5 Reasons True Crime TV Shows Are a How-To Guide for Murder

I watch a lot of true crime shows. "A lot" probably doesn't do the actual amount the justice it deserves. I'm not quite sure what the attraction is, but I'm definitely not the only one who's obsessed with dramatically retold tales of the heinous murders of perfect strangers. I talk with a few more murder show enthusiasts on this week's Unpopular Opinion podcast ...

... where I'm joined by Annie Lederman (Chelsea Lately, Cheryl in Grand Theft Auto V), Rachel Bloom (Robot Chicken), and Brian Dunkleman (hates Ryan Seacrest) to talk about a few of the useful tips and tricks we've learned about the world's oldest sport (murder), just by watching true crime shows. For example ...

#5. If You Must Murder, Leave Your Phone at Home

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There have been a few scientific and technological breakthroughs in the past few decades that have significantly increased our ability to solve crime. The big one, of course, is DNA testing. I imagine if you told your grandparents that we'd someday crack scores of cold cases using nothing more than a few errant drops of jizz, they'd probably ask what kind of foul-mouthed roustabout uses a word like "jizz" in the course of normal conversation. Beyond that, I bet they'd find it pretty interesting.

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Especially the part where you've apparently seen the future.

You might follow that up with a chat about the second biggest surprise crime solver of all time -- the cellphone. I imagine criminals are craftier about it these days, what with the rise of the burner phone and all ...

Thanks for the tip, HBO!

... but there was a time when untold numbers of murders were committed by tech-stupid cellphone users who never realized that their newfangled gadget was leaving behind a detailed road map of their exact whereabouts when the crime occurred. I probably don't need to tell anyone this, but your phone, as long as it's turned on, pings off of whatever tower happens to be in your general vicinity. Your service provider keeps track of this information, and once you're suspected of murder, obtaining a warrant to get it isn't much of a task. Unsurprisingly, this facet of the mobile phone experience wasn't exactly trumpeted from the hilltops as the technology gained traction with the general public.

Digital Vision./Digital Vision/Getty Images
That's the kind of shit cellphones were made to eliminate.

As it relates to true crime shows, this glitch in the murder-committing community's understanding of how closely they were being followed by their phone makes for a great way to inject some extra fun into your already party-like murder-story-watching routine. If you happen to be watching with someone else, pay attention to the date of the crime, which should be mentioned right near the beginning of the show. If it's any time in the early to mid-'90s, place some kind of wager on the probability of the case being solved through the acquisition of cellphone records.

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I'd estimate you have a 50/50 shot of winning every time. If you're looking for a cheat, my advice is to double down if the suspected perpetrator is even moderately wealthy. Not mansion and yacht wealthy, necessarily, more like small business owner wealthy. Hood rich. Call it whatever you want, but if the person you think committed the crime (if it's a quality murder show, you won't know for sure until the end) made enough cash to afford a cellphone back when we were paying $150 for 60 minutes of airtime each month, they probably thought they were smart enough to incorporate their gadgetry into an insidious murder plan without getting caught. Almost all of those people were wrong.

#4. Random Crimes Are Almost Impossible to Solve

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Here's another one for the "if you must murder" files. First of all, if "must" truly is the word you'd use to describe your need to kill, then you probably can't afford to be picky. With that in mind, if you want to get away with it, pick your victim at random.

Here's a statistic that will surprise you -- clearance rates for homicides, meaning the number of homicide cases solved, have fallen from a whopping 90 percent in the 1960s to below 65 percent these days. Seeing as how the previous entry was about all the ways technology has bolstered our ability to solve crimes, you'd think that wouldn't be the case, but you'd be wrong.

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Pictured: For some reason, the first stock image search result for the word "wrong."

The problem is random killings. In your parents' day, murder was more a crime of passion-type of thing, and those are almost always easy to solve. Nowadays, random shootings and gang violence have sent the number of unsolved murders skyrocketing. If you're already on the verge of tuning out on "stay away from high crime areas and you won't be the victim of a crime" grounds, keep in mind that, in general, serial killers choose their victims at random as well.

