- "Compared to SJK, Red John was nothing. An amateur. Already forgotten."
- ―James Panzer
Panzer worked as an investigative crime reporter. Eighteen months prior to Blinking Red Light, a young girl named Molly Maier was killed by a serial killer who became known as the San Joaquin Killer. She was the first of at least six young women, ranging in age from 16 to 20, to die over the following eighteen months. Outwardly, Panzer took a personal interest in the case bordering on an obsession, starting a blog and/or a website about the case dedicated to Molly Maier. In actuality, however, Panzer was the San Joaquin Killer, using his blogger role as a cover to justify his continued close involvement in the SJK case. He was investigated as well, but was able to create fake alibis for himself for two of the murders.
Patrick Jane met James Panzer when he and the CBI team investigated a murder that turned out to be an SJK killing. The team immediately spotted the killing as a serial murder based on the intricate way in which the victim's hands were tied and by the ritualistic behavior of placing objects found at the scene over the victim's eyes. When the CBI team coordinated with local law enforcement, they positively identified the killing as one of SJK's. While Teresa Lisbon and Grace Van Pelt re-investigated the earlier suspects, Jane visited Panzer.
Jane enlisted Panzer's help in investigating the latest SJK killing and quickly befriended him on the basis of both of them having a deep personal involvement with a serial murder case (Jane with Red John and Panzer with SJK). All along, however, Jane suspected Panzer of being SJK, though there was little concrete evidence to prove it. Jane's suspicions were borne out when he and Panzer both appeared on Karen Cross's television show discussing the SJK case. During the show, realizing there was no way he would be able to bring Panzer to justice, Jane goaded Panzer into comparing Red John unfavorably to SJK. Panzer rose to the bait, saying that the SJK killings were the work of a genius and Red John by comparison was a "common sociopath; lazy, sloppy, delusional", and becoming so absorbed in building up SJK's image that he was unaware that he was making the same mistake that Jane and Kristina Frye had made: namely, belittling Red John in a public forum.
Panzer paid for his hubris with his life. Shortly after the television appearance, Panzer was found murdered in an alleyway, with Red John's trademark Smiley Face painted in blood on the wall near his body. Panzer's murder proved Jane's theory that -- Timothy Carter's death notwithstanding -- Red John was still alive and still "in business". Afterward, he is only seen in a video clip when Susan Darcy is investigating Red John being alive.
As mentioned, Panzer's victims were women aged 16-20. After abducting them at an opportune moment when they were alone, he would neatly bind them with wire around their wrists and ankles, take them to an abandoned warehouse and kill them by slitting their throats slowly and deliberately with a sharp instrument. The bodies were then dumped, face-up and still bound, in some random public area. His calling card was putting small objects from the dump site, such as pebbles, pieces of glass or bottle caps, on their eyes. During his last murder, he completely gouged out the eyes of the victim.
Though Panzer describes the San Joaquin Killer as a highly intelligent "purist" who kills purely for the pleasure of the act and cuts the throats of his victims simply so he can watch the life drain out of their eyes, it is clear that he kills for the sake of attention and notoriety and wants to make a legend out of the case, which is why he started the website dedicated to it and hypes it in the media whenever he gets the chance. His narcissism tends to get the better of him as he cannot even talk ill of SJK to keep up his appearance of being innocent.
- 2010: Molly Maier, 16 (first victim)
- 2010-2011: Three unnamed women
- Michelle Karp, 19 (killed in Blinking Red Light)
- Jill Reisert, 18 (killed in Blinking Red Light; her eyes were completely gouged out)
Panzer is the fourth known killer to have been killed by Red John. The first was Rebecca, who killed Bosco's team on his orders. The second and third were the two Red John copycats from Red Sky in the Morning.