Looking at crime in the cold light of yesterday.
In 2018, true crime has a tight grip on the consciousness of popular culture. The genre infiltrates books, TV shows, movies and podcasts, with people obsessing over shocking crimes and pondering over unsolved cases over brunch with friends.
The distortion between the glamorised portrayal of true crime by mainstream pop culture outlets and the real life stories and tragic consequences of crime could not be more dissimilar.
Behind the façade of the genre, are the real life investigators committed to solving crime and bringing perpetrators to justice.
In the Queensland Police Service (QPS) the Homicide Group is tasked with providing special investigative and intelligence support to the investigation of homicides.
One of the most challenging areas within this group is the Cold Case Investigation Team, made up of investigators and support staff who examine unsolved homicides and long term suspicious missing person investigations.
In Queensland there a number of cold cases that are under review and investigation, with officers constantly re-examining cases to determine their solvability.
Detective Senior Constable Deborah Wilson in amongst the archives
The task involves meticulously reviewing thousands of pages of case notes, statements, photographs and evidence to find avenues for further investigation and to discover new information that will lead to breakthroughs and the eventual solving and closure of the case.
The detectives who perform this arduous task are seasoned professionals who have spent many of their policing careers investigating homicides.
Detective Senior Constable Deborah Wilson has worked in Homicide Group since 2014 and been part of the Cold Case Investigation Team since 2016.
After dreaming of becoming a detective since before she entered the service, Detective Senior Constable Wilson spent years working as a plain clothes officer in Mount Isa and the Gold Coast where she developed a passion for investigating and solving crime.
“Murder is the most heinous crime there is and to be able to solve something of that nature and give some form of closure to family members, that’s always nice,” Detective Senior Constable Wilson said.
“To be able to go and say to family members, I’m so sorry for your loss, we’ve worked out who has murdered your loved one and we’re going to put them before the courts.
“I don’t want to say it’s a satisfying feeling, however it is very humbling to be a part of a team who solve these cases.”
Working in the Homicide Group lay the groundwork for Detective Senior Constable Wilson’s career in the Cold Case Investigation Team.
“You learn your trade in the homicide response teams which investigate murders that have just occurred, we deploy anywhere in Queensland and provide assistance to the local detectives with the homicide investigation,” Detective Senior Constable Wilson said.
“Working in those teams you learn different investigative techniques which are not often used by detectives investigating other crimes throughout the state and I’ve brought that experience into the Cold Case Investigation Team.”
Though the grittiness and fast paced style of an investigation into a homicide which recently occurred may be missing within the Cold Case Investigation Team the challenges and tasks are no less arduous.
“Working in Cold Case is a very different type of work experience,” Detective Senior Constable Wilson explains.
“It’s slow and methodical as you are working backwards and reviewing the investigation which has already been undertaken.
“This is different to a recent homicide, because as the information is provided to police you can review it and make further enquiries immediately.
“With the cold case jobs, you read through all documents first and you may come across a result or a note with just a name on it and it doesn’t make sense in that moment but, in two months’ time you read another document and go ‘oh that now makes sense’ and you can link it back to the original information.
"It's like working out a puzzle, finding out where those gaps are and seeing if there is something new we can try"
In Queensland there are no statutes of limitation for murder—every homicide case remains open until it is solved.
“The case may be taken on by the Cold Case Investigation Team once all investigative strategies are exhausted and a report is submitted to the State Coroner, for their review and determination,” Detective Senior Constable Wilson said.
“The Coroner will often find that a person had died in suspicious circumstances, however at that time the suspect or suspects are not known—so then it is considered an unsolved homicide.”
With the oldest cold case in Queensland dating back to 1952, it may seem like an insurmountable task to bring these investigations to a conclusion.
“All our cases are active, we continue to review and follow up new information when it comes to light,” Detective Senior Constable Wilson said.
“We also look to see if there is new forensic testing which may be able to be conducted on exhibits for the cases.”
Detective Senior Constable Wilson admits that despite the slower nature of the job, there are just as many challenges.
“In any type of investigative work there is that desire to solve something, it’s what we do, we problem solve and identify what’s missing.”
Working in an environment responsible for examining a set of horrific circumstances that had widespread tragic implications has an emotional toll. Detective Senior Constable Wilson said despite this, an investigator’s desire to professionally bring a case to a conclusion is what keeps her going.
“It’s not just the victim that is affected, it’s all those that are left behind too that it affects,” she said.
“The nature of some of the murders we investigate, like the death of a child, can be hard.
“However, we can’t emotionally take on every job that we deal with because then we wouldn’t be able to continue to do our jobs.”
Despite the challenges that exists within her field of work, Detective Senior Constable Wilson still finds the job as exhilarating as she did on day one.
“I am constantly learning new strategies and techniques, that’s the fantastic thing about working in an office surrounded by so much experience. No job is exactly the same.”
When asked to give advice to future law enforcement officers and budding detectives, Detective Senior Constable Wilson said the job was simultaneously rewarding and interesting but not for everyone.
“You have to have attention to detail, problem solving skills and the ability to think outside the box,” Detective Senior Constable Wilson said.
“A lot of hard work and painstaking hours of following a lead through and sometimes not getting a result requires self-motivation to not get disheartened and to start working on that next lead.”
If you’d like to kick off your Justice Journey with a career in policing, visit the Queensland Police recruitment website.