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Stabler Learns a Devastating Secret About How His Father Died on Law & Order: Organized Crime

Detective Elliot Stabler's father has come up across the Law & Order franchise over the years, but details about his death had been under wraps — until now. 

By Gina Salamone

Detective Elliot Stabler's father has come up across the Law & Order franchise over the years, but details about his death had been under wraps — until now. 

How to Watch

Watch Law & Order: Organized Crime Thursdays at 10/9c on NBC and next day on Peacock.

Season 4, Episode 8 of Law & Order: Organized Crime revealed exactly how Stabler's (Christopher Meloni) dad died, and it was a complete shock to the show's central character. 

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Who was Elliot Stabler's father, Joe Stabler? 

Stabler's father Joe was also a New York City police detective. Married to Stabler's mom Bernadette (Ellen Burstyn), it's been revealed in prior episodes that Joe was abusive to his wife and kids, had been suspended for misconduct, and that he and his partner were once involved in the shooting of an unarmed kid.

How did Elliot Stabler's father, Joe Sr., die?

At the end of Season 4, Episode 8 of Law & Order: Organized Crime, viewers — and Stabler himself — finally learned the truth about how Joe Sr. died. The late NYPD detective took his own life. Stabler learned this after demanding the truth from his older brother Randall Stabler (Dean Norris), who was reluctant to tell him.

Their mom Bernadette ended up blurting out the news, adding, "He was found in the garage with the engine running."

Bernadette Stabler and Elliot Stabler talk in a scene from Law & Order: Organized Crime Season 4 Episode 8.

Tensions between the family earlier in the episode built up to the shocking moment, which Stabler didn't take well.

The three Stabler brothers — Elliot, Randall, and younger brother Joe Jr. (Michael Trotter) — joined their mom at a storage facility, where they seemed to be helping her move out some items to take with her to the assisted living facility she was set to move into.

Stabler, as usual, was on his cell with his colleagues in the NYPD's Organized Crime Control Bureau, which annoyed Randall. "Can’t you just be present for once?,” Randall asked. 

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Looking around at her possessions, Bernadette remarked, "There are just so many memories in this place. We can’t get rid of all this stuff."

Randall reminded her that her new place would only have one bedroom, and that she couldn't possibly take all that stuff with her. Bernadette then found some quilts that she made, telling her sons of their own children, "We should ask the kids to pick the one they want, just something to remember me by.”

This upset Joe Jr., who said, “Don’t talk like that, ma.” But Stabler promised he'd make sure everyone got a quilt.

Bernadette and Joe Stabler Jr. in a scene from Law & Order: Organized Crime Season 4 Episode 8

Autographed Mickey Mantle ball sparked Stabler family tensions

The family then came across a baseball with Mickey Mantle’s signature. Joe Jr. announced, “I know a guy who works in collectibles. This will bring a pretty penny.”

Stabler asked if he knew the story behind the ball and then explained that during Mantle's last season, their dad yelled out something during batting practice that caught the Yankee legend's attention. "He thought it was funny, so he signed the ball for him," Stabler said.

But what was meant to be a lighthearted story turned into anything but. "You got my autograph on there too," Randall told Joe Jr. "See that little red streak? I came home late one night and the old man chucked it at my head, bloodied my nose and chipped a tooth."

Stabler responded, “You said you got into a fight at school.”

Randall said that that's what you say when you're protecting your younger brother. "I didn’t tell you," he added, "Because the man was your hero and you weren’t ready to listen.”

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The conversation got to Bernadette, who told her sons, “Alright. Alright. Just stop. You two are driving me crazy. You’re just always going at it. Just stop it.”

Joe Jr. then said that he "can’t either. I got to get out of here.” He kissed his mom goodbye and left, prompting  Randall to ask Stabler, “What’s going on with him?”

The youngest brother then went to his car, zipped open open a bag containing needles, foil and a spoon, and shot heroin in secret.

Randall, Elliot, and Bernadette Stabler stand together in Law & Order: Organized Crime Season 4 Episode 8.

Elliot Stabler learned how his father Joe died

At the end of the episode, Randall came by Stabler’s home and it's revealed that their mom isn't moving into an assisted living facility just yet. She's going to stay with Randall for a while.

Randall explained that he looked over the paperwork for the place and it's a "scam," so he invited Bernadette to stay with him while they take more time to find the right place for her. 

Stabler didn't buy it though, saying, “You couldn’t do it, could you?"

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Randall then said he wanted to talk about something serious, asking Stabler, “When are you gonna tell me what’s going on with Joe Jr.?”

Stabler shot back, “When are you gonna tell me about pop?”

Randall said, “One thing at a time," and his younger brother pressed for answers. 

Closeup of Elliot Stabler in Law & Order: Organized Crime Season 4 Episode 8.

Their mom then chimed in with, “Tell him," as Stabler pleaded, "I want to know. I need to know."

Bernadette then just told Stabler herself: "He killed himself. He was found in the garage with the engine running.”

Stabler teared up and just stared. 

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When their mom left the room, Randall sat down next to his younger brother, grabbed a bottle of liquor and two glasses and said, “We’re gonna need the good stuff for this.”

To find out what else may be revealed about the Stabler family patriarch, watch Law & Order: Organized Crime on Thursdays at 10/9c p.m. on NBC, or stream episodes the next day on Peacock.