Crime Time (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I suppose there comes a time when every writer in our chosen genre thinks at some point about committing the perfect crime I know I have from time to time. Although the other thought of what’s the point if you can’t brag about it also crossed my mind ?
It is also true that many dismiss the subject as some sort of unattainable goal or myth and it’s for sure the police would love for us to believe that it is quite impossible, if only as a means of convincing us to remain honest.
However for me and my Oh so logical brain it has to be not only possible but has in all probability already happened, many, many times. For instance we know that every year hundreds of crimes go unsolved – however these crimes can hardly be considered perfect in so far as they maybe unsolved but they are not undetected.
We also know that many crimes go unreported, whether this a public statement of confidence, or lack thereof, for our justice system is a discussion for another time, suffice to say here that again these crimes have still been detected and for that reason fail to meet the criteria of perfect.
Therefore the interesting question is ‘how do we know if the perfect crime has ever been committed if it remains undetected or at the time it was dismissed as having another cause such as of natural causes an accident or suicide ?’
If like me you are an avid fan of all TV series involving crime and forensics you might well consider a life in crime a waste of our talents being as it is almost certain that the bad guys always get caught. That’s of course unless you work for a Government agency in which case all your pals rally round and make all the naught things you have done go away. That or they lose or misfile the evidence, put a block on all computer records or just give you a new identity a slap on the butt and tell you not to do it again.
But we’re crime writers, right! We know better than that, TV, like the books many of them are based on have a hidden agenda, make the good guys look good and make the bad guys pay for their crimes.
But surely that’s just pure Hollywood, the ‘White Hats’ win and those that wear the ‘Black Hats’ get shot, hung or go to jail…. Although the same thing happens nightly on British TV as I’m sure it does in every other country. “Yeah ! Go Good Guys !”
However, I’m talking real life here where crime and the criminal always seem to be at least two steps ahead of the law. For sure they seem better equipped and certainly better funded than the forces of law and order. Isn’t it funny how we never see crime bosses on the news bitching about budget cuts or a slump in available victims. I suppose it’s a bit like the world of medicine, have you noticed how the cure cannot be discovered before the disease, same goes for crime and detection ?
Now science is a whole new ballgame, if we are to believe everything we see and hear on TV then if you even dream about committing a serious crime like murder you’d better wake up and apologise because the people in the white coats will nail your butt faster than you can say DNA !
On the other hand, as an alternative to watching crime shows on TV if by chance you were to watch the news and read the newspapers instead you might come to realise that there is a distinct pattern to the many crimes that get reported and of course the ones that get solved.
The police will happily announce solved crimes this after all is good news, sells newspapers and makes the folks at home feel safer. However for the other side of the coin you have to watch ‘Crime Watch !’
Only serial killers make the news on a regular basis and only when they don’t get caught.
When many writers research crime the tendency is to turn to the official reports and the newspaper archives, unfortunately I think these tend to give them a skewed and biased one sided view of things because it deals mostly with those crimes that have an outcome.
As an example of what I mean I am reminded of a wartime story of our fleet of Bomber aircraft. Someone in aircraft design made a point ofphotographing and analysing the damage done to the aircraft by enemy fire after they had returned from their mission. In a detailed report they recommended adding extra armour plating to the damaged areas. The response from the Air Ministry was a suggestion to put thearmour plating on the other places… being as this represented the aircraft that didn’t come back !
So in the same vain when seeking the perfect crime we need to look at the old unsolved crimes or even better the ones marked ‘NFAR’ No Further Action Required.
Now here’s a helpful pointer, a lot of murders are crimes of passion or a heated overreaction while under the influence of drink and or drugs. The police know this so their usual first line of investigation is always going to be one looking for direct connections to the victim(s).
So I would summarise their main areas of investigation logic are Means, Motive and Opportunity.
Means: Our ability to commit the Crime. (How?)
Motive: Our reason to commit the Crime. (Who and Why?)
Opportunity: Our chance to commit the Crime. (Where and When ?)
Of course showing the presence of these three elements is not in itself sufficient to convict a person beyond reasonable doubt. There must also be evidence to prove that an opportunity was present and was indeed taken by the accused.
Incidentally, motive is not a necessary element in many crimes however supplying motive will often help to convince a jury.
Plus if accused then it is always handy to have a decent alibi with which you can prove you were not able to commit the crime in question.
Also at this stage it may be convenient to point out that most criminals get caught because they cannot keep their mouths shut. Remember a secret shared… Is not a secret !
However consider this, remember the ‘Ego’ of human beings, what’s the point of committing the perfect crime if no one ever knows how clever you are ?
Never be tempted to brag about it !
Therefore to commit the perfect crime you need to operate way outside any form of investigative logic and avoid leaving any evidence directly traceable back to you.
You must be fully aware of all the modern day tools available to the police such as CCTV all over the place, especially in busy public places and all travel locations such as Airport check in areas, train and bus stations and most major roads.
Consider too that many High street shops and stores use CCTV for security inside and out, as do vehicle filling stations and hole in wall cash machines. Great for creating an alibi but not so good if they put you in the right place but at the wrong time. Till receipts and credit card transactions are date stamped. Again perfect for helping to create an alibi but a tool that can and will be used against you.
Then there’s the science departments designed to find the unwary by collecting their fingerprints and DNA.
DNA is fast becoming the surest way to prove someone committed a crime therefore it is absolute imperative that you don’t leave any DNA behind you and that is extremely difficult.
Of course you could commit the crime in a place where it is likely to have a lot of DNA from a lot of people while you yourself take extra care with your own. Why not take lots of extra DNA from lots of other people and scatter it around. How you might ask, well how about mixing in some used chewing gum, coffee cups with finger prints, lots of different hairs and fibers off used clothes. Then throw in lots of animal hair from cats and dogs ( not your own pets that’s just dumb) it will be like creating the haystack hopefully without the proverbial needle in it.
