Murder on the Upper Deck. An Unsolved Crime.

In 1994, cruise liner M/S Estonia sank, taking hundreds of lives with it to the bottom of the Baltic Sea.

What most people don’t know is that some years before it’s sinking, the same ship (then known as the Viking Sally) was the scene of an unsolved murder.

This article is taken from the book Poliisi kertoo (“Police Stories”). Translated into English by my friend and talented translator Salla Juntunen.

This is the first time this story has been told in English.


A homicide and an attempted homicide on a ship

German students Klaus Herman Schelkle (born January 28, 1967) and Bettina Taxis (born May 10, 1965) met in early winter, 1987. They enjoyed each other’s company and soon began dating and planning their future together.

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(Klaus Schelkle and Bettina Taxis)

The future, however, turned out to be entirely different from what they had pictured. Happiness turned to death and horror and horror into painful memories that no one involved will likely ever forget.

The story has remained unclear so far. The police appeals to the public for help.

The groundwork for the shared life of these two hardworking and in every way exemplary youths seemed to be in order. During the spring and summer they saved money and planned a trip to the Nordic countries. A mutual friend and Klaus’s acquaintance of many years, Thomas Schmid, would also be brought along.

The plan was fulfilled and on July 23, 1987 the trio took off from Stuttgart towards the Nordics with the purpose of travelling all the way to Nord Kap. They travelled via Denmark to Sweden, where they stayed in Stockholm for a few days. According to their original travel plan they were supposed to travel through northern Sweden, but instead they decided to experience a cruise across the Gulf of Bothnia together and travel to their original destination through Finland.

Postcards and phone messages home told that the journey was going well and according to expectations. At 10 pm on  July 27, 1987, the youths boarded Viking Sally cruise ship in the port of Stockholm in order to travel to Turku, where the ship would arrive the next morning at 8 am.

Other passengers

English engineer Patrick Haley (name made up) had experienced more by the age of 26 than most of his peers. His studies had not gone too well, he had gotten personally acquainted with drugs and had broken up with his fianceé. When the young mind flared up, Patrick left London in early spring of 1987, or as he said: “I turned around and found myself working on a kibbutz in Israel.” A Finnish student from Lapland, Maija, had also ended up there. They got acquainted and decided to go see Maija’s beautiful home country. The journey to Finland took a few months. The penniless youths worked in different countries, mostly in orchards and agriculture to earn the money to travel onward.

In the evening of July 25, 1987, Maija and Patrick boarded a ship from Stockholm to Helsinki. In Helsinki, on the morning of July 26 they were surprised: Maija was naturally welcome to her home country, but the shabby, junkie-looking and penniless Patrick was sent back to Stockholm.

However, the attachment between the two was strong and thus on the very same day Maija sent Patrick 4000 marks by express to a Stockholm bank. Patrick did not now want to travel via rude Helsinki, and after mucking about in Stockholm for a day he ended up boarding Viking Sally in the evening in order to travel to Turku and from there to Helsinki, where Maija would meet him.

Tauno, a businessman delivering car parts from Germany to Finland, and his partner Sakari drove their van to the port of Stockholm via Denmark and also travelled to Turku on Viking Sally.

Sami, Pentti and Ville, young men from Kangasala, had spent the day in Stockholm and lost all their money on booze and amusements. With tickets acquired from the Stockholm social welfare office in their pockets, they, too, began their voyage to Turku. Kalle and Ossi from Kotka boarded the ship under nearly identical circumstances.

A few hundred scouts had eagerly awaited all summer for their trip to Finland where they would attend a scout camp organised in Sauvo, approximately 50 kilometers from Turku. Among them were families, retirees, war veterans and different travelling groups. The passengers represented at least nine different nationalities.

A crew of approximately 200 members was ready to serve the passengers.

Meetings on the ship

At 10 pm Finnish time, the eight-storey ship, built in Papenburg in 1980, with a capacity for 2000 passengers and over 400 cars, departed from the port of Stockholm. The announcements were informing passengers about practicalities and the shipping company wished everyone a pleasant journey.

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(the Viking Sally)

Queues formed in the ship’s restaurants and shops. Passengers who had booked cabins took their belongings to them, others tentatively looked for places to sleep in salons and other interiors of the ship. The bars also slowly began filling up.

Everything seemed perfectly normal and ordinary.

Klaus Schelkle, Bettina Taxis and Thomas Schmid also began their journey in a very ordinary manner. They also made their few purchases in the shop, familiarised themselves with the ship and searched for a suitable place to sleep. Klaus and Bettina decided to watch the sun rise during their sea voyage. They decided, therefore, to sleep up on the helicopter platform. Thomas Schmid, perhaps out of discretion, did not stay there and chose instead to sleep indoors, one floor down.

The weather was warm and therefore quite a few passengers gathered around the helicopter platform late in the evening. From there they could enjoy watching the beautiful Stockholm archipelago disappear into the horizon in the setting sun.

The youths from Kangasala, who had on their recent journeys managed to acquire a few bottles of beer, also enjoyed the beginning of their journey on the helicopter platform. They have afterwards recalled two young foreigners with their sleeping bags staying on the same deck behind the plexiglass windshield.

Before going to bed, Klaus and Bettina walked around on the ship. There they met, among others, Tauno, who was very proficient in German. In conversation with Klaus, they discovered their mutual interest in cars; Klaus was studying automotive technology after all. They even planned to drop by the car deck to look at Tauno’s cargo of car parts. The doors to the car deck were locked, so they agreed to go look at the parts in the morning.

At the end of their time together they decided to exchange addresses, since a new pleasant acquaintance had been found on both sides. Afterwards, when talking about Tauno, Bettina has used the phrase “the fun Finn”.

At around 1 am, Klaus and Bettina returned to their sleeping place on the helicopter platform. The darkness of the night and the chilly wind had driven the rest of the people away from the upper deck.

Sami, Pentti and Ville from Kangasala met Kalle and Ossi from Kotka at a restaurant. They were soon joined by Patrick. Patrick had the money sent by Maija and, having found the others nearly penniless, benevolently bought beer and food to others as well. The party behaved in such a “showy” manner that quite a few of those staying up late noticed them. Little by little they all “passed out” or otherwise fell asleep in different parts of the ship. In the morning, Patrick was found on the floor of the salon on the sixth floor.

The crime

As the evening passed into the small hours, the situation on the ship was peaceful. The last bars closed between 3 am and 4 am. Most of the passengers were asleep in their cabins and those who had enjoyed themselves in the restaurants to the last also found their way to their sleeping places. The ship had advanced past Mariehamn, but was still in the Åland archipelago.

The tired crew prepared for a moment’s rest before their morning’s duties. The security officer Raimo Vahlsten also prepared to hand over his duties to the next person on shift.

The wild feeling of freedom and the new, strange surroundings kept some of the scouts in lively spirits and they roamed the ship to the point of causing disturbance. After wandering around aimlessly, three Danish youths ended up on the helicopter platform at 3:45 am.

At first glance there appeared to be no other people on the deck, but then one of the scouts noticed two figures by the air vents. The boys concluded that they were drunk or drugged as they, upon repeated attempts to get up by leaning on the wall, kept feebly falling back down on the deck. After observing the situation for a while, one of the boys went closer to see if he could help. He then saw that it was a young man and a woman. Both their faces were covered in blood. Two boys stayed with the victims as one ran to the help desk to tell someone what they had found.

Thus began one of the biggest investigative operations of the Finnish police.

