The ticking clock of Missing Persons Investigation

Producers of new Nine factual wanted an immersive experience for viewers to follow cases with police, minute by minute, hour by hour.

It’s been 14 years since Nine screened Missing Persons Unit, a factual series narrated by Mike Munro, in which cameras followed NSW police investigating state cases.

In revisiting the subject for Missing Persons Investigation, narrated by actor Caroline Craig, the cases will now span NSW, Victoria, Queensland, WA, Northern Territory and Tasmania with access through the National Missing Persons Coordination Centre at the AFP.

Executive Producer Laurie Critchley of Southern Pictures (The Mosque Next Door, The Swap, Miriam Margolyes: Australia Unmasked, Magda’s Big National Health Check) hopes the new 8 part series will put viewers at the centre of an investigation as it unfolds.

“You can never assume what is happening in any one investigation”

“Our motivation in this, and we talked about it a lot with police and with the NMPCC, was to follow investigators in real time so that we had the experience of understanding what it is like, literally minute by minute, hour by hour,” she tells TV Tonight.

“Every missing persons case begins in a similar way with a report of a missing person and a phone call. From that point, it can have immensely different outcomes and none of those are predictable.

“You can never assume what is happening in any one investigation.

“We started talking about the issue of missing persons, and how good it would be to show the breadth of work that happens and take people through the experience of missing persons… and raise, I suppose, a sort of public literacy -for want of a better word- giving people an understanding, because it wasn’t very front of mind.”

Filmed over an 18 month period, the series draws upon witness interviews, CCTV footage, as police work with helicopters, drones, divers, tracker dogs, technology andforensic analysis. It also captures how geography plays a role from case to case.

“Landscape, especially in a country like Australia, and time are absolute factors in these cases. The longer time goes on the harder it becomes to find someone or to find someone well,” Critchley continues.

“I have enormous respect for families and empathy, because when a loved one is missing time your world stops.

“But for you that clock is always ticking, waiting for some kind of answer a resolution to know what’s become of your loved one.”

“We work with the family to talk to them at the time, where they’re most comfortable”

Each episode profiles two contrasting cases.

“The diversity is enormous. It goes from missing persons that have evolved over 12 hours, or a day to people who’ve been missing for over 20 years,” she reflects.

“We work with the family to talk to them at the time, where they’re most comfortable to talk to us, but it’s always within the process of the investigation.

“But what was important to us was the factual accuracy of the police process and we’ve worked really closely with police to make sure we’re very factually accurate in the process that unfolds. And often not having all the answers.”

“From the point of view of families, it’s very traumatic”

Critchley also credits Nine with giving producers time to film their complex cases.

“It’s a very detailed show, and particularly from the point of view of families, it’s very traumatic. Going missing is not a crime but sometimes these investigations take time to play out. Sometimes they’re never resolved,” she observes.

“Nine were extraordinary in giving us the scope, to to engage at all those levels. Editorially, they’ve been amazing. Tina Diaz is a fantastic commissioning editor and her feedback and (Head of Content) Adrian Swift’s feedback was incredibly helpful, because they’re very complex stories, so not overloading people with information, when you’re in the detail of the procedure, and working through it means you need a really good sounding board. And Nine have been a terrific sounding board.”

In episode one a woman vanishes in broad daylight in Sydney, leaving all her possessions behind. Detectives must rely on eyewitnesses to find her.

“She’s initially reported because of a bag found with her belongings, and it escalates into a Missing Persons Investigation. There are concerns for the young woman’s welfare, but the case evolves in a very unexpected way,” she explains.

“The second case is a gentleman who goes missing in the middle of a storm in Melbourne, near a flooded river. Police and emergency services are stretched to the limits and there’s a real question of where he could be. The search goes all night.

“Missing persons is something that touches so many of us”

“Missing persons is something that touches so many of us, and most of us have been touched in one way or another by some experience of a loved one going missing. It might only be for a few hours, but it could be longer.

“We as a community can really play a part. It’s not a crime to go missing. But police investigators do rely on the public to come forward with information.”

Missing Persons Investigation screens 8:45pm Monday on Nine.

2 Responses

  1. I’d be more interested in a show about funeral directors or child abuse squad detectives than something as done to death as a missing persons factual. Surely they have new boundaries to push

    1. Have you not heard of empathy Ryan… I’m sure if you had missing family you would appreciate any help you got to locate them…the anniversary of 3 missing women in America covered by Seven Spotlight is coming up…Ariel Castro kidnapped them…held them captive for 10 years…one of the missing women was only 2 blocks away from the “The House of Horrors”…and no one suspected…one of his captive even had a child to him because he raped, chained and tortured them…similar things happen all around the world..Josef Fritzl an Austrian did the same thing for 24 years and went unnoticed…if any of my loved ones went missing I would resort to all avenues and hope that it would be on any TV show to get information….those stories contain child abuse squad detectives so I guess those stories would be right up your street for viewing from your comment…Seven Spotlight YouTube channel posted “The House of Horror” yesterday.

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