This week’s True Crime 101 takes a trip back in time to cover the OG true crime show, Forensic Files. Narrated by the legendary Peter Thomas, Forensic Files is an American documentary-style show on how forensics were used to solve crimes, mysteries and accidents.
The show featured interviews with witnesses, victims, scientists and law enforcement. The show takes a “whodunit” approach, making each case a mystery that needs to be solved. Every half-hour episode follows one case from its initial investigation until the suspect conviction, acquittal, or some other legal resolution.
Video footage of the lab tests is shot in a modernistic film noir style, in dark, moodily lit settings with glowing colours. The crimes and parts of the investigation are re-enacted with actors in dramatic recreations. This technique would later be used in the long running fictionalised show, CSI.
At the show’s start, it was titled Medical Detectives. The show’s creators had intended for the show to feature many more medical mysteries and disease outbreaks; however, they found the episodes that featured murder investigationswere much more popular. In 2000, they changed the name to Forensic Files.
A huge part of the show’s success is down to the narrator, Peter Thomas.
Thomas’ career spanned over 70 years, beginning at aged 14 as an announcer on a local radio station. Jennifer Wood’s 2016 interview with Forensic Filesproducer, Paul Dowling, said Thomas was his one and only choice for the role of the show’s narrator. He believed Thomas would bring legitimacy to the show. Dowling also revealed Thomas would rehearse for several hours the night before recording an episode with his wife, Stella.
Jennifer Wood also asked Dowling how they chose a story for the show. He replied “It was the ‘oh my god’ factor. If a story had that, it was chosen.”
Some examples, according to Dowling:
“A doctor accused of rape implants a tube of his patient’s blood into his arm so the blood sample drawn for his DNA test wasn’t his—and therefore, didn’t match the semen sample from rape test kit. But the victim stole the doctor’s Chapstick and the DNA from those skin cells did match! The victim solved her own crime.
A killer in bare feet steps on a hamburger roll on his way out of the crime scene, leaving his clear footprint in the soft dough!A piece of chewing gun found next to a dead body matches the teeth impressions of the suspect.
A sundial analysis proves that the time clock on a home video—the murder suspect’s alibi—was not correct, and had been doctored.”
Dowling also said they would never choose a crime where there were “stupid criminals”. “Stories we rejected were often ones where a killer was so stupid, andleft so much evidence, it was almost a comedy,” Dowling said.
The show ran from 1996-2011 with 406 episodes and several 1-hour specials. To dated Forensic Files is still the longest running non-scripted series in television history. The series has aired 142 countries.