Listening to the Dead
Real crimes. Real forensics. Real inside access.
As you know, I’ve always been fascinated by criminality and the people that solve crime. My books feature authentic depictions of crime scenes and police procedures – something I achieve through meticulous research with my colleague CSI Cass Sutherland.
In 2020 we launched the Listening to the Dead podcast. I wanted to share everything Cass and I had learnt about forensics in our time working together and talk to the forensics experts that provide their invaluable insights with us and inform my writing. Hear us investigate various branches of forensics, talking with experts, hearing how real-life crime scenes are worked, exploring the latest innovations and demonstrating how CSI fact is even more thrilling than CSI fiction.
The first series focusses on different fields of forensic science, talking to experts about their work and the fascinating science that has helped solve dozens of cases.
The seconds series, recorded in lockdown in 2021, looks at how investigators approached different causes of death – from blunt force trauma to poisoning – with a focus on the methods used in the Prime Suspect and Tennison series.
In the third season, former detective Cass Sutherland and I delve into famous cases from the past and the forensics that helped to crack them: from fingerprinting and the Great Train Robbery to handwriting and the Yorkshire Ripper.
You’ll be able to subscribe and hear us investigate various branches of forensics, discussing our own experiences, talking with experts, hearing how real-life crime scenes are worked, exploring the latest innovations and demonstrating how CSI fact is even more thrilling than CSI fiction.
You can find out how to subscribe at the following links and view an episode guide to both seasons below .
I hope you enjoy listening to us as much as we enjoyed making it.
Season 3 Episode 1 – Fingerprinting and the Great Train Robbery
Lynda and Cass kick off series three with a case everyone knows – the Great Train Robbery. And this week there are three very special guests – together for the first time ever – joining them to discuss the case.
Jack Deans was just starting out in the Met Police’s fingerprint department when the robbery happened and remembers manually searching the Met’s paper database for the robbers’ prints. He went on to have a 50 year career in fingerprinting.
Nick Reynolds is the son of the mastermind, Bruce Reynolds. He was a toddler when the robbery was committed and his earliest memories are of being on the run with his father in Central America along with ‘uncles’ Ronnie and Buster. After his father’s arrest Nick visited him in prison and was part of the team that brought Ronnie Biggs back to the UK in 2001. Today he is a successful musician and frequent contributor to documentaries on the robbery.
Chris Pickard worked with Ronnie Biggs on his renowned autobiography Odd Man Out (an updated edition is publishing next year) and is an authority on the Great Train Robbery.
Nick Reynolds’ band Alabama 3 is touring in 2022. Find out more at https://www.alabama3.co.uk. Nick is also one of the world’s leading death mask sculptors. You can learn more about his extraordinary craft at http://deathmasks.uk.
Jack Deans still advises and speaks on fingerprinting: http://independent-experts.co.uk/deans.html
Season 3 Episode 2 – Profiling and the Murders of Yvonne Killian and Rachel Nickell
Lynda and Cass are joined by Pippa Gregory – Behavioural Investigative Advisor – and one of only three criminal profilers working in the UK today. She discusses two infamous cases from the early days of criminal profiling which led to the practice being questioned. Pippa discusses the mistakes made, lessons learned and what the job of a Behavioural Investigative Advisor is today.
Season 3 Episode 3 – Handwriting and the Yorkshire Ripper Hoax
In October 1975 Peter Sutcliffe committed his first murder. Over the next five years he went on to become one of the UK’s worst serial killers. One of the main reasons the police took so long to find him was because they were sent off in the wrong direction by a series of hoax letters and a tape purporting to be from the killer. Nicknamed Weirside Jack, the perpetrator was never identified at the time. It wasn’t until 25 years later that Chris Davies – a forensic document examiner – got his hands on the letters. Chris joins Lynda and Cass to discuss how Weirside Jack was finally brought to justice.
Season 3 Episode 4 – Forensic Searches and the Murder of April Jones
In this episode we’re discussing forensic searches: searches for bodies, searches for evidence, searches for criminals.
