True Crime by Ted Bassingthwaighte
See It, Touch It, Smell It, Taste It
True crime was my passion and occupation for 22 years. I joined the NSW Police Force on May 18th 1987. In the first 12 months of my probationary period at Wyong police station on the NSW Central Coast I experienced the dark side of life on a daily basis. The first deceased person I met was an infant female child who I believed at the time was a victim of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. (SIDS). I knew nothing about how to question witnesses or develop an alternate hypothesis to the version of events given to me during the interview. My inexperience and the stark, cold horror of the next day handling her body at autopsy, always left me wondering if that child died of natural causes or was she murdered by her desperately poor, uneducated parents. I’ll never know.
When I see news about the convicted child killer Kathleen Megan Folbigg images and odours of my first dead child investigation way back in 1987 flood from my memory and it makes my heart sink.
But what that death did do was to spark my ambition to become a detective. A detective who would have the skills, the time and the organisational support to properly investigate crimes . . . or so I thought.
That child, whose name I remembered for years but now cannot, was not the first dead body I ever handled. I was a registered nurse before joining the cops and had watched people die in A&E and had participated in an autopsy as part of my training.
So, I wasn’t shocked. In actual fact I was fascinated. A fascination that holds true today even after I succumbed to chronic PTSD as a result of seeing too many dead people and from investigating too many child sexual assault matters.
I suppose in some way I’m ‘lucky’ to have experienced death and crime firsthand. By lucky, I mean the experience, I feel, was a privilege. How many others with an interest in true crime can actually smell, taste, and touch it?
But that is not to say the avid fan of true crime is not able to envelope themselves wholly in the stories they read in books or blogs or listen to in podcasts or watch on television or online because today there is so much true crime available, encompassing all types of nefarious behaviour, it seems endless.
On Tuesday October 27, 1992 at about 9pm Malcolm George Baker started a murder spree stretching from Terrigal to Bateau Bay to North Wyong, that would only end after six unarmed and defenceless men and a woman were dead. I knew Baker and some of his victims. I was part of the large team of detectives to investigate the murders.
My interest in the case and labyrinthine motivations of Baker and his victims stayed with me all my career and beyond. After 27 years of that case fermenting in my mind I have completed a manuscript titled, Bloody Odyssey, a story of domestic violence, jealousy, greed and fear. Here is a short extract.
He moved with purpose across the road and down the slight incline of the front yard, avoiding the glare of a street light at the end of the driveway. A large evergreen tree near the footpath shadowed a vacant plot of land on the left of the house and gave him perfect cover.
Upstairs in the two-storey brick house a television screen flickers in a darkened lounge room. The empty stairs inviting Baker forward. He slivered up the steps and onto the long, wrought iron fenced balcony protecting the front of the house. In an instant he stood at the closed timber front door, the first obstacle to his progress. He looks through a small coloured glass window in the door. Listening. Waiting.
Inside a large round cane chair with bright red and yellow pillows dominates the middle of the lounge room. A brown velour modular couch fills the whole left side of the room. Two fish tanks full of tropical fish and a dozing canary in a cage stand along the wall to the right. The noise and light of the TV fills the room. Voices. Mumbling. A human shape moves about at the back of the room.
Crunch!! Baker raises his foot and kicks the door. It flies open and crashes into the plaster wall behind it as the door jamb splinters from the hinges. Baker steps through the door, a loaded Remington 12-gauge double barrel shotgun at the ready on his hip.
Next week: Why do people love true crime?
Ted Bassingthwaighte is a retired NSW police detective living in Newcastle with his wife and dog. Since his retirement in 2009 he has been writing. He reviews books for the NSW Police news magazine, has entered HWC short story competitions, winning a prize in the HWC 2014 Grieve competition. He plans to have his true crime manuscript ‘Bloody Odyssey’ edited and ready for publication in 2019.