Solving a murder on TV isn't just the domain of Jessica Fletcher and other fictional detectives - TV has a long history of unearthing the truth.
By
James Mitchell

9 Jan 2017 - 2:57 PM  UPDATED 10 Jan 2017 - 11:39 AM

Bert Spencer was convicted of the murder of his friend Hubert Wilkes in 1979. But it was the similarity of the murder to that of 13-year-old paperboy Carl Bridgewater in the same Staffordshire, West Midlands region of England in 1978 that has led to accusations of Spencer’s involvement ever since. Spencer has maintained he didn’t killer Bridgewater.

In compelling SBS documentary “Interview with a Murderer”, criminologist Professor David Wilson gradually unearths holes in Spencer’s story. Spencer is in some troubling company when it comes to murderers being outed on TV.

Daughter dobs in Dad on live TV

This case seems unfathomable but it all unfolded on live TV in 2012. On the Indian reality talk show Solvathellam Unmai, a 16-year-old girl said she feared her father, known as A. Murugan, also on the show, would kill her because she’d eloped with her 21-year-old boyfriend.

She confessed that her father had poisoned three people in 2008. After the show aired, police found their remains buried in her father’s backyard.

Confessional Revenge

The confessional TV show Solvathellam Unmai clearly has form, with Tamil woman Baby Kala appearing in 2014 admitting to the murder of husband Radhakrishnan.

She confessed that she and lover Gowri Shankar wanted to get married and set about planning the murder of her husband, suffocating him with a plastic bag in 2010, passing his death off as a heart attack.

But Kala’s appearance on the show was apparently also out of spite; in the intervening years, Shankar had left her for another woman. Had she not made the very public confession they may well have got away with murder.

Caught in a lie

Errol Morris’ highly acclaimed 1988 documentary The Thin Blue Line caught out not just a murderer but also the misconduct of police and the prosecution.

Randall Adams was serving a life sentence for the murder of policeman Robert Wood in Dallas in 1976 based on the dodgy testimony of another key suspect David Ray Harris. Morris was able to draw out a recorded confession from Harris in an electrifying finale, which ultimately led to Adams being freed. Harris was executed for the murder in 2004.

Murderer corpses on live news bulletin

Though they wouldn’t have known it at the time, viewers of a news bulletin in Georgia, U.S.A were watching the unraveling of a murderer on live TV.

University student Stephen McDaniel was being interviewed about the disappearance of his classmate and neighbour Lauren Giddings in 2011 when he was told by the reporter on air that her body had been found. Things then got very awkward as a stunned McDaniel in the throws of a meltdown, tried to pass his shock off as grief. Watch the cringe worthy video here.

McDaniel later confessed to strangling Giddings and dismembering her body, after some months of spying on her via webcam.

Bad girl, bad girl

Whatcha gonna do? Get caught out on COPS, that’s what. Or so it would seem.

In a bizarre case, South Florida woman Dalia Dippolito was captured in a 2009 video soliciting a hit man, played by an undercover police officer, to kill her husband of six months the convicted conman Michael Dippolito.

The Boynton Beach Police Department went all out to nab the alleged femme fatale, orchestrating a fake murder scene at her house captured by veteran observational reality show COPS, to make Dippolito believe her husband had actually been murdered.

The raw footage was uploaded on YouTube and Dippolito became a different viral sensation than what she might have hoped. She claimed she was acting in the undercover video as part of a stunt to land a reality TV show. The case continues.

Bullseye

Who would have thought that game shows could be so integral in catching a serial killer? Turns out they really can. 

In this case it was the discovery of archival footage in 2009 of “darts quiz” game show Bullseye. John Cooper, had been suspected of killing Peter and Gwenda Dixon in June of 1989 on the picturesque Pembrokeshire coastal path in Wales. In the footage of Cooper appearing on Bullseye just a month earlier he revealed he was intimately familiar with the area.

But the clincher was that police could now match the footage with a sketch artist’s from the time, finally nailing Cooper who was responsible for at least two more murders and implicated in another five.

The [Wrong] Bachelor: China

If you’re on the lam from the law, why not appear on a dating show? That’s just what murderer Wu Gang did in 2011, vying for love on Chinese game show ‘Happy League’ via his new identity, the charismatic Liu Hao.

Since killing a man in 1998, Gang had vanished without a trace until his unwise TV love gambit. A viewer notified police after recognising Gang for who he was, saving some poor woman a date with a murderer. He was arrested weeks after the tipoff.

The Luck of The Draw

What is it with male murderers and dating shows?

Infamous mass serial killer Rodney Alcala appeared on The Dating Game earning him the moniker the “Dating Game Killer”.

In Turkey in 2014, 62-year-old Sefer Calinek casually admitted on dating show “Ne Çıkarsa Bahtına” (Luck of The Draw) to killing his first wife, then later his lover with an axe.

But he claimed he was an "honest person looking for a new wife." What a keeper!

The show’s producer admitted later that they knew Calinek was a killer but allowed him to appear as he had served his legal sentence.

Chilling confession

Also in Turkey, the perpetrator of an abhorrent crime revealed himself on investigative TV show "Müge Anlı İle Tatlı Sert" (“Sweet and Tough").

When presenter Müge Anlı who investigates missing people on the show pressed Himmet Aktürk - the last person to see four-year-old girl Irmak Kupal alive - after inconsistencies in his statements he tearfully confessed to her rape and murder and revealed the location of her body.

Hot mic confession 

The Granddaddy of  ‘gotcha’ murder confessions on TV, was actually a case of eccentric New York real estate heir Robert Durst doing a ‘gotcha’ on himself.

In the final thrilling throes of HBO’s stunning six-part 2015  documentary series The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst, a doddering Durst had left his interview with director Andrew Jarecki to got to the bathroom, not realising his microphone was still on.

“What the hell did I do?” he whispered to himself. “Killed them all, of course.”

He was unknowingly confessing on record to killing his first wife Kathleen Durst in 1982, his friend Susan Berman in 2000, and neighbor Morris Black in 2001.

Durst was arrested a day after the explosive finale aired. 10 years of meticulous research by “The Jinx” team had done what investigators could not and finally nailed Durst for his crimes.

Durst has since claimed he was high on meth during the interviews, implying he wasn’t of sound mind.

Interview With a Murderer is streaming now on SBS On Demand:

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