Immediate measures

The help desk attendant immediately alerted security officer Raimo Vahlsten. He found the victims Klaus Schelkle and Bettina Taxis to be severely injured. Vahlsten suspected a crime because the victims’ heads clearly showed severe trauma from being hit with an object. The victims’ speech could not be made out. With the help of other crew members Vahlsten helped Klaus and Bettina to the cabin of the ship’s nurse.

The nurse immediately saw the severity of the situation and began giving first aid while ordering a rescue helicopter to be called to the ship immediately to transport the victims to Turku University Hospital. Klaus and Bettina arrived to the hospital by helicopter already at 5:48 am.

The doctor found Klaus dead from blows to the head that had pierced the skull. Bettina’s condition was extremely critical due to similar injuries.

The Turku Police Department received a notification from the ship about what had happened at 4:28 am. The police considered the situation to be very serious, and the same helicopter that had transported the injured to the hospital was used to take four detectives of the Turku Police Department to the ship.

The detectives arrived on the ship at 6:30 am.

The scene of the crime turned out to be the upper deck. The victims had been found there next to their sleeping bags in a corner partially covered by a plexiglass wall. The scene had been dark during the night due to the device, which was supposed to light it, having broken earlier.

The detectives immediately secured the crime scene and began passenger interrogations. The forensic investigation was also initiated. Vahlsten, being an experienced security officer, had earlier partially secured the crime scene and he had valuable information he had gathered while they were waiting to relay to the police.

The detectives on the ship were in contact with the police department, where they immediately began summoning additional police forces for when the ship would arrive in Turku.

The ship’s regular arrival time was at 8 am. Now it was only allowed to dock at 8:10 am, when preparations had been made and the police could secure the ship.

Such an arrangement was necessary because the initial investigation on the ship had afforded no clarity on the identity of the perpetrator. The situation was very difficult.

The ship and the passengers under surveillance

The ship’s passengers were informed of the delay in disembarking and its cause. All the passengers were guided off the ship through one exit, all other exits had been closed. Two police boats were patrolling outside the ship to make sure nothing was thrown overboard.

Due to the special circumstances, three video cameras had been acquired, one of which was used to film all passengers, the other used to film young men specifically, and the third to film any even slightly suspicious persons, who were then also interrogated. Initially there was also an attempt to document every passenger’s personal details, but that had to be given up due to the scene having gotten almost unbearably congested. However, only the elderly, children and families with small children, as well as others considered safe to be excluded by common conception were left undocumented.

The passengers who could not immediately prove their identity were guided to separate rooms and their identities were verified after the other passengers had left the ship.

Approximately twenty passengers were brought to the police station for additional investigation for different reasons. Among them was Patrick Haley. He had been found, bloody, in his sleeping place in the morning. In the interrogation Haley explained that his nose had begun to bleed during the night. The blood on his clothes was his own and nothing came up at that juncture that casted doubt on the truth of his claims.

The youths from Kangasala and Kotka also ended up on the police station.

The reader must now be wondering about Thomas Schmid’s involvement in the matter. He, too, was interrogated, but nothing indicated that he had anything to do with what happened and he was allowed to leave after interrogation. Thus, nothing conclusive or pivotal to solving the case came up in the initial investigation.

The pressure on the police was immense from the start, since

  • the congestion and waiting were too much for some to bear
  • connections were missed
  • the ship’s departure was delayed
  • the media immediately demanded detailed information
  • the local superiors of the police as well as the ministries had to be informed of the event as soon as possible.

Generally, however, both the departing and the arriving passengers were understanding of the difficult situation.

The investigation has lasted over four years already

The crime took place within the region of Åland, and therefore its investigation would normally have been conducted by the local police. Due to the lack of resources this was not possible in Åland. The provincial government of Turku and Pori assigned the Turku Police Department to conduct the investigation. The undersigned was appointed to lead the investigation. That was the beginning of a difficult task that has yet to be completed.

Because the crime could not immediately be solved in the initial investigation, solving it afterwards has been challenging due to the special characteristics of the case. The work has continued interminably for over four years. The fact that approximately a thousand people have been interrogated or at least interviewed on account of the case might give the reader an impression of the scope of the task. Forensic investigators have sent over 250 different samples for examination to the National Bureau of Investigation. Different investigative tasks have been carried out in nine different countries.

Computers have also been utilized in the investigation. Without them we would have long since lost track of the very vast material. Over 2000 documents have been saved on the computer.

A vast amount of material of the crime has, then, been gathered. Addressing it in detail is not possible at this juncture, nor would it be tactically right for the solving of the case.

What, then, was the motive of that brutal crime? That mystery, which has puzzled the investigators from the start, has yet to be solved. It cannot be financial or sexual. The crime may have been brought on by a minor thing, or committed by a mentally ill person.

At least the following matters have complicated the investigation:

  • the initial investigation had to be conducted too quickly due to the circumstances
  • even a slightly more thorough search of the ship would have taken at least a week
  • there were approximately 1400 people on the ship
  • this whole mass of people dispersed in the port and scattered all over world. Reaching them to perform even extremely significant inspections has been difficult
  • the crime scene was too remote for eyewitness accounts
  • the delays caused by a foreign country’s legal formalities have often prevented conducting effective investigative work abroad

The crime caused upset

The crime, which drew a lot of attention, has also clearly upset many already sick minds. Three people, for instance, have confessed to this crime.

In further investigation it has, however, turned out that none of them could possibly have committed the crimes described earlier.

The public has participated commendably in the police’s efforts to solve the crimes. There have also been a few concerned phone calls from the public upon their noticing they had been filmed. They have mainly been requests by the caller that the videos not be made public, as their companion on that voyage had, for some reason, not been their spouse!

Current situation

No conclusive knowledge of the perpetrator has been gained to this day.

Some foreign parties under investigation have yet to be reached.

A lot of investigations are also still being conducted concerning the doings of Finnish passengers and the ship’s crew during the journey.

When the culprit is found, the police has binding comparative evidence to use against them.

A certain possibility, which has come up repeatedly, is that the perpetrator concurrently also made their own personal choice regarding their life and jumped overboard.

Bettina Taxis has recovered quite well. Information received from her cannot yet be made public.

The police strongly believes that they will still solve this brutal, senseless and motiveless crime, the investigation of which has by no means been discontinued.

What has been put forth here is merely a cursory glance to this crime, its backgrounds, and investigation. Hopefully in one of the following volumes its solution can be reported in detail.

The clothing find

The police are currently interested in some clothes found by two fishermen on the northern shore of the Lilla Björnholm Island by a seaway in August, 1987. The following items were found in a black trash bag:

  • Finnish made Umberto Loofer shoes with a so called hidden heel, shoe size 41
  • light shorts by an unknown manufacturer equipped with a Prym zip and two front pockets (see photo)
  • a Finnish made red woollen-acrylic jumper, material mostly acrylic (see photo). In the same batch of clothes were also a pair of commonly sold work gloves with the initials “H. K.”

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(the found clothes)

Based on the location, time and certain aspects of the forensic investigation it is considered possible that the person wearing the clothes in question had been on the ship at the time of the crime.

If You, esteemed reader, have any, even seemingly insignificant, information regarding this crime, let the investigators know via the nearest police or relay the information directly to the Turku Police Department, address: Eerikinkatu 40-42, 20100 Turku.

If you know anything about these clothes or anything else having to do with the crime, let us know. In addition to a good mood, for a clue leading to the solving of the case you will be given a significant money prize.

