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  • Published: 3 August 2021
  • ISBN: 9781760898007
  • Imprint: Ebury Australia
  • Format: Trade Paperback
  • Pages: 320
  • RRP: $34.99

CSI Told You Lies

Giving victims a voice through forensics.

Extract

INTRODUCTION

‘So, why true crime?’

I’m still astounded that anyone finds my foray into true crime odd. I was never asked ‘Why daytime television?’ or ‘Why breakfast radio?’, or about anything else I’ve done over the course of my career, with such a sense of incredulity. Actually, I lie. ‘So, why Buddhism?’ was big for a while, because I’ve written a few books on that topic too.

What can I say? I guess I have broad tastes and I like to keep busy.

I started podcasting around 2006 with the guys I was doing a radio show with, and then, in 2014, I decided to start a podcast of my own so that I could interview people for longer than the three minutes our FM radio station allowed. I called it The Nitty Gritty Committee.

When I interviewed local true crime author Emily Webb in September 2016, podcasting was still very low-key, although there had already been two significant developments that had changed the course of the medium forever. The first was the Apple podcast app, which had just appeared on our iPhones one day whether we liked it or not, and the second was a certain true crime podcast from 2014.

Traditional media increasingly contends that consumers have shrinking attention spans (hence the three-minute radio interviews). That may be, but we also have ever-expanding commutes, whether we use cars or public transport, which makes the repetitive, old-school radio formula of time, temp, and traffic reports pretty uninspiring. We’ve also been conditioned over these many years to abhor a vacuum cleaner. Personally, I can’t conceive of cleaning the house unless I’ve chosen an entertainment option up to the task of distracting me. The selection will often take far longer than the chore itself, but I’m not going in without one.

We have an insatiable appetite for entertainment, but more than that, we now want to experience exactly the content we feel like experiencing in the format that suits the activity we’re pairing it with and the environment we’re in. For those of us who enjoy documentaries and longform journalism but don’t have a lot of time to sit still and watch or read something, the podcast was an absolute life-changer. No peak-hour commute, waiting room, solo trip or boring chore has ever been the same.

*

In 2014 journalist Sarah Koenig introduced the world to Hae Min Lee in the weekly podcast Serial. Hae was a senior at Woodlawn High School in Baltimore in 1999. Like many of her friends, including her former boyfriend Adnan Syed, Hae kept secrets from her strict immigrant parents as she tried to navigate life as an American teenager, all of which made for compelling fodder when Koenig came to investigate Adnan’s conviction for Hae’s murder.

Week after week, Serial unfolded in meticulous detail. It was at times a story of typical (if cringeworthy) teenage drama and intrigue. We felt the flush of first love in Hae’s swooning diary entries detailing her devotion to Adnan. We admired the convoluted ingenuity they employed to speak nightly on the home phone without Hae’s mother ever knowing, despite the many obstacles she’d placed in their way.

In the end, though, none of it mattered for the two young people at the heart of the story. Neither of them could be protected by their parents from the evils of the world, and neither would graduate high school alongside their classmates. Hae would be discovered in a shallow grave in Baltimore’s Leakin Park, a notoriously popular site for the dumping of bodies, and Adnan would spend the rest of his life in the prison system for leaving her there.

For her part, Sarah Koenig did much more than just recount this tragic story. She presented many disturbing failings in the investigation, the case against Syed and the defence provided for him by his attorney, Cristina Gutierrez, who was subsequently disbarred following complaints from multiple clients.

Rather than pander to an imagined audience of goldfish-brained listeners who couldn’t possibly sit still and focus for more than a couple of minutes, Koenig and her team dived deep on the details and demanded that we keep up.

Serial has been downloaded roughly 175 million times (and counting). It has spawned several spin-off documentary series and books, and the world still seems split down the middle as to the guilt or innocence of Adnan Syed.

As for the attention span of the audience, the passion and clarity with which every aspect of evidence and testimony continues to be debated by fans of the podcast is truly peak internet, not to mention the hours invested in understanding cell-tower ‘ping’ technology as it stood in 1999. To google ‘the Nisha call’, ‘the Best Buy payphone’ or ‘Jay Wilds’ is to plunge oneself down a rabbit hole for experienced players only. Beginners’ questions will not be tolerated.

Serial changed the media landscape in many ways, but the choosing of a true crime story was surely no accident for Koenig’s seasoned team. When considering this audacious project, they no doubt hedged their bets on the naturally engaging nature of the true crime genre. Why is it so engaging? Because at the end of the day it’s about the explosive emotion that lurks within us all. We fear it and we’re fascinated by it.

