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Welcome to the Murder Mile UK True-Crime Podcast and audio guided walk of London's most infamous and often forgotten murder cases, set within and beyond the West End.
Today’s episode began as an ordinary morning for three police officers going about their regular duties. And what started as a simple stop-and-search on a West London street for (what would have been) a very minor traffic offence, lead to the brutal and senseless executions of three good men. This would become knonwn as the Wormwood Scrubs Police Massacre.
As many photos of the case are copyright protected by greedy news organisations, to view them, take a peek at my entirely legal social media accounts - Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.
The location of the Wormwood Scrubs Police Massacre just outside of 57 Braybrook Street took place where the orange triangle is. To use the map, click it. If you want to see the other murder maps, such as Soho, King's Cross, Paddington or the John George Haigh or Reg Christie locations, you access them by clicking here.
Here's two videos to go with this week's episode: The Wormwood Scrubs Police Massacre. On the left is a location video taken outsode of 57 Braybrook Street and on the right is a short video showing you Erconwald Street where the police first spotted the Standard Vanguard van driven by Roberts, Duddy and Witney and it ends outside of 57 Braybrook Street where the murder too place. This video is a link to youtube, so it won't eat up your data.
I've also posted some photos to aid your "enjoyment" of the episode. These photos were taken by myself (copyright Murder Mile) or granted under Government License 3.0, where applicable.
Sadly as the photos of the police officers and the criminals are all owned greedy news groups, I can't show you them here, otherwise I'll have to pay a hefty fee, but they are on my social media accounts so suck it big business.
Left to right: two shots of Braybrook Street (top facing Wormwood Scrubs prison) and bottom facing west, in the middle is the memorial to the murderer officers, on the top right is East Acton station where the police spotted the criminal's van and bottom is Erconwald Street heading towards East Acton station.
Credits: The Murder Mile UK True-Crime Podcast was researched, written and recorded by Michael J Buchanan-Dunne, with the sounds recorded on location (where possible), and the music written and performed by Erik Stein & Jon Boux of Cult With No Name. Additional music was written and performed as used under the Creative Common Agreement 4.0.
SOURCES: This episode was researched using the original police investigation files from the National Archive, four were available, two were closed.
TRANSCRIPT OF THE EPISODE: THE WORMWOOD SCRUBS POLICE MASSACRE
SCRIPT: Welcome to Murder Mile; a true-crime podcast and audio guided walk featuring many of London’s untold, unsolved and long-forgotten murders, all set within and beyond the West End.
Today’s episode began as an ordinary morning for three police officers going about their regular duties. And what started as a simple stop-and-search on a West London street for (what would have been) a very minor traffic offence, lead to the brutal and senseless executions of three good men.
Murder Mile is researched using the original police files. It contains moments of satire, shock and grisly details, and as a dramatization of the real events, it may also feature loud and realistic sounds, so that no matter where you listen to this podcast, you’ll feel like you’re actually there.
My name is Michael, I am your tour-guide and this is Murder Mile.
Episode 90: The Wormwood Scrubs Police Massacre.
Today I’m standing on Braybrook Street in East Acton, W12; two stops south of the death of eight-year-old Peter Buckingham, three roads north-east of the home of Vincent Keighery’s killers, three streets north of the Shepherd’s Bush Police Station where the murder of Katerina Koneva ended and this story began, and four stops west of Britain’s most prominent pathologist whose manipulation of forensic evidence may have led to an innocent man being hanged - coming soon to Murder Mile.
This side of East Acton is best described as ‘vague’, it’s little more than a mish-mash of mismatched houses and flats on a grey landscape wedged between a cross-cross of train-tracks, a canal, the A40 flyover, construction sites, cranes, drains, trucks, buses and the vapour trails of planes. Oh, it’s lovely.
So, if you enjoy trees, grass and breathing? Tough titties. But if you live on a diet of energy drinks, crisps, weed and court summonses; if you love inhaling exhaust fumes, swallowing flies and wiping a thick soot off your forehead, as you dream of developing a terminal lung disease whilst being mugged and stabbed? With a hospital, a prison and a cemetery nearby, East Acton is the place for you.
