Thursday, 29 June 2017

My latest addiction: CBS Reality's "Cold Blood" and "Medical Mysteries" series

My latest addiction is to the American true crime series, Medical Detectives and Cold Blood, which are currently running on the CBS Reality channel. I usually polish off one of each before going to bed. Until recently, I might have spent that time watching Sky News or Fox, but, for anyone of a conservative disposition, the news has been unbearable of late: before resuming my former nightly habit I may have to wait for Peak Corbyn to pass, and for America to finally admit that the whole Trump/Russia narrative has been invented by Democrats suffering from Trump Derangement Syndrome. Meanwhile, accounts of murder investigations are filling the gap effectively. After last night's fix, I found myself wondering why I enjoy these programmes so much - and what they tell us about violent crime in America:

They're purely factual: we have left the realm of opinion and axe-grinding and moral posturing, of which there's a lot about.

There's no moral ambiguity: the killers are evil, and that's that.

There's no attempt to make excuses for the guilty: this is about the process of capturing and imprisoning them. Psychiatrists, sociologists and politicians are mercifully absent from these accounts.

The prison sentences are satisfyingly immense - almost all the featured perpetrators will remain in prison for the rest of their lives.

Some rich criminals do indeed use their wealth to hire scum-sucking legal vampires to keep themselves out of jail.

DNA profiling is the greatest modern advance in identifying criminals. Sir Alec Jeffreys, who developed the technique at Leicester University and first used it in 1984, is one of society's great benefactors. I've lost count of the number of times detectives grin and drawl, "DNA doesn't lie." The number of people convicted of crimes they didn't commit before DNA profiling was available must have been enormous. Ironically, now that the death penalty has become unfashionable, DNA evidence means that judges could sentence many killers to death without a scintilla of doubt regarding the jury's verdict.

Each programme reaches a satisfying conclusion: the killer is caught, justice is achieved, order is restored. Not social justice - real justice.

The vast majority of the detectives involved aren't geniuses, and almost none of the killers are identified thanks to flashes of insight - murderers are almost invariably caught thanks to plodding, unflashy, dogged police work. Persistence, the stupidity of most criminals, or a dash of luck - often a mixture of all three - produce the majority of results. By the same token, many killers evade justice for years because a cop failed to carry out a routine check, or failed to follow up a lead.

The brilliant, high-IQ psychopath with a penchant for taunting the authorities is, thankfully, extremely rare. The educated, middle class murderers who kill their spouses for gain based on a carefully worked-out plan, and who think they'll succeed because they're smarter than the police, really do almost always get one simple thing wrong - they tell a dumb lie they needn't have told (for instance, they often claim that their marriage was fine, when they've recently had screaming rows in public); they fail to take into account the amount of information investigators can gleam from the direction, amount and nature of blood-spatter; they provide over-elaborate alibis; they claim they were somewhere else, when their mobile phones prove otherwise; and, yes, they do drop wallets and credit cards at the scene of the crime. Doh! And when they're interviewed by the police, they either show too much emotion or too little, or contact the insurance company within 24 hours of the crime to ask about collecting the pay-off.

The number of murders solved because the perpetrator winds up in jail in another state, charged with committing a similar crime, or because they blab to a cell-mate about the original crime even when someone else has been convicted of it is startling.

The single mom's new boyfriend or the feckless biological father of her child/children did it. One or the other.

Hanging out in low-life bars and living in trailer parks are not good ideas.

Avoid at all costs being the employee tasked with cleaning up the fast-food joint after everyone else has gone home.  And if an ex-employee knocks at the door asking to be let in, call the police right away.

Anyone who routinely uses an alias did it.

If anyone with money is killed, whoever profits from their death did it.

Anyone who is heavily in debt did it.

Any major figure in the story - e.g. the deceased's husband, wife, boyfriend, girlfriend etc - who isn't interviewed on camera did it.

If you're accused of murder and you have to rely on a public defender - bad luck!


What's surprising about the conclusions one reaches after watching about 50 of these over the course of a few weeks is how unsurprising they are - sorry, but the facts of life really are almost invariably right-wing.

Finally, I wouldn't be in the least surprised if one's reactions to this sort of programme are probably a reliable indicator of one's political leanings. If you end up feeling sorry for the perpetrator in any way, or if, say,  you find yourself worrying about the use of racial profiling, or if you wouldn't like to shake the hands of the detective who caught the bastard (or bastards) or the flint-hearted prosecutor who nailed them in court, we'll be putting our Xs in different boxes on the ballot paper.

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