Someone wrapped their hands around Hae Min Lee’s neck and strangled her to death within minutes of engaging with her that day. An 18-year-old schoolgirl. She could only have arrived at their meeting minutes before the attack. Did they plan it? Is that why they asked her to meet them? Or was it an argument that quickly spiralled out of control? What could possibly have precipitated such violence? Whomever is responsible, these questions still remain.

‘That could never be me,’ we say, and yet inside we wonder if it could. We hear these stories about other people, some of whom we can convince ourselves are so very unlike us but some of whom really are not, and we wonder, what would it take?

Victim or perpetrator, what would it take for me to end up in that position? Would it take rage, jealousy, fear, shame, alcohol, drugs? A combination? Plus time? How much time? Would it take a campaign on the part of someone else? Could I snap? Could my ex? And how could the systems designed to protect us let us down? These are the questions that drive the visceral engagement between good true crime and its devoted audience.

 

There was no sign that a true crime podcast boom was on the horizon as I interviewed Emily Webb about her books Murder in Suburbia and Angels of Death. But I was so drawn to her, and to her sympathetic approach to her work, that when we finished recording, I asked if she’d be interested in doing a dedicated true crime podcast with me. She leapt at the idea and in March 2017 we launched our podcast, Australian True Crime.

I know that I speak for both of us when I say that the biggest impact of our early entry into the true crime genre is that the ensuing explosion in similar podcasts brought with it a level of scrutiny that neither of us had anticipated. Some of it has been easy enough to ignore, particularly for me because I’ve been a comedian, television and radio broadcaster for more than twenty years. You would hope I’ve developed a certain level of immunity to criticism by now! But some of the scrutiny has raised genuinely interesting and timely questions about the way we tell stories about crime, punishment and victimhood. Perhaps the most important question is who the stories belong to. The second most important question: what is the purpose of telling them?

In the past, the focus has been squarely on perpetrators of crime. In her excellent book, The Five, Hallie Rubenhold seeks to tell the stories of the five known victims of Jack the Ripper. While that still-unidentified murderer remains the subject of a multimillion-dollar industry fuelled by books, movies and merchandise, the five women he murdered are described as drunk prostitutes, and that is all.

The victims of the Whitechapel serial killer were women hamstrung by the circumstances of their birth. Widowed, fleeing domestic violence, debilitatingly impoverished. They were mothers and daughters with devastating stories of courage and survival. The way they each met their end – slashed and disembowelled by their attacker in 1888 – is enraging when seen through Rubenhold’s lens. That is the power of true crime storytelling when it’s done well.

There is a lot of cynicism directed at true crime storytelling and I’m constantly asked to explain (although by implication, defend) my interest in the genre. Women make up the largest percentage of the true crime audience, and I’m often asked (most frequently by men) to explain that attraction.

Although the statistics are repeated with slim variation around the world, I’ll stick to my own backyard and remind you that while Australian men are more likely to be victims of violent crime than women, they are also far more likely to commit it. Roughly 80 per cent of violent crime in Australia is committed by men.1

As I write, the media is dutifully reporting the ‘significant drop in violent crime during the pandemic lockdowns’ throughout Australia in 2020. ‘The figures show national drinking and assault rates have dropped,’ says The Age,2 and ‘crime decline raises question mark over state prison plans.’3

Meanwhile, data collated by the Australian Bureau of Statistics indicates that the rate of sexual assaults reported in Australia rose by 2 per cent in 2020, which was the eighth consecutive annual rise and the highest increase for this offence recorded in a single year.4 Add to that the increase in family violence incidents attended by Victorian police (up 7 per cent on 2019 levels during some months) and you start to get the feeling that not much has changed since 1888.5

Violent assaults against men have dropped, that’s what the headlines should say.

With thanks to Our Watch, the independent not-for-profit organisation established to drive real cultural change for Australian women and children, we know that one in three Australian women (34.2 per cent) have experienced physical and/or sexual violence perpetrated by a man since the age of fifteen. Australian women are nearly three times more likely than men to experience violence from an intimate partner. And almost ten women a day are hospitalised for assault injuries perpetrated by a spouse or domestic partner.6

Those are the facts and figures. The somewhat less tangible, more nebulous and more insidious aspect of our culture is the intrinsic acceptance of feminine victimhood.

