I hope you’ve had a chance to see one of the new shows & agree that this new season of Homicide Hunter: Lt. Joe Kenda is starting out well. Bill & I are just back from attending the premiere party in Colorado, a spectacular event in which we got to talk with Patrick Bryant, the original creator & idea man for the show. (You’ll see his name in the credits for producer. Yes! He has new ideas for new shows!)
We got to view three of this season’s 13 new shows. We toured two of the real-life, really creepy crime scenes.
Viewership is up, way above the ratings for the first show last year. We hear gossip that it’s now the most popular show on the ID channel…ever. Production values are up. No more excess hair spray leading to speculation that Joe is wearing a “bad rug.” No more absurdly charming Hollywood house sitting in for the variety of actual Colorado dumps in which Lt. Joe tended to find his homicides. Now we open with “It’s a Bad Moon Rising,” a spooky moon, & a 50’s noir style.
I’m hoping for more moon, more tune as the season goes on.
The murder of “Murder Bites” took place on July 31, 1992.
Frank Buford walks through a Colorado Springs park every day on his way to work. But this is no routine day. He finds the body of a woman, nude, strangled, & with a distinctive human bite mark on one breast.
At first, Lt. Joe finds no purse, no identification. Then he discovers a shoe in the area, & in the shoe is an envelope addressed to a local landlord. There’s a note apologizing about the rent money & saying that her purse had been stolen. The shoe turns out to belong to Shirley Shook, a nurse’s aide, who lives in a apartment near the park. Her boyfriend, Kevin, is Lt. Joe’s first suspect. Kevin reports he & Shirley were at the ill-named Paradise Lounge until the wee hours of the morning. Kevin says they quarreled, & Shirley went off with a stranger driving a silver Toyota.
That unknown man is now a second suspect. Lt. Joe likes finding a “new guy to play with.” In this case, he finds no fewer than three other suspects: (1) a sinister man named “Sinbad,” (3) a loudmouth named “Chicago” who was heard threatening to kill Shirley, & (4) a neighbor named Mark Manning who was at the Paradise Lounge that night. Lt. Joe never does find “Sinbad,” and he never succeeds in tracing that one silver Toyota among the many. “Chicago” has an alibi, & besides Lt. Joe comes to believe he’s just a blowhard mouthing off to impress others (in this case, the victim of a burglary, who thought perhaps Shirley was somehow involved).
The coroner finds no evidence of sexual assault. Frustrated & angry, Lt. Joe feels at this point that he is “chasing ghosts.”
So he returns to the Paradise Lounge. The bouncer points out a friend of Shirley’s, Cynthia. Cynthia is a regular, who was there on the night of the murder. She remembers that when the boy friend Kevin went off at one point, Shirley & Mark Manning were kissing.
Now Lt. Joe zeroes in on Mark. No longer frustrated, he says, “Now I feel terrific.” He brings Mark in to the station. Mark is reeking of alcohol. He denies everything, even the kissing. Lt. Joe accuses Mark of lying. But he does not have evidence to arrest him just yet.
Then Lt. Joe goes to the landlord, who tells him a very strange story. The day after the murder, Mark asked to move into Shirley’s apartment, so he could be “near her spirit.” Even more suspicious is that right after the Lt. Joe interview & release, Mark decides to move. He doesn’t even pick up his security deposit. He flees.
But he’s still drinking. When Lt. Joe goes looking, police in Glenwood Springs, Colorado, have Mark in custody for DUI. Lt. Joe has another shot at an interview. Unsurprisingly, Mark is once again drunk–and once again attempts to lie his way out of trouble. But, as Lt. Joe puts it, “If you’re going to be a liar, you should have the decency to be good at it.” Lt. Joe goes after Mark in an attempt to put him “in the weakest possible position emotionally.” First, he has medics take blood samples, hair samples, &–of course–an impression of his dental bite. Then he puts Mark through a polygraph test. At this point, Mark is “maxed emotionally.” He confesses.
The bite mark matches, too.
Mark pleads guilty. He receives 36 years in prison.
Lt. Joe’s Theory: His idea is that Mark was obsessed with Shirley. She agreed to sex in the park, but according to Lt. Joe’s theory, “She doesn’t understand that the last thing it is for Mark is casual.” Possibly Mark was too drunk to perform. Possibly Shirley teased him. His euphoria turned to rage. Mark says he remembers nothing.
My Favorite Moment: Mark confesses & says, “I’m so sorry.” Joe replies, “I bet you are.” Look for the skeptical, ironic expression on Joe’s face.
My Favorite Small Touch: A cross on a chain dangles from the neck of the murderer as he commits the crime. Joe says that wasn’t there in real life, so it’s a costume designer’s macabre addition.
The Scene of the Crime: This is a small, nondescript park on Platte Avenue in Colorado Springs, not much to it. But this location is personal. Bill & Joe’s mother grew up in a house on Platte Avenue. Later, she & their father remodeled the house & lived there during their retirement years. The park is just about half a block away. On the other side of the park, the old house where the victim, the murderer, & a couple of suspects lived, still stands. Now as then, it appears to be run-down apartments carved out of a once grand Victorian.
No One Deserves This: The general policy of TV producers is to make the victim more sympathetic than she may have been in real life. They do not tarnish the character of the victim. But Lt Joe tells me that some murder victims lead high-risk lifestyles and are to some extent participants in their own deaths. Shirley was a transient person, who had just moved from Ohio. She worked in a nursing home. She supplemented her income with prostitution. She had a sort of Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde personality, & sometimes lashed out at people, especially when she’d been drinking. No matter what sort of person she was, she should have our sympathy. Odd fact: At the time of her death, she was 38, although she looked much younger.
The Murderer: Mark was another transient, a house painter. He had lived with his boss at one point, but his boss threw him out for drunkenness. As far as Lt. Joe knows, Mark was drunk 24/7. There’s a sharper than usual contrast between the good-looking professional actor who plays Mark & the real-life Mark. In real life, Mark reeked of alcohol, & was not devoted to personal hygiene.
Everyone Else: Shirley’s boyfriend Kevin, the one with the “15-watt light bulb” of a brain that Joe mentions, had a criminal record, including criminal involvement with alcohol & drunks. He was living with Shirley rent-free & depending on her income. Records for “Chicago” showed a “progression effect,” in which a person, over time, goes from minor to major crimes. The burglary victim, interviewed about the threats “Chicago” made against Shirley, insisted that he was unable to talk due to a stroke & that he would have to answer questions by writing notes. He could talk just fine. He just wanted an excuse not to talk to police. Even Frank, who found the body, had outstanding warrants. Lt. Joe ended up arresting half of these people for some offense or other–although for criminal offenses well short of murder.
The Polygraph Test: Polygraph tests are not admissible in court. They are not reliable. But they have their uses to exert psychological pressure, as in this case. “I am not a fan of polygraphs,” says Lt. Joe, “but I am a fan of statements.”