Don’t make the most common of mistakes that of trying to hide the crime, just make sure you minimise any personal connection to it. If the crime involves a weapon of any sort leave it at the scene, assuming you have made absolutely sure there is no possibility of any linking evidence such as DNA or fingerprints Etc. (Wear thick gloves not the thin rubber ones you see them use on TV.) Don’t move or even touch the body and never bother to try and hide the body or worse try to dispose of it. Plus don’t steal or take anything away from the scene that could link you back there. (You were never there remember.) Of course you could always give the police a suspect by leaving the DNA of a perfect stranger on the body ! (Mean but rather them than you… right ?)
Of course the best thing to wear would be those wonderful all in one white hooded overalls you see the police forensic people wearing, complete with shower caps over your feet and a face mask. Trouble with that is you might stick out a bit ! Nothing to say you can’t wear all that under your own clothes to help minimise what you might leave behind though !
Oh yes, don’t wear your own clothes, plan an out of town shopping trip weeks or months in advance, go to large supermarkets, buy cheap common brands and only pay by cash and DO NOT keep the receipts. Then after your crime destroy everything quickly and quietly without creating suspicion (so no bonfires or flushing things down the toilet). It’s amazing what a bottle of full strength domestic Bleach does to clothes Not to mention DNA !!
It should go without saying that timing is another key element in committing the perfect crime. Being alone on quiet streets late at night or in the early hours of the morning is always going to arouse suspicion unless you can contrive a very good reason for being there.
I think invisibility is the key solution and here I am not talking about the Harry Potter type of invisibility with a magic cloak. For my latest novel I have been looking closely at the science of invisibility and of camouflage and the art of hiding in plain sight.
Think about your own experiences, how often when walking through a busy town centre or shop and you observe people walking towards you. You may expect them to give way or perhaps stop talking long enough to acknowledge your presence and may be move over… Yet they do neither and if you didn’t move then there would have been a collision. What are we talking here, supreme arrogance on their part, rudeness or were they just so caught up in their own tiny world that you were truly invisible to them ?
Now extrapolate that out into the world, seeing a postman delivering late at night is to say the least unusual but in the morning do you still see him ? Was it indeed a him or a her ? Could you describe them in detail or identify them in a police lineup of say twelve identically dressed post people ?
See what I mean about invisibility? Our eyes and brains are constantly bombarded with tons of information which has to be sifted and sorted into relevant and irrelevant, normal (no threat) or abnormal (possible danger and threat). Our brains do this automatically while we get on with living, which includes wearing ‘Hoods up Head down,’ listening to iPods, talking on mobile phones or those around you. Let’s face it, a UFO could land next to some people and they wouldn’t notice a damn thing.
Continuing with the invisibility theme while we consider the two aspects of Timing and Proximity, now given that we have covered the fact that it virtually impossible for us to come and go without being recorded we must consider using the snoops tools to work for rather than against us.
We all know that all Bad Guys wear masks, a striped pullover and carry an over the shoulder bag with ‘SWAG’ written on it so if we look normal and act normal we should be OK right ?
UM! Well … No, here in the UK we have over four million CCTV camera and that means the average person is going to be caught on camera over 300 times every single day. Learning where cameras are sighted will help but is no guarantee and of course for the perfection we seek ‘Nearly’ is not good enough.
So we need to forget the cameras altogether and use them against the ‘Big Brother’ Snoop system and become someone else and here the more banal the better.
Just as import we need to consider removing ourselves from the area with as little fuss as possible. How about a push bike rather than a getaway car ? On a bike you can use side streets go off road and travel quickly. Don’t forget to look the part and don’t look like you.
It is of course wise to have an alibi but don’t be too anxious to use it or produce it if merely stopped for routine questioning. Don’t be too helpful to the forces of law and order just answer the questions they ask, do not offer more information than is required abut don’t raise their suspicions by being overly obstructive. Don’t tell unnecessary lies if you can possibly avoid it, just in case you are questioned again.
Be somewhere else – you could forward plan a trip away, book two rooms in a hotel and become two people (you with your credit card your alter ego pays cash). Of course both of you need to check in and out. You need to go to a Trade show or convention and attend. Try and use a small hotel with few staff and no cameras. In the early hours travel to the place of your crime, commit it, and return. Then enjoy the remainder of your trip (on your credit card) and return home the next day.
What happens afterwards? Well live your life as normal, but one thing I wouldn’t read any newspapers or watch the news on TV. The police can and do use both of these as physiological weapons to convince you they know more than they do. Just continue your everyday life. Yet again I remind you DO NOT BRAG about your crime to anyone (that includes posting on Twitter and Facebook!)
If you do get arrested, this does not mean you have failed to commit the perfect crime.
However, if it happens, do not speak. The police need evidence to convict you – if you have done the job right, there won’t be any right ? Or if there is it points in a direction away from you, better if it points to someone else, Yeah, yeah, I know that’s not nice but remember the police are likely to give up looking when they have someone in the frame. Perhaps to commit the perfect crime we need to give them that somebody.
Do not help the police with additional or embellished testimony, Remember the powers that be need to find you guilty beyond all reasonable doubt.
Finally and just in case PC Plod is out there reading this it is only the entertaining ramblings of a deranged writer hoping to promote his next book which involves the art of invisibility when committing murder. No, not a sequel to Harry Potter with his magic cloak but the true art of perfect camouflage where you can actually be in your victim’s direct line of sight and still they will not see you until it’s too late.
Merlin Fraser can be found on: http://www.merlin-fraser.com and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FCdJhwTWaO8