Million Dollar Murders: “I’m cop first, host second”

Million Dollar Murders: “I’m cop first, host second”

Retired Detective Superintendent Deborah Wallace had one priority before she agreed to front Million Dollar Murders for Nine.

If the show uncovered any new information, it would be given straight to police, not held for TV ratings.

“We give it straight away to the cops. Absolutely,” she tells TV Tonight.

“There’s no there’s no ‘ifs’ or ‘maybes’ on that one. 100%. And that has happened. Some people have disclosed during interviews, things that we weren’t sure whether the police knew. So straight away, that’s just passed onto the cops.

“I’m cop first, host second. It’ll always be my priority, because I know the passion the cops put into these cases over years and decades, in some cases. My priority is about solving the case. Ratings and TV shows is secondary. If we can make something that more people watch, they’ll talk about it and a person who wouldn’t ordinarily have seen the show might be out there with a piece of information. Nothing’s too small.. those are the people we want to contact the police.”

Season Two of the crime documentary series profiles unsolved murder cases which all carry a million dollar reward for information that leads to a conviction. Wallace discusses the cases with colleagues, and interviews detectives, witnesses and family members, hoping to spark a long-forgotten memory or a change of heart that will bring justice for the victims and their families.

Having retired in 2019 from the NSW Police, she certainly comes to TV with a formidable policing pedigree and has a strong attachment with the Homicide Victims Support Group.

“I was a Detective Superintendent with the New South Wales Police, my background mainly is gangs. I started off doing Asian Organised Crime then Middle Eastern Organised Crime. I was the commander of both of those and then I finalised as the Commander of the Gang Squad and StrikeForce Raptor,” she recalls.

“We don’t call them cold cases”

The second series profiles three cases across NSW & WA, having featured NSW and Victorian cases in Season 1. This requires the participation of NSW Police, in what ultimately serves as a win / win to highlight unsolved murders. Wallace never uses the term ‘cold case.’

“We don’t call them cold cases. The homicide squad’s unit is called the Unsolved Homicide Team because they’re never cold. They’re always having a new eye over them, given out to new police every every so often. They’re constantly running them through databases through DNA, etc.,” she continues.

“I always say ‘Never get in the way of a cop and his brief.’ In other words, although we’re not signed up to a direct partnership, we work collaboratively.

“They’re in control right from the beginning, because this is not about getting the ‘gotcha moment’ against the cops. It’s about getting information. When they announce a million dollar reward they might get a bit on the news, maybe. If that?”

Unsolved cases in NSW are assigned to police officers around the state who are expected to look for new information and opportunities and report regularly to superiors. The series will also hear from police, but Wallace admits to varying success at disclosure.

“They’re often very junior officers so they don’t want to get in trouble by their bosses by giving too much or too little. For people who aren’t used to dealing with the media (need) to feel comfortable. She’s an outstanding investigator, but it’s a bit nerve wracking, putting them in front of a camera to speak about a case that is ongoing,” she explains.

“But you’ll see in Episode 3 a seasoned campaigner, who opens up so much. He walks me through the crime scene, shows me exactly where (the victim) was found… I think it does depend on who they put up.”

It’s also in the interests of family to appear, such as the family of Melissa Hunt, who was found floating in a dam near Newcastle in 1994.

“It’s their story. Hopefully someone out there sees the pain that they’ve lived with all these years, and the frustration. Maybe that just sparks something. (There are) cops at a press conference asking for information, but when you see a face to this … you know, she was a member of a family,” Wallace urges.

“This is a case where Melissa was an adopted daughter of the local minister at St. Luke’s Anglican Church. And some would say had a bit of a troubled life as she got into her late teens, and was looking for love, I think in all the wrong places. She got involved with some types who probably weren’t the best for her and got into some drugs and stuff. She had a bit of a tragic life and this case went to the Coroner’s Court, who shut it down and referred a person of interest to the DPP.”

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The series produced by the Full Box also takes family members to the crime scene, which in episode one is off the beaten track.

“I think it has to be someone local who knows that area because boy, I walked it and although it says on Google 300 metres off the road, it’s not. It’s walking through a railway tunnel, through the bush -you would never know it was there,” she insists.

“But you’ve got to tread through the minefield of making sure you act with sensitivity to the family, and engage all parties who join this partnership in making this show. ”

Although previous cases profiled are yet to lead to trial, Wallace says police have received new information as a result of the series.

“I believe they had significant information about people who might have owned a car like that or knew someone who did. My understanding is New South Wales Police and Victoria Police, the two we did last year, probably got some responses, but they’ve got to then trawl through that constantly.”

She adds, “It sounds awful in a way, but when they’re going up to the million dollars, you know they’ve really got nothing.

“Or they may have something but they really need that one piece, and hopefully that will encourage people.”

Million Dollar Murders premieres 8:50pm tonght on Nine.