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In the Original Series episode "The Conscience of the King", Kodos, known as Kodos the Executioner, has been the governor of the Tarsus IV colony. He ordered the execution of 4000 colonists, and only nine survivors (including Captain Kirk) were able to identify him. Kodos had gone into hiding as the actor Anton Karidian. Several of the surviving witnesses died under mysterious circumstances, presumably as part of a scheme to protect Kodos's identity.

My question is this: How would killing all the eyewitnesses protect Kodos's identity? Kodos had been a planetary governor, hardly an obscure figure. It stands to reason that there would be plenty of photographs available to just about anyone in the Federation. In fact, Kirk is able to retrieve a photo of Kodos (and one of Karidian) from the Enterprise computer. His appearance had changed in the intervening 20 years, but anyone who had seen photographs of Kodos and Karidian should at least suspect that they're the same person. (Facial recognition software should turn that suspicion into a near certainty, but that probably wouldn't have been anticipated when the episode was written in 1966.)

For a modern parallel, imagine Osama bin Laden trying to hide in plain sight as a touring actor. One wouldn't have to have been an eyewitness to recognize him.

My guess is that it's simply a plot hole, but is there an in-universe explanation?

One explanation that occurred to me is that (spoiler):

his daugher Lenore, who was the one killing the witnesses, was not entirely sane, and she therefore might merely have thought that doing so would protect her father.

But all the characters involved, particularly both Kirk and Spock, seemed to accept that killing the witnesses made sense.

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    His appearance had changed considerably but I suspect the idea was that someone who'd met him would be able to discern him from his mannerisms and speech patterns. Also, there's a pretty reasonable chance that he's just plain mad.
    – Valorum
    Dec 30, 2014 at 1:58
  • I don't have an answer, but this, to me, is just about the weakest plot point in all of Star Trek. As a young teen, I loved this episode. For some reason I didn't see it for many decades and finally saw it as an adult and couldn't believe all the plot holes in it.
    – Tango
    Dec 30, 2014 at 2:41
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    Also, you wisely point out what many skip: the issue of facial recognition software working, but was not even conceived of in 1966. You can also add DNA testing to that, too. We do need to remember the time when a work was created.
    – Tango
    Dec 30, 2014 at 2:43
  • If we're going to be realistic about it, we can reasonably predict that in the 23rd century, cosmetic surgery that can render him completely unrecognizable will come in a pill. Remember that this is Star Trek, which is defined as much by what the future doesn't have, as by what it does.
    – Beta
    Dec 30, 2014 at 4:07
  • @Beta: Sure -- but we saw side-by-side photos of Kodos and Karidian, and they look like the same person 20 years apart. Dec 30, 2014 at 4:41

3 Answers 3

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To make a case against Karidian you can't just compare two photographs and say "that's the guy." A photographic likeness is enough to raise suspicion, but you can't pin the murder of 4,000 people on someone based on a photograph alone. You need first-hand testimony from witnesses who can put Karidian at the scene giving the execution orders. Without witnesses there may not have even been a trial.

As for how Kodos/Karidian could have evaded notice, consider that Radovan Karadžić evaded capture for well over a decade despite being the subject of an international manhunt. He did it by laying low for a time and then emerging with heavy facial hair and other appearance changes sufficient to allow him to move freely and work.

Kodos faked his own death, so there was no manhunt; it's hard to see what you're not looking for. Kodos was a planetary governor, but the planet had a population of only around eight thousand before the massacre. Kodos was more like the mayor of a small town than a planetary leader as we would think of one. I grew up in a small town and I can't remember the face of the mayor from twenty years ago.

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    To be fair, I doubt your mayor murdered half the town's population. That might have sharpened your memory somewhat. Dec 31, 2014 at 5:42
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The premise of the question is false - though that's more the episode's fault not the poster.

At no point does the episode only state that the nine survivors of the Kodos Massacre are the ONLY ones who can identify him as being Karidan the actor. As the question points out - the photographic records are trivial to pull up on the Enterprise computer along with voice identification. That is, once someone makes the connection, which understandably an eyewitness is more likely to do.

Lenore is the daughter of Kodos and she is the one doing the killing of the nine witnesses/survivors. To her insane mind this may be analogous to if no one survives a tree falling in the woods did it make a sound? No survivors of the massacre may make it like it never happened or, to her, at least un-prosecutable. Certainly it eliminates the most motivated people that could make the connection. But she is insane as the original question points out.

Leighton is also focused on the nine survivors that includes himself, Kirk, and Riley - but this is in the sense of getting the case reopened as highly motivated individuals. I can not blame anyone in the audience for assuming that their testimony would be involved to identify Kodos.

