The Scranton Strangler was a long-running and ultimately unfulfilling background story on The Office during the latter seasons. His identity was revealed to be George Howard Skub, mentioned frequently in HR Rep Toby Flenderson’s random and poorly timed speeches regarding the trial. It was all a lie. Toby Flenderson was and is the real Scranton Strangler. Those who know me know I don’t believe this to be a conspiracy theory, in my world, this is as much canon as Jim and Pam’s marriage. The evidence is stacked up against the human snail that was Toby Flenderson. Here’s my case *Law and Order beat drop*:
First the obvious facts:
- Toby is a middle-aged, balding, single, white, male divorcee with none of the charisma necessary to start a new relationship (as we see with his Season 2-4 crush on Pam). He is by all evidence an incel* which recent news indicates is damn near a requirement to be a mass murderer. In 2018, he would be an active women-bashing Reddit user.
- Toby’s relationship with his young daughter Sasha is mediocre at best. She is rarely mentioned and never shows her father any affection in the one episode in which she appears (Season 2, Episode 18, in which she also befriends Toby’s greatest enemy, his boss Michael Scott). At one point in Season 5, Toby, on the verge of tears, pays $400 for a doll to give his daughter desperately trying to score a win with her for Christmas (still botching the chance, as he overpaid for a black doll, rather than a white one, and accepts it to not appear racist). He rarely has her and can’t break through to her because he is extremely boring.
- Toby’s work life (the main place he interacts with people by his own admission in Season 8, episode 18) is miserable. In an office filled with relationships, affairs, friendships and general human interaction, he sits in the office annex, mainly isolated from his coworkers, never dates or befriends anyone and rarely flirts/jokes successfully. He appears most often to stop inappropriate but otherwise fun activities by his coworkers, most often his boss, Michael Scott. He is also frequently berated by his boss in front of his coworkers, including but not limited to:
- having “no” screamed at him when he came back to work after a half season hiatus (see section 2, point 2)
- having his lunch pushed off the table in the corporate cafeteria
- having a caprese salad planted in his bag so he could be accused of drug possession
- being asked “Why are you the way that you are?” followed by “I hate so much about the things you choose to be.” because he protested having Boy Scouts at the Office’s Casino Night
- being told that if he were in a room with Osama Bin Laden, Adolf Hitler and an armed Michael Scott with only 2 bullets, Michael would shoot Toby twice
So now, we know Toby’s life is generally miserable, but that does not make a Strangler. However, the connections run deeper. Here’s the trail:
- In season 3, episode 7, Dunder Mifflin’s Scranton Branch was set to be shut down. Toby stated in a confessional that he would use the severance money to move down to Costa Rica, his dream retirement. This move has been the one thing he has to look forward to that MIGHT make his miserable and lonely life and career worthwhile. The branch did not shut down and he was stuck in said miserable life.
- Toby does eventually move to Costa Rica. After retiring early due to the sheer embarrassment of touching the knee of his crush (and coworker’s girlfriend) in front of his remaining coworkers after a successful joke. Followed by the most dramatic going away party of all time**, he leaves to Costa Rica. He spends the first few months of season 5 living his dream retirement (and presumably leaving his daughter behind in Scranton). However see an update from Toby’s retirement early in season 5. Toby is in the hospital in a full body cast after breaking his back in a zip lining accident on only his third day in Costa Rica. The singular glimmer of hope keeping Toby’s spirit alive has gone terribly, so terribly in fact that he returns to Scranton to his miserable job only 9 episodes into the season, presumably less than 6 months after leaving, with nothing left to look forward to in his life besides watching his daughter grow further apart from him and his former crush fall deeper in love (she is now engaged).
