Law and Order
SVU, Episode 2.21
Production number: E1432
First aired: 11 May 2001
  th of 502 produced in SVU  
th of 502 released in SVU
  th of 1271 released in all  
Stabler New York Ledger Scourge.jpg
Teleplay By
Robert F. Campbell & Jonathan Greene

Story By
Neal Baer

Directed By
Alex Zakrzewski

What at first looks like a Jack the Ripper copycat, takes bizarre turn after bizarre turn as more bodies are found, and the only suspect gives them trouble.


When a spree killer commits four brutal murders in 24 hours, the Detectives canvass the streets searching for signs of a madman who exclaims paranoid schizophrenic and twisted religious rhetoric while committing his crimes. Things are made worse when no one can find any connections or pattern to the four murders. As the public cries out for justice, a suspect is caught, and with the help of his wife, the detectives wade through the religious trout. As the case is finally looking like it is going somewhere, they learn a shocking truth which would likely change the course of a now, much too public trial.


The detectives are on the search for a spree killer who is responsible for the death of a prostitute, a promising young woman, and a husband and son. They soon discover that a man named Daniel Varney is responsible for the murders after he turns in a bloody check, but it is soon discovered that he is mentally unstable, suffering from paranoid schizophrenia, because of a severe case of syphilis that had damaged his brain.

Benson told his wife that Daniel has syphilis that eradicated his entire mind. His case was so advanced that he probably might have picked it up long before he met Paula. Daniel's wife didn't know that he had syphilis because the life insurance company (which he applied for coverage during a medical exam) didn't inform him about it. His syphilis is so advanced that it's incurable and has destroyed the moral center of his brain. Paula Varney got an answer from the company, confirming that they knew that Daniel had long-period syphilis.

The CEO of the life insurance company is arrested for reckless endangerment as he didn't inform the health department about Daniel Varney's communicable disease, both of which would have led to his treatment and cure before it was too late and prevented the carnage he caused (which, at the time the disease was originally caught, would have taken no more than one dose of penicillin). A deal is made by A.D.A. Cabot forcing the company to report any and all communicable diseases to both the health department and the families concerned; as well as settle with the Varneys and families of Daniel's victims, even though it will cost them millions of dollars.

Daniel is found not competent to stand trial, because of the irreversible disease and he is placed under custody of the office of mental health, to be committed to a secured mental health facility until he is competent to stand trial, which will likely not happen before his death due to the advanced state of the disease, as well as the irreparable damage that it has already done.


Main cast

Recurring cast

Guest cast



Daniel: I have to ask you something.
Benson: What?
Daniel: Why didn't you shoot me?
Benson: Because I didn't want to hurt you.
Daniel: But you must.
Benson: I must what, Daniel? I don't understand.
Daniel: Kill me. Please. Please. I can't take any more pain.

Ah, 500 calls since 11:00 and more sightings than Elvis. Wanna trade places?


Stabler: It's four o'clock in the morning. Why don't you guys get some shut eye?
Fin: You don't have to ask me twice.
Stabler: Not at home. In the crib.

Fin: These people have a serious problem.
Munch: Yeah, they're scared.

Special Victims, Detective... Oh, Kathy. Nah, it's just good to hear your voice.


Stabler: You know, it's the middle of the night, and I'm sitting here realizing I spend more time with you than I do with my own family. (Benson looks up to him) No offense.
Benson: We both need a vacation.
Stabler: You got that right.

He's impulsive, disorganized, unpredictable, and he's not gonna stop until you catch him.

–Dr. Huang

His brain is Swiss cheese.

–Dr. Huang

Daniel: Are you God?
Judge Petrovsky: Just an overworked judge, Mr. Varney. And I ask the questions. Not you.

Background information and notes

Stabler and Benson in a deleted scene.

  • The term "scourge" means "to burn", as religion has commonly made allusions to fire as a "purification" from evil and filth. The title refers to the first victim in the spree, who was set on fire, as well as the religiously paranoid overtones of the murders.
  • Munch briefly mentions he was in homicide for seven years, a reference to his seven seasons on Homicide: Life on the Street, where he was a homicide detective for the Baltimore Police Department.
  • Benson mentions that she lost her mother, Serena Benson, earlier in the year which was first announced in the episode "Taken".
  • Deleted scenes from this episode included a scene in which Detectives Elliot Stabler and Olivia Benson receive a promotion. Stabler goes up from Detective 2nd grade to Detective 1st grade, and Benson goes up from Detective 3rd grade to Detective 2nd grade.
  • Scourge is the last SVU episode to air before the September 11 attacks. As a result, this is the last episode to feature the World Trade Center in its opening credits due to its complete collapse during the attacks.

Episode scene cards

1 2 3

Apartment of
Sekou Obeng
1815 Amsterdam Avenue
Wednesday, May 2

Apartment of
Paula Varney
70 Washington Place
Thursday, May 3

Arraignment Court
Trial Part 43
Friday, May 4

4 5 6

Bellevue Hospital Center
Prison Unit
Monday, May 7

Office of
Malcolm Hunt, CEO
All-Atlantic Life
Insurance Company
Tuesday, May 8

Sentencing Hearing
Trial Part 74
Tuesday, May 8

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