If you, like me, spend any amount of time watching true crime shows, then you will notice a pattern among the victims. They are all perfect. They lit up every room they entered. They had the winning-est smiles but no shirts on their backs because they’d already given them to the nearest person in need. Even if, as the story progresses, we find out that the deceased experienced some trouble in their lives (an affair, a drug or alcohol addiction, a termination from work), we are told that they were just in the process of getting their life back on track when they were cruelly cut down by murder. Cynical viewers comment that the producers must think we won’t care about justice for a flawed dead person.
Having been a TV producer for a time, I know why we get these glowing testimonials from the victim’s loved ones: they are to humanize the deceased, to try to bring them to life and give them a voice in a program that is otherwise focused on their role as a dead body. I get it. I do. There’s a sameness to the reports, though, that serves to undermine their purpose. The victim loved life. Loved her family. No one would ever want to hurt him.
Except, of course, someone did.
One of my current favorite programs is See No Evil, which uses CC footage to piece together events after a murder or other heinous crime. There is minimal lionizing of the victim, perhaps because we get to see them for ourselves on the grainy footage. They visit ATMs, feed the parking meter, pay for gas.
A recent episode featured Edward Lowry, a man found savagely beaten and stabbed to death on a street in South Dakota. Ed’s friends and family offered up the usual backstory of what an amazing guy he was—how helpful, friendly and outgoing. Then the cameras traced Ed’s actions leading up to his death. He’d received a promotion at work, we’re told, and he went out to celebrate. He visits a couple of bars, drinks a beer or two. In between, we follow his distinctive, robot-like walk through town as he’s caught on security footage from banks, pawn shops and the like. By the end, you feel like you would know his figure anywhere.
The cops talk to the bartender at one of the places Ed may have visited. She says he wasn’t in. The cameras show he was there, bellied right up to her bar for a good long time. She served him but didn’t remember him. At the time she’d talked to Ed, he was no one special.
Ed sets out again past midnight, loping toward home. We know he doesn’t get there. A group of young men happen across Ed and decide to jump him and rob him. We see them fall in behind him, stalking him, and we want to yell out for Ed to run. Change course before it’s too late.
The three thugs took Ed’s life for just $200. Afterward, they’re shown celebrating with treats at a gas station convenience store. The cops close in for their own kind of score.
I’m left with other questions at the end. Why, if Ed was so surrounded by loved ones, was he out celebrating alone? Maybe they were all just busy that night. After all, they couldn’t know. They didn’t know it was the last time Ed Lowry would stride through town with his leather jacket and bandana and unusual walk.
All of us are walking that same path that Ed Lowry did. Something is out there, waiting to jump us, we know not when or where. See No Evil shows us a glimpse of those last minutes, lets us see the person going about their mundane lives at the Kwik-Mart and the bank, and that’s when we know the truth: murder victims aren’t perfect. They’re just regular.
We just happen to be watching when they walk off camera one last time.