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How to Guess the Murderer on Forensic Files Before the First Commercial

Sarah Aswell is a freelance humor writer who lives in Missoula, Montana, with her husband and two kids. Her words have appeared in places like The New Yorker, McSweeney’s, The Hairpin, and more.

Who did it? How to crack Forensic Files cases while you're watching

Forensic Files might have gone off the air six years ago, but each and every episode lives on in my heart. More conveniently for everyone else, many episodes of the classic true-crime television show also live on through Netflix. I try with the best of them to keep up with every hot new show that’s released, but in truth, sometimes all I want to do is listen to Peter Thomas’ smooth, concerned voice over talk me through forensic criminal-catching for hours upon hours as the sun arcs through the sky and then sets, one murder after another.

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One of the best parts of Forensic Files is that, like any good mystery, they present you with a few suspects and a lot of evidence before revealing (through science!) who committed the crime. Was it the seemingly loving husband who was also hiding gambling debts? Was it the quiet aunt, jealous of her niece’s beauty and success? Was it the old janitor who was always threatening to beat people to death with his mop?

I’ve studied all 400 episodes, and now I know it was for a purpose: to learn exactly how to pinpoint the murderer before the first commercial break. Or at the very least, to throw out a pretty good guess. Here’s who you should keep an eye on: 

Someone who is being way too helpful

Fred Rogers used to say that when you see scary things in the news, you should “look for the helpers.” I’m sure that what he meant was that you should look for the helpers because they were probably involved. Is the concerned boyfriend a little too concerned? Does a random neighbor keep asking police how the investigation is going? They might be guilty.

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The person who is not being interviewed

It makes sense that some people do not want to be involved with the television procedural that reenacts their crime. A good chunk of the time, the person who did it is not among the cast of characters who is retelling the tale. Of course, this can be tricky. Sometimes multiple suspects aren’t interviewed during the show, and sometimes suspects aren’t interviewed until after they reveal who did it.

A person who is being interviewed, but in a suspiciously nondescript room

But wait! On a few glorious episodes of Forensic Files, the murderer is interviewed all to throw you for a loop and lead you down the wrong path to justice. Still, there are a couple of ways to tell that the murder is being interviewed. Is the background empty or blurry or a nondescript room, like one that just contains a potted plant and a couch? Is the interview subject wearing a plain outfit — like maybe an outfit that could be a prison jumper? You might have found your guy.

The person leaving behind lots of good scientific evidence

At the heart of every Forensic Files is a vital piece of evidence that cracks the case: a bullet, a fingerprint, a strand of hair, a drop of blood. There’s even that one episode when they catch the murderer/arsonist after analyzing a bag of kitty litter. Chances are if they mention one of the suspects in relation to a possible piece of forensic evidence (the police officer who was wearing a gold patch made of specially-dyed threads, for example), it's not a red herring.

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The loving spouse

It’s as true on Forensic Files as it is in real life. In the vast majority of cases, the victim knows their murderer. In many episodes, the weird janitor or neighbor with the criminal record is simply a distraction from the concerned, loving spouse who is secretly taking large life insurance policies out on their partner and fiddling with the brakes on their car. Never overlook the person closest to the victim, and get even more suspicious if they seem to be interviewed in one of those rooms that just has a plant and a couch.

Before you go, check out our slideshow below.

Who did it? How to crack Forensic Files cases while you're watching
Image: Netflix
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