Producing Murder

Written by Tashi from the blog Interviews on 06 Apr 2005
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Solving It
Murder And Mayhem
The second season of the forensic crime series Solving It started on Wednesday evening.

The first episode was about the case of Jose Da Silva, who invited interior deigners and estate agents to his home with the intention of killing them.

I've always found serial killers and the detectivising that goes on around them intriguing.

Interested in finding out more I gave show producer Wessel van Huyssteen a tinkle to chinwag about the second season of the show.

Tashi The voice-over is obviously not the actual murderer's voice?
Wessel: No, we do quote the murderers now and again - we call in voice-over artists to read the quotes from either the murderer or a victim or a witness or family member that doesn't necessarily want to partake in the show. Chris van Niekerk, who used to be in Sewende Laan,is the voice-over artist that drives the story.

Tashi: What sorts of cases are coming up in the second season?
Wessel: What we tried to do that was slightly different from the previous series, although there were cases that also had these elements – we tried to find cases where the perpetrators specifically tried to stage a crime.

That means, for instance, in the Dr Bouwer case or as we call it, The Man Of Straw, he poisoned his wife with insulin over a period of a year in total – the last two months were quite traumatic. Long before his wife got ill he was able to fake symptoms of diabetes in her, making sure that she would have to take insulin medication and then eventually poisoned her with insulin with an overdose.

It was staged as if it was a completely natural death - nobody really suspected – and if it wasn't a very alert detective in New Zealand at the time and a medical doctor friend of Annette Bouwer, who was the victim, this would have passed as just another natural death.

Another case is a crime that was staged as a robbery that turned out it wasn't actually a robbery but an employer who took out life insurance on one of his employees a year in advance and eventually killed him.

Tashi: And the murder of Leigh Matthews? Is this case coming up in the series?
Wessel: Yes, that's going to be Episode 12.

Tashi: Why do you think people are fascinated by murder?
Wessel: I think in general people are interested in the macabre – in the dark part of our psyches. Because it's not part of the ordinary we're fascinated by it – it's almost illogical to think that somebody could murder. Especially the kind of pre-meditated murders we're talking about here.

We all understand that somebody could lose their temper and kill somebody but it's very difficult for us to understand that somebody can meticulously plan a murder, over a long period of time, being friends with those people.

In 90 percent of the cases the victim was killed by somebody they knew personally. I think it's something that firstly, we obviously repress in ourselves and secondly that we find fascinating because it's part of 'the other'.

I think another reason is that when a murder happens, and because it usually happens between two people who know each other, you have a wealth of information to delve into in terms of the relationship between those people.

I think it brings a closet psychological aspect that we're not used to seeing and don't experience on an everyday basis.

I think if we left it at that people would feel quite disillusioned with the series but the fact that there's a resolution at the end and that all the perpetrators are brought to book – it gives us a sense of release. It also gives us a sense that there is justice in the world and that there is light at the end of the tunnel.

Tashi: In your shooting of the series, have you met any of the murderers?
Wessel: No.

Tashi: Okay, I was going to ask what it was like actually meeting one

Wessel: You know we're not interested in re-presenting the murderers' case. They had a chance to speak in court - we take those court dockets that are meticulously documented and transcribed and whatever they said in their trial is what we use as their words.

We're not interested in them saying post their sentence that they were innocent or that they were forced into it because very often you'll find that perpetrators never really take responsibility for what they've done.

Tashi: Was there an episode you found particularly difficult to film?
Wessel: I think the episode that was particularly taxing was the van der Merwe family who were killed in Benoni. We were lucky enough to be able to get Sonia van der Merwe - the only surviving member of the family - to talk to us. She in a sense drove the story with the detective and this was the first time she spoke out on television about what happened to her family.

They were wiped out by one of their trusted employees who grew up in their own house. It was a gruesome murder where the brother and his wife and the mother and the father were tortured over a period of 18 hours, given rat poison, raped, multiple on the women by all four perpetrators. The leader of the gang was this employee of theirs who was also the factory manager.

The fact that it was so senseless (there was no real motive behind it) and the fact that there was only this one surviving member of the family and the fact that it was so incredibly brutal with so much torture going into it - we still until this day don't fully understand what really happened there.

It was a very difficult case to research - it was very emotional from that point of view because as a crew you couldn't distance yourself from it because you had this survivor telling you the story.

Tashi: What would you like audiences to get out of the show?
This is entertainment - I want them to be entertained. I think in a certain sense one or two people will be a little less naive when they realise that most people are killed by people around them.

I think I would also like them to get a sense of the dedication of detectives - that there are some of them out there who're really dedicated to their job, who do a sterling job and who have the best interests of the public at heart.

We've also done an episode on a serial rapist and I think it will be very empowering to people to watch an episode like that and see what the modus operandi of the serial rapist is all about. How they can prevent it; what signs they can be looking out for.

In the first episode there were estate agents and interior decorators and I don't think we ever think about how vulnerable we are. Not that you want to create paranoia, but just so that they're aware of what the scenarios are all about.

Also, South Africa is one of the leading countries in terms of forensics - we're not falling behind the rest of the world out there. We have far fewer resources and far fewer detectives doing what needs to be done, but those who are doing it are doing it incredibly well.

Tashi: It also appeals to the idea that ..... like, I would love to be a detective. I've always thought it would be really cool.
Wessel: Yes, it stimulates that adventurer in ourselves. We want to explore - not only being a detective, but also it gives us a chance to explore the dark side.

Tashi: Yes, and find answers to the mysteries.


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