The First Season
If you have never heard of the television series Forensic Investigators it is probably because it is an Australian based television series, and well, how good is your reception? I know prior to it coming to DVD in the North American markets, I had never heard of the series. The show is relatively new, first airing in September 2004 on Australia's Seven Network. It is a documentary-based crime-inspired series that details some of Australia's most gruesome murderers and serial killers. The level of detail is pretty much what they can cram about the murderer/serial killer, victim, and the related case details into forty-five minutes. What is covered is a lot of information about the cases, which include interviews with the detectives, forensic technicians, witnesses, the killers, friends and family of the victim, etc., crime scene footage, forensic evidence, and all of the nitty-gritty details needed to explain the who, what, when, where, and how. All of which, is edited and compiled together with hostess Lisa McCune narrating.
This series should be most interesting to those who enjoy crime dramas, as it shows real life cases and the people involved in handing the cases. The amount of detail is enough information to leave you with an understanding and appreciation for what these cops do for a living and the pain and suffering the family and friends of the victims go through. In addition, the show has a much more grisly and dark attitude than the popular forensic-centric primetime dramas under the CSI: Crime Scene Investigation flagship. Not only are the details of the crime covered, but insights into the criminal's mind are revealed, which can get pretty creepy. Some of these guys are really messed up and they aren't acting.
The first season of Forensic Investigators is comprised of six episodes, each dealing with a different murder/serial killer. Here are the episode titles and descriptions about what each entails. Also please note some of the names and locations may be misspelled. There are no subtitles or captions with this DVD release and some of the names/locations are difficult to put onto paper. I, however, believe with the magic of Google was able to find the correct spellings.
Episode 1: Paul Denyer
In the summer of 1993, Frankston, Victoria saw the brutal deaths of three young women. 21 year old Paul Denyer went on a killing spree over the period of two months. He took the lives of 18 year old Elizabeth Stevens, 22 year old Debbie Fream, and 17 year old Natalie Russell. The gruesome events left the entire city nervous and scared that they or someone they knew could be the next victim. The beginning of the episode starts with unveiling Elizabeth's murder in Frankston. Elizabeth was found murdered in a park on a raining day, which made it difficult for investigators to gather trace evidence. At what seemed like an impossible case turned into a nightmare for Victoria Police. Later Debbie and Natalie were murdered. Their deaths were similar to Elizabeth's and a clear pattern emerged. With these deaths, the police were at an impasse with no leads to follow. Their criminal profiler had them looking for an 18-24 year old, unemployed local to the area. A major breakthrough led them to a suspect when a suspicious individual was found in a car near the school of the last victim Natalie. The breakthrough led the police to the killer Paul Denyer. The events continue with a police interrogation that end with Denyer giving full disclosure over the events--why, what, when, where, and how. It is very creepy to listen to Denyer talk about his action. For instance, when asked why he kills, he explains he gets a gut feeling to do so. But what is most creepy about Denyer is how he talks about the incidents. He speaks about the killings as if it were natural.
Episode 2: Stephen Dempsey
In November 1994 in New South Wales a cab driver named Ezzedine Bahmad was found dead and stabbed thirty-seven times. Later, a torso was found fitting the description of one Stephen Dempsey, a 34 year old landscape worker, who had been missing since August of the same year. It took sometime, but from the efforts of a forensic pathologist and the detectives, they were able to confirm it was Dempsey's torso. Inside the torso, the pathologist found an arrow head, which turned out to be an invaluable piece of evidence. And when a couple of teenagers in Deep Creep Reserve were threatened by a man with a bow and arrow, massive inquiries to the public were made by the police that eventually led them to their suspect, 25 year old Richard Leonard. When taken into custody and interrogated, Richard and his girlfriend admitted to killing Bahmad, but feigned the death of Dempsey was an act of self defense. Richard claimed he was hunting fish with bow and arrow when he ran into Dempsey and he felt threatened by Dempsey's homosexuality and killed him. The detectives did not believe his claim and they were able to reconstruct the killing to disprove Richard's claim. However the tests were not admissible in court. Yet, the investigators did not give up and they were able to come through with tape recording conversations that helped prove his guilt. Richard is also a creepy character, who feels no remorse for his action and discussion about his childhood reveals just how eerie and twisted he is.
Episode 3: Milosevic Family
In March 1984, four Tony and Rad, and their children Denny and Lisa were murdered. When Rad's family members were unable to get a hold of her or Tony, they began to worry. One of them went to the house to find out where they were and she saw the stove top on and called the police. When the officer responding to the call came to the house, he broke in and found four dead bodies. To make matters worse for this family, three years earlier Rad's sisters died in a car accident. When police began their investigation into the family's death, they found a dairy that helped lead them to a suspect. Rad kept a diary, which connected their old family friend named Allen Thompson to the killings. Through efforts with ballistics and crime scene reconstruction, the police were able to tie Allen into the murders. The case did not stop there. When investigators found out Allen was the only survivor in the car crash that took the lives of Rad's two younger sisters, they reconstructed the accident and found there was sufficient evidence that the deaths were not accidental.