We now know Toby Flenderson’s life is miserable and lonely, and now hopeless and empty. These are all indisputable facts. He is the perfect candidate for a man ready to snap and become a serial killer. Here’s the remainder of the case:
- The Scranton Strangler is first mentioned in season 6, episode 18. In the episode prior, Pam (Toby’s longtime crush) goes into labor with her now husband Jim Halpert’s baby. Salesman Andy Bernard framed a newspaper from the day as a gift to Jim and Pam, but her labor lasted through the night leading him to replace it with a newspaper from the following day. The headline of that new newspaper was “Scranton Strangler Strikes Again”. Pam went into labor at the office and was quickly ushered to the hospital. Toby, being present at the office, saw Pam go into labor and in a fit of rage, continued his streak of stranglings that night leading to the headline. He is also mysteriously absent as the entire staff of Dunder Mifflin’s Scranton branch awaits Jim and Pam’s baby at the hospital.
- The Season 7, episode 8 introduction showed the entire staff of Dunder Mifflin surrounding a television, not working, watching a standoff and then car chase between the police and the Scranton Strangler. Toby was mysteriously absent. I don’t believe he was the man being chased, as he was caught. However I believe he was busy completing his framing of George Howard Skub that led to the standoff and chase.
- Toby, once described as a sad snail by Michael, was summoned for jury duty for the Scranton Strangler trial. He of course could not finesse that summoning, but his excruciating blandness enabled him to be a part of the jury. He not only broke the law by FREQUENTLY discussing the trial, he seemed fairly confident at the time that they convicted the right man and used it as a conversation piece to seem more interesting to his coworkers. This does not align with his attitude regarding the trial down the road.
- In later seasons, Toby is OBSESSED with the possible innocence of George Howard Skub, due to the overwhelming guilt of framing and being allowed to help convict an innocent man. Throughout seasons 7, 8 and 9, Toby frequently and publicly denounces the guilty verdict and espouses Skub’s innocence. His own conscience could not let go of the frame job he succeeded in pulling off (see OJ Simpson’s tell-all book about if he would have done it).
- In Season 9, episode 16, Toby is forced by his coworker to stop talking about Skub’s presumed innocence and goes to confront him in prison. He returns with a neck brace on, presumably from being strangled. This is used as evidence that Toby was wrong and Skub was truly guilty. However, I see it differently. Toby’s visit to the prison was not recorded by the documentary crew thus we do not know what he said to Skub. Why would a serial killer assault a man who came to say he believes he is innocent and wants to help him? I believe Toby confessed both his true guilt and plot to frame Skub and, being enraged empty-handed, Skub attacks Toby and eventually strangles him. Toby never mentions the Strangler again, and with a cleared conscience, eventually moves to NY to be write crime-mystery novels.
- The writers of The Office stated they intended to make the Strangler an employee of Dunder Mifflin but felt it would be too dark and abandoned the plan. George Howard Skub is never seen on The Office, has no connection to any of the characters (except jury member and true Strangler, Toby) and was never mentioned before Toby’s return from trial. In season 5, Michael called Toby “the silent killer” in response to a suggestion that the Office have its air quality checked to which Toby eerily replied “You’ll see.” That moment, a season before the Strangler arc, seemed like foreshadowing for a plan that would later be abandoned. I believe, like Toby, Skub was a placeholder, framed as the Scranton Strangler to absolve Toby of bearing the guilt of his actions.
Toby Flenderson IS the Scranton Strangler. I’ve seen cases made for Creed (too easy, he was out committing much more complex crimes involving military-grade LSD, cults as both a leader and a follower, heroin from Al-Qaeda etc.) and Robert California (who did not come to Scranton until after the Scranton Strangler trial). I’ve even seen cases made for Dwight or his creepy silent cousin Mose. However all of these choices seem cheap and obvious. Toby Flenderson, the emotionless HR representative who was harboring years of disappointment, frustration and most importantly loneliness, exploded in fits of rage resulting in a one year terrorizing of the small city of Scranton, PA. Case. Closed.
*incel is short for involuntarily celibate, Google it at your own risk
**orchestrated by his boss to once again insult him by celebrating his departure “as if the devil were to explode and all evil was gone from the world” (see goodbye song below)