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 ...
If You Must Murder, Leave Your Phone at Home
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.
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.
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.
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.
Random Crimes Are Almost Impossible to Solve
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.
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.
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 ...
There's an Unlocked Door Somewhere
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.
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.
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.
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?
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 ...
Lie Detector Tests Are Worthless
The results of a lie detector test are not admissible in court, and everyone knows it. Do you know why, though? Well, for one thing, they're notoriously easy to beat, and just as notorious for producing false leads. The problem is that polygraph machines check for changes in things like blood pressure, heart rate, and body temperature. These bodily functions can be controlled and manipulated by doing nothing more than constricting your sphincter muscle or thinking "exciting" thoughts.
Even when the potential liar being tested isn't cognizant of the many tricks and tactics they have at their disposal in a fight against the truth, there's still plenty of reason to not trust the results of a polygraph test. See, when a person fails a polygraph test during the course of a murder investigation, it's often the result of a weirdly worded question, as opposed to any actual wrongdoing. Instead of coming right out and asking, "Did you kill your wife?" or something along those lines, they'll ask, "Do you feel responsibility for your wife's death?"
Your instinctive answer is most likely going to be "no" if you truly are innocent (or even if you're not). But let's say your wife went for a walk and never came back, and immediately prior to that, you asked her if she wanted a ride and she insisted that she did not. You'd probably feel kind of responsible for her death for not talking her into taking that ride, right?
See the next entry before you answer, sir.
Sure you would, and that's exactly what the authorities are hoping for, because by the time they're strapping you to a machine to determine the veracity of your story, they already think you're guilty. Fooling you into failing with deceptive wording isn't going to get you convicted, but it definitely gives the police just cause to continue investigating you as the prime suspect.
That's why, if you do ever find yourself facing down the business end of a police interrogation, regardless of your guilt or innocence, your best course of action is to ...
Fuck it -- if someone close to you is murdered, get a lawyer immediately. Whether you're truly guilty or not is beside the point. Once the authorities have you inside an interrogation room, they have one goal in mind, and that is to get you to confess to murder. In their eyes, an innocent person would not admit to a crime they did not commit, no matter how harsh of a turn the questioning may take. There are countless stories of innocent men and women, often under the age of legal consent or otherwise not mentally competent to handle a situation of that nature, who have taken the fall for things they didn't do, just to make the interrogation end.
Meanwhile, it's just as difficult to put an exact number on how many times I've watched a true crime show where the real killers, no matter how often they're interrogated, never say a word. As a result, they usually go years or even decades without paying for their crime. They don't confess to the police, they don't tell their friends, they just get away with murder for a lot of fucking years.
Fashion is his only crime now.
We all know that wealthy people find that the justice system breaks in their favor on a shockingly regular basis. Hell, we couldn't even convict Robert Blake (you know him as Beretta, kids) of shooting his wife, and his alibi was that he was walking back to the bar to retrieve a gun he'd left there at the time of the murder. Of course, he could afford to say not much else and let a lawyer do the rest of the talking. So, no matter how stupid his excuse might have been, without physical evidence or a confession, police are going to have a tough time convicting anyone for any crime. Sure, some of the effectiveness of that strategy is going to be dependent upon the skill of your lawyer, but if we're talking about the difference between you saying something the law interprets as suspicious and you saying absolutely nothing to get yourself in hotter water than you deserve to be, having anyone with even a basic understanding of the law on hand to remind you to shut the fuck up should be all you need.
At least she's nice about it.
Ah, but immediately lawyering up makes you look guilty, right? Maybe, but during the course of a murder investigation, especially one involving someone close to you, the list of things that might cause suspicion to be cast in your direction is an extremely long one. Anything from being seen arguing in public to simply having a respectably sized life insurance policy is usually enough to do the trick, and once the law makes that kind of connection, their focus on you will be intense, even if they're traveling down a completely incorrect path.
A great example is the case of Michael Morton. He was convicted of killing his wife in 1986 and spent 25 years in prison for the crime. He claimed he was at work and that an intruder must have been responsible. Not only did police refuse to believe Morton's story, but they actually withheld evidence that likely would have exonerated him. According to their theory, he killed his wife after she refused to have sex with him on his birthday.
A brutal crime waiting to happen.
In addition to the "at work" alibi, the couple's 3-year-old son witnessed the attack and said his father was definitely not present. There was also a bloody bandanna found near the scene that was never entered into evidence during the trial. When someone finally bothered testing it, they found DNA belonging to both Morton's wife and ... convicted killer Mark Norwood. He killed a second woman, Debra Baker, in almost the exact same way, two years after committing the crime that eventually led to Michael Morton wrongly serving a quarter of a century in prison.
Don't be Michael Morton. If someone you love is murdered, get a lawyer, stat. Unless you're guilty, of course. In that case just confess already before one of us takes the fall for your shenanigans.
Adam hosts a podcast called Unpopular Opinion that you should listen to on SoundCloud and a live stand-up comedy show of the same name that you should come see sometime if you're in the Los Angeles area. You should also be his friend on Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr.
For more closet psychos we've located, check out Everyday Life If One Crime Were Suddenly Legal.