“Hollywood Homicide 101?

While driving to a long distance scene one night, I found myself recalling a reader comment from a few weeks ago that seems to have stuck with me. The comment referred to what little television had taught the commenter about what I do for a living. As I drove, I realized that, according to television, I’ve been doing my job all wrong.

According to television, I should enter the crime scene and find something wrong right away (as I only have 60 minutes minus commercials to find the guilty party) and should spot key pieces of evidence at a glance and determine their significance almost immediately. I should then confront the potential suspect in the front yard and make some emotionally-charged, sarcastic statement to let them know that I’m “on to them? in an effort to create an adversarial relationship that will only hinder the investigation.

Even though my role is restricted by statute to determining cause and manner of death, I shouldn’t let that fact deter me from getting involved in all aspects of a criminal investigation. If I were a ballistics expert, I should be able to look at a body and tell exactly what caliber of ammunition made the gunshot wound in the chest (something no self-respecting forensic pathologist would even claim to be able to do).

Since homicides apparently only occur one at a time, ordering evidence comparisons on projectiles, fingerprints, DNA, and fibers is as easy as ordering an extra value meal. I can devote all my time and energy as well as all of the resources of the entire agency into solving this one case.

I should ignore statutory limitations and embark on a personal vendetta against “my? suspect by confronting them at their home or place of business or by reconstructing the crime using role-playing techniques that cause me to take on the pain of the victim.

Then as I drove, I wondered what type of person I’d become if I performed my job the Hollywood way. If I put pieces of evidence together as quickly and as flawlessly as they do on television, then I’d end up being the prime suspect. Aggressively confronting the suspect would certainly be used against me in court by even the greenest public defender. Portraying myself as an expert in all forensic disciplines (as most Hollywood investigators seem to be) would only serve to establish a reputation as a “know-it-all.? Making it my personal mission to “put someone away? or role-playing to catch the murderer would ultimately lead me to wash down numerous types of prescription medication with grain alcohol on a daily basis.

In reality, I let the evidence speak for itself. I don’t even speak to suspects. I limit my observations to the body and any other item relevant to the cause of death. I don’t try to understand how someone could have taken their own life, nor do I care what could lead someone to kill another. My way may not make for good television, but it’s a hell of a lot healthier.


3 Responses to “”

  1. 1 Lori
    July 8, 2005 at 2:16 pm

    And this is the way it should be. Do your job and nothing more.

  2. 2 Aussie
    October 28, 2005 at 4:45 am

    As someone wanting to get into forensic science, i find that a lot of people already in the industry seem to think that I and everyone else, have come to this decision based on Hollywood. It kind of sucks, but I am aware Hollywood has created a lot more interest in the field.

    I feel like now I have to justify my interest and intentions 😦

  3. 3 Norma
    November 23, 2005 at 5:38 pm

    As a fellow death investigator who recently came up on your website I find it completely accurate and funny! You are totally right on how people view this job. I like when they say, “oh, it’s just like CSI, right?”, more like “not”.

    thanks for publishing your stuff.

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