Behind illustrious façades

May 7, 2023

The Lesson is Murder may not be everyone’s cup of tea but it won’t disappoint true crime fans

Behind illustrious façades


hey are you, they are me – before they are not us or anything like us.

The story about three ordinary people until they became the malefactors of society. William George Davis is a hardworking and empathic nurse; Robert Fratta, the blue knight, is madly in love with his wife; and Ivie DeMolina is an excelling school counsellor in her early 20s and a motherly figure to Victoria Shaw.

The latest three-part true crime docu-series streaming on Hulu follows Dr Brynna Fox, a former FBI agent and psychological criminologist, and her graduate students as they uncover the ‘why’ behind some of the most famous murders in the United States.

The team of aspiring criminologists comprises Jordan, a legal strategist; Vanessa, a data strategist; Nate, who is an analyst; Jacquie; and Xavier who is the sceptic in the team.

The documentary is not everyone’s cup of tea. But those who are fascinated by thriller and crime fiction would lap The Lesson is Murder up, presumably without a break.

“Law enforcement’s job is to solve the crime. Their job is not necessarily to understand the background of the offender.”

According to Fox, departments responsible for delivering criminal justice such as the police and FBI already have their hands full. This lack of capacity has legal ramifications. It lays bare lacunae in our understanding of crime and its origin. This heavily influences the way we define and dispense justice.

The Lesson is Murder focuses specifically on cases in which criminals are convicted based on readily-available evidence with little to brief deliberations on the probable causes. Criminologists are responsible for joining the pieces of the puzzle laid out in front of them.

While law enforcement targets the ‘how,’ criminology targets the ‘why’ of the crime. One cannot function without the other – and so we need to employ a more holistic approach towards solving crime. Both rely on each other; if either one of them is overlooked, we get a puzzle that is missing pieces. As more cases go cold, there are more mysteries and more victims losing hope in the justice system.

Criminal profiling is an analysis of the psychological traits of an offender. The offenders are normal people wearing a mask but taking off the mask is not quite the deterrent we make it out to be. It does not rule out the possibility of crime in the future.

It is at this point that forensic psychologists, criminologists, data analysts and legal specialists come together to investigate the motives behind gruesome crimes such as robberies, kidnappings and killings. These teams of criminologists then help identify what triggered or motivated these offenders.

The doc-useries provides insight into why profiling is important. It helps in not only identifying the psychological personalities of offenders but is also useful in victim profiling and hostage negotiations.

The latest three-part true crime docu-series streaming on Hulu follows Dr Brynna Fox, a former FBI agent and psychological criminologist, and her graduate students as they uncover the ‘why’ behind some of the most famous murders in the United States.

Moreover, it establishes recurring patterns of criminal behaviour which can then lead to a reduction in individual and organised crime. That is if the decisions are made based on the psychological profiles that indicate a higher risk for criminal behaviour in the future.

Based on these profiles adequate action can be taken pre-emptively to develop national policies for assisting individuals with certain traits and to pre dict their next move.

The world knows of Jack the Ripper, Jeffery Dahmer, Ted Bundy and The Boston Strangler, but there have been far worse marks on the pages of history made by Harold Shipman, a doctor; Luis Garavito, whose modus operandi was to groom his victims by being ‘a kind stranger’ and Javed Iqbal Mughal.

“What makes people from various continents, nationalities, ethnicities, religions and moral values commit the same crimes?”

The series realistically outlines how psychological profiling seems like an easy task when the group sits around and shoots guesses at the personality traits found in a criminal. At the same time, it shows the grim reality of the fieldwork, especially when these professionals come face-to-face with the victims, their families and the perpetrators of heinous crimes. When they recreate the murder, they confront the question: “How could they do this?”

“The victim was a human being. Alive. And breathing. Had a family.”

Since criminal profiling caught speed, and increased in popularity only recently a lot of people believe the field is all-highs, exciting and intriguing, but it is rather the opposite. It is only for those who can deal with emotionally-taxing situations like standing in a dummy set-up of a hospital room with only one minute on the clock to kill the patient as Davis did or having only the time it takes to close a garage gate to kill Fratta’s wife. These exercises can take a toll, and trigger even criminologists who after all, are human.

The series is a combination of interviews and expert opinions on veracious accounts of how the métier happens in real-life situations, rather than in fictional settings which are set up to appease the audience.

Unlike the enactments we see in media, the real job comes with the stoic acceptance that, sometimes, proper conclusions cannot be reached, as the case of the notorious serial killer, Ivie Demolina, highlights. Even though her psychological characteristics were graphed out, her complex personality, tipping between two extreme personalities, dissociation from traumatic memories of self, coupled with her refusal to open up, left room for further interpretation and new avenues of research for criminologists - along with hopes for future seasons for forensic aspirants and viewers who are interested in the true crime genre.

The writer is an undergraduate student of psychology at FC College

Behind illustrious façades