Book review. Visalia Ransacker – Secret Origin of the Golden State Killer, by Kat Winters and Keith Komos. 2018.

visalia

Winters and Komos continue their important work in making the complicated East Area Rapist/Original Night Stalker/Golden State Killer case readable to both the general public as well as more advanced researchers. Now that Joseph DeAngelo has been arrested as a suspect in the EAR/ONS case, more and more people will probably be interested in understanding the case, and Winters’ and Komos’ books provide a fantastic “road map” through the complex terrain.

Some time ago, the duo released the book Case Files of the East Area Rapist / Golden State Killer, a masterpiece in true crime writing. This time, they are digging into the weird case of the Visalia Ransacker, a burglar with an M.O. similar to the EAR/ONS/GSK. Whether the VR actually was the EAR has been debated for some time; this book, I believe, makes the case pretty convincingly that the VR and EAR are one and the same.

The book has been laid out similarly to the aforementioned Case Files… The incidents involving the VR proceed from the first to the last. The structure is heaven-sent in a case as all-over-the-place as this one: we finally get a cohesive idea of where the nightmare started and what it entailed. The VR’s actions were easily as creepy as those of the EAR, and this book is not for those with a tendency towards bad dreams and/or anxiety. In fact, even if you’re of a steely mind, you’ll be looking over your shoulder at night for months after reading Visalia Ransacker.

The question many will be asking themselves is “Is this worth buying and reading now that Joseph DeAngelo has been arrested as the EAR?” The answer is yes – indeed, it’s MORE pertinent now that the VR/EAR/ONS/GSK has most likely been captured, because we’re now at the beginning stages of trying to understanding the mind, the human being behind these terrifying crimes, and a book like Visalia Ransacker is worth it’s weight in gold in such a process.

Highly recommended.

Buy it here.

 

Interview with Marit Higraff, co-host of Death in Ice Valley (podcast)

This year’s best mystery/true crime podcast is, without question, Death in Ice Valley. The show is an investigation into the Isdal woman mystery (if you don’t know what it is, read on below). The show is a breath of fresh air in a “podosphere” filled with true crime shows featuring two people chatting and giggling among themselves: Death in Ice Valley features interviews, excursions into the field, and discussions with cops, locals, and other people who were actually involved in the events when they happened.

Death in Ice Valley is a collaboration between the Norwegian broadcasting company NRK and BBC World Service. It is hosted by Marit Higraff and Neil McCarthy.

Here is my interview with Marit Higraff, Norwegian investigative journalist and co-host of the podcast.

Thank you, Marit, for taking the time to talk to Books, Bullets and Bad Omens!


deathinicevalley

Who are you? Tell us a bit about yourself!

I am an investigative journalist and reporter working for NRK, Norways public broadcaster. I have been working as a tv-reporter in different departments and for different programs in NRK for many years – investigative journalism is my special field. So originally, tv-journalist, lately also online and audio 😉

I am from the northern part of Norway – the land of the midnight sun – but have lived in Oslo since I started studying. Also lived 8 years in Salzburg, Austria.

I have a 15 year-old-daughter, Hannah.

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(Marit Higraff. Photo: Sigrid Winther)

In your own words, what is the “Isdal Woman”? What does that term refer to?

In November 1970 a woman was found dead and severely burned in a desolate valley outside of Bergen, a city on the west coast of Norway.

Objects were laid out around the body, and couple of days later, the police found her two suitcases at Bergen railway station – containing lots of curious clues, like sophisticated clothes, a wig, and glasses without prescription. The most significant thing common for the suitcases and the things found at the scene: there was nothing to identify who the woman was. The labels had been cut off her clothes, and scratched off the items.

The case immediately hit the headlines in Norway. It was a mystery: who was she – and what happened to her? The newspapers called her the Isdal Woman, because of the name of the remote valley where the body was found, called “Isdalen” in Norwegian, or “Ice Valley” in English.

The police investigated intensively for some weeks, and found that the woman had been traveling a lot, and with different fake identities. But then suddenly shut down the investigation – concluding with most likely suicide. A conclusion most doubted – then, and now. Without finding her identity..

Speculation went high that she could have been a spy, as this happened in the middle of the Cold War.

And the speculations have been going on, for almost 50 years. Still today, nobody knows who this woman was, what she was doing in Norway, and how and why she died in that remote valley.

Isdal-Corpse

(police photo of the body of the Isdal woman as it was found that day. Photo: Bergen Police Archives)

When did you first hear of this case? Were you hooked immediately?

I was an early newspaper and magazine reader as a child, and I remember reading about the case. It has been in the media every know and then.

When I was asked to have a look at it a couple of years ago, it immediately triggered my curiosity and investigative tentacles. Then, when reading thousands of files, I saw the potential of the case – riddle upon riddle – and the possibility of starting a whole new investigation, based on modern methods and technology.

Would you say the Isdal woman is the number 1 most well-known unsolved mystery in Norway? Are there other mystery cases that “compete” with the Isdal woman for that title?

Well, there are some other cases – but since we started publishing our investigation 1,5 year ago this case has got very well known in Norway. Also to the younger generations. And I guess it’s the one case with the most spectacular riddles and facts.

Is there a kind of unofficial prevailing consensus in Norway regarding the woman’s identity? In other words, what is the most popular theory as to who she was and why she ended up the way she did?

There have been a lot of theories and speculations about who she was and what she was doing in Norway. During almost 50 years one of the most discussed theories has been that she was some kind of an intelligence agent or spy, because of the use of several fake identities, the content in her suitcases, and her movements.

The reason we’re discussing this case is because you are the co-host of a podcast I consider the best of 2018, Death in Ice Valley, which deals with the Isdal woman. Can you tell us about the podcast? How did it come about, how are you approaching the case, etc.

Thanks a lot for your opinion on “Death in Ice Valley”! I really appreciate that.

Me and my colleagues in the NRK-team started working on this case two years ago, and have been publishing our steps in the investigation as an online-project since autumn 2016. We were surprised to get attention abroad, as we published only in Norwegian. But, we discovered that people were following us internationally, using Google translate.

Some journalists from international media also took contact, and made stories about our investigation and the project. And then, one year ago, we were contacted by the podcast editor of the BBC World Service, Jon Manel. He saw the potential of the case, and wanted to make the investigation into a podcast-series for a world audience, in collaboration with us. In autumn 2017 me and my colleague Neil McCarthy from the BBC started the work with the podcast. Simultaneously we continued our ongoing investigation into the case.

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(Marit and co-host Neil McCarthy interview a police officer at the exact spot where the Isdal woman was found. Photo: Anette Berentsen / NRK)

One reason I love Death in Ice Valley (besides the intriguing case it deals with) is because, rather than just sitting in a studio and chit-chatting about an old case amongst yourselves, you actually talk to people who were involved in the Isdal woman incident: cops, witnesses, et cetera. How did you go about finding these people? Was it hard to convince them to discuss the case with you?

I am glad you say that. Because, to us it was important that we wanted to take the listeners with us out in the field. To experience places, to meet people. We wanted to be as little studio based as possible – the opposite of most podcasts. We wanted to give the audience a great listening experience, in addition to the great story, and the ongoing investigation.

To find still living witnesses, police and so, has been a challenge in this project. It all happened in 1970, so most of the witnesses are dead – senior officers in the police and so. While reading thousands of police files and documents, we thoroughly registered interesting names of different witnesses. And then had to search in the registers, if they live or are dead. Some got married, changed names, were difficult to find.

Some were really hard to find.

We ended up with a list of rather few possible interviewees still alive. I interviewed many of them for the “Norwegian” part of the project, but we expanded for the podcast, and I contacted more of them. These are mostly quite old people, and it was hard to convince them to try to speak English for a world audience. But most of them participated.

Without spoiling anything for listeners, tell us, we’re you able to dig up anything surprising in your investigation for the podcast?