This message is not endorsed by the East Acton Tourist Board.
In contrast to that, as part of the Old Oak Estate, Braybrook Street feels like it’s lost in a time-warp. As a series of two-storey brown-brick terraced houses on one side of the street, with wooden gates, big chimneys and neat privet hedges, it looks homely but a bit old-fashioned. In front, on some scrubland known as Wormwood Scrubs, you half expect to see girls in mini-skirts playing hopscotch, and beside the infamous prison at the end of the street, boys playing football and dreaming of being Booby Charlton, and although it looks pleasant enough, the street is still haunted by the horrors of that day.
As it was here, on Friday 12th August 1966, that the lives of three brave men would be taken, and although the infamous Wormwood Scrubs Police Massacre would cause a national outrage, the incident itself had started over something so trivial. (interstitial)
Britain. 1966. Harold Wilson wins the General Election, the Pound was pre-decimal, on the cinema was Alfie, on the telly was Till Death Us Do Part and on the radio was The Beatle’s Paperback Writer; Ronnie Kray had shot George Cornell in the Blind Beggar, Ian Brady & Myra Hindley were on trial for the Moor’s Murders, the first black train guard was appointed at Euston station, the London of the sixties was first described as “swinging” and England beat West Germany 4-2 in the World Cup.
Friday 12th August 1966 was an ordinary day for three coppers assigned to Shepherd’s Bush Police Station; they were Detective Sargent Head, Detective Constable Wombwell and Police Constable Fox.
Detective Sergeant Christopher Tippett Head was one of four children to a widowed mother. Born to be a copper; aged 17 he enlisted as a cadet, at 19 he did his national service in the RAF police, at 23 he joined the Met’ Police and was posted to Fulham, and in 1964, Chris was promoted to Detective Sergeant in the Criminal Investigation Department, known as CID. He was tall, calm and reliable; being single he was married to his job, but after 13 years of service, although he was only thirty, he was seen as a father-figure to new recruits. At 7:30am, that morning, as part of his routine, DS Head left his accommodation at Ravenscourt House and walked one mile north to Shepherd’s Bush Police station.
Police Constable Geoffrey Roger Fox, 41-years-old, had been a local bobby in ‘The Bush’ for the last sixteen years; he knew the beat, the people and the places, he was good, honest and reliable. Geoff had been happily married to his wife Marjorie for two decades, they lived in a modest council flat in Northolt and together they raised a family - two teenage kids (Ann and Paul) and two-year-old Mandy. As a change of job, PC Fox had been assigned to a Q-Car, as driver of an unmarked police car (assigned to CID) which patrolled Acton, Shepherd’s Bush and Hammersmith. That morning, as per usual, he kissed his wife and kids goodbye and drove the forty-minute journey to work in rush hour traffic.
And Temporary Detective Constable David Stanley Wombwell, 25-years-old; young, smart and fresh-faced. Raised by his father and grandfather, David studied engineering at London Polytechnic, and having recently been assigned to ‘F’ Division, although he had only been with the force for three years, he was quickly rising through the ranks with a promising career ahead. He had been married to his wife Gillian for four years and they had two young children; three-year-old Daen and eight-month-old Melanie. At 7:15am, he too kissed his wife and babies goodbye, pulled out of their home on East Acton Lane, and trundled his green VW Beatle to Shepherd's Bush Police Station.
So far, it was the start of an unremarkable day.
At 8am, the three officers started their shift by performing a hand-over from the night-patrol, a three-man Q-Car unit, known by the call-sign Foxtrot Two-Two. DS Head inspected the incident reports, DC Wombwell read the RT Log (a record of the unit’s radio transmissions) and the Stop Book (a log-book of every person they had questioned), whilst PC Fox examined the car; a blue Triumph 2000 Automatic which was fast, nippy and reliable, even if the Borg-Warner gear-box was notoriously temperamental, and took a second to shift it from neutral to reverse to drive with a solid click.
At 9am, with PC Fox driving the unmarked Police car, DS Wombwell operating the radio and DS Head in the back, as the three men in civilian suits pulled their anonymous little car out of the back of Shepherd’s Bush police station, it blended-in seamlessly with the traffic on Uxbridge Road.
