Who doesn’t love a good crime drama?
The crime scene, the chase, the way clues fall like dominoes until the police catch the killer.
Then the arrest, and the trial. The entire process unfolds on our screens in a half an hour time slot between the news and late night TV. It’s all very simple, isn’t it?
Wrong. So very, very wrong.
Former Victorian homicide detective Charlie Bezzina is here to tell us how it all really goes down.
Listen to Meshel Laurie talk to Charlie about his experience of investigating the Melbourne underworld. (Post continues after audio.)
Charlie’s been involved in crimes so monstrous you can’t begin to understand their reality. Like the case of serial killer Peter Dupas, who killed at least three women in the 1980s and 1990s. The conviction of Matthew Wales who killed his mother and step father in 2002. And, of course the investigations into the infamous gang-land wars that inspired the hit TV show Underbelly.
So, what really happens at a crime scene?
“You’ve got to let the crime scene tell you the story. I’d walk into a crime scene in defence barrister mode… ‘How can I connect the offender to this crime scene? And why would someone want to kill this particular person?’
“You start with the body, and work your way out. The bigger circle. The family are all persons of interest. You eliminate. You start with the family, then their social circles, their work circles and the likes. Invariably you might find, more often than not, that someone is connected, that the offender knows the deceased or the deceased knows the offender in some way,” he explains.
Charlie Bezzina. (Image: ABC)
On TV, the killer is often not a suspect until a climatic confession in the last five minutes of the show. But, according to Charlie, that is so very 1970s.
Back when he joined the police force they did rely on confessions. That was the crux of catching an offender. But now? It is all about putting them in the crime scene beyond reasonable doubt.
In fact, if the killer does plead guilty, it can be a disappointment in a way, Charlie says, because then they get a reduced sentence.
"Prior to me leaving, it was basically us building a case around the offender. It was that nexus. We had to put the offender in that crime scene. How do we put the offender in that crime scene? Finger prints, DNA, witnesses," Charlie explains.
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Another fallacy of TV crime shows is that after the detectives find out who the killer is, they put them on trial the next week, and then wash their hands of the case.
The process, as Charlie explains, can actually take YEARS to get to court. Even when you know who committed a crime beyond reasonable doubt.
"The relationships we build with the deceased's families... it's probably a two or three year journey you stay with them, if you get a quick solve, by the time it goes to trial, the wheels of justice move quite slowly, unfortunately.
"You prepare them... You say to them 'look, we've got 12 strangers in that jury box to convince that this person murdered your daughter beyond reasonable doubt," Charlie says.
The truth is that most of us have no idea how the entire process works.
But as we learnt on Nitty Gritty Committee this week, it is so complex, so tangled and raw, that it could never be summarised in half an hour.
Listen to the full version of Meshel Laurie's interview with Charlie below.
You can also find more episodes of Nitty Gritty Committee, including Meshel's interview with Making a Murderer's Ken Kratz, the prosecutor who convinced a jury to find Steven Avery guilty, on the Mamamia Podcast app (iOS only), via iTunes, or on your favourite podcast app.