How we miss real criminal television like “I’ll Be Gone in the Dark”


You would be forgiven for believing that Joseph James DeAngelo, aka the Golden State Killer, was finally arrested after half a century, 50 rapes and 13 murders because of “I’ll Be Gone in the Dark”. Based on Michelle McNamara’s bestselling book of the same name, published posthumously in 2018, HBO’s docuseries, which connect McNamara’s personal story to her work as a citizen sleuth, premiered last summer the day before the plea. DeAngelo on several counts of murder and kidnapping. But while McNamara’s investigation sometimes ran parallel to detectives’ findings on the Cold Case, the timing was pure coincidence.

“Michelle and I were very close,” said Paul Holes, a retired Cold Affairs investigator from the Contra Costa Country Sheriff’s Office, who features prominently in the HBO adaptation, which features a special of. Monday follow-up. “However, I had been involved in the case for 24 years. We had a task force in place long before Michelle even knew about the case, and her involvement in the case didn’t require us to work any harder, and neither of us lent the less attention to what was in his book. Michelle drew attention to the case, but that did not solve the case [or for it] be resolved faster.

Despite the genre’s proliferation on streaming platforms and podcast networks, it is therefore not clear if, and to what extent, real criminal media has changed the way law enforcement investigates or resolves. the crimes. Even Holes, who co-hosts a podcast that collects clues, admits it. Like most things, there are nuances – “It’s complicated” was a phrase I heard from almost every source interviewed for this article.

This is not a new question to ask either. Long-running series such as “Unsolved Mysteries,” “America’s Most Wanted,” and British “Crimewatch UK” may feature spooky music and clenched-fisted reenactments, but they’ve also helped catch criminals: “America’s Most Wanted “, which was canceled after 25 years in 2013 and relaunched earlier this year (with a team including, who else, Holes), recently marked its 1 187th capture, while “Unsolved Mysteries”, rebooted by Netflix in 2020, helped solve more than 260 offenses.

Kathleen McChesney, a consultant with 35 years of law enforcement experience – including the FBI and the Seattle-area King County Police Department, where she assisted on the Ted Bundy case – reports directly these programs as the start of a marriage of convenience between law enforcement and media. (Holes appeared on an “Unsolved Mysteries” episode in 2001 to feature the Eastern Region Rapist and Original Night Stalker, as the Golden State Killer was then called, just after finding out they were the same man. And while chat rooms and bulletin boards may have overtaken calling a show’s 1-800 phone number, the citizen sleuth community continues to thrive and modern technology has enabled investigators to tapping into the public for information more easily than ever.

IMDb TV’s “Moment of Truth” docuseries reconsider Daniel Green’s conviction in the 1993 murder of Michael Jordan’s father, James.


Former Detective Chief Superintendent Steve Wilkins, whose work on Cold Affairs was recently dramatized on BritBox’s “The Pembrokeshire Murders” and featured in a documentary on the same platform called “Catching the Game Show Killer,” reckons that the real criminal media have affected the way law enforcement picks up suspects. From best practices – like better bonding with families and faster securing of crime scenes – to bad practices – such as the use of excessive force – he believes the popularity of genuine criminal programming coupled with a instant access to information via social media helped identify the law. breaches of performance. In fact, Wilkins directly credits “Crimewatch UK” for helping to capture and imprison a murderer for life when potential new witnesses came forward after seeing the episode: “It allowed the public to participate and contribute to the investigations. “Wilkins says.

More recently, and closer to home, San Luis Obispo County Sheriff Ian Parkinson praised the “Your Own Backyard” podcast for helping detain the suspected killer of Kristin Smart. Chris Lambert, a singer-songwriter who grew up in the same city as Smart and remembers his disappearance as a child, created the podcast, which sparked renewed interest in the 25-year-old affair. “It’s been a headache and it’s a very slow process to find each of these little pieces,” Parkinson told reporters at a press conference this spring after the arrest of Paul Flores, the main suspect. of Smart’s disappearance and alleged murder. “Some of this information was revealed by the podcast […]”

However, not everyone agrees that TV shows or podcasts like these make a difference.

