Law & Order: Special Victims Unit

Season 3 Episode 5


Aired Thursday 10:00 PM Oct 26, 2001 on NBC

Episode Recap

While Max and Peyton Kleberg are out at dinner celebrating her birthday, friends arrive at their home to set up a surprise party. The friends are surprised to find the couple in the dining room. Max is dead, gagged and bound to a chair with duct tape. Peyton, who's been raped, is gagged and tied to a table.

Warner determines that Max was pistol-whipped to death. She also finds animal hairs, from either a dog or a cat, in the adhesive from the duct tape used to bind him. A surgical scar on his chest indicates that Max had had heart surgery within the past year.

At the hospital, Peyton tells Elliot and Olivia that they never left for the restaurant. Max had insisted on taking out the garbage first, and returned with a masked gunman. The gunman tossed Peyton a roll of duct tape and forced her to bind and gag Max. He then tied her to the table, and spent the next two hours alternately raping her and beating her husband until Max was dead. Elliot tells Peyton that a lockbox in the bedroom was broken into. Peyton says it had contained $10,000 to $15,000 in cash, and her grandmother's jewelry.

The Klebergs' apartment doorman tells Munch and Fin that several months ago, a very agitated man came to see Max. The man said that Max, a physician, was "a mad scientist [who] ruined his life." Max nervously told the doorman to call the police if the man didn't leave.

Elliot and Olivia visit Dr. Carr, chief of urology at the hospital where Max practiced. While waiting to see Carr, they talk with his secretary, Lara Todd. She tells them about a disgruntled patient from one of Max's research trials on impotency, and offers to look up his file.

Carr tells the detectives that Max had been better than new after his heart bypass surgery six months ago.

Peyton had devotedly nursed her husband back to health. As a urologist, Max had specialized in sexual dysfunctions. At the time of his death, he had been testing a new impotency cream. However, Carr declines to comment on the patient Lara mentioned. As Elliot and Olivia leave, Lara gives them a copy of the patient's file.

Martin Welker had abruptly quit Max's research trial after Brooklyn SVU arrested him for attempted rape. Welker denies both killing Max and raping Peyton. He tells Munch and Fin that Max didn't tell him about the side effects of the impotency cream. At Welker's trial Max testified that Welker's own violent tendencies, not the cream, had caused the sexual assault. Welker had sued the hospital and the pharmaceutical company, but not Max because the doctor had no money to his name.

Max's accountant tells Munch and Fin that because of Max's heart condition, no malpractice insurer would cover him. To continue practicing medicine, at the accountant's advice Max shielded his financial assets by moving everything into Peyton's name. Asked if anyone else could be after those assets, the accountant replies that Max recently had trouble with Jesse, his son from his first marriage. Max had cut off Jesse's trust fund after catching the young man in his apartment, trying to steal Peyton's jewelry.

Jesse, who has a serious gambling problem, is brought in for questioning. He says he became a gambler because his mother and Peyton are both "charity junkies", and the biggest fundraiser for any charity is casino night. He admits having tried to steal his stepmother's jewelry because he was in major debt to his bookie. Neither his father nor his stepfather would help him because they believed he was involved in drugs. However, he denies the rape and the murder.

Jesse's mother, Marilyn Dunlap, arrives at SVU with a lawyer. Both she and Jesse resented Max, who deserted them after she put Max through medical school. Nevertheless, Dunlap insists that Jesse had nothing to do with the crimes. If anyone in this case is resentful, it's Peyton. After recovering from his bypass surgery, the revitalized Max "had been nailing just about anything that moved." Peyton has known about her husband's chasing since at least the previous month, because Dunlap told her when they happened to meet at a fundraiser. Dunlap knows for a fact that one of Max's paramours had been Lara Todd.

Lara admits to having had a fling with Max, but says it ended months ago. Elliot and Olivia tell her that DNA testing has cleared Martin Wexler. Asked whom Max pursued after her, Lara points them to Judy Trahill in the hospital's radiology department. Trahill says Peyton had "cared too much" about Max during his recovery. She did everything for him, which made him feel like an invalid. After Trahill, Max targeted another nurse at the hospital. However, that time Peyton unexpectedly visited, caught him in the act, and slapped the nurse.