Yes, definitely! We continued our ongoing investigation along the production – and it was a challenge(and long days!) to research and produce at the same time. But we found some interesting new leads along the way.

And, first of all: we knew that we need attention “out there”. This woman was not Norwegian, we know that. So, our hope was and still is, that someone out there might know something. The goal was to reach out to that person or those persons who might recognize something about the story: about an aunt, a neighbor, a woman who disappeared in 1970…

And we have gotten some very interesting leads to follow up on, from listeners.

What are you currently working on? A new podcast series, perhaps..?

Currently I am spending the summer in the Caribbean, resting and learning Spanish😊 It is a good and necessary break, after an extremely intensive year at work.

Then, after summer, there are some very interesting leads to follow up on, as said. The team will go on investigating this case, and if we get any further – which I still strongly believe – we might come back with another podcast series, Death in Ice Valley season 2..😉

Where can people keep up with your work?

Everything published in our project about the Isdal Woman – articles, videos, timeline – can be found at nrk.no/isdal

It’s in Norwegian though.

Some main articles are translated; they can be found here nrk.no/isdal.en

The podcast “Death in Ice Valley” can be found on iTunes and everywhere else you find podcasts.

My investigative work from earlier on can be found by googling me.

Is there anything you’d like to add that I didn’t ask about?

Yes.

To me, as an idealistic investigative journalist, always driven by the motivation that I want to make life better for people, want to reveal the errors and gaps in the society, and so on.. I had to ask myself many times in this project: “Why? Why am I spending years of my life – and far too many working hours – on this case? It’s a woman found dead. A concluded suicide.”

And every time I come to the same answer: because it’s a life. A human being. A family that didn’t get to know about their loved one.

I want to give her back what she lost: a name. A dignity. And perhaps justice – if someone did that to her.

And, if possible – I want to bring her home, where she belongs.

FInally, my standard questions.

Your top 3 books?

When I have time, I prefer to read crime – I’ll answer with some favorite authors:
Swedish Jan Guillou, and the Norwegian Jo Nesbø. I also love reading John Irving.

And also historical books that give me new knowledge and reveal new truths, like the unknown story of Norwegians fighting “on the wrong side” during WW2, by Eirik Veum.

Your top 3 films?

Films, the same – crime, and also romantic films;

– The Bridges of Madison County
– Titanic
– Braveheart

And some more faves, all of them old…😄

What model phone do you use?

iPhone 7

Interview with the filmmakers behind Dead Man’s Line (2018)

A few weeks ago, I saw an incredible documentary called Dead Man’s Line. The film tells the story of Tony Kiritsis, a man who felt so wronged by a mortgage company that he took his mortgage broker hostage to get the attention of the media to his perceived plight. He tied a shotgun to his hostage’s neck, then tied a line from the trigger to his finger, thus ensuring that, if he was killed, he would take his hostage with him to his grave.

The standoff was intense – and so is Dead Man’s Line.

Below is my interview with the filmmakers behind the film, Alan Berry and Mark Enochs.

Thanks you, gentlemen, for taking the time to talk to Books, Bullets and Bad Omens!

Watch the film on iTunes or Amazon.


deadmansline

Who are you? Tell us a bit about yourself!

AB: My name is Alan Berry and I’m the director, editor, and producer of Dead Man’s Line. In my day job, I’m a Director of Marketing for a private financial firm in Indiana. I’m an avid fan of the band Phish.

ME: I’m Mark Enochs, co-director and writer of Dead Man’s Line. I live in Indianapolis, Indiana with my wife, daughter, and our two dogs. I also share a woodshed out back with a family of chipmunks and a mama garter snake who eats mice at night. Professionally, I’ve been everything from a proofreader to an editor, and I am currently writing for a marketing platform company. Otherwise, I’m a typical binge-viewing, bird-watching, physical-comedy-loving dude.

2) Have you always been interested in true crime?

AB: I’m a fan of true stories of all kinds, especially if there is a video to back up the story.

ME: Alan and I have been friends since high school, and there have always been documentaries in our viewing queue. Whenever there was a movie that was based on a true story, we always wanted the true story, and back before reality TV, one of the best places to hunt for non-scripted, non-editorialized truth was the documentary section at the video store. There wasn’t as wide a smorgasbord as there is now, of course, so whatever we found we would consume multiple times, stuff like Incident at Oglala, all kinds of concert footage, and Hoop Dreams which I remember watching for the first time with Alan all in one go. It was such a commitment from the filmmaker and the families, and it just showed how to use film to tell anybody’s story.

True crime itself is a natural draw for me. Stories like this have a built-in drama, and I love seeing that unfold regardless of whether the stories end with closure or total mystery. So what separates a factual but flat rendering from a dynamic and intriguing one is the filmmaker, that person’s vision, and the way the narrative is built. The Thin Blue Line was an early example to us of how you can add creative elements and enhance the story without misrepresenting the facts. Coppola’s Hearts of Darkness was another early one where we could see how real life and fiction could get mixed up and merge.

3) How did you become a filmmaker?

AB: Part of the path for me in becoming a filmmaker was out of necessity. Up until 2011, I had owned and operated records stores in Indianapolis. I saw the end nearing, so I jumped ship over to video production. Which for me led to more filmmaking.

ME: In high school, Alan had a video camera, and we made comedies, real Monty Python sketch stuff. We shot a lot of the early bits in chronological order, but as we continued to come up with skits made up of more and more shots, we started editing, super primitive, but cutting together scenes was something we loved doing. It just took a couple decades for the stars to align and go about seriously making a film. In 2010, we shot “Band in a Jam” up in northern Indiana, and we learned so many critical lessons there about story-telling, stuff you’re never done learning, but I remember after half a year of shooting that film we felt like not only could we do this but we might be able to do it well.

4) Your film Dead Man’s Line tells the story of a truly bizarre kidnapping and hostage situation from the 1970s. How did you come across this story? When did you know you were going to make a film about this incident?

AB: It’s Mark’s fault. Six years ago now, we had just completed a day-in-the-life documentary of Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard, and when it came time to do the next project, we did an informal survey of friends and family, wanting to know what our potential audience was interested in seeing, and then from the short list that came out of that, we rated each idea. Kiritsis rose to the top, in part because it’s an intriguing story that happened here in Indy and that many people younger than us had never heard of. Also some of the other ideas we had for a project fell through quickly. Kiritsis was the only one where we found people who wanted to talk, starting with Jack Parker, a WTTV cameraman who covered the story in ’77, held on to his footage, and was willing to share it.

ME: So some of it is Jack’s fault, and we are so grateful for that. Another reporter, WRTV’s Linda Lupear, also shared footage and her account. When we were trying to come up with the next project, this was the one with this great historical Indy angle that came to mind for me. We were in the 2nd grade when the incident happened, but I recall watching the footage as it was replayed during the summer of 1977 on local TV as the court proceedings got underway. That image of Kiritsis and Hall and that wired gun had stuck with me for 35 years.

kiritsis

(Tony Kiritsis and his hostage, Richard O. Hall. Photo: John Hilley / Associated Press)

5) Was it difficult to get people to talk about the event?

ME: Yes. Short answer is yes. We both have real jobs, the ones that pay our bills, so scheduling convenient time isn’t always possible, and then of course, some people just aren’t comfortable being on film, or, in a few cases, on the record.

But of the 40+ interviews we did conduct, the vast majority were eager to describe what they’d witnessed. And not for attention-seeking purposes. There was nothing like that. People were just ready to put their recollections on the record once and for all. This was a one-of-a-kind event in these people’s lives, something they could document in one final work and pass on as local history to the next generation.

