Law and Order

Thomas Burris

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Thomas Burris
Name Tommy Burris
Affiliation Princeton University
Occupation Con Artist
Pathology Murderer
Status Imprisoned
Actor Sam Trammell
First Appearance Identity Crisis

Tommy Burris was a brilliant man who parlayed his ability to absorb information into a career as a con artist. His career fell apart when his younger brother Anthony tried to contact him and he misconstrued this as an extortion attempt, which caused him to kill Anthony in cold blood.


The elder son of an unnamed German immigrant woman, Tommy Burris' childhood was unusual, to say the least. His mother was schizophrenic, and was convinced that she was a member of the Austrian nobility. Tommy began to believe this too, and the imagination required to sustain this fantasy may have provided the mental stimulation that would serve him so well in his adult life. His mother's delusions had a dark side, however; Tommy's younger brother Anthony would not go along with his mother's fantasies, and she treated him harshly, at one point accidentally burning his arm.

Tommy and Anthony's childhood ended abruptly one day, when their mother accidentally knocked an electric heater into the bathtub while she was taking a bath. She was electrocuted and died almost immediately. Making matters worse, the detectives assigned to the case automatically assumed that one of the boys had killed her. They assumed that Tommy killed her in retaliation for her burning Anthony, and the brothers were separated and each was told that the other was implicating them in the crime. Tommy never gave in to the pressure, but Anthony did, and he admitted that he had seen Tommy going up the stairs to the bathroom just before their mother's death. This was all that the detectives needed to hear, and thus Tommy was falsely convicted of murder, a charge that doomed him to a life of transition through multiple foster homes and reform schools. Anthony didn't do much better; separated from his brother and filled with guilt over the role he had played in Tommy's fate, he just seemed to keep getting in trouble.

Though Tommy had hoped to one day go to Princeton University, his criminal record insured that he would never get admitted, and the closest that he got was working in the kitchen at the Princeton Occidental Club. Still, he was very bright, and extremely well-read, and one day, he noticed a plaque commemorating the lives of Richard Phelps, Tyler Chisholm, Jeff Walters, George Gifford, and Gray Venderhoven, all Princeton alumni who died in a tragic accident. He noticed that each of them was born around the same time as him, and came up with the plan to take their names for himself and create a new identity, one free of the taint that his own name carried.

Soon after, Tommy was reborn as Jeff Walters, and in this identity, he finally became free of his disappointing old life. He even tried to vindicate his mother's delusions, acquiring documents that named him as a member of the noble Haugwitz family. Of course, every now and then, something would come up and threaten to expose him for who he really was, but every time, he managed to run away and take another name and start over again.

After being arrested, Detective Goran figured out the truth: while Tommy may have thought about doing that, he was innocent as in his statement he indicated he was barefoot and as the bathroom floor was covered in water, he would have been killed too or at least severely electrocuted. Tommy admitted his mother accidentally killed herself when her arm hit the power cord and knocked the heater into the tub. At the time, Anthony had been six and the police had scared him badly and in a moment of fear, he'd lied. Goran revealed what Tommy hadn't known at the time of the murder: Anthony had lymphoma and only had six months left to live at the most. Growing up the brothers had been close and Goran believed that Anthony was coming to seek forgiveness for his actions before he died. Tommy was horrified and confessed, but admitted that he did forgive his brother. (CI: "Identity Crisis")

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