“I don’t think there is enough [change happening]”said Christine Mumma, lawyer for defendant Daniel Green in the murder of James Jordan (Michael Jordan’s father), recently featured on IMDb TV’s” Moment of Truth. “We see all of this legislation happening at across the country in the wake of the George Floyd case, but we have these cases that are used to fascinate real crime rather than reform. In “Moment of Truth” it’s all based on fact. It’s not theory. It’s not an opinion. And I don’t think so. [shows like this are] used for [reform] almost enough. If this were the case, we would, at a minimum, consider expanding the recording of all interviews in police departments where what happens behind closed doors is literally a matter of life and death, especially for those who are vulnerable because of their race, addiction or mental disorder. health.”

Mumma points to Netflix’s 2015 “Making a Murderer” docuseries, which sparked an uproar from viewers over the treatment of a minor. On the show, Brendan Dassey, currently in prison for life for his role in the murder of Teresa Halbach, was interviewed and confessed at the age of 16 without the presence of an adult: “Why did this not happen? he not triggered the recording [procedure reform]? ”(She also points to the interrogations of the Exempt Five as depicted in Netflix’s scripted series“ When They See Us. ”) She continues,“ There’s this denial that it’s not a common problem, and I think that we are really missing out on. The point is, we are not using these documented failures of our righteousness to push for common sense changes.

On an individual case level, the power of real crime has been evident since Errol Morris’ 1988 film “The Thin Blue Line” helped exonerate Randall Dale Adams, wrongly convicted of murdering a police officer. And as a result of “Moment of Truth,” Mumma says, “there are things coming out of the woods,” new information and witnesses to the police who previously refused to testify expressing their willingness to do so. But even these developments are not a panacea in the struggle to free Green, who has been imprisoned for 26 years for Jordan’s murder, a crime he denied from the start.

“Do I think that [the series] will it have an impact on the three judges who will make the decision to return to court? Mom adds. “No, I don’t.”

It’s no surprise that the relationship between the media and law enforcement seems so strained, especially when the two are individually historical perpetrators of systemic discrimination, especially on the basis of race and ethnicity. But Madison Hamburg, whose mother, Barbara Beach, was killed in 2010, is convinced that, if used in the right way, real criminal television can be useful in the search for justice – even despite the obstacles it faces. ‘he encountered in his own efforts to solve the crime, documented in HBO’s “Middle Beach Murder”.

A man in a black T-shirt and headphones is sitting at a computer

Madison Hamburg in “Murder on Middle Beach”.


The series brought Beach’s perplexed murder back into the spotlight in the side yard of his affluent Connecticut home, but Hamburg wanted to focus on the other victims – the entire Hamburg / Beach family – as he sought to exonerate his sister, her aunt and others. identified as “persons of interest” by the local police department. Throughout Hamburg’s detective work, he ran into a central problem: detectives do not want to share information.

“Whether or not [law enforcement] like that, the real crime, committed in the public interest, puts pressure on the police services, their bosses, and can even make their colleagues change their minds and can lead to ruptures in the case ”, explains Hamburg. “We live in the information age, where the public expects to be informed and can be empowered by that information. (The Madison, Connecticut Police Department did not respond to multiple requests for comment.)

The media frenzy around an affair, cold or not, is a double-edged sword: Reliving the horror can be devastating for the family, even though media attention can grab public attention – and do pressure on the police. A few years ago, Hamburg itself confided in an old friend who was also a former FBI agent about his challenges with “Murder on Middle Beach”. He was worried about exploiting his mother’s or family’s story and was unsure if spreading it would make a difference. His friend asked him, “Would you rather find justice or the truth?”

“He felt that the two are not mutually exclusive, highlighting the inherent flaws in our justice system,” says Hamburg, “but also that sometimes the truth is not prosecutable.


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