Episode 4: Neddy Smith
In March 1995, a man and his dog found a skull on a beach in New South Wales. A special task force of detectives was called in by the local police to handle the situation. The area where the remains had been found was once a popular burial ground for organized crime killings in the 1980s. There was reasonable suspicion from the investigating detectives that the remains belonged to a small time criminal Harvey Jones, who had been missing for many years. Before investigators could proceed, they had to prove the remains found were Jones'. Eventually they did and proceeded with the investigation, which led them to his friend Neddy Smith. Unlike Jones, Smith was a big time criminal who was involved in armed robberies, murders, and even had his hooks into the local police. Smith was put in jail for the murder of a truck driver. While in jail, Smith was working on his autobiography that detailed select bits of his life as a criminal. One "Mr. Brown" shared a cell with Smith and worked with the police to record conversations of Smith admitting to killing Jones. The trick was showing the limited evidence the police had matched what Smith admitted happened.
Episode 5: Matthew DeGruchy
In March 1996, 19 year old Matthew DeGruchy was found outside of his home crying and in shock. Inside his home, his mother Jennifer, brother Adrian (15 years old), and sister Sarah (13 years old) were inside bludgeoned to death. At the surface, the scene looked like a robbery gone wrong. The investigators found enough oddities to make them believe there was more to the case. What the investigators found were areas of the carpet that had been cut out, inconsistent blood stain patterns, and other evidence that the killer tried to clean up his/her tracks. The postmortem analysis indicated the murder weapon was most likely a wheel brace from Jennifer's car. This led to further analysis of the car, where they found a carpet hair that matched the missing carpet in the house. The first suspect was the father Wayne, who had a solid alibi. Soon after, blood tests from the scene led the police to Matthew DeGruchy, the son, whose explanations to the police never seemed to sound right. In the end, the police were left with a lot of circumstantial evidence that they were able to turn around with a major breakthrough that included finding the missing property from the house.
Episode 6: Mark Rust
In April 1999, South Australian police found a note that indicated there was a dead girl's body hidden in the bushes near the Payneham Police Station. The note turned into a two year investigation to find the murderer. The girl's body was Maya Jakic. The problem was the police had very little solid evidence to point them to a killer. Furthermore, the body was decayed and the forensic pathologist working the case could not estimate a time of death. A forensic entomologist was brought in to determine a time of death by analyzing the maggot development in the body. Additional complications in finding the killer were introduced do to a large influx of tourists who came to the area for a race car event. A breakthrough was made when a call was made to the police informing them of the body. A recording of the phone call was aired on the news as a cry for help to the public. Despite, the case never got anywhere. In August 2001, Megumi Suzuki was declared missing and later found dead. Like the Jakic case, there was little for police to go on with Suzuki. A breakthrough was made when Stephen Rust heard the recording of the phone calls on the Crime Stoppers website. He identified the voice as his brother's, Mark Rust, and also provided a writing sample that matched the note found in 1999. Furthering Mark's guilt, when he was in jail, a portable CD player was found in his possession that belonged to Megumi. Police then were able to connect the dots and tie Mark to both deaths.
Overall, the six episodes in the first season of Forensic Investigators presents a significant look into the who, what, when, where, and how of six different murders/serial killers. The early episodes dealing with Paul Denyer and Richard Leonard are much darker than the other four. Specifically, the footage with them provides the viewer a glimpse into their twisted minds as they have zero remorse for their action. As the series proceeds, the last four episodes tone down the darkness and focus more on the general specifics of the cases and not the criminal minds. In both cases, the episodes tend to be entertaining and intriguing in that they provide a good understanding about what really happens in criminal investigations. How the documentaries are handled in terms of editing interviews, news reports, crime scene footage, narration, etc. is done very well. In the end, this release should make for an intriguing watch for those who enjoy the nitty-gritty details of a criminal investigation.
The video is presented in an anamorphic 1.78:1 ratio widescreen color format with full screen footage matted in widescreen. The episodes contain lots of footage from news reports, crime scene footage, police interrogations, etc. that was originally filmed in a full frame format. These clips are matted into widescreen. Please refer to the screen cap above (and below) for an example. As for the quality, the footage captured specifically for this presentation look good. The pictures are clean with minimal grain. The supplied footage, which was not original captured for this presentation, varies in quality with some looking rougher than others. However the overall presentation looks relatively good.
Episode 6 is an exception. Portions of the footage have some glaring visual defects. At times it gets fairly ugly, which looks to be more of an authoring/encoding problem more than anything else. Please refer to the screen cap below for an idea of what it looks like. Also note the screen cap does not do the problem justice, as the image compression makes it difficult to see (look for the spots in the screen cap like the one on the reporter's cheek). The problem looks a lot worse when the spots are randomly and rapidly popping up on the screen. It looks like a lot of little lights flashing.
The audio is given in English 2.0 Dolby digital stereo sound. The audio track is fairly plain and it is more than adequate for the presentation. The release does not support subtitles or closed captioning.
There are no extras included with this presentation.
Overall, Forensic Investigators proves to be an intriguing documentary series about some of Australia's filthiest murders. In comparison to the media's current popular crime dramas surrounding forensics and chasing criminals, this series provides a much darker and grislier viewpoint of the situation. While there is substantial discussion about the forensic aspects of the cases, it lacks the unrealistic flash seen in shows like CSI: Crime Scene Investigation and the dramatic character development in shows liked NYPD Blue. Instead Forensic Investigators delivers insight into the killers and explains the process the case detectives and forensics technicians underwent to put these notorious killers behind bars. In the end, I was pretty happy with this release and I think anyone who appreciates a good crime drama should be fascinated by this documentary series.