The main cause of the confusion is Leighton's "There were only eight or nine of us who actually saw Kodos." When in fact he means there were only nine survivors of the execution that Kodos personally performed - and thus saw him doing it. This modification is per Spock's comments which are by definition more accurate. It does not mean somehow only 9 people on a colony of 4000 surviving people ever saw the governor and are still around. But that's an easy misunderstanding to have without the below transcript. And no doubt it is a common misunderstanding - I'm sure I thought that too as a kid.

Note the Tarsus IV colony has 4000 people massacred of the 8000 population. Kodos did this to 50% to extend the food supply. So presumably there are another few thousand people still that could testify that Kodos was the governor and identify him. But those 4000 people were not at the execution and survived somehow - but certainly affected by it.

Honestly I don't think I really appreciated before that not only did Kirk survive the colony he survived the gas chamber, segregated life support, or whatever Kodos was using - at least according to the episode. (I'm not going to dive into what some novel may have done with this story.)

The difference between surviving the colony and surviving "the massacre" is subtle - but ultimately that's the most important thing that defines the nine that saw Kodos.

from transcript at http://www.chakoteya.net/StarTrek/13.htm

KIRK: You mean to tell me you've called me three light years off my course just to accuse an actor of being Kodos?

LEIGHTON: He is Kodos. I'm sure of it.

KIRK: You said you discovered a new food concentrate. What am I supposed to put in my log, that you lied? That you diverted a starship with false information? You're not only in trouble, you've put me in trouble, too.

LEIGHTON: I did it to trap Kodos!

KIRK: Kodos is dead.

LEIGHTON: Is he? Is anyone sure? A body burned beyond recognition?

KIRK: Tom, the authorities closed the book on that case years ago.

LEIGHTON: Then let's reopen it. Jim, four thousand people were butchered.

KIRK: Martha, you tell him.

MARTHA: I can't tell him anything, Jim. He's been like this since the company of actors arrived.

KIRK: Kodos is dead. I'm satisfied of that.

LEIGHTON: Well, I'm not. I remember him. That voice. The bloody thing he did. (He turns his head to reveal it's not just an eyepatch, but a covering over half his face)

LEIGHTON: Jim, Jim, I need your help. There were only eight or nine of us who actually saw Kodos. I was one, you were another. If he's to be exposed,

KIRK: He's dead.

====

And later in the episode....

====

SPOCK: I will continue, Doctor. According to our library banks, it started on the Earth colony of Tarsus Four, when the food supply was attacked by an exotic fungus and largely destroyed. There were over eight thousand colonists and virtually no food. And that was when Governor Kodos seized full power and declared emergency martial law.

MCCOY: I've heard of it.

SPOCK: You may not have heard it all. Kodos began to separate the colonists. Some would live, be rationed whatever food was left. The remainder would be immediately put to death. Apparently he had his own theories of eugenics.

MCCOY: Unfortunately, he wasn't the first.

SPOCK: Perhaps not. But he was certainly among the most ruthless, to decide arbitrarily who would survive and who would not, using his own personal standards, and then to implement his decision without mercy. Children watching their parents die. Whole families destroyed. Over four thousand people. They died quickly, without pain, but they died. Relief arrived, but too late to prevent the executions. And Kodos? There never was a positive identification of his body.

MCCOY: What has Karidian to do with it?

SPOCK: His history begins almost to the day where Kodos disappeared.

MCCOY: You think Jim suspects he's Kodos?

SPOCK: He'd better. There were nine eye witnesses who survived the massacre, who'd actually seen Kodos with their own eyes. Jim Kirk was one of them. With the exception of Riley and Captain Kirk, every other eye witness is dead. And my library computer shows that wherever they were, on Earth, on a colony, or aboard ship, the Karidian Company of Players was somewhere near when they died.

MCCOY: It's unbelievable.

====

And Finally

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LENORE: No, Father. The time will never come. Tonight, after my performance, the last two who can harm you will be gone.

KARIDIAN: What are you saying?

LENORE: There were nine. Now there are only two, and they will be gone as soon as I. Don't look at me like that.

KARIDIAN: What have you done?

LENORE: What had to be done. They had to be silenced.

KARIDIAN: All of them? All seven? More blood on my hands?

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It's possible -- and I need to recheck the episode-- that the actual execution occurred outside of recorded media, even of the time, so what is not needed is witnesses to whether Karidian is Kodos (photo tech and other ID tech of the future can do that) but as to whether he ordered/conducted the executions. If I recall correctly, when Kirk has Karidian recite the execution order, it is an order Kirk drew from memory as an eye/ear witness and not from record.

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