Lynda and Cass focus on the tragic case of April Jones, the 5-year-old who went missing in Wales in 2012. The police search was one of the largest ever mounted. It lasted six months, and though an arrest was made, of Mark Bridger, April’s body was never found. In this episode we reunite two forensic search experts who worked in different capacities on this harrowing and challenging case.
Julie Roberts is a hugely experienced forensic anthropologist and archaeologist with some 20 years of practitioner experience in the location, recovery and identification of human remains from scenes of crime, war zones and mass fatality incidents. She and her team examined bones fragments that were suspected to be April’s, recovered from Mark Bridger’s house.
Peter Faulding is a world-leading confined space rescue and forensic search specialist. Peter has worked on many high-profile missing person and ‘no body’ murder investigations including the serial killer Peter Tobin and the mysterious death of MI6 officer Gareth Williams. In 2012 he helped to coordinate the search of the woods around Mark Bridger’s house. https://www.specialistgroupinternational.com/
Season 3 Episode 5 – DNA and the Cases of Colin Pitchfork and Colette Aram
The investigation into the murderer Colin Pitchfork is referred to in forensic courses around the world. Why? Because it was the first case where DNA screening was used. From the team responsible for that remarkable break-through, Lynda and Cass welcome Dr Tim Clayton. Tim discusses the cases of Colin Pitchfork and later that of Collette Aram, and explains how they developed the DNA screening programme, its limitations and how it was refined into the crucial investigative tool it is today.
Season 3 Episode 6 – Fibre Analysis and the Case of Operation Airlines
In 1996 the IRA were planning a major bombing campaign. Their targets were the electrical substations around Greater London. Had they been successful it would have crippled the electricity supply of south-east England. Fortunately, the police launched Operation Airlines, a covert investigation to foil the campaign and gather evidence to prosecute those who planning it.
Forensic fibres expert Dr Ann Priston joins Lynda and Cass to discuss her memories of analysing the evidence that linked the prime suspects to the bombs they had built.
Season 2 Episode 1: Cause of Death – Blunt Force
The Listening to the Dead team are back for a new season looking at causes of death and the investigative techniques that surround them.
This episode we welcome back pathologist Dr Stuart Hamilton to discuss his experiences in investigating blunt force homicide.
Three of the six causes of death in the board game Cluedo are blunt force trauma – which nicely sums up the prevalence of this cause of death. It’s the second most common form of homicide in the UK. But it’s also one of the most difficult to investigate – what weapon was used, which blow actually killed the victim?
Season 2 Episode 2: Cause of Death – Terrorism and Mass Disaster
From terrorist attacks to war zones, from earthquakes to floods, mass disasters are some of the most difficult and harrowing cases for police and forensic teams to investigate. Whether it’s identifying body parts or tracing a bomb factory from a tiny fragment of a device, the clues are often miniscule and highly disturbing.
In this episode, the team are joined by former anti-terrorism branch and SO13 officer David Alexander as he discusses his extraordinary experiences working on IRA bombings, the 7/7 bombings and investigating war crimes in Kosovo.
Season 2 Episode 3: Cause of Death – Gunshot Wound
There is little debate in the UK on the subject of gun control: the general public consensus is firmly in favour of enforcing strict legislation on the ownership of handguns. Despite these strong sentiments, gun crime persists in the UK and handguns specifically are most commonly used in firearm offences in the UK. Gone are the days where guns were predominantly a scare tactic during robberies.
In this episode the team are joined by Former Senior Forensic Scientist specialising in Firearms and Wound Ballistics and an internationally-renowned expert in the field, David Pryor. As the ballistics expert called to the scene of the shooting of Jill Dando, David’s analysis and subsequent evidence was critical to the case. In the episode he joins the Listening to the Dead team to discuss his memories of those frantic days and his years of experience in identifying ballistics evidence.
