims' deaths (which would also be the birthdays of Kestler's victims) into the search parameters of the websites of hospitals that were the closest to where Smith's victims died. He would select a target and find out where they lived and/or worked through their social media accounts. After tracking them down, he would kill them using an emulation of Smith's M.O., only with some differences. Like Smith, Kestler threatened them into compliance at gunpoint with a handgun, made them bite down on a stick, and fatally hammer an icepick into the back of their neck.

Unlike Smith, however, Kestler targeted ordinary citizens of both genders and operated in multiple states. His signature was leaving a sample of animal hair and the larvae of flies native to the Southwestern United States that he brought along on the victims' bodies. The motivation for doing so would be because that since reincarnation states that the spirit of a dead body travels into the closest newborn possible, Kestler wanted to ensure that the victims would never come back in human form, thus explaining the animal hair and larvae. Also, with the murders of Charlie Clayton and Brianna Wells, the former was abducted from his home and killed in a forest, while the latter was killed inside her car. During the Escambia Memorial Hospital shooting, he used the same handgun to kill his victims.


The unsub is a white male aged in his mid- to late 20s, who is operating out in the open with great confidence, bordering on arrogance and has been leaving a large amount of insects at the crime scenes, which would normally be meant as a forensic countermeasure (artificially accelerating infestation of the corpse), or it could also be a symbolic way to degrade and humiliate the victims. Either way, these larvae are serving some other purpose for the unsub; it is like an obsession, and they are an essential component to his kills. He is slowly turning himself into the image of infamous serial killer Russell Smith, even recently cutting himself on the jaw to replicate a similar scar Smith had, and as such, he may continue to alter his appearance: Smith had several distinctive scorpion tattoos, so the unsub might come to have them as well.

The unsub seems to know exactly who he is looking for, but he refers to his victims by a different name, which means that he is either delusional or is using these victims as substitutes for someone. The larvae that he is depositing at the crime scenes are indigenous to the southwestern United States, so his vehicle would probably have a license plate from Arizona, Utah, or New Mexico. Smith preyed exclusively on prostitutes and infrequently, killing a total of eight victims in a twenty-year period, but this unsub is killing at a rate of one victim per day and he is targeting ordinary citizens, making him extremely dangerous to the public.

Real-Life Comparison[]

Although his crimes didn't occur until after the episode aired, Kestler is loosely similar to Christopher Dorner - Both were spree killers and cop killers who experienced abuse in their youths (Kestler was abused by his grandfather, while Dorner was bullied in school and got into fights with peers), they filed a false report with police that was dismissed due to lack of evidence (Kestler believed someone caused him to be in a car crash, while Dorner falsely accused his training officer of excessive force and was fired from his job with the LAPD), they targeted victims of both genders, shot their victims with a handgun (though Kestler stabbed most of his, and Dorner used other weapons too), killed at least one victim inside a car, tied up a couple in their own home before leaving them alive, and their crimes ended in a mass shootout where their last victim was killed and where they themselves died by gunshot (though it was a suicide in Dorner's case).

Known Victims[]

  • 2012:
    • December 9, Gulfport, Mississippi: Charlie Clayton (the alleged reincarnation of Taylor Lynn Crover; abducted from his house and killed in another location)
    • December 10, Citronelle, Alabama: Nina "Floressa" Skinner (the alleged reincarnation of Patricia Johnson)
    • December 11, Pensacola, Florida: Brianna Wells (the alleged reincarnation of Carol Hansen; was killed inside her car)
    • December 12, Pensacola, Florida:
      • The attack at the Sissler house:
        • Ted Sissler (the first alleged reincarnation of an earlier victim[1]; intended to kill, but gave up after finding out he already died)
        • Kyle Owens (incidental; assaulted and tied up)
        • Jane Sissler (Ted's wife; held at gunpoint, threatened to kill, and tied up)
      • Aidan Donahue (the second alleged reincarnation of the earlier victim; abducted and intended to kill; was released)
      • Two killed, and one superficially injured, in the Escambia Memorial Hospital shooting:
        • An unnamed clerk (shot twice in the chest)
        • Unnamed security guard (shot in the head)
        • An unnamed doctor (briefly threatened at gunpoint)
        • An unnamed midwife (briefly threatened at gunpoint)
        • An unnamed new mother (briefly threatened at gunpoint)
        • An unnamed nurse (briefly threatened at gunpoint)
        • An unnamed baby (briefly held hostage)
        • Shot at the following twice:
    • Note: In addition to the four victims whose alleged reincarnations he went after, Kestler intended to go after people who he believed were the reincarnations of Russell's other four victims. However, he never got the chance to do so.


  • Kestler seems to have been based on at least two past unsubs:
    • Season Three
      • Henry Frost ("Identity") - Both were serial killers (budding at least), abductors, and copycats who were abused by parental figures (Kestler was abused by his grandfather, and Frost was abused by his father), copied a deceased serial killer (although Kestler was successful, while Frost was not), killed at least one victim by shooting them, and died in a shootout with the BAU. Both also intentionally cut their own faces to match a scar the original killers had and took the names of the original killers for themselves.
    • Novels
      • Daniel Dryden (Killer Profile) - Both were abductors, one-time cop killers, copycats, and serial-turned-spree killers who copied the M.O.s of serial killers (though Kestler only copied a single fictional killer while Daniel copied multiple real-life killers and one fictional serial killer) and they both devolved into spree killers by shooting several victims at a hospital (though Kestler remained and was killed at the scene, while Dryden fled and was captured later).
  • Kestler's story also has some similarities to the 2010 horror film My Soul to Take, in which the protagonist was born on the same day a serial killer died and believes himself to be possessed by his spirit whenever murders occur.



  1. It is unspecified which victim