I probably need to lay off Dateline for awhile. It’s gotten to where I can identify the killer about 10 minutes into any episode.
When they get to the part about the “shocking new development” that “turns the case upside down” – let’s just say the development is not that shocking to Inspector Dave. This grisly murder ain’t my first rodeo, friends. No doubt I’d be the world’s foremost criminal investigator by now, had I bothered to pursue a career in, you know, criminal investigation.
We all have our guilty pleasures; true crime is one of mine. Dateline is at the top of the list, mostly because of the show’s sharp production values and Keith Morrison’s laughably-arch delivery. But there are dozens of similar shows and I’ve sampled most at one time or another. By now they’re all kind of running together.
They all start with a panicked 911 call and end with a poignant statement by a loved one. Nearly all motives involve some combination of sex, money or revenge. Nearly all arrests involve some combination of DNA, cell-phone towers and security cameras. As Chaucer observed: Murder will out.
Except when it won’t. In the U.S., the murder-clearance rate hovers around 50 percent. Which suggests that at least half of American killers get away with it.
Another reason to like Dateline, I guess. After 31 seasons, it’s still mostly about the killers who don’t get away with it. There’s some reassurance in that.
But I admit this kind of thing may not be altogether healthy. Steep yourself in true crime and pretty soon everybody looks like a true criminal. The nice couple next door: How much life insurance might motivate one to kill the other? The pleasant woman at Publix: How far might she go to keep her embezzlement scheme a secret? The old guy walking his dog: How many young women might he have abducted and killed in the early ’80s?
Then there’s the moral question of finding entertainment in the darkest moments in other people’s lives. Those horrific murders in Moscow, Idaho: Dateline is already on the case, with a two-hour special set for tonight (Friday, Jan. 13).
Meanwhile, the experts keep critiquing the investigation like a football semifinal. One criticized suspect Bryan Kohberger for his “rookie mistake” in leaving a knife sheath at the crime scene. Our ubiquitous friend Alan Dershowitz has weighed in too, expressing surprise that Kohberger didn’t think to swap out his getaway car.
Maybe you’re right, guys, but it’s unseemly to sound like you’re coaching a killer.