Thinkstock Images/Stockbyte/Getty
Pictured: A far more appropriate search result for the word "wrong."

Sure, the victims might have similar traits or characteristics, but serial killers usually don't unleash their fury on friends and family. This is why they're serial killers, you see. They get away with it over and over again because, when police inevitably investigate the crime, any ties between the killer and victim are difficult to find, if they exist at all. It's not until the killers finally get arrested and giddily confess to their litany of other atrocities that investigators start piecing things together.

What's the takeaway here? Simple: Don't use murder as a means of exacting revenge. That's what planting drugs in an adversary's vehicle and then calling the police to tip them off is for. No, instead, if you have a bloodlust to fulfill that's matched only by your lust for not being incarcerated the rest of your life, make your murder random. You'll be glad you did.

Oh, and here's another tip to get you started ...

#3. There's an Unlocked Door Somewhere

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If you want an early indicator of how long it's going to take to solve the murder featured in any true crime show, pay close attention when the detectives (or "detectives," in some instances) start talking about how the killer gained access to the victim's residence. Specifically, listen for this phrase:

"There was no sign of forced entry, so we assumed the victim knew their killer."

Here's a layperson's translation:

"We fucked this investigation up almost immediately."

It's important to keep in mind that cops are just people like anyone else. Think about where you work. Are the very best people always the ones who fight their way up through the ranks? Of course not. In most cases, there are a lot of other, less work-related factors that play into someone advancing in their career.

Barbara Penoyar/Photodisc/Getty
You nailed it this time, stock photo site.

With that in mind, do you have any reason to believe things work differently at your local police department? They don't. Sometimes people just suck at their job, and unfortunately sometimes that job is solving murders. As everyone knows, training is a crutch for the talentless, and that's the first thing a hack investigating a crime scene leans on. Historically, as it pertains to murder, that training dictates that the majority of them are committed by someone who knew the victim. That seems to stand regardless of forced entry, but if there isn't a clear indication that the villain muscled their way in, police instinctively want to pin the crime on a friend or family member of the victim.

Darrin Klimek/Digital Vision/Getty Images
Like the cackling maniac in the middle who's laughing over the disappearance of his parents.

On more occasions than any of us probably want to know about, this 1 + 1 = 2 method of crime investigation has resulted in police focusing on the wrong suspect for way too long, thus allowing the real killer to get long gone before anyone ever suspects they were involved.

Take the unsettling case of Chad Heins. He was living at his brother's apartment while the brother was at sea serving in the Navy. Chad Heins' sister-in-law, Tina Heins, was also living in the apartment at the time. On the night of April 17, 1994, Chad Heins returned to the apartment around 12:30 a.m. after a night of drinking. He immediately fell asleep on the couch.

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Last stop before this story turns terrifying!

Tina Heins came home a few hours later. The exact events that followed still aren't completely clear, but what we do know is that Tina Heins was stabbed to death, the apartment was set on fire, and only Chad Heins survived. Seeing as how there was no sign of forced entry and he was the "only other person in the apartment at the time," investigators latched onto the theory that Chad Heins committed the murder and never relented. He was sentenced to life in prison for the crime in 1996. It probably didn't help that Heins' alibi was that he slept through the entire incident, only waking at the last moment, when the apartment around him had already burst into flames. Who sleeps through something like that? He must be guilty, right?

Image Source/Digital Vision/Getty Images

There was one gigantic problem, though. Forensic testing revealed that there was evidence that another person was in the apartment at the time of the killing. Most of that evidence was found on Tina Heins' body, with the exception being a bloody fingerprint left at the scene that didn't match Chad Heins or the victim. Police ignored this because, seriously, how does someone sleep through such chaos?

As it turned out, there was a simple answer. Chad Heins suffered from a sleep disorder that made him incredibly hard to wake, even under ideal circumstances. The problem became exponentially worse when Heins drank alcohol, just as he'd been doing on the night of the murder. Eventually, science caught up to the evidence found at the scene and Chad Heins was exonerated through the magic of DNA testing ... after serving 13 years in prison. The real killer has never been caught.

Also, speaking of stories and lies ...

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