SVU Episode #13-5: Missing Pieces

Recap: A young couple from Buffalo comes to Manhattan and claims that their 3-month-old baby was stolen along with their car. Soon mom and dad’s stories start to conflict and fall apart. Things look even more suspicious when the baby’s fecal matter is found inside a cooler.  Eventually, the detectives find the baby buried in a beach. The father then confesses that he shook the baby to death, while the mother confesses that she drowned the baby in a tub. But, it turns out, both parents were lying. The ME discovers that the baby died of SIDS. The parents staged the abduction to cover the unexpected death, and then confessed to protect each other. At the end, the detectives let the sobbing couple go home.

Verdict: B

What they got right: This is such a tragic scenario, but one I had to deal with all the time. A couple times a month, we’d get the case of a baby who died from or suffered catastrophic injuries. Of course, the infant can’t tell us what happened, so investigators are left to figure it out as best we can. It’s very difficult, as an emotional and evidentiary matter. Often, the cause of the injuries is Shaken Baby Syndrome, where the child suffers severe brain damage from being shaken. Shaken babies’ brains show a particular pattern of brain injuries, but that pattern can sometimes be difficult to distinguish from a baby who merely fell off a tall bed onto a wood floor. Investigators rely heavily on the stories given by the parents, but must take these stories with a grain of salt, as the parents are often the ones who inflicted the injuries. The long, drawn-out questioning in this episode – with the detectives agonizing over the case, trying to figure out what the hell actually happened, all the while losing time with their own kids – was very realistic.

What they got wrong: There have been plenty of cases in the last decade of parents falsely claiming that their children were abducted. Never has there been a case where SIDS was the actual culprit. And it didn’t make much sense. Why would the parents confess to a much worse story than what actually happened? Yes, people occasionally make false confessions. But saying you drowned your kid when you know that he died in his sleep seems not only unwise, but unbelievable.

At the end of the episode, SVU decides to let the parents go free. “They’ll be paying for this for the rest of their lives,” Nick says, and everyone nods sadly. Not in the real world. They’d be facing obstruction of justice, tampering with evidence, and lying to the police charges. At the very least, the mom’s statement that “everyone knows bad things happen in New York City” would get her some charges from this crew.

Finally, I was underwhelmed with their “poop in the cooler” evidence. Not to be totally gross, but . . . I have two pre-school-aged boys, and a small layer of their poop probably coats every item in my house. I doubt any of it would have much evidentiary value.

On a side note, did anyone else notice that the DA is looking paler and paler, and her hair getting more maroon, every episode? My theory is that she’s turning into a vampire. Hey, that might be a hot show these days: vampires solving sex crimes! What do you think?

About Allison Leotta


  1. Katy Eridao says:

    I love your blog! After I watch a new episode I always look forward to reading “What they got right” and “What they got wrong” from a real prosecutor’s perspective.

    In this episode I didn’t like how Amaro told the girl that her baby died of SIDS, when the m.e didn’t confirm it yet (or did she?). Also, it annoyed me how the couple was let go without punishment.

    When Amaro said how they’ll be paying for this for the rest of their lives, maybe it was the show trying to instill some deep thinking in the viewer. Like, the couple’s friends and family will never see them in the same light, because of how suspicious the whole ordeal sounded.

    • Allison Leotta says:

      Hi Katy! Thanks, I’m really glad you like the blog!

      I agree with your comment about “paying for this for the rest of their lives.”

      The part about the SIDS information that annoyed me was how certain the ME was when she finally declared that was the cause of death. In real life, SIDS cases are fairly mysterious — there’s often some doubt about whether it was SIDS or something else. So I thought it was rather unreal for the ME to be able to say with such certainty that it was SIDS.

  2. Okay, so my question has nothing to do with the main case. In the opener, Fin and the new female detective (can’t remember her name) are checking up on the known pediphiles in the neighborhood. While I loved the scene, I can’t see how the NYPD would have the resources for such a program, but more importantly, could not handing out candy on Halloween be a condition of parole, and thus an arresting offense? Like the idea we’d have that level of protection. Hard to see how enforceable it would be.
    David DeLee
    Fatal Destiny – a Grace deHaviland novel

    • Allison Leotta says:

      In D.C., we do have detectives devoted just to keeping track the registered sex offenders live, including knowing where they live, and periodically knocking on their doors . But I haven’t heard of a program where you just knock on the door during Halloween. I haven’t seen Halloween as a huge spike for sex offenses. Valentine’s Day, on the other hand, is always a big day for domestic violence.

  3. Another part I liked, and as someone who interviewed a lot of suspects in criminal investigations (for the private sector), and I thought was particularly well done were the interviews. Especially when Amaro was walking the girl through her day, and she suddenly looked away when she started to lie. That was spot on with the body language one would expect to see in a real interview. Also when Benson was going through the photographs of recovered items from the car. The suspect had no problem identifying each item as his, until they came to the cooler. Then he hesitated and said, “They all look the same right?”
    Well done scenes IMO
    David DeLee
    Fatal Destiny – a Grace deHaviland novel

    • Allison Leotta says:

      Interesting point about the body language. David, what job were you doing, where you conducted the interviews?

      • I worked in corporate security for 20+ years, mostly in manager and director level positions, in-house, with large retail companies, as well as being a private consultant with a PI’s license and as a Certified Fraud Examiner. I handled a lot of criminal investigations involving theft, fraud, and employee misconduct, making criminal cases and gathering enough evidence to present to the police and/or a prosecutor, same as a police detective, but in the private sector.
        Interviewing witnesses, victims and suspects was a big part of the job.
        Thanks again for the great blog.
        David DeLee
        Fatal Destiny – a Grace deHaviland novel

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