COLD BLOOD RUNS HOT
True crime’s latest generic incarnation is bringing chilling tales of murder into our living rooms, writes Graeme Blundell
It’s a fascinating hybrid genre that combines straight- to- camera interviews, news and police footage, expert opinion and set- piece re- enactments of scenes of criminal behaviour, pursuit and capture.
Ironically, TV’s true- crime shows are often lighter on the violence and gore than scripted dramas, but the contempt for sensationalism by some critics has distracted attention from the often powerful effects of true- crime TV.
Producer Graham McNeice’s Crime Investigations Australia program revisits landmark crimes that once shocked and that remain embedded in the memories of many of us. Hosted by stern, gravelly voiced Steve Liebmann, McNeice’s films skilfully dramatise the stories behind these cases, though in disturbing the past he sometimes creates a sense of dismay.
No Mercy: The Killing of Virginia Morse is the 18th episode in McNeice’s popular TV archive, bringing deviant actions from the margins of Australian experience into the mainstream. It’s retributive, exciting and quite shocking.
You watch McNeice’s stories not just for the carnivalesque entertainment but sometimes with a confronting sense of identification. How does this story apply to my life, you think, and why should I be watching?
No Mercy is the horrific story of killers Allan Baker and Kevin Crump, who began their murderous spree in rural NSW by killing a complete stranger for $ 20, a packet of cigarettes and a couple of litres of petrol. At gunpoint, they then kidnapped Virginia Morse, a young mother of three, from a property near Collarenebri in northern NSW.
Morse, bound, blindfolded and gagged, was raped and tortured by the men as they drove to
TRUE crime is not a popular genre that emerged with Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood , contrary to what several recent popular films would have us believe. But while its beginnings are in the 16th century, the narratives of early true- crime reporting are as thick with blood as Capote’s account of the brutal slaying of wealthy Kansas farmer Herbert Clutter, his wife and two children in 1959.
The emerging genre was linked with religious understandings of sin and punishment, cultural tensions over the changing political dynamics of family life and the obvious political goals of strengthening public order and authority.
During other historical periods it retained key elements of these concerns as it addressed the social and cultural conflicts of its time and place.
Its latest evocation is reality crime television. Queensland. Morse’s torture ended there, pinned down on a riverbank, where she was staked to several trees and shot as she begged for her life.
In the wake of the two men’s 1973 trial, the Australian public was left to ponder whether they were insane or, even more chilling, whether their deeds were the product of rational minds. These were certainly violent, evil people, the landmark case so shocking that a change in legislation ensured the killers would never be released.
It’s all very noir, very tabloid, and very conspiratorial. McNeice, with his just- the- facts method, unashamedly gives us criminality, violence, gritty realism, horror and psychopathology. There is no apology and no shame here, which is what makes it such riveting TV.
The genre has always been flexible enough to include hard- boiled reporting and lurid pulp expose, liberally mingling fact and fiction. It fills
Drives the action: The gravelly voiced Steve Liebmann presents Crime Investigations Australia