Their call-sign was Foxtrot One-One.
Their role? To patrol the area freely, to identify anything suspicious and to intervene where necessary, but apart from a few drunks, domestics and driving offences, the morning was uneventful.
At 12:30pm, they returned to the station, filled in their paperwork, and even though the unit had been together just a few weeks, the three colleagues popped out for a usual spot of lunch at the Beaumont Arms pub on the corner of Wood Lane. At 2pm, they returned for the last three hours of their shift.
And that’s it. They had no enemies, no grudges and no debts. They weren’t corrupt, brutal or on the take. They didn’t see, hear or sense anything which was out of the ordinary.
And yet, just one hour later, all three men were shot dead. (Interstitial)
The barbaric slaughter of DS Head, DC Wombwell and PC Fox sent shock-waves of revulsion through the British establishment and society, so sickened were the people, they called for Parliament to bring back the death penalty, just one year after it had been abolished. As this wasn’t just a shooting, this was the cold-blooded execution of three unarmed men; it was violent, cruel and sadistic.
…but their killers didn’t intend it to be.
Friday 12th August 1966 was an ordinary day for three criminals in Shepherd’s Bush; they were Jack Witney, John Duddy and Harry Roberts.
John Edward Witney, known as ‘Jack’ was an only child who was abandoned by his father and following the death of his mother lived an unhappy childhood in several foster homes. Aged 17, he joined the Army, but four-years later he was court-martialled for desertion and sentenced to twelve-months in Colchester Barracks, where he escaped and he would remain on-the-run until his arrest. He had three known aliases, he was married for six years, and earned a few bob as a plumber and labourer. He was thirty-six years old, five foot nine tall, skinny, with receding hair, two missing teeth, a dimpled chin, lobe-less ears, a u-shaped scar on his forehead and was described as looking ‘a bit gormless’. That day, Jack Witney was at a loss as he was too afraid to go home and tell his wife he had lost his job.
John Duddy, known as ‘Jock’ had a poor but happy childhood as the sixth of eleven kids to a housewife and a policeman. He was raised and educated well, but aged sixteen he was sent to borstal for burglary and later to prison for theft. Aged 21, he did his Army national service in Malaya and Suez, but being demobbed, he found it difficult to hold down a regular job and committed several robberies with Harry Roberts. Six weeks before the murders, while working as a truck-driver, his brakes failed, the lorry crashed and he was unable to return to work or drive. John Duddy was thirty-eight years old, five foot seven tall and stocky, with bushy eyebrows, grey wavy hair and dirty teeth, he was heavily tattooed with a skull and the words ‘True to Death’ on his right arm. Since the accident, as his debts mounted, he had been drinking heavily and (three weeks prior) his wife of eighteen years walked out on him.
And Harry Maurice Roberts; a career criminal who was born in Essex, raised in London and learned to be a petty thief by seeing his mum sell black market goods during war-time rationing. With a deep-seated hatred of the police and a distain for other people, as a youth he served nineteen months in borstal for attacking a shop-keeper with an iron bar. In the Army, he often bragged about the enemy soldiers he had shot dead and said he had a taste for executing prisoners of war. Being demobbed, he robbed book-makers, post-offices and banks, and in 1959 he was sentenced seven years for robbery. So violent was this assault that the judge warned him “next time, it’ll be the rope”. Harry Roberts was thirty years old, five foot ten, with brown wavy hair, thick arched eyebrows, a bulbous nose and several scars on his eyelid, cheek and left thumb. One month before the murders, he had just been released from prison, he was living with his girlfriend and had no plans to ever go straight.
So far, this too was the start of an unremarkable day.
At 8am, Witney and Roberts called at Duddy’s home at 142 Wymering Road in Paddington. Their plan was simple; between 8am and 6pm, each day, a dark-blue 1966 Ford Corsair was parked-up near East Acton Station, having put a set of identical false plates on a similar-looking car parked nearby, by the time the Police had realised that the car they had found wasn’t the missing one, the gang and the Ford Corsair they had stolen would be long gone.
But their day started badly and only got worse.