Season 2 Episode 4: Cause of Death – Strangulation
Strangulation is one of the most common causes of death for women in cases of domestic homicides in the UK. Traditionally considered to be a crime of passion, it’s also the method of murder often used by serial killers.
In this episode the team are joined by pathologist Dr Brett Lockyer, part of the experienced team at Forensic Access (www.forensic-access.co.uk) as he reveals how to tell the difference between markings in a strangulation and a hanging and discusses the infamous Sussex Strangler.
Season 2 Episode 5: Cause of Death – Poisoning
A rarely seen cause of death today (outside of state-sponsored assassination) all the more fascinating for that. A favourite of authors for generations, poisoning has appeared in some of the most famous fictional and historic cases of murder. The team will be joined by a toxicologist to discuss the past, present and future of poison investigations – including the Teacup Poisoner Graham Young and the use of modern toxins in political assassinations.
Season 2 Episode 6: Cause of Death – Unknown
In 15% of homicide cases involving a female victim, the cause of death is unknown. Despite the huge advances in post-mortem sciences, pathologists are still faced with cases of suspicious death where the cause of death cannot be conclusively proved.
In this episode the team talk to a former member of the Thames River police and Hon. Curator of the Thames Police Museum (thamespolicemuseum.org.uk) Robert Jeffries who worked on many cases where the cause of death remained unknown. They are also joined by Professor Angela Gallop, a leading expert in investigating cold cases.
Lynda and Cass explore the world of forensic botany and ecology with leading expert Professor Patricia Wiltshire whose evidence helped to solve the infamous Soham murders.
Patricia Wilshire’s new book Traces – The Memoir of the forensic scientist is out now in audiobook, ebook and paperback.
Episode 2 – Fire Investigation Forensics
From towering infernos to destroying evidence, Lynda and Cass discover more about investigating arson with international fire expert Dr Peter Mansi.
You can read more about Peter’s work here: https://www.fireinvestigationsuk.com.
Episode 3 – DNA and Blood Forensics
Dr Peter Smith joins Lynda and Cass to talk about how DNA took over from blood pattern analysis as a crucial crime scene tool.
Episode 4 – Forensic Entomology
What can a fly on the wall yet us about a crime scene? It can tell Dr Martin Hall a lot as Lynda and Cass discover in this episode exploring the fascinating world of forensic entomology.
Read more here: https://www.nhm.ac.uk/our-science/departments-and-staff/staff-directory/martin-hall.html
Episode 5 – Digital Forensics
One of the fastest evolving forensic disciplines, this science of extracting evidence from phones and laptops has become a central part of police investigations. Lynda and Cass are joined by industry expert Dr Jan Collie.
Episode 6 – Pathology
Perhaps to most well-known of all the forensic sciences, pathologists have been portrayed in books and films for years. But what is the real-life experience of a pathologist like and what can they really tell from a body at the scene and in the mortuary? Lynda and Cass are joined by Dr Stuart Hamilton to find out.
You can read more about Dr Stuart Hamilton and his work at the East Midlands Forensic Pathology Unit at the University of Leicester here: https://www.forensic-access.co.uk/our-people/expert-witnesses/dr-stuart-hamilton/
Episode 7 – Forensic Fibres Analysis
In this bonus episode, Lynda and Cass are joined by former President of the Chartered Society of Forensic Sciences, Dr Ann Priston. A leading expert in fibres analysis, Dr Priston visits Lynda at her home for a group discussion on this fascinating science.
Dr Priston is currently working with the charity Inside Justice, investigating alleged miscarriages of justice. You can learn more about their work here:
About CSI Cass Sutherland
Cass Sutherland is a former detective sergeant in the Metropolitan Police London who retired after 30 years’ service. Cass is also a former Vice President and Honorary Fellow of the UK Chartered Society of Forensic Sciences.
Since retiring Cass has worked with Lynda La Plante as crime drama advisor for her TV productions and books. He has also advised extensively on scripts, and on set, for television dramas made for ITV, BBC, Channel 4 and various film companies.
If you would like to get in touch with Cass, then you can contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org