The Dutch police have produced a podcast to try to solve an old murder


A day in August 1991 in Naarden, the Netherlands, a corpse in an advanced state of decomposition was discovered a few meters from a highway, discovered by a group of workers attracted by the nauseating smell. The body, wrapped in an electric blanket, was unrecognizable, had no identification documents on it and had wounds of various stab wounds on its chest. The Dutch police never succeeded in identifying the corpse, nor in finding the murderer: after almost thirty years, therefore, he produced a podcast in three episodes telling the story of the investigation, hoping to exploit the popularity of the podcasts of gender true crime to gather new information that can help solve the case.

At the time of the crime, he said BBC News, Johan Baas had just been appointed as Naarden detective: when they found the body he was on vacation, but it was by far the most important case that had ever happened to him, and he hurried back to work. Undocumented, with no possibility of spreading a mug shot due to decomposition, and with recognition technology with DNA still in its infancy, recognizing the corpse was extremely difficult. The fingerprints were not present in the Dutch database, and in the following weeks no witnesses were presented and no complaints were received.

The electric blanket was a model of which thousands of copies had been sold, and useless for the purpose of recognition. The only distinctive element worn by the man was a gold ring, which the investigators discovered to have been sold in the Netherlands by mail order: they looked for all the buyers, until they found one who said he had sold the ring to a man in a bar in Amsterdam. Other witnesses confirmed the fact, adding that the man who had bought the ring was perhaps Turkish, and was at the bar most days. But it had not been seen for weeks, and the police could never identify him.

The case was never solved, nor were there other turns. Two years ago, however, the police reopened the case, examining the evidence with new technologies for DNA analysis and reconstructing the victim's face on the computer. He discovered that the man was about 65 years old in 1991, and was probably of Eastern European origin. Despite the new details, the police failed to approach a solution, and therefore decided to produce a podcast to tell what is known about the murder and what the various investigations discovered. Since leaving, the police said, every day someone came forward to give clues: no details were provided, but the police said useful information came out.

That of the Dutch police is not a strategy ever seen. In recent years there have been several police departments, mainly in the United States, which have produced podcasts on unsolved cases or on particularly exciting investigations, both to try to get new information and to renew their image and find a new communication channel with civilians. It is a consequence of the new popularity of the documentary genre of cold case, that is the old unsolved cases, proliferated thanks to streaming platforms and for some years now also become a popular podcast theme.

Unlike series like Serial – perhaps the most famous and popular podcast ever – podcasts from police departments are not journalistic, however, telling the crimes from the point of view of the agents. There are things about the investigations that the police cannot say, at least not in an official communication: they cannot, for example, expose theories that are not proven, and hardly explain any errors and abuses committed during the investigation. All aspects that are often among the most interesting things about documentaries and podcasts true crime.

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