Firstly, their getaway car (a black Daimler owned by Harry Roberts) was a danger to drive as the brake-pads were shot, so if the car-theft cocked-up and they sped away, they could end up dead. Secondly, the only working vehicle they had left was Jack Witney’s Standard Vanguard; a small post-war estate which was rusty, small and slow, it had a suspiciously bad paint-job being some-kind of blue but with white bits peeping through and - being unreliable - the tyres squealed around corners, the chassis thumped over small bumps and (even on the smoothest of roads) the exhaust back-fired and rattled.
At 9:45am, with Witney driving, Roberts riding shotgun and Duddy in the back, having stashed in the footwell a brown canvas bag containing overalls, false plates and three revolvers - a 38 calibre Enfield, a 38 Colt Special and a 9mm Luger – they set-off in search of another blue Ford Corsair. (Rattling)
Only to encounter a third problem; they couldn’t find another blue Ford Corsair, so having wasted a full three hours trawling the back streets of West London, it wasn’t until 1pm that they found a not-quite new, not-quite blue, almost Ford Corsair look-a-like, which would have to do.
Except, that led to a fourth problem; Witney (the supposed locksmith) couldn’t break into the spare Corsair and as he jiggled a wire coat-hanger to try and trip the lock’s tumblers, the wire broke and wedged in the key-hole. Losing his shit, Roberts erupted in a volley of spit, spite and curse words, and being so fed-up with the whole caper, he ordered the bungling bandits back into the van and they headed to the Clay Pigeon pub in Eastcote for a few pints and a game of darts to calm his temper.
That was their plan. It was as crappy as their rusty squeaky little van. (Rattles/squeaks) And yet, just one hour later, they would shoot three innocent and unarmed policemen to death.
The afternoon had been as uneventful as the morning for the crew of Foxtrot One-One, as their blue unmarked Q-Car patrolled the back streets of Shepherd’s Bush and East Acton. Except for the rumble of trucks, the squawk of birds and squeal of excitable kids playing, the streets were predictably quiet.
At 3:12pm, having driven north up Old Oak Road and instinctively decided to inspect a recent car-theft hotspot, they indicated right, and – after an awkward second as the gear-box shifted from neutral to drive with a slow but reluctant click - the blue Triumph 2000 turned north-east onto Erconwald Street, their eyes and ears finely attuned to the sights or sounds of anything suspicious. (Rattling/squeaks)
Cruising by the residential houses of the Old Oak Estate, as they passed East Acton tube station, three hundred feet ahead, they spotted a vehicle driving at an unusually sedate pace, as the silhouettes of its three occupants looked from side-to-side like they were seeking someone or something. Keeping the anonymous Q-Car at a distance, the three officers watched as the battered old van continued north towards Wormwood Scrubs prison, and turned west onto Braybrook Street. (Rattling/squeaks)
Suspicions were raised by the unroadworthy vehicle; an old rusty 1952 Standard Vanguard with a botched paint-job, bald tyres, a shot suspension and an exhaust that rattled and back-fired. So, having made the decision to ‘stop-and-search’, as PC Fox drew the Q-Car alongside the van, with the flash of his Police ID and a single-fingered gesture, DS Head signalled the van’s driver to pull over.
With the van stopped and its engine dead, following standard police procedure, in the Stop Book, DC Wombwell wrote the date “Friday 12th August 1966”, the time “3:15pm”, the location “outside of 57 Braybrook Street” and the vehicle’s description “blue Standard Vanguard, registration plate PGT726”.
The street was peaceful; to the left was a row of houses from which radios sang and mums chatted, ahead girls played hopscotch along the kerb, boys kicked a ball about in the scrubland, and in a lorry, two delivery men took a discrete afternoon snooze before returning back to the bacon factory.
In line with protocol, should the suspects try to flee, as DC Wombwell and DS Head exited the Q-Car, PC Fox re-positioned the Triumph ahead of the suspect vehicle and kept the engine running, DS Head stood kerb-side examining the van’s contents and occupants, and having shown his Police ID, DC Wombwell spoke to the driver. (DC Wombwell) “Afternoon Sir, DC Wombwell. Is this your car?”
