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What Really Drove Criminal Minds Hitman Gabriel Merza To A Life Of Crime

On "Criminal Minds," when crime scene photos manage to sicken and unsettle the members of the Behavioral Analysis Unit, viewers know the team will be chasing an unknown subject with a particularly gruesome modus operandi. After all, these characters are seasoned professionals who have seen exactly what the most depraved minds can do to their victims. Human marionettes? Check. A face collector? Check. Cannibals with culinary skills? Check.

By Season 13, Emily Prentiss (Paget Brewster) and her BAU have seen it all. Yet, in the season's third episode, "Blue Angel," there's noticeable discomfort in the conference room as Garcia (Kirtsen Vangsness) clicks her way through the slideshow of crime scene photos. The team's newest unsub, who they'll later identify as Gabriel Merza (Solomon Shiv), has killed two men. However, before killing his victims, Merza tortured them in various ways, such as pulling out their teeth and cutting them with knives. The final torture was emasculating them with a power tool and letting them bleed out. 

So, just how did Merza become the unsub that made the BAU cringe?

Merza's brutality even shocked the BAU

The answer to that question is a bit tricky. The episode doesn't reveal any details about Merza's youth or early adulthood. The earliest detail shared with viewers is that at some point in his life, Merza became involved with the Chaldean mafia, which paid him to be one of their enforcers. If the adage is true, and it's not work if you love it, then Merza definitely did not consider torture and murder to be work. He even bought a shipping container, hid it in a secluded area outside of Detroit, Michigan, and converted it into a torture and kill chamber where he could practice his passion in safety and solitude.

In his late 20s, Merza met Cynthia Hendricks, and the two had a daughter, Kimberly. During the BAU's investigation, they discover that Merza killed Cynthia and then gave Kimberly to his sister, Janel Merza (Rose Abdoo), who adopted the child and raised her as her own, without ever telling Kimberly the truth. About a decade later, Merza found himself in prison for voluntary manslaughter. During his sentence, law enforcement launched a massive operation and dismantled the Chaldean mafia, sending most to prison, while others scattered into the shadows. 

Paroled after serving 10 years of his 15-year sentence, Merza was a free man, but one who no longer had an employer requiring his particular set of skills.

Merza hunted his daughter's clients

Not long after his release, Merza decided to find his daughter and sister so that they could be a family again. Based on his profile, it's unlikely Merza had any real intention to begin the crime-free life of a reformed man. If that had been his goal, it was abandoned when he finally found his daughter. Kimberly (Jamie Gray Hyder), now an adult in her early 20s, was employed as a sex worker through an online service that promised to connect sugar daddies with sugar babies. Upon this discovery, an enraged Merza began hunting, emasculating, and killing the clients who had engaged his daughter. Apparently the man who worked as a torturer and murderer felt Kimberly's career choice was unacceptable.

While his motivation for killing Kimberly's clients is evident, Merza was a cold-blooded killer long before the events in "Blue Angel." When the BAU began to build their profile, they noted that the removal of the sex organs was an example of extreme sadism, which Merza compounded by sending videos of the act to the victims' loved ones. In fact, it was the level of sadism that first keyed the team into the possible link to the Chaldean mafia. However, without insight into his formative years, there's no way to determine what exactly set Merza on his horrific path. He remains one of the series' most brutal unsubs, and one of the show's biggest mysteries.