Dr Philip Beh has been a forensic psychologist for longer than we’ve been alive. So, if you’re one of those crime TV fans, he’s got a few myths he’d like to bust for you.
Pathology, he says, takes a long time and cases are not always solved within an hour. Sometimes the cause of death is never found, even though families expect the pathologist to have all the answers.
On crime shows, Beh says, the pathologists are always being harassed by the police or lawyers not to reveal certain information, which may affect the outcome of the trial. But this is far from the way things work in Hong Kong. “I feel the legal system here is very professional, so these cases are few and far between.”
Part of his research is on murders and looking at the link between injury patterns and possibly relationships, particularly for fatal domestic violence. By looking at the number of injuries on the victim, he can predict how close the attacker is to them. The more injuries they have, the more likely they had a more intimate relationship with the attacker.
Whether or not the killer fled holds major clues, he says. “Someone who is intelligent, well educated and not emotionally attached to victim is more likely to flee from the scene. Someone who is married to the victim is more likely to just stay and call the police and say ‘I killed my wife’. Someone who is not educated and doesn’t have money will just stay because they don’t know how to run away.”
What about hiding the body?
Well, he says, on television shows the perpetrator often seems to be able to burn the body. But that’s easier said than done. “It takes a very long time to completely burn the body. Even if it does happen – we have our tricks – we can reveal that the body was dead before it has been burnt!” Dr Beh says.
As a final myth buster, Beh says that some people believe that if someone has drowned and the family pray at the beach or river bank that the water will release the body. What often does happen, he says, is because of heat and the way the body decomposes, it accumulates gas, and so it floats to the surface,” he says. “It really has nothing to do with the praying.”