Jack Witney was polite and co-operative; “Yes Sir, it is”. With his van being a bit of a dog, he knew not to be a smart-ass with the copper, and that if he admitted to his faults and paid the fine, he could go about his day. To be honest, as this was just a traffic stop, Jack was less worried about a few points on his licence and more worried about how he would tell his wife that - once again - he had lost his job.
And as DS Head peeped through the windows, in the backseat John Duddy sat all still and quiet, as in the passenger’s seat Harry Roberts shifted uncomfortably, a brown canvas bag dumped by his feet.
DS Head asked “Sir? What’s in the bag?”, but Harry Roberts ignored him.
This was not going to be a good day for Jack Witney; not only was he jobless, potless and about to have his ear chewed-off by his missus, but his vehicle wasn’t legal, and although he pleaded with the fresh-faced officer to give him time to sort it out, the van was uninsured, untaxed and unroadworthy.
By the passenger’s side door, DS Head knocked on the glass and repeated “Sir, I asked you, what’s in the bag?”, to which Roberts huffed, yanked it open and flashed a set of dirty overalls, but nothing else.
Again, Witney pleaded further, throwing himself at the young officer’s mercy that if he lost his van, he could loses his income, his home and probably his wife, and as DC Wombwell examined his licence for previous motoring offences, Jack knew that his fate was in the policeman’s hands.
DS Head tried the door, it was locked, he knocked louder, “Sir, open this door”. Roberts froze. He knew the false plates couldn’t be pinned on a crime and it was still legal to carry a gun, but not owning a firearms licence and being an ex-convict who was still on parole, he risked a being sent back to prison.
Harry seethed; he hated coppers, despised the filth and resented the bully-boys-in-blue who told him what to do, and – rather than just accept the fact that his crappy life was all because he was a shitty thief with a bad attitude, a foul temper and a loose fuse - he was furious at the pigs for everything he had ever done wrong. And although this brief moment amounted to nothing more than a minor traffic violation, (DS Head) “Sir, I need you to show me that bag?” as his fingers fumbled inside, “Sir?”, his blood boiled, “Sir?” his temper rose, “Sir?” and his patience snapped, “Sir?!”
As DC Wombwell leaned on the driver’s side window, listening to Witney’s plea, Roberts pointed a 9mm Lugar at the startled officer’s face and from point blank range, a bullet tore through his left eye, his brain and as it exploded out of the back of his skull, the second his head hit the road, he was dead.
Terrified, unarmed and fleeing with his hands held high, as DS Head ran, a shot hit him squarely in the back, the force spun him ninety degrees, and as the stocky cop thudded onto the hard tarmac, Roberts chased him down, as the defenceless officer lay bleeding in the road barely hidden by the Q-Car.
From a few feet away, aiming at his face, Roberts fired again… but the gun jammed.
Profusely bleeding from a collapsed lung and bullet wounds to both sides of his torso, even as his chest filled with blood, DS Head seized the opportunity, grabbed Harry Robert’s legs and kicked-out wildly, booting Robert’s in the face and splitting his lip. A second later, having ejected the dodgy cartridge, as the coward – once again - took aim at the injured officer’s face, DS Head screamed and Roberts fired…
…but again, the gun jammed.
With one officer dead and one officer dying, as Harry Roberts struggled with a faulty gun, armed with nothing but a useless truncheon, PC Fox threw the Triumph into reverse to back-up and try to run Roberts over, but the gear change took an interminably long second to shift from neutral to reverse.
Roberts shouted “Duddy! Get here! Come on!”, but as PC Fox began to reverse, in the van’s backseat Duddy was frozen in horror as Roberts stood over the paralysed officer, jiggling the jammed gun, just seconds from a senseless execution. Again, he screamed (Roberts) “Duddy! Fuck sake! Get the driver”.
Grabbing a .38 Enfield from the bag, Duddy ran to the reversing Q-Car and fired. The first shot smashed the passenger’s side window, and as the bullet whizzed by PC Fox’s chin, it shattered the quarter light and embedded in the driver’s door… but the officer was unhurt.
