Saturday, January 17, 2015

This probably comes as no surprise to anyone who’s familiar with my work, and certainly isn’t news to anyone who know me personally, but I am a True Crime junkie. Why? I dunno. I credit my high school Sociology teacher for first lighting that particular fuse, when we spent one six weeks my senior year studying criminology and abnormal psychology. She had this guy (I can’t remember his name, unfortunately) come speak to the class. He was pen pals with Charles Manson and had met Ted Bundy. He told us all sorts of creepy details about serial killers. I found him completely creepy—and yet there was something there that caught in my mind, snagged my curiosity. I wanted to know more. These days, while I’m not in correspondence with any infamous killers, I do know a lot more about them, the whole lot of them, than does the everyday guy on the street. I’ve read a lot on the subject. Some would say too much. I can rattle off the names of serial killers the way your average guy can with sports figures. I can explain the difference, or lack thereof, between a psychopath and a sociopath, (Note: The terms are mostly interchangeable. Either is correct.) and what separates a “psycho” from someone who is psychotic. (There’s a BIG difference.) I know the names of the FBI’s top profilers and have read their books. Hazelwood; Douglas; Ressler; DeLong. In short, I would dare call myself a minor expert on the subject.

Which probably means that, today, people think that I’m creepy and weird, the way I thought that guy back in high school was freakish. Maybe I am—but those like me are freakish in a completely different way than the freaks that fascinate us. We study them because we seek to understand. And that’s a worthy pursuit.

If I’m honest, the seeds of my strange passion probably got sown way before high school. I grew up hearing stories about a friend of my mother’s who was murdered shortly before I was born, by far the biggest crime to ever occur in the tiny hamlet wherein I lived as a child. She had disappeared in broad daylight, only to turn up a couple of days later, strangled and stabbed and dumped on the side of a road less than a mile from my childhood home and from where I still live. Little kids listen to everything, and my little ears overheard every conversation the “big folks” were having about the crime and who might have done it. The killer was never caught. Had the crime taken place today, it would be a slam dunk. The victim had hair, red hair, underneath her fingernails, and some of the murderer’s skin. DNA evidence, right there. But this was the early 70s and there tweren’t no such thing back then. And, as all too often happens, the evidence got lost over the years. They no longer have it to test. Likely the crime will never be solved.

There might have been some justice. MIGHT have been. The man my mother believed to have committed the offence, a local roustabout with flaming red hair and a bad reputation, was himself murdered a few years later by a member of his own family. (Also within a couple of miles from where I grew up.) There is still debate over who exactly pulled the trigger on that one, but no one was ever charged. The killing was ruled to have been in self-defense. Could be the local police were just happy to be rid of the guy.

Anyway, I pretty much cut my teeth on unsolved murder, and this fixation was fattened up like a goose being prepared for pâté by that high school Sociology class. As a storyteller, I suspect there may be something deeper at the root of it. True Crime is the great universal, Mythic parable of Good versus Evil, played out on the most mundane, i.e. most common, stage. On the level of the everyman. We may not comic book supervillains in the “real” world where we live, but that’s only because they don’t have super powers. There is no greater evil in this world than a violent sociopath. Give that sociopath a super power and you’d need the combined might of the Avengers or the Justice League to take him down. But if the villains in our world are human, no matter how monstrous they may be, so are the heroes. The heroes are the cops and FBI agents who track these beasts down. And those stories are as grand and epic in scope as the greatest myth or fiction. Maybe that’s why I’m such a True Crime junkie. Like I said, I don’t know. I also love mustard more than ketchup. Why? Better to ask what difference it makes. I like what I like. No more need be said.

I don’t watch much television. Lots of movies, but little TV. But if the TV is turned on, 99% of the time it’s tuned into Investigation Discovery. Nothing else that appeals to the masses even remotely appeals to me. Reality shows? Sitcoms? Singing competitions? You couldn’t pay me to watch that drivel. Or you could, but I wouldn’t come cheap. Nor do I like the 15 or 16 different versions of CSI that currently run on network television. Those are just retreads. I want the real thing. The documentaries that air on ID are real in a way that “reality TV” will never be.

There’s one new show that blurs the lines a little, though. I wasn’t sure I was going to like it for that very reason. BREAKING POINT stages interventions with criminals by their friends and family members, overseen by an expert. I watched the series debut the other night. At first I almost turned it off. My bullshit meter was going off. No way this can be real, I said to myself. This is like those repossession shows they run on ID’s siter channel, Discovery. You know the ones I’m talking about. Some hefty guy in a towtruck goes to repossess a car, owner of said car catches him in the act, comes out and they start swinging, shades of Jerry Springer. Don’t buy it, peeps. Repossession men are instructed to never so much as lay a finger on a person. If a repossession is interrupted, they are told to leave immediately so as to avoid any physical confrontation. I’ve know people who do repo work, and they are quick to tell you it’s the first rule of the job. You NEVER get into an altercation with the person whose property you are trying to repossess. That’s why they always sneak around in the dead of night. Companies have lost their shirts in lawsuits because some repo guy barely touched a victim. So those big, beefy guys going and beating up people to repo their cars? Fake. Totally fake. Or, if those fights are genuine, then those people are getting paid off so as not to press charges or file lawsuits. Still fake, in my opinion.

I initially suspected BREAKING POINT was likewise staged. But as the show progressed, I began to believe what I was seeing was real. All those people couldn’t be such good actors, my lovely better half pointed out. But were they paying off people, the way the repo shows do? Problem with that is, this show involves CRIMES. As in, they are filming and documenting someone, pre-intervention, actually committing crimes. The girl in the episode I watched confessed on camera to being part of a kidnapping and assault. So, here’s my take on it: If the show IS completely real, as I now suspect it is, what’s going to happen when some cold case detective who happens to be watching sees the solution to some particular case aired on nationwide television? The producers of the show won’t be able to simply pay off a whole police department the way they would a drunken redneck upset over losing his bass boat. The cops don’t play that. Bride one cop, sure. Bribe a whole squad? Nuh-uh. The cameramen in the show I watched filmed the girl shooting up heroin. Maybe that won’t have the cops coming after her. But that confession to kidnapping and assault? Let’s just say I wouldn’t feel comfortable admitting such a thing, if it were me. And they filmed her on her way to buy drugs, resuming the chronicle afterwards, when she was stoned and passing in and out of consciousness. It’s safe to say they were then present at the actual sale. Really, how long is it going to be before some detective comes along with a court order for the producers to hand over their film footage to be used as evidence in a case? The authorities also aren’t really going to care if the person profiled in that week’s episode has an epiphany and agrees to go into rehab or doesn’t, not when a serious crime has been committed. Not unless the statute of limitations has expired.

You can say you heard it here first. If BREAKING POINT continues for any length of time as a series, eventually what I described IS going to happen. The producers of the show will become involved in an investigation whether they like it or not. That filmed footage will become somebody’s exhibit A. It may well be that, so long as they are getting good ratings, the producers don’t care. They have nothing to lose, so long as they comply with those inevitable court orders and hand over the tape. The criminals being profiled, though? I don’t know how smart it is for them. And the families of those criminals, the ones turning to this show for help, might they unintentionally be providing the catalyst for their loved one to go to jail, the thing they hope to avoid by staging the intervention in the first place? I’m telling you, folks. It’s gonna happen.

I’m also kinda looking forward to the next episode.