From birth we’re warned about our weakness. We’re informed we are prey. We’re told what kinds of clothes and behaviour make us more vulnerable, and what times of day are more dangerous for us to be outside. We learn that drinks and drugs make fools of us and beasts of men, even nice ones, and how to negotiate with them when we can’t outrun them.

We accept the inherent danger of being left ‘alone’ in either a crowd or a deserted place. By the time we’re old enough to go out unchaperoned, we’ve been so conditioned to accept responsibility for whatever happens to us that we’re beyond questioning why we should have to feel unsafe at all. I mean, when you think about it, who are these monsters we’re in danger of running into anyway?

Presumably they’re the same men we’re interacting with during daylight hours. Our neighbours, our workmates, the boys we sat next to at school, their brothers, our brother’s friends, our father’s friends and so on. By extension, then, our friends should be fearing our brothers and our fathers. As we mature, we are warning our daughters about our friends’ sons and they about our sons. Does that seem acceptable to you?

It seems we accept that an Australian woman will be murdered by her current or former partner this week, and another one next week, and another the week after that. We must be accepting of it, because it’s been happening on average for years.

‘Who is next week’s woman?’ I often wonder. She’s out there. Is it you? Is it me? Is it someone we know?

Forewarned is forearmed, right? So perhaps the more we know about how these things happen, how the final act plays out, the more capable we might be if our moment comes. The more likely we will be to make a different decision. To zig where we might have zagged. To live.

Next week’s woman is someone who is loved by many, no doubt about it, and those people’s lives will be shattered by her violent death. Her parents, her children, her siblings and friends will be left behind with the trauma for the rest of their lives.

For the first responders – the police and paramedics – and later the lawyers and jurors, the aftermath will be life-changing. As it will be for the forensic pathologists who conduct her post-mortem examination.

I was contacted in 2018 by the legendary media maven Deb Withers. I wouldn’t dare place a number near the span of her media career, but I will say that having worked as a journalist, publicist, television producer and even media manager for the St Kilda Football Club, there’s nothing Deb hasn’t done (or seen) in Australian showbiz. Upon returning her call, I discovered we could add media consultant for the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine (VIFM) to the list.

Deb had a gig for me, if I was interested. She was producing a web series called Afterlife for the Institute and she wondered if I was interested in co-hosting it with actress Catherine McClements. It would involve interviewing the forensic pathologists who carry out the autopsies for the coroner. Well, I was absolutely thrilled. I didn’t tell her that I regularly logged on to the Victorian Coroners Court website to read the latest inquest findings for my own interest and education, but I leapt at the chance and a wonderful relationship was born.

One of the many outcomes of that phone call that I could never have predicted, though, is that forever more I will include the small team of forensic pathologists in my thoughts whenever I hear the terrible news of a tragic death in my city. When I wake up to the news that a young woman’s body has been found in a park or some such circumstance – an all-too-common occurrence, sadly – I wonder who is on call at the mortuary. When I hear of a small child dying in horrendous circumstances, I feel for whomever will be working on the small body at that very moment.

We all know this is part of the story, but we’re used to hearing about it much later, during the court process, and so we often don’t place it where it belongs. I never did, but I do now. These people, these crucial links in the chain who are so vital in giving the dead a voice in the judicial system, are perhaps the least visible. My potentially disturbing habit of reading inquest findings informs me that the same handful of experts are called to give evidence in the biggest trials in the country and yet, unlike the highest-profile homicide detectives with whom they work closely for decades, we never see them on the television or read their autobiographies.

They are there, though, at the coalface, every bit as invested and affected as any other first responder – in fact, on many occasions, Australian forensic pathologists will attend crime scenes and conduct initial examinations of remains in situ.

Why don’t we know about these people? A couple of good reasons come to mind. One is that their work is very hard to think about, especially when they’re actually doing it. Having spoken to families who have lost loved ones to violent crime in order to obtain permission to include their stories in this book, I’ve naturally had to broach the difficult topic of the post-mortem. During that conversation I’ve asked family members if they knew where and when the procedure took place. Almost without exception, they did not. Most assumed their loved one had left the scene much earlier than they in fact had, and that they’d been trans

When I interviewed local true crime author Emily Webb in September 2016, podcasting was still very low-key, although there had already been two significant developments that had changed the course of the medium forever. The first was the Apple podcast app, which had just appeared on our iPhones one day whether we liked it or not, and the second was a certain true crime podcast from 2014.