As PC Fox struggled to shift the Triumph from reverse to neutral, from the front, Duddy fired again, blasting a football-sized hole in the windscreen which exploded sharp shards of glass in PC Fox’s face… but again, he was unhurt.
Suddenly, with a solid click, the gear-box shifted from neutral to drive and as Roberts stood a few feet from the car’s bonnet, jiggling his jammed gun as the dying officer lay at his feet, as PC Fox stamped on the accelerator, through the shattered side window, Duddy dived head-first into the Q-Car and within an inch of the officer’s eyes, shot PC Fox in the face, as the bullet ripped through both temples.
At that moment, DS Head was still alive, PC Fox was dead and the car he was in was out-of-control.
As it jolted forward, the Triumph only clipped Roberts, but – lying helpless in the road – the speeding car slammed into DS Head, wedged his body under its steel chassis and dragged the officer - alive and conscious - several yards down Braybrook Street. And with the engine revving, the hot exhaust burning into his skin and the right-rear wheel spinning wildly, as the one tonne vehicle pinned the officer under its axle, the Q-car finally came to a halt… but by then, having dashed back into their van, the cowards had fled and left three good men dead. (End)
Having gone into hiding, John Edward Witney, John Duddy and Harry Maurice Roberts were swiftly caught and arrested. The trial was held at the Old Bailey on the 12th December 1966, just three months later, and to set an example, Justice Glyn-Jones stated “it matters not who fired the gun, each one of you is responsible for the act of the others”. After less than thirty minutes of deliberation, a unanimous jury found them all guilty of firearms offenses, intent to resist arrest and three counts of murder.
The Judge later stated “you have been justly convicted of what is perhaps the most heinous crime to have been committed in this country for a generation. I think it is unlikely that any Home Secretary in the future will ever see fit to show you mercy by releasing you on licence, therefore I recommend you serve at least thirty years before parole is considered”. And although Roberts was warned that “next time, it’ll be the rope”, with the death penalty abolished, unlike his victims, he escaped with his life.
In 1981, John Duddy died in Parkhurst Prison. In 1991, having been released six years earlier on licence, Jack Witney was found beaten to death in his Bristol flat. And having shown no remorse for his actions, the officers or their grieving families, even though he occupied his time inside by earning a pathetic pittance off his notoriety by selling signed autographs of himself and painting sickening artwork of the massacre, on the 11th November 2014, after forty-eight years in prison, Roberts was released.
As of today, he still lives in London.
The brutal executions of Detective Sargent Christopher Head, Detective Constable David Wombwell and Police Constable Geoffrey Fox are remembered to this day, still mourned by their families, and on the fiftieth anniversary of their murders, a memorial stone was placed on the site of the Wormwood Scrubs Police Massacre, in memory of three good men who were killed over something so trivial.
OUTRO: Ladies and gentlemen, thank you so much for listening to Murder Mile.
Don’t forget, after a short gap but hopefully an advert, but probably just a short gap, soon I shall be expelling air from my lungs and vibrating my voice-box in a way which some people say is amusing. I shall leave that up to you.
Before that, a big thank you to my new Patreon supporters who are Dawn Long, Erika Sinervä, Jo de Vries, Lucy Barr, Jason Bright and Ummii Amri, I thank you all and I hope you got your goodies. And a hello to everyone who listens to Murder Mile, I hope you are all safe, well and full of tea and cake.
Murder Mile was researched, written & performed by myself, with the main musical themes written and performed by Erik Stein & Jon Boux of Cult With No Name.
Thank you for listening and sleep well.
*** LEGAL DISCLAIMER ***
The Murder Mile UK True Crime Podcast has been researched using the original declassified police investigation files, court records, press reports and as many authentic sources as possible including eye-witness testimony, confessions, autopsy reports, first-hand accounts and independent investigation, where possible. But these documents are only as accurate as those recounting them and recording them, therefore mistakes will be made. As stated at the beginning of each episode (and as is clear by the way it is presented) Murder Mile is a 'dramatisation' of the events and not a documentary, therefore a certain amount of dramatic licence, selective characterisation and story-telling (within logical reason and based on extensive research) has been taken. It is not a full representation of the case, the