6) What do you think really drove the kidnapper, a man named Tony Kiritsis, to undertake such desperate measures? Was he a genuine “working man who’d had enough”, or just a narcissist?

ME: Kiritsis sawed off the barrel and stock of a shotgun and then took a man hostage with it. That’s a crime. There’s no way to get around that.

Did the mortgage company steal Kiritsis’ land out from under him? No. There is no evidence that Meridian Mortgage did anything so overtly illegal in their loan agreement with Kiritsis.

Could Meridian Mortgage have manipulated either Kiritsis or prospective buyers so that Meridian Mortgage could foreclose on the property and then resell it at a great profit? Yes, they could have.

There is no direct proof of that, but one thing I’m convinced of is that Dick Hall was only indirectly involved with the Kiritsis loan. He had been in the office when Kiritsis had come in. He knew Tony well enough to talk with him. On one occasion, he sat in on a heated argument between Dick’s father, M.L. Hall and Kiritsis, but that was it. Dick’s main error was showing up at the office that morning, a mistake none of us would ever have seen ahead of time.

Did Tony feel that M.L. Hall had done something to swindle his land away from him? Yes, he truly believed that. But the way he went about addressing the problem was to flip out and fantasize about revenge, and yes, some of that is because as a narcissist, he had a lot of trouble facing his flaws. But that’s not to say Kiritsis was a bad person. There are hundreds of examples of his generosity and good-natured camaraderie. Tony was an open book in many cases. He got things wrong, but he rarely lied. What he couldn’t face was losing that land. There was no Plan B. Everything past 1977 depended on that land and what it represented to Kiritsis. Think about losing your future. You still can’t wire shotguns to people’s necks. That’s not a solution, but I get the motive.

7) Your film tells the story perfectly: matter-of-factly, without too much background, letting the participants and news video archives tell the story in the moment. It reminded me of some of Oliver Stone’s better films. What techniques did you employ in constructing that intensity on the screen?

AB: I wish I could say I use some fancy techniques when I edit, but I don’t. One of my assets is that I have seen thousands of documentaries, good and bad. So when I’m going through cuts, I keep working it until I get that “Oh yeah, that works” feeling. That gut feeling that makes you want to go show it off. The next crucial step was to have Mark watch it to validate that my ego wasn’t just agreeing with itself. Mark has an excellent eye for crap, and our friendship is strong enough where he would tell me when my work was not up to par. Once it passed Mark’s crap test, the process would start over. Long story short, it’s a process of create, review, analyze, improve.

8) Where can people watch Dead Man’s Line?

Amazon and iTunes

9) What are you working on at the moment?

ME: Fiction. Podcasts are an intriguing idea too.

AB: Trying to become a roadie for Phish and other various video projects.

10) Where can people keep up with your work?

https://www.deadmansline.com/

https://www.alancberry.com/

And finally, my standard questions:

11) Your top 3 films?

ME:

Memento

Seven Samurai

Primer

AB:

Salesman

Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion

The Killing

12) Your top 3 books?

ME:

Watership Down

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

Fight Club

AB:

Think and Grow Rich

How to Win Friends and Influence People

Rebel without a Crew

13) Your top 3 songs?

ME:

Could never pick 3 songs. Instead:

Queen. 2)Tool. 3) Iron Maiden.

AB:

1) Phish. 2) Frank Zappa. 3) The Rolling Stones

Interview with a Homicide Detective

Some weeks ago, I sent a general interview request to the Helsinki Police Department’s Violent Crimes Division, asking them if one of their homicide detectives might be interested in talking to me for a blog post.

Luckily for me, I received a reply from one detective who promised to help me out and be interviewed. There was one important condition, though: no names would be mentioned, neither in our conversation nor in this ensuing blog post.

I traveled to the police building in Helsinki in early June, excited by the prospect of talking to someone who’s job is true crime. I wasn’t disappointed: I was met by a polite, very intelligent gentleman who shook my hand and welcomed me with a friendly smile.

We went to an interrogation room (perfect setting, eh?), I turned on the recorder, and the conversation started to flow.

Most of the questions I asked him were submitted by followers at my Instagram account; thanks to everyone who took part!


IMG_20180615_111544

(My interviewee’s ID wallet. Detectives wear this inside the police building and in their field investigations.)

1) What’s your background? What led you to becoming a cop?

Without going into too much detail, my professional background is in the civilian field, where I worked before becoming a cop.

I was 26 years old when I applied for police academy, and was accepted. I’m 44 years old now.

Of course, it requires a certain inner “incitement” to want to be a cop: you have to have the desire to want to try a difficult job like this. And I myself knew from the very start that this particular field of police work [homicide division] was where I was aiming at, where I wanted to work.

As for other reasons, let’s just say that death has always followed by my side ever since my childhood. I’m sure that has played a part in directing me towards a job like this.

2) In terms of police hierarchy, how does one technically get to the position of homicide detective?

The path to being a detective in the Finnish police force does not correlate with the path portrayed in television shows, where they first work the beat, then end up a detective. The role of a detective within the Finnish police is also not similar to the role of a detective in, say, the US police.

Oftentimes the journey to becoming a detective does indeed follow the standard beat-cop-then-detective route, but the Finnish Police also trains people to go straight to the detective bureau. Things have changed quite a bit in this regard since I became a police officer.

3) If somebody wants to work as a homicide detective, what kind of advice would you give them?

The most important thing is life experience: you have to understand life and the human mind before you can do this job successfully. When you know what happens out there in the world, it’s a lot easier to deal with what you see and experience in this job.

It’s a good idea to do something else first, before you become a cop. If you’re overly career-oriented, and enter police academy directly after your military service, your life experience will be quite minimal. And this can backfire on you when you have to actually deal with human beings through this job.

4) Take us through an average day in your job!

There are different kinds of days in my work.

You have days when you’re the detective “on call”, and on those days you work from 7 in the morning to around 2 or 3 in the afternoon, when the next shift comes in. On these days, you’re out in the field responding to calls and cases that come in that day. Once your shift is over, the day is done.

You also have “office days”, which is when you do paperwork, carry out interrogations, communicate with individuals arrested for crimes, et cetera.

When a case hits you that demands greater investigative intensity, days can, of course, stretch quite a bit beyond the usual. But in general, we work during office hours, though we of course also have weekend shifts.

-) does one detective investigate one case, or are cases delegated from one shift to another?

There is always a lead investigator, but usually, in the crucial initial stages of an investigation, extra hands are needed. And bigger cases are investigated by more detectives – the bigger the case, the more investigators work on it.

But, ultimately one lead investigator will put the various pieces together and write a report of the entire case.

5) How long are investigations in general? Does it vary a lot?

It varies quite a bit. If you have someone in custody, there’s only so long you can keep them, and in cases like that the investigation has to be carried out quicker. We’re talking months here, usually.

On average, I’d say an investigation lasts from around a month to around four months.

6) In terms of the “categories” of cases currently on your table, how many of them are killings, how many are assaults and batteries, and how many are missing persons cases?

Missing persons cases flow in regularly, especially over Summer. Inquests are also an integral part of our job [determining the cause of someone’s death. -admin]; I have around fifty inquests on my table right now. As for killings, I have one “open” investigation on my table right now. And also, I have some battery and assault -cases under investigation.

-) You mentioned that Summers create a peak in missing persons cases. Why?

Well, people are on a roll. *laughs* Weekends tend to stretch deep into the next week, and relatives and family members file reports of their lost lambs. But usually, these types of people are eventually found.

