I have read a lot of great books, some of them more than once. But the only book I have read, cover to cover, four times, is the true-crime classic Helter Skelter, about the Charles Manson case. I found it on my parents' bookshelf when I was in high school, read it, read it again, and have gone back to it again and again. That old tattered original copy remains on my bookshelf and I am quite sure that I will read it two or three more times before it’s all over. There is just something so compelling about strange stories, along with the process of unraveling them.
Helter Skelter sparked a lifelong love of true crime stories, right up through last summer’s Serial craze, which is why I was so delighted after a to discover TNT’s Cold Justice when its new season recently kicked off.
Sort of a reality-show cross between Cold Case and Law & Order, Cold Justice follows a former prosecutor and a former crime scene investigator around the country as they re-investigate unsolved murder cases, some as old as 20 years.
Sometimes they are able to recommend an indictment and bring closure to the victims' families; sometimes they aren’t. In one episode I saw, they felt strongly that they had their man but shoddily collected DNA evidence meant that there was little chance of a conviction.
It’s always interesting to see how crimes are really investigated in real life (as opposed to how they’re investigated on the scripted shows I mentioned above), and most astonishingly, the obvious things that are missed. I have been amazed how each episode begins with the local cops warmly welcoming Yolanda and Kelly (the investigator and prosecutor) into their precincts, though there is no resentment of the notion that these ladies are going to waltz in and solve a crime that they were unable to. But it’s television, so of course everyone pastes on a smile and gets along for the camera and hides their professional pride because it’s all in the service of putting a murderer behind bars.
More amazing is how such elementary investigative tactics – things we all know you should do from watching shows like Law & Order – don’t seem to be as common sense as one would imagine. In several of the episodes I watched, a suspect’s alibi goes up in flames when Kelly and Yolanda interview the alibi, who refutes the suspect’s assertion that they were together on the night in question. It’s always good news for the investigators and for the progress of the case, but you mean to tell me that the suspect said “I was with my girlfriend that night, so I couldn’t have killed him” and no one bothered to go ask the girlfriend about it until 20 years later?? They just looked at each other and said “I guess he couldn’t have done it, he says he was with his girlfriend.”
In any case, this is an entertaining show, a procedural that doesn’t always have a happy ending like its scripted cousin would, which makes it a refreshing and realistic surprise.
Cold Justice airs new episodes Friday nights at 8pm on TNT.