Recently on the revamped Crime Investigation Australia Chanel 7 showcased one of the most significant investigations in Australia’s history; The Granny Killer.

This particular episode is a must watch for any crime buff or wannabe certified investigator for two reasons. It shows the difficulties the cops faced from start to finish and, more importantly, the determination of the investigating officer’s to – not only find the monster murdering elderly women – but also bringing him to justice.

This is a fascinating account of  police investigation dogged with problems from the start.  Washed away crime scenes, no witnesses, the absence of any real motive and the location (Sydney’s north shore),  proved as significant obstacles for the investigators.

As a young detective I remember the Granny Killer case being used as a benchmark in training.  Not for the horrific nature of the crimes, the study of victimology or the examples of rugged persistence by the detectives.  The one thing I remember most hinges on this one fact:

Never assume anything in an investigation.

John Wayne Glover stalked and murdered six elderly women and assaulted quite a few more.   There are suggestions he murdered others prior to his violent rampage in 1989.   When the cops started identifying their pool of suspects (there was little to no forensic evidence),  they had hundreds of potential persons of interest.  A formal criminal profile suggested that it was likely a teenage skateboarder who was responsible.

No one counted on the local pie sales representative, himself a grey-haired older man.

When the inevitable canvasses were done the questions would be asked, “did you see anyone suspicious?”  Of course, a grey-haired pie salesman wouldn’t be suspicious and unlikely to be a vicious killer, right?  A teenager or hooded homeless person, maybe.

Keep in mind that this investigation was prior to computer records that may have picked up a pattern.  Picked up the “grey-haired man.”  In the end it was solid detective work, long hours and a few tenacious investigators that identified him.

So what does this mean for you as an investigator?

Never assume that a person is guilty, or not guilty, when investigating a crime.   Society’s norms and behaviours are not always true.

Instead of asking “did you see anything suspicious?” try, “tell me everything you saw.” That way, you get the full picture and the information received can then be analysed.  Only when you have all the facts can you make judgments.

It’s no different in private investigations.  Gather all the facts and you’ll be armed with all the information needed to make decisions. Something that may seem irrelevant or insignificant can often be the missing piece of the puzzle you need.

Ask open-ended questions and probe the who, what, why, where, when and how.  What you’ll find is that you’ll be armed with all the relevant information and your investigation reports will be professional, thorough and informative.