Jesse Kleberg volunteers a DNA sample, and is cleared. Max's cell phone records indicate 1,000 minutes of calls during the last month, all to Lara Todd. Elliot and Olivia go to her apartment, where they find her gagged and tied to her bed. She's been raped and beaten.

Lara says she lied about when her affair with Max ended, to keep it out of the news reports of his death. Peyton hadn't known about their affair till the very end. Three days before Max's murder, Peyton came to Lara's apartment and threatened to ruin both their lives if Lara didn't stop seeing Max.

Cat hairs, most likely from a tabby, are found in Lara's bedroom. SVU now wonders if Peyton, the wronged wife, might have staged the crimes at her home to punish Max for his philandering. None of Peyton's missing jewelry has turned up at the pawnshops. Suspecting insurance fraud, Cragen has Cabot obtain Max's financial records for evidence to justify a search warrant for Peyton's apartment.

A bank official, who knows Peyton socially as well as professionally, tells Munch and Fin that Peyton had taken some of her jewelry from her safe deposit box shortly before Max's murder. Bank records show that eight days before the murder, Peyton had also taken out $10,000 in cash. For a hit man, perhaps?

A search of Peyton's apartment turns up the jewelry, inside a cigar box. Peyton says she can't explain how the jewelry got into the box. She admits that she took out the $10,000 in cash to pay a private investigator, which was how she found out about Lara.

Munch and Fin catch up with the investigator, who has only pet dogs and doesn't eliminate husbands. He gives them copies of the photos he took of Max and Lara. The same man appears in the background of two of the photos, as if he were stalking Max. Lara identifies the man as her downstairs neighbor, Vincent. Elliot and Olivia visit him, and find that he has a tabby cat. He refuses to talk to them.

Vincent has a criminal record for robbery and assault. Peyton and Lara's rape kits show that the same man attacked both women. Each person in this tangled web has connections to some, but not all three, of the others. The only thing connecting all four of them is the tabby cat hairs found at both Peyton's and Lara's rape scenes. And Vincent has a tabby.

While Munch and Fin search Vincent's apartment for the cat, Elliot and Olivia check in on Lara. She has fresh bruises on her face, but she refuses to tell them what happened. She does let Olivia take her to a women's shelter for her own safety.

The lab confirms that the cat hairs from both rape scenes came from Vincent's pet. When Elliot and Olivia go to his apartment to arrest him, Lara is standing over his dead body and holding his gun. At SVU's office, she tells them she told Vincent two years ago that she wanted to be only friends. But he was so persistent and sweet, he finally wore her down. Afterward he became possessive and violent, in classic abusive relationship form.

Meeting Max had given Lara the strength to finally say no to Vincent. Max had been about to leave Peyton, after which he and Lara were going to move in together. Then one night, Vincent told Lara that Max was dead. She was in his apartment because he had located her at the shelter and forced her to return with him . He tried to rape her again, and she managed to reach his gun and shoot him.

Since Vincent killed Lara's lover, a jury could interpret Lara's killing of Vincent as an act of revenge. The lab confirms that Vincent's gun was used to kill Max, and that Vincent raped both Peyton and Lara. Huang argues that Lara is a classic domestic abuse victim. Cabot is unwilling to close the case without pressing charges, absent clear evidence that Lara had acted in self-defense. Munch and Fin return to Vincent's apartment to search for evidence supporting "a case against Vincent that would put him away for life if he weren't already dead."

Later in her office, Cabot has Lara sign her police statement. Cabot then plays a videotape, in which Lara offers Vincent $15,000 to kill Peyton Kleberg. The only relationship between Lara and Vincent had been in Vincent's own unstable mind. Still, Lara made use of Vincent's obsession with her to hire him to kill Peyton. Realizing that Max and Lara wanted to be together, Vincent killed Max instead. However, eliminating Peyton had been Max's idea in the first place. Lara says, "Where do you think I got the $15,000? And who do you think hid the jewelry?"

A stunned Peyton says that while Max had changed after his heart attack, their marriage had finally been returning to normal. He had stopped seeing Lara after Peyton found out about the affair. Surely that was why Lara had Max killed, when he didn't leave his wife for her after all. Olivia regretfully tells Peyton that Max had planned the whole thing. Peyton says, "That doesn't make any sense. Why would Max set up his own death?" Elliot quietly replies, "He wasn't supposed to die. You were."