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A (re)surgence of interest in true crime

Posted by Janice on April 25, 2016 at 7:05 PM

I was browsing my true crime shelves the other day - a few titles there, as well as those that are considered 'almost true crime', such as Truman Capote's 'In Cold Blood'. The issue with Capote's work is that it contains all sorts of writerly devices such as dialogue which Capote neither participated in nor witnessed. John Berendt's 'Murder in the Garden of Good and Evil' earned much the same criticism - not really real, but based on and creatively imagined. Anyway, what's not to like about that gorgeous character, Chablis. I don't care that Berendt may have constructed dialogue. I loved her.

Not sure there is such a word as 'surgence', but am also not sure that there ever was a fascination with true crime like there is now. According to in their recent article, ‘Why is True Crime all the Rage Right Now?’, true crime taps into the public’s beliefs about, and responses to, social justice. The article discusses the long-form television drama, ‘Making a Murderer’ which is not a whodunit or a willhegetcaught?

My novel, ‘Murder in Mt Martha’ is based on a true crime story, that of the brutal murder of 14-year-old Shirley Collins in 1953. It raised headlines for weeks following the discovery of her body, and periodically appeared in various papers in the ensuing years, the most recent mention being in 2013. An enduring fascination with an unsolved case, indeed.

The ABC in September 2000 on the 7.30 Report presented an interview with Ron Iddles who at the time was a serving Victorian police officer and had been recently charged with leading a cold case unit to investigate unsolved crimes, including that of Shirley Collins. Here is a brief excerpt from that 5 September telecast:

GEOFF HUTCHISON: For those who work in the Cold Murder Squad who investigate again crime scenes which may no longer exist or the statement of witnesses who may have died, rewards -- if they come at all -- come slowly. But occasionally, the phone does ring and with extraordinary possibilities. In the middle of Ron Iddles's unsolved murder file, there are a couple of pages relating to the 1953 death of Melbourne shopgirl Shirley Collins and a couple of weeks ago, he answered a call which may yet find her killer. Someone killed 15-year-old Shirley Collins 47 years ago and you get a phone call on Friday saying, "I know something about it." Does that open enormous opportunities?

RON IDDLES: Oh, of course it does. Like, I guess one of the things is -- and I've spoken to the caller -- I say you're able to assess the caller and I believe that the caller is truthful, that they believe that this person they're nominating is responsible and it's taken that caller -- and it's been a reasonably tormenting time for the caller -- it's taken 25 years to pick up the phone.

GEOFF HUTCHISON: But the Shirley Collins case will have to wait a little longer yet. A new homicide has just been phoned in and detectives will have to put aside their unsolved investigations. But there remains a steadfast and grim determination around here that justice might yet be done for those who died without it. 

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