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December 30th, 2005

What Cold Case Work is Really Like

Spending a couple of years with the Cold Case detectives was in some ways a fantasy-killer. Yeah, it’s no surprise that TV and movies romanticizes what they do, we know this, but still. We expect more excitement. It’s weird to see how it’s still a job, with all these office-y, 9 to 5 elements. It’s guns and bad guys and crime scenes then, ” … wrangling for more money, steaming about someone else’s promotion, sitting on hold, reading, filling out forms, and every once in a while, arresting a bad guy, that’s what they do. That’s their job.” (That was from my book.)

Nothing looks like what you think. DNA screens look like spreadsheets, it’s not graphic, it’s all numbers. The programs used to find fingerprints are messy-looking and slow. Here’s what a homicide file really looks like.


Reality, in the end, is always more interesting, though. Maybe precisely because we only get rare glimpses of it. The living, breathing guy, the real detectives, with whatever combination of talent, quirks and flaws are better than the cowboys on TV.

The depressing part, of course, was how ordinary, everyday and mundane murder is. Murder isn’t exciting. It’s dull and ugly. And smells bad.

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