People who actually disappear, in the truer sense of the word, are fairly rare, but occasionally you run into cases like that, too. These types of cases can happen at any time during the year. These types of missing persons are usually found drowned in lakes, or dead in forests, et cetera.

7) What is it like to encounter the loved ones of victims? Family, friends, those types of people.

You encounter different kinds of reactions from different kinds of people. There’s really no way to prepare for their reaction, because it can be essentially anything.

Delivering the news of a person’s death or disappearance to their loved ones is one of the most challenging aspects of this job. But there’s a saying I think goes well with this aspect of the job: “A job chooses its workers”. In other words, this job tends to appeal to people who can deal with powerful and difficult emotions. So this aspect of the job is not overwhelmingly difficult for me.

It all comes down to the one’s ability to handle death, and all the various phenomena associated with it.

8) What is the strangest case you’ve ever worked?

*thinks for a long time* There are many of them. Life is bizarre. It’s really difficult for me to pick one. I’ve worked on some sexual crime investigations, and I guess you could say that that’s the area of crime where the “strangest” cases are.

But on average, it’s really difficult for me to pick one case, because there are so many strange cases in all these various “categories”. There are strange suicides, strange murders, and strange incidents in this job in general. Most people don’t even know how bizarre some of the things that happen out there can be. You see a slice of life in this job that most people can’t even imagine.

9) What is the average Finnish suicide like? Is there such a thing?

There are several ways people commit suicides. The most common in Finland is probably hanging, followed by an overdose of medication, throwing oneself under a train, et cetera.

As for the types of people who commit suicides, I’d say that people who have lost control of their lives, and can’t find another solution or way forward. Beyond that, we have all kinds of suicide victims: men, women, old people, young people. From 15-year-olds to pensioners.

-) from the point of view of a detective, do you think suicides are increasing or decreasing in Finland?

From my point of view, during Spring and early Summer, there’s a peak in the number of suicides. I’m not a statistician so I can’t say why, but I think it’s because many people are depressed over the dark Winter, and they have their hopes set on Spring and sunshine, that the emerging Summer will save them from depression. Then, when that doesn’t happen, they feel hopeless, and suicide becomes a prevalent idea in their minds.

10) Is there any one case that has stuck with you for a long time, or are you able to simply move on from one case to the next?

I’d be lying if I said that nothing ever sticks with me, but on average, you can’t get stuck with these matters; it’s unprofessional. If you’re a detective, and you notice that you’re overly bothered by the things you see and experience in your work, it’s time to get a new job. And I personally leave work-related matters at the workplace; I don’t carry them home with me.

11) Is there a certain “category” of cases that tend to stay with you longer than others?

I know you expect me to say “murders” or “crimes related to children”, or something like that. *laughs* But, frankly, my job is to investigate these cases, and the work needs to get done, so in terms of what types of things cause me stress, I’d say I stress more over things like investigative strategies: “What do I ask at an interrogation tomorrow? How do I approach this case? What should I do to break this case?” Those are the types of things I might think about at night when I lay awake in bed.

12) When you are assigned to a case, do you have to start everything over every time (sort of “re-invent the wheel” every time), or are there enough investigative tools and strategies you can apply each time to get you started?

Certain basic things are done each time. Of course it depends on the nature of the case: if it’s a simple case, there’s no need to overdo the investigation, even if it’s a homicide case.

The hardest ones are so called “dark homicides”, cases where you only have a body, and essentially no other relevant information. Those are the types of cases where you have to start anew each time, and they take a much longer time to get solved.

13) What are the sort of basic tools in your job? In other words, when a doctor receives a new patient, he/she will begin by analyzing the patient’s pulse, take a blood sample, listen to the patient’s heartbeat, etc. What is on a homicide detective’s “check list”?

The first thing to do is to talk to the people involved. Family, friends, witnesses. That’s where I start an investigation.

Technical investigation will proceed at the same time. Material relating to the crime is collected and analyzed, and the detective has to decide what is pertinent, what needs further analysis, and what is not so pertinent.

But talking to the people involved is the key element. You have to start by asking “What happened? Why did it happen?”

14) If you look at TV shows and films, the role of DNA in crime investigation is often emphasized. How useful is DNA in real homicide investigation? Can you get a DNA analysis any time you ask?

DNA is a huge help. It plays a huge role in homicide investigations, and it’s importance is constantly increasing. DNA is a little problematic in the sense that it can be contaminated fairly easily. But still, it’s a big help in my work.

I can get a DNA analysis anytime I ask for one. A special laboratory at the NBI [“National Bureau of Investigations”, essentially Finland’s equivalent to the American FBI. -admin] is responsible for most DNA analyses. Our own unit here decides what we send them, then they do the scientific work, and send us their findings.

krp dna

(NBI crime lab in Vantaa, Finland. Photo: Compic / Markku Ojala)

15) When you’re collecting evidence and investigating a case, how much do you reflect on whether something will be permissible in court?

You have to take that perspective into account. For example, the investigation report we send forward has to lay out the case and pertaining evidence in a simple, easily understandable form, because you’re ultimately not writing it for yourself – you’re writing it for the court, for the prosecutor, and for the attorneys. So you have to reflect on the material from that perspective.

16) As for unsolved cases, have you personally ever investigated a homicide that ended up going unsolved?

I myself have never had that happen to me, but there are battery and assault cases that are unsolved on my desk. But homicides… No wait, there is one! But that’s just one case over a period of over 15 years, and I’m talking about the “scoreboard” of the entire unit here, not just my own cases.

17) Are there factors that are similar all across the board of unsolved homicides? Some elements that make them particularly difficult to solve?

In some sense, yes. If the victim is a totally normal person with no criminal background, no friends or partners who have criminal backgrounds, no ties to the underworld, the homicide can be particularly hard to solve. What adds to the difficulty is if the person has been dead for some time before he/she is found: that makes it harder to analyze the body and the surroundings.

18) The stereotype about the average Finnish homicide goes something like this: X and Y are drinking. They’re both super-drunk, and haven’t eaten in a while, which makes their blood sugar level low, causing aggression. At some point, Y makes some innocent comment that X interprets as an insult. In the heat of the moment, X stabs Y, and Y dies. The next morning, X doesn’t even remember what happened. How truthful would you say this stereotype is?

It’s quite truthful – it often goes exactly like that. What’s much more rare is when two total strangers meet, and a killing occurs. They happen, but they’re very rare. The scenario you just described is a lot more common.

19) How about Finland’s professional criminals and their circles, are there cases where a person is killed for “business”?

Yes, it happens. Plus there are foreign gangs and criminals who now operate in Finland, and they add to these statistics, too.

The violence in Finland’s professional criminal underworld isn’t nearly on the level of what’s going on in, say, the South American drug gangs, but these professional “hits” do happen here as well.

20) Are you ever faced with situations where someone is clearly guilty of a crime, but the evidence simple is not enough to convict him/her?

Yes. The only thing you can do is just try everything you can, but if the evidence is not enough, all you can do is accept it. You can’t take this work personally. Some cops DO take situations like that personally, and it just makes their lives harder.

21) Does a Finnish detective ever come across these “confessers”, people who try to paint themselves as guilty of crimes they really had nothing to do with?

Yes, we have those here as well. Especially in bigger cases that are featured in the media.

As for why they do it, I think it’s just a matter of need for attention: they want officials and the public to notice them, it gives them a sense of meaning.

22) How much of detective work is intuition and how much is the daily grind of collecting evidence and analyzing it?

Intuition of course plays a part in this, but the thing about intuition is that sometimes it can be really strong, and still lead you on the wrong track. *laughs* But intuition is oftentimes correct, too.

