What the Killer Sees: Steven Kiley

Killer: Steven Kiley (Tucker Smallwood)

Episode: “Goodbye Charlie” (9 January 1998)

Writer: Richard Whitley

Director: Ken Fink

Quote: “It is difficult to fit him into the psychological profile of a serial killer. His killings are organised yet he crosses gender lines. Doesn't fit. He believes his acts are altruistic yet his victims are bound. This is a matter of control... Under the guise of helping other people to die, he actually holds their lives in his hands. Now he has been diagnosed, terminally. He doesn't even have control over his own body... We had control over him today. In order to relieve that anxiety, that helplessness, he'll have to help others - his way.” --Frank Black

Profile: If Frank Black struggled to profile Steven Kiley, then there’s little hope for me! Nevertheless, the nature and method of the killings perpetrated by Kiley are interesting to consider, as well as highlighting the morality of assisted suicide. And this is to say nothing of Kiley’s true nature, hints of a more supernatural aspect that come hand in hand with a first foray for this column into the wonders of Season Two.

As Frank notes, Kiley is a highly organised killer. Being “organised” in this context refers to a level of sophistication, planning and competence in evidence at a murder scene. The dichotomy originated in the terms “organised non-social” and “disorganised asocial” as long ago as 1980, whilst the term psychopathic is applied to the organised killer in modern investigative terminology and the disorganised killer characterised as psychotic. Documented in 1985 by the FBI, this system is now commonly used as a relatively straightforward investigative approach to a crime scene. The organised killer typically targets a stranger and then exerts a high level control over his victim, as evidenced here by the way Kiley recruits his victims from his role at the Crisis Center and the use of restraints when administering them with a deadly dose of potassium chloride. He is more likely to be intelligent and successful too, as evidenced again by Kiley’s former career as Ellsworth Beedle before borrowing the moniker by which we come to know him from the drama series Marcus Welby, MD.

Another notable aspect of Kiley’s killings is the placement of a walnut in the mouth of the victim before death. This is symbolic of the gift of prophecy in Greek mythology, the implied meaning being that Kiley foresees the fate that would await his victims if he did not act to “save” them. Again, this implies a sense of forward planning and preparation common to the organised serial killer.

The whole notion of a health professional turning killer is of course particularly chilling, and represents a real dereliction of duty towards those who entrust their health into such hands. It is not, however, without precedent. Jack Kevorkian is probably the most well-known US pathologist to have been convicted of murder having been tried on multiple counts due to his defiant position on assisted suicide. In the UK, Harold Shipman is the only doctor every to have been found guilty of murdering his patients, with over two hundred suspected kills making him one of the most prolific serial killers of all time. Notably he also crossed gender lines, like Kiley, although most of his victims were elderly women. Whilst the only UK doctor to be convicted in this way, again his behaviour is not without precedent, as exemplified by the cases of John Bodkin Adams, Leonard Arthur and Thomas Lodwig.

Some of these cases raise the moral issue of assisted suicide, as is central to the case of Steven Kiley. Frank surmises that Kiley’s psychopathological behaviour is rooted in an epiphany he experienced as a hospital doctor, acting instinctively to save the life of a gravely ill woman who he came to realise did not wish to live at all. From thereon he acts “to save lives by taking them”, with his crossing of gender lines explained by his primary concern being with “the quality of a human life”. Whilst the moral maze of assisted suicide is a debate too involved for this column, what is clear from Kiley’s methodology is that he at best manipulates his victims into their fate and so denies them a true choice regarding it. This premeditated and involved approach is, then, surely murder. As with so many serial killers, and in particular those that fit the organised profile, it becomes about power and control over the life of another.

Kills: 10

Investigation: The investigation into Steven Kiley is as unorthodox as his methodology. The Millennium Group tasks Frank and Lara Means with investigating Kiley’s killings, posing the question to Lara Means, “Should we assist to arrest this subject? Or assist to protect?” Together Frank and Lara track down Kiley by first having the motel at which the previous killings have taken place staked out, although when he returns a staff member acting as his accomplice raises the alarm so he can escape.

Undeterred, they follow the trail by considering how he sources the materials for his suicide machine (an abandoned hospital that turns out to be where he previously worked and began his career as a killer) and how he locates his victims (the Crisis Center), before finally honing in on Kiley by a process of elimination and tracking him to the hospital where he now works as a nurse. Due to a lack of evidence, however, they have to release him. Tragically this leads to a further five deaths, as Kiley releases the anxiety of his interrogation by staging a multiple killing at the house of his former accomplice, who turns out to also be his assessor. Kiley leaves a note stating that this was not his choice.

Returning to the question posed to them by The Millennium Group in assigning them to the case and in light of the killer’s image appearing in the painting on which the note was posted, Frank re-interprets the quandary as questioning if Kiley was from heaven or from hell, leaving us to wonder yet more deeply as to his true nature.

4 Responses to "What the Killer Sees: Steven Kiley"

Anonymous said... November 26, 2010 at 6:39 PM

This is one of my favorite episodes of the show. Ive seen it several times and I admire the intelligence of the underlying messages and meaning behind it.

I am a professional film maker and I showed this episode as an example to my peers for a few years ago...

Herr Doktor Schlossburg said... November 27, 2010 at 12:53 AM

Smallwood's performance was among the show's best! That scene in which he gives advice over the phone is amazing: there is a constant ambiguity as to whether he genuinely wants to help people in pain or if he simply gets off on their suffering.

And the opening teaser could have been straight out of a David Lynch film!

Adam Chamberlain said... November 27, 2010 at 7:46 AM

It's a very good episode - better than I remembered it from my previous viewings when it came to revisiting it for the column. There are some big issues at the heart of the episode, and it's worth noting too that I think I'm right in saying that this episode pre-dated public awareness of either Shipman or Kevorkian, so it certainly wasn't borrowing from these real-life cases.

Adam Chamberlain said... November 28, 2010 at 3:33 AM

Tucker Smallwood's performance is indeed excellent and you're right, Herr Doktor, he walks that fine line of ambiguity extremely well!

He gave an interesting interview on the episode to the campaign back in the day, actually - if you click on the "Goodbye Charlie" tag on this post it should take you right to it.

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