True crime is fertile ground for television drama. Last week it was announced that Martin Clunes would return for a second series of ITV’s Manhunt, this time investigating the case of the so-called Night Stalker, a serial rapist “whose 17-year reign of terror left thousands of elderly people in south east London living in fear”. I’m not sure that’s something I would choose to watch of an evening.
Of course there are excellent examples, such as Des (the one with David Tennant as Dennis Nilsen) or White House Farm (the Jeremy Bamber murders). But I prefer crime documentaries, which present us with the facts unencumbered by actors or portentous soundtracks.
No Body Recovered (ITV) concerned the disappearance of Michael O’Leary, a married father-of-three from West Wales. He failed to return home from work one evening in January 2020, but sent a text to his family that read: “I’m so sorry x.” They were immediately suspicious because, as a proud Welshman, it was unlike him to send messages in English.
The suspect was quickly identified: Andrew Jones, whose wife was having an affair with O’Leary. Nobody else was in the frame, and the idea that O’Leary had committed suicide was discarded early on.
What held our interest wasn’t any element of suspense – if a suspect is named and pictured at the beginning of a documentary, you can be pretty sure they’re going to be convicted by the end of it – but the explanation of how the police put their case together.