Traditional media increasingly contends that consumers have shrinking attention spans (hence the three-minute radio interviews). That may be, but we also have ever-expanding commutes, whether we use cars or public transport, which makes the repetitive, old-school radio formula of time, temp, and traffic reports pretty uninspiring. We’ve also been conditioned over these many years to abhor a vacuum cleaner. Personally, I can’t conceive of cleaning the house unless I’ve chosen an entertainment option up to the task of distracting me. The selection will often take far longer than the chore itself, but I’m not going in without one.

We have an insatiable appetite for entertainment, but more than that, we now want to experience exactly the content we feel like experiencing in the format that suits the activity we’re pairing it with and the environment we’re in. For those of us who enjoy documentaries and longform journalism but don’t have a lot of time to sit still and watch or read something, the podcast was an absolute life-changer. No peak-hour commute, waiting room, solo trip or boring chore has ever been the same.

*

In 2014 journalist Sarah Koenig introduced the world to Hae Min Lee in the weekly podcast Serial. Hae was a senior at Woodlawn High School in Baltimore in 1999. Like many of her friends, including her former boyfriend Adnan Syed, Hae kept secrets from her strict immigrant parents as she tried to navigate life as an American teenager, all of which made for compelling fodder when Koenig came to investigate Adnan’s conviction for Hae’s murder.

Week after week, Serial unfolded in meticulous detail. It was at times a story of typical (if cringeworthy) teenage drama and intrigue. We felt the flush of first love in Hae’s swooning diary entries detailing her devotion to Adnan. We admired the convoluted ingenuity they employed to speak nightly on the home phone without Hae’s mother ever knowing, despite the many obstacles she’d placed in their way.

In the end, though, none of it mattered for the two young people at the heart of the story. Neither of them could be protected by their parents from the evils of the world, and neither would graduate high school alongside their classmates. Hae would be discovered in a shallow grave in Baltimore’s Leakin Park, a notoriously popular site for the dumping of bodies, and Adnan would spend the rest of his life in the prison system for leaving her there.

For her part, Sarah Koenig did much more than just recount this tragic story. She presented many disturbing failings in the investigation, the case against Syed and the defence provided for him by his attorney, Cristina Gutierrez, who was subsequently disbarred following complaints from multiple clients.

Rather than pander to an imagined audience of goldfish-brained listeners who couldn’t possibly sit still and focus for more than a couple of minutes, Koenig and her team dived deep on the details and demanded that we keep up.

Serial has been downloaded roughly 175 million times (and counting). It has spawned several spin-off documentary series and books, and the world still seems split down the middle as to the guilt or innocence of Adnan Syed.

As for the attention span of the audience, the passion and clarity with which every aspect of evidence and testimony continues to be debated by fans of the podcast is truly peak internet, not to mention the hours invested in understanding cell-tower ‘ping’ technology as it stood in 1999. To google ‘the Nisha call’, ‘the Best Buy payphone’ or ‘Jay Wilds’ is to plunge oneself down a rabbit hole for experienced players only. Beginners’ questions will not be tolerated.

Serial changed the media landscape in many ways, but the choosing of a true crime story was surely no accident for Koenig’s seasoned team. When considering this audacious project, they no doubt hedged their bets on the naturally engaging nature of the true crime genre. Why is it so engaging? Because at the end of the day it’s about the explosive emotion that lurks within us all. We fear it and we’re fascinated by it.

Someone wrapped their hands around Hae Min Lee’s neck and strangled her to death within minutes of engaging with her that day. An 18-year-old schoolgirl. She could only have arrived at their meeting minutes before the attack. Did they plan it? Is that why they asked her to meet them? Or was it an argument that quickly spiralled out of control? What could possibly have precipitated such violence? Whomever is responsible, these questions still remain.

‘That could never be me,’ we say, and yet inside we wonder if it could. We hear these stories about other people, some of whom we can convince ourselves are so very unlike us but some of whom really are not, and we wonder, what would it take?

Victim or perpetrator, what would it take for me to end up in that position? Would it take rage, jealousy, fear, shame, alcohol, drugs? A combination? Plus time? How much time? Would it take a campaign on the part of someone else? Could I snap? Could my ex? And how could the systems designed to protect us let us down? These are the questions that drive the visceral engagement between good true crime and its devoted audience.

