Set for its North American premiere tomorrow is the true-crime docuseries Catching a Killer, a gripping show that follows actual murder investigations from start to finish.
If 24 Hours in Police Custody and Endeavour had a baby, it might well look like Catching a Killer, the award-winning true-crime docuseries that SVOD streamer Topic is set to launch in the US and Canada tomorrow.
Dubbed the “real life Inspector Morse,” Catching a Killer centers on members of the Thames Valley Police as they investigate major crimes, including missing person and murder cases. Each of the series’ five films (to date, I’m hoping there will be more) is a self-contained episode that follows their work on one case from beginning to end — offering viewers unfiltered access to the inner workings of the police investigation, including the search for evidence, forensics, review of CCTV footage, appeals to the public, Family Liaison Officer interviews with the victim’s family and/or friends, and detectives’ interrogations of the primary suspect.
“The Search for Natalie Hemming”
The first film in the series is “The Search for Natalie Hemming.” On May 3, 2016, a woman calls 999 to report that her daughter, Natalie Hemming, has been missing for 48 hours. When asked about what concern she has that prompted her to call the police, she responds with one word: “Him.”
This 999 call launches the “high risk missing person investigation” into the disappearance of Natalie, a 31-year-old mother of three young children living with her partner in Milton Keynes. Work by members of the Major Crimes unit uncovers details about Natalie’s life and about “him,” and those on the forensics team turn up what could be evidence that something sinister has happened to Natalie.
Unlike fictional police procedural and murder mystery series that conclude with the arrest of the culprit, the reality is that investigators still have loads of work to do after an arrest to secure evidence that ensures, as much as is possible, that the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has what it needs to (hopefully) successfully prosecute a case and get the perpetrator sent to prison. Without that evidence, the case might never get to court and the culprit could be free to commit another crime. And so it is here. In the words of Detective Chief Inspector Simon Steel, the Senior Investigating Officer (SIO) on the Natalie Hemming case:
“Without finding Natalie, there’s a real risk that justice will not be served.”
“The Wind in the Willows Murders”
The second film, “The Wind in the Willows Murders,” is as close to an episode of Inspector Morse (or Inspector Lewis or Endeavour) as a true-crime documentary gets. It follows the investigation into the April 2016 murder of Adrian Greenwood, an antiques dealer, collector, historian, and author who was found stabbed to death at his home in Oxford.
The SIO on the case, Detective Superintendent Kevin Brown, acknowledges the time pressures to get evidence here. There are no signs of forced entry and no witnesses to the “vicious and sustained attack” on Adrian, who had sold one of the first works by artist Banksy and one of the first Harry Potter first editions. Nor are there any suspects or a specific motive for the murder.
But after dozens of hours of painstaking police work put in by members of the investigating team over just the first few days of the case — one even jokes, “I now know what a[n overworked NHS] junior doctor feels like,” after working 49 hours in three days and looking at a 20-hour fourth day — they have what they hope is the “eureka moment” on the case.
But the situation with the suspect, vis-à-vis the murder of Adrian, which involves multiple stab wounds, turns out to be a “very unusual” one…
While I don’t consider myself a true-crime junkie in the true sense of the term, I have watched my fair share of British true-crime dramas, docudramas, and docuseries, and I gotta say that Catching a Killer is one of the most compelling of the lot. It’s like a fictional whodunit, only with real detectives investigating actual murders, homicide cases that can involve dramatic twists and turns without the use of red herrings.
The films are enlightening as to the difficult work that police officers do, and heartbreaking when you see and hear the victims’ family and friends fret over and grieve the loss of their loved ones. The tragedy of it all hits home when seeing and hearing through archival footage the victims themselves, people who could have, would have, should have had many more years of life ahead of them, had it not been for the senseless acts that cut them short.
So whether your thing is watching murder mysteries or police procedurals or true-crime stories, check out Catching a Killer. It gives you all of that and more.
Catching a Killer premieres in the US and Canada with the above two films tomorrow, Thursday, June 9, exclusively on Topic. The remaining three films will debut singly each week through June 30.
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