I personally have noticed that intuition plays a big part in cases where we receive a report of a homicide, and go to the scene to investigate. Then when I get to the scene of the supposed crime, I get an intuitive feeling, just from a few glimpses around the scene, that it wasn’t a homicide at all, but much more likely a suicide. When I investigate the scene further, I notice that my intuition was correct.

But overall, this isn’t a game of intuition, but of rigorous examination, investigation, and analysis.

23) How often are cases solved on the basis of one piece of evidence, the proverbial “smoking gun”?

Cases are rarely solved on the basis of one piece of evidence. More often than not, it’s a matter of causalities: one thing connects to another, and so on. The result is a sum of various small parts that, when connected, point in a specific direction.

24) Forensic science is developing all the time. Are criminals coming up with counter-measures?

Well, in general, criminals are aware of new investigative techniques and forensic science. But they will often forget these things in the heat of the moment, when committing a crime. Some of them use gloves more these days to avoid leaving behind evidence. But overall, these counter-measures are fairly minimal and ineffective.

25) Do you ever come across criminals, murderers in particular, who genuinely cold and ruthless?

If we talk about things like serial killers, we don’t have too many of them here [in Finland]. But we do have them. For example, lately there’s been a case in the news that revolves around a genuine serial killer.*

We also have professional criminals, whose “jobs” involve violence. These people are called “torpedoes”, and our unit has had cases where the perpetrator has been just such a “torpedo”. So they do exist.

penttilä

(*The detective is referring to the case of Mikael Penttilä, a serial killer who strangles his victims. He has been in the news lately after yet another murder attempt).

26) Is there something you wish people would know more about, with regard to your work or the lessons you’ve learned in life in general?

I’m hesitant about giving advice to anyone, but… *thinks for a long time* One think I would advice people to do more is use common sense. That’s one thing that’s totally missing in many of the circumstances that produce the cases I work on. Regardless of educational or social background, one thing that connects many of my “clients” is that they’ve acted with no regard for common sense.

27) Has this job changed you? For example, do you avoid certain kinds of movies nowadays, having seen what you have seen?

I’m sure it has changed me. A job always changes a person. But I still like the kinds of things I always liked. So yeah, my job has changed me I’m sure, but not in the sense that I would avoid certain things nowadays.

28) How do you deal with the darker side of this job? Through sports, talking to colleagues, something like that?

I simply try to do things that I enjoy. I haven’t encountered a case that would have proven too difficult to deal with – yet! Let’s see if that happens one day. *laughs* But, like I said before, this is a job that attracts certain kind of people, people who are able to deal with the darker side of things.

29) What kind of a person should NOT apply to be a homicide detective?

The kind of person who takes cases personally. A person who wants to save the world through this job will not last for a very long time.

There have been people like that here in our unit as well, and they’ve usually quickly realized that this job is too much for them, so they’ve and been re-assigned.

30) The law forms the basis of your job. Is the law always 100 percent sacred, or have you ever had to “twist” it a bit to solve a case?

Police work is closely monitored, and everything is based on the law. This is an absolute, unconditional fact that no police officer can get around. Sometimes it makes things more difficult, sometimes the law might produce situations where it’s difficult to function as a detective, but this is how it is. Certain new directives and sections in the law have made this work even more difficult nowadays, but you have to follow the law nevertheless, otherwise this job would be pointless.

31) How are police officers trained in the law?

They teach you the law in police academy, but us cops are not jurists; I often have to pull out a law book to look things up. Judicial oversight is more the responsibility of the police chiefs. But of course, the law dictates what I can and cannot do in my area of work, so I have to be aware of it, too.

32) What kind of a cooperation exists between a detective and the prosecutor?

The cooperation is pretty seamless. We consult each other all the time about cases, and hold meetings between cops and prosecutors to discuss various matters. This cooperation doesn’t exist in all cases, but in many cases it’s very important.

33) The cliche is that detectives hate defense lawyer. Is this true?

*laughs* It’s not true. There are good and bad lawyers. Some are very pro-police, others are very anti-police. Here in Finland nowadays, the defense lawyer is almost always present at interrogations, for example, especially if the crime is serious. Ten years ago, this was different: the lawyer was not present back then.

-) Does the defense lawyer ever tell the client to “shut up”, like in the movies?

Very rarely. In fact, usually they might do the very opposite and advice their client to be honest and come clean.

But sure, sometimes you come across what we call “crook lawyers”, who try everything they can to make the police work more difficult.

34) What goes through your mind when you’re face to face with a killer? Do you think there’s something categorically “different” about them, something “evil” that can be sensed by just being in their presence?

This would imply a true psychopath, but the people I come across in this job are rarely psychopaths. A genuinely “evil” culprit is rare. Even with regard to the more serious offenders, rather than psychopathy, the problem more often is that they simply have a totally different kind of a moral compass: something that’s forbidden to the rest of us might be “OK” in their minds.

A real psychopath can usually be recognized by their attitude towards their crime. They’re emotionally cold, indifferent towards other people’s suffering.

But usually, the culprits of crimes feel very remorseful of their deeds after they’ve sobered up, and the full realization of what they’ve done hits them.

35) How big a part does alcohol play in Finnish assaults and killings?

An enormous role.

-) In your opinion, how could this be changed?

People should drink less, and leave that knife at home when they leave the house. If people followed this advice, we’d have a lot less killings. Because the formula is that someone drinks too much, and when the night doesn’t go as they planned, they pull that knife out of their pocket and use it to try to solve whatever problem they have.

-) in your opinion, what goes into drunk people when this happens? Why does that knife come out?

They lose their temper over something. One thing culprits often mention in interrogations is that moment when everything “blacks out”: it’s like something went “click” in their head, and after that, they just blacked out with rage, so they did whatever it is they did.

36) Any regrets over choices you’ve made in your life or work?

No regrets. It’s good as it is.

37) On average, how accurate are TV shows and films that feature police work?

Sometimes very inaccurate, sometimes very accurate – it varies quite a bit from show to show and from writer to writer. Just like with books.

If you want authenticity, you should always be aware of who is behind a show or movie.

-) What would you recommend as realistic books or TV shows?

If you’re interested in authentic portrayals of detectives working at violent crimes units, I would recommend the Finnish Marko Kilpi or Matti Yrjänä Joensuu. Joensuu was one of our detectives here! His books are mostly set in the 1970s and 1980s, but they’re still fairly accurate, and still reflect the work of a violent crimes detective quite well.

joensuu

(One of Joensuu’s books. This one is based on a true story.)

38) What’s the most horrible crime scene you’ve ever been at?

*thinks for a long time* A block of flats with stairs going up to the second floor. Below the stairs lies the body of a victim who has been beaten into a totally unrecognizable state. I go upstairs, and the hallway is covered in blood. As I enter a room, inside I see pools and sprays of blood everywhere.

-) We agreed not to mention names or go too deep into spesifics, but let’s say that in general, what may have caused such a bloodbath?

Alcohol may have a played a part, and contributed to the events. The culprit, still drunk, may have tried to move the body somewhere to hide it, but may have failed.

39) Have you ever had to investigate family killings, where a parent has killed their entire family, including the children?

I haven’t had such cases, but I have investigated a case where the children were spared, but one parent killed the other.

40) These family killings are quite shocking and incomprehensible; it seems to absurd and crazy that someone would kill their whole family, children included. Why do you think these “family mass murders” happen?

They usually involve an enormous anguish. Something has gone seriously wrong, and it seems there’s no way forward, no solution to the problems. And in that dark state of mind, somebody makes the evaluation that it would be best for everyone if all the members of the family perished together.