 

There was no sign that a true crime podcast boom was on the horizon as I interviewed Emily Webb about her books Murder in Suburbia and Angels of Death. But I was so drawn to her, and to her sympathetic approach to her work, that when we finished recording, I asked if she’d be interested in doing a dedicated true crime podcast with me. She leapt at the idea and in March 2017 we launched our podcast, Australian True Crime.

I know that I speak for both of us when I say that the biggest impact of our early entry into the true crime genre is that the ensuing explosion in similar podcasts brought with it a level of scrutiny that neither of us had anticipated. Some of it has been easy enough to ignore, particularly for me because I’ve been a comedian, television and radio broadcaster for more than twenty years. You would hope I’ve developed a certain level of immunity to criticism by now! But some of the scrutiny has raised genuinely interesting and timely questions about the way we tell stories about crime, punishment and victimhood. Perhaps the most important question is who the stories belong to. The second most important question: what is the purpose of telling them?

In the past, the focus has been squarely on perpetrators of crime. In her excellent book, The Five, Hallie Rubenhold seeks to tell the stories of the five known victims of Jack the Ripper. While that still-unidentified murderer remains the subject of a multimillion-dollar industry fuelled by books, movies and merchandise, the five women he murdered are described as drunk prostitutes, and that is all.

The victims of the Whitechapel serial killer were women hamstrung by the circumstances of their birth. Widowed, fleeing domestic violence, debilitatingly impoverished. They were mothers and daughters with devastating stories of courage and survival. The way they each met their end – slashed and disembowelled by their attacker in 1888 – is enraging when seen through Rubenhold’s lens. That is the power of true crime storytelling when it’s done well.

There is a lot of cynicism directed at true crime storytelling and I’m constantly asked to explain (although by implication, defend) my interest in the genre. Women make up the largest percentage of the true crime audience, and I’m often asked (most frequently by men) to explain that attraction.

Although the statistics are repeated with slim variation around the world, I’ll stick to my own backyard and remind you that while Australian men are more likely to be victims of violent crime than women, they are also far more likely to commit it. Roughly 80 per cent of violent crime in Australia is committed by men.1

As I write, the media is dutifully reporting the ‘significant drop in violent crime during the pandemic lockdowns’ throughout Australia in 2020. ‘The figures show national drinking and assault rates have dropped,’ says The Age,2 and ‘crime decline raises question mark over state prison plans.’3

Meanwhile, data collated by the Australian Bureau of Statistics indicates that the rate of sexual assaults reported in Australia rose by 2 per cent in 2020, which was the eighth consecutive annual rise and the highest increase for this offence recorded in a single year.4 Add to that the increase in family violence incidents attended by Victorian police (up 7 per cent on 2019 levels during some months) and you start to get the feeling that not much has changed since 1888.5

Violent assaults against men have dropped, that’s what the headlines should say.

With thanks to Our Watch, the independent not-for-profit organisation established to drive real cultural change for Australian women and children, we know that one in three Australian women (34.2 per cent) have experienced physical and/or sexual violence perpetrated by a man since the age of fifteen. Australian women are nearly three times more likely than men to experience violence from an intimate partner. And almost ten women a day are hospitalised for assault injuries perpetrated by a spouse or domestic partner.6

Those are the facts and figures. The somewhat less tangible, more nebulous and more insidious aspect of our culture is the intrinsic acceptance of feminine victimhood.

From birth we’re warned about our weakness. We’re informed we are prey. We’re told what kinds of clothes and behaviour make us more vulnerable, and what times of day are more dangerous for us to be outside. We learn that drinks and drugs make fools of us and beasts of men, even nice ones, and how to negotiate with them when we can’t outrun them.

We accept the inherent danger of being left ‘alone’ in either a crowd or a deserted place. By the time we’re old enough to go out unchaperoned, we’ve been so conditioned to accept responsibility for whatever happens to us that we’re beyond questioning why we should have to feel unsafe at all. I mean, when you think about it, who are these monsters we’re in danger of running into anyway?

Presumably they’re the same men we’re interacting with during daylight hours. Our neighbours, our workmates, the boys we sat next to at school, their brothers, our brother’s friends, our father’s friends and so on. By extension, then, our friends should be fearing our brothers and our fathers. As we mature, we are warning our daughters about our friends’ sons and they about our sons. Does that seem acceptable to you?

It seems we accept that an Australian woman will be murdered by her current or former partner this week, and another one next week, and another the week after that. We must be accepting of it, because it’s been happening on average for years.