As horrible as it sounds, family killings are often done out of a sense of love. The person who carries out the killing doesn’t want his/her family to go on suffering. We cops often use the term “extended suicide” about cases like these.

41) Have you ever investigated a case where the evidence pointed in one direction and your intuition pointed somewhere else, and it finally turned out that your intuition was correct?

I’ve had these types of cases. Let’s say we have a potential culprit in custody, and I interrogate this person. Upon talking to the person, I might be overcome with a sense that, despite the evidence, this person is not our guy. And later it turns out I was right.

42) Are you still occasionally shocked by death and blood, these kinds of things?

No. I never have been shocked by such things.

43) Is there any one particular case that has made you hate mankind?

*laughs* No.

44) The ease with which you’re able to handle the darker side of this job, do you think it’s innate, something you’re born with, or do you think it’s something that can be practiced and cultivated?

My opinion is that it’s innate. It’s something that comes from your very personality.

45) Does every detective have a “breaking point”?

I’ve never had a case that would have broken me, but frankly, too much bureaucracy can break any cop. But maybe one day I will be assigned to a case that breaks me! We’ll see.

46) If you were not a detective, what do you think you’d be doing for a living?

I have that background in civilian work, and I might be doing that job. But I’ve been doing this for so long, I don’t see switching jobs as a realistic scenario at this point. Maybe I’ll switch to a different department inside the police organization, but not to a totally different field of work.

47) Do you see this your retirement job?

Well, that’s one option, but… This job is getting more and more entangled in bureaucracy, which makes it harder and harder to do. This is due to changes inside the organization, changes in the law, new directives, all that. But retiring from this is one possibility.

48) Does humankind have any hope?

*laughs* There’s always hope. We’re not doing THAT bad.

49) Do you feel safe in your job? Have you ever had to fear for your safety in your free time because of what you do for a living?

So far, I feel safe.

-) Do professional criminals respect the police? In the sense that they don’t come threaten you if they see you at a pub, or something like that?

Well, if we talk about genuine professional criminals, there’s a certain respect there that goes both ways. You rarely have any such problems with them.

“Wannabe-gangsters” are a bigger problem, and much more likely to cause problems in a cop’s private life as well.

50) Why is the Finnish crime rate relatively low?

This is a question for a statistician; I can’t really say. From my grassroots perspective, we a shitload of work all the time. *laughs*

51) How do you keep the various cases on your table in order in your mind?

Thankfully, we don’t get all the cases in the department, just the ones that are delegated to us because of our expertise. I have various cases on my table, but not all of them keep me busy all the time. For instance, the inquests that I have on my responsibility sit there while I wait for coroner’s statements and other information; once I have that info, the inquests are simply archived. So they only keep me busy for a while, and then move on to await other information.

52) Does Finland have serial killers? I’m speaking of that classic type of serial killer who seeks out a victim, kills the victim, then goes into a “cooling off” period before striking again.

Yes, we do have them. And I believe we might have more of them on our radar if we could connect more cases through evidence.

53) What do you think about mediums and clairvoyants who say they work with the police in solving cases, finding missing people, etc.?

I’m open-minded, and wouldn’t categorically deny the possibility that something like this could possibly happen. However, I wouldn’t place too much emphasis on their claims. I don’t know of a single investigation where our unit would have employed a medium to help out.

Mostly, these mediums tell a person exactly what they want to hear, and this is of no use in a police investigation.

54) Have you yourself ever had a paranormal experience?

Let’s just say that I have received a greeting from beyond the grave.

55) Immigration to Finland has increased quite a bit in the recent years. From your perspective, have immigrants brought with them particular kinds of crime? Or have you seen an increase in immigrants in some area of crime?

I’m going to leave this question unanswered.

56) In terms of missing persons cases, are there certain factors that feature again and again in disappearances? Some types of similarities between the cases?

Unstable youths who have been placed in foster homes are a common group in disappearances. Sometimes we also have cases where someone simply does not want to be in contact with their families, and disappear because of this.

But regardless of age or gender or any other factor, all kinds of people disappear.

57) Do you spend any free time investigating “classic” crime cases?

I have no energy left for free-time homicide investigations. *laughs*

58) If you could travel in time and space and investigate any unsolved crime you choose, which case would you choose to investigate?

Probably the Jack the Ripper murders from Whitechapel in England.

-) what would you do differently than the original detectives?

There’s very little I could do, considering the rudimentary investigative methods of the late 1800s. There was no DNA, no CCTV cameras. All those detectives had were interrogations and witnesses. They basically would have had to catch him red-handed.

And finally, my regular questions:

59) Your top 3 movies?

There are so many of them, as movies are a hobby of mine. But I would say:

  1. Taxi Driver (1976)
  2. Scarface (1983)
  3. Casino (1995)

60) Your top 3 songs?

  1. Metallica – Fade to Black
  2. Opeth – Burden
  3. Alice Cooper – He’s Back

61) Your top 3 books?

Hard one. I’ve been reading since I was ten.

  1. Stephen King – The Dead Zone
  2. Bernard Cornwell – The Last Kingdom
  3. Conn Iggulden – Wolf of the Plains

62) What model phone do you use?

iPhone 7

Book review: American Kingpin, by Nick Bilton. Portfolio 2017.

american_kingpin

The Deep Web is a kind of “secret” part of the Internet only reachable by a special browser called Tor. The place is basically a digital reflection of the human id: illegal pornography, weird sexual fantasies (often including rape or other crimes), sick videos – it’s all right there.

A few years ago, a new site popped up there, seemingly out of nowhere: The Silk Road, a website that facilitated the buying and selling of drugs, guns, stolen software, stolen electronics, and the like. It became a hit overnight and, considering the nature of the goods changing hands through the site, a fresh nightmare for governments and law enforcement agencies. The anonymous nature of the Deep Web and the Tor browser made finding the creator of the site that much more difficult.

Despite the challenging premise, the creator of the site was ultimately captured. He turned out to be a brilliant young do-it-yourself libertarian named Ross Ulbricht, a physics whiz kid and self-taught computer genius who believed the government should not be able to regulate what people put in their bodies. He was running the multi-million dollar drug empire from a Samsung 700z laptop, borrowing wi-fi from local coffee shops in Austin, Texas and San Francisco, California.

This book tells the story of the creation of the website, and the efforts of the various law enforcement agents (from the DEA, Homeland Security and FBI, among others) to find the person behind the “Amazon of Drugs”.

Bilton is a master storyteller, and he knows the tech and start-up worlds well, having written about both before.

The portrait he paints of the young Ulbricht is vivid and alive, the story of a young man who believes he is making a difference in the world by challenging the government on its drug laws head-on. Whatever you might think of Ross Ulbricht, he had the guts to follow through on what he believed: instead of arguing on Twitter or lecturing his friends about the hypocracy of the “War on Drugs”, he built something of his own, and left a lasting impression on the world, for better or for worse.

American Kingpin also succeeds in balancing the stories of the agents on Ulbricht’s trail with the rest of the narrative. Determined, inventive, and loyal to the very government the Silk Road challenged, they worked around the clock to dig up “Dread Pirate Roberts” (Ulbricht’s user name on the Silk Road) from the murky waters of the Deep Web. In presenting these agents as human beings too, Bilton evokes the theme of loyalty vs. rebellion towards authority, an age-old question that gets a fresh treatment between the pages of this book.

An enjoyable read that tells an unforgettable true crime story, while at the same time sophisticating the reader with regard to Internet security, digital crime, and the battle between libertarian political philosophy versus governmental institutions.

Grade: 4.5/5