‘Who is next week’s woman?’ I often wonder. She’s out there. Is it you? Is it me? Is it someone we know?

Forewarned is forearmed, right? So perhaps the more we know about how these things happen, how the final act plays out, the more capable we might be if our moment comes. The more likely we will be to make a different decision. To zig where we might have zagged. To live.

Next week’s woman is someone who is loved by many, no doubt about it, and those people’s lives will be shattered by her violent death. Her parents, her children, her siblings and friends will be left behind with the trauma for the rest of their lives.

For the first responders – the police and paramedics – and later the lawyers and jurors, the aftermath will be life-changing. As it will be for the forensic pathologists who conduct her post-mortem examination.

I was contacted in 2018 by the legendary media maven Deb Withers. I wouldn’t dare place a number near the span of her media career, but I will say that having worked as a journalist, publicist, television producer and even media manager for the St Kilda Football Club, there’s nothing Deb hasn’t done (or seen) in Australian showbiz. Upon returning her call, I discovered we could add media consultant for the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine (VIFM) to the list.

Deb had a gig for me, if I was interested. She was producing a web series called Afterlife for the Institute and she wondered if I was interested in co-hosting it with actress Catherine McClements. It would involve interviewing the forensic pathologists who carry out the autopsies for the coroner. Well, I was absolutely thrilled. I didn’t tell her that I regularly logged on to the Victorian Coroners Court website to read the latest inquest findings for my own interest and education, but I leapt at the chance and a wonderful relationship was born.

One of the many outcomes of that phone call that I could never have predicted, though, is that forever more I will include the small team of forensic pathologists in my thoughts whenever I hear the terrible news of a tragic death in my city. When I wake up to the news that a young woman’s body has been found in a park or some such circumstance – an all-too-common occurrence, sadly – I wonder who is on call at the mortuary. When I hear of a small child dying in horrendous circumstances, I feel for whomever will be working on the small body at that very moment.

We all know this is part of the story, but we’re used to hearing about it much later, during the court process, and so we often don’t place it where it belongs. I never did, but I do now. These people, these crucial links in the chain who are so vital in giving the dead a voice in the judicial system, are perhaps the least visible. My potentially disturbing habit of reading inquest findings informs me that the same handful of experts are called to give evidence in the biggest trials in the country and yet, unlike the highest-profile homicide detectives with whom they work closely for decades, we never see them on the television or read their autobiographies.

They are there, though, at the coalface, every bit as invested and affected as any other first responder – in fact, on many occasions, Australian forensic pathologists will attend crime scenes and conduct initial examinations of remains in situ.

Why don’t we know about these people? A couple of good reasons come to mind. One is that their work is very hard to think about, especially when they’re actually doing it. Having spoken to families who have lost loved ones to violent crime in order to obtain permission to include their stories in this book, I’ve naturally had to broach the difficult topic of the post-mortem. During that conversation I’ve asked family members if they knew where and when the procedure took place. Almost without exception, they did not. Most assumed their loved one had left the scene much earlier than they in fact had, and that they’d been transported in the ambulance to a hospital. It’s difficult to imagine the hospital not being the obvious destination for an ambulance, isn’t it?

The actual post-mortem procedure itself is exhaustive and ‘thorough’, to put it mildly. It won’t be described in detail in these pages, because it’s one of those things that, once known, cannot be unknown, and the only way to ascertain if you’ll be thrown into an existential crisis by the knowledge is to learn it. I’d rather not take the risk.

Anecdotally, it seems to be the case that healthy human minds either have an aptitude for scenarios such as autopsies and crime scenes or they don’t. Crime-fighting dreams have been known to begin and end during a routine training observation in the mortuary. Without a doubt, the effects of long-term exposure can have negative mental health outcomes in some but not all, and again, it seems as though there’s only one way of knowing which way it will go for any individual. Fascinatingly, it’s a risk many are willing to take.

When I talk about the people I’ve met at VIFM, which I find myself doing often, many people ask me a version of this question: ‘Why would anyone choose to do something like that for a living?’ It’s my hope to shed some light on why people might choose to do such a thing, why I treasure every opportunity I have to spend time there myself, and why it feels like such a privilege to know more about the work that’s done there.

ported in the ambulance to a hospital. It’s difficult to imagine the hospital not being the obvious destination for an ambulance, isn’t it?

The actual post-mortem procedure itself is exhaustive and ‘thorough’, to put it mildly. It won’t be described in detail in these pages, because it’s one of those things that, once known, cannot be unknown, and the only way to ascertain if you’ll be thrown into an existential crisis by the knowledge is to learn it. I’d rather not take the risk.

Anecdotally, it seems to be the case that healthy human minds either have an aptitude for scenarios such as autopsies and crime scenes or they don’t. Crime-fighting dreams have been known to begin and end during a routine training observation in the mortuary. Without a doubt, the effects of long-term exposure can have negative mental health outcomes in some but not all, and again, it seems as though there’s only one way of knowing which way it will go for any individual. Fascinatingly, it’s a risk many are willing to take.

When I talk about the people I’ve met at VIFM, which I find myself doing often, many people ask me a version of this question: ‘Why would anyone choose to do something like that for a living?’ It’s my hope to shed some light on why people might choose to do such a thing, why I treasure every opportunity I have to spend time there myself, and why it feels like such a privilege to know more about the work that’s done there.

1 Liveris, Conrad, ‘Alarming statistics show that violent crime in Australia is a man’s game’, Sydney Morning Herald, 26 September 2015, smh.com.au/opinion/alarmingstatistics-show-that-violent-crime-in-australia-is-a-mansgame-20150926-gjvhbt.html, accessed 28 April 2021.

2 Silvester, John, ‘Crooks and stats: Time for a reality check on crime in Victoria’, The Age, 13 February 2021, theage.com.au/national/victoria/crooks-and-stats-time-for-areality-check-on-crime-in-victoria-20210211-p571nu.html, accessed 16 April 2021.

3 Silvester, John, ‘Crime decline raises question mark overstate’s prison plans’ The Age, 12 February 2021, updated 13 February 2021, theage.com.au/national/victoria/crime-decline-raises-question-mark-over-states-prisonplans-20210212-p571x6.html, accessed 16 April 2021.

4 Australian Bureau of Statistics, ‘Recorded Crime – Victims, Australia’, 9 July 2020, abs.gov.au/statistics/people/crime-and-justice/recorded-crime-victims/latestrelease, accessed 7 June 2021; see also Australian Institute of Criminology, ‘Statistical Bulletin 28: The prevalence of domestic violence among women during the COVID-19 pandemic’, July 2020, aic.gov.au/sites/default/files/2020-07/sb28_prevalence_of_domestic_violence_among_women_during_covid-19_pandemic.pdf, accessed 7 June 2021.

5 Pearson, Erin, Cowie, Tom and Butt, Craig, ‘Recordfamily violence offences and COVID fines drive crime rate surge’, The Age, 24 September 2020, theage.com.au/national/victoria/record-family-violence-offences-andcovid-fines-drive-crime-rate-surge-20200924-p55yqz.html, accessed 7 June 2021.

6 ‘Quick Facts’, Our Watch, www.ourwatch.org.au/quickfacts/, accessed 16 April 2021.


CSI Told You Lies Meshel Laurie

Meshel Laurie, host of the incredibly successful Australian True Crime podcast speaks to the forensic pathologists, homicide detectives, defence barristers and victims’ families in this moving and gripping study of violent crime and largescale natural disaster.

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My Father the Murderer

It’s an unusual feeling to be interviewed about your darkest secret, unusual but also freeing.

Hitler's Horses

Adolf Hitler hasn’t seen daylight for a month now.

Pure Narco

Adjectives such as ‘singular’ and ‘extraordinary’ tend to be overused by biographers to describe the lives of the people they’re writing about, not to mention the publicists who are paid to promote their books.

Electric Blue

John’s hands gripped the wheel. Blood soaked his shirt. The man writhing next to him screamed and groaned through his ruined face.

The Pretty Girl Killer

This is the chilling and definitive true story of one of the world’s most extraordinary serial killers, infamous in both Australian and American criminal history.

Bowraville

It was only three days after Colleen had gone missing that anybody told her mother, Muriel Craig, and the news made no sense to her.

Fake

I’m on the highway a few miles out of town when the noise starts: a scraping, grinding din that jackhammers my heart into my stomach.

Black Klansman

All of this began in October 1978.

Loose Units

I was seven years old when I saw my first dead body.

Deal with the Devil

The fifth and final day of Michael Atkins’ evidence opened in spectacular fashion.

The Arsonist

Picture a fairytale’s engraving. Straight black trees stretching in perfect symmetry to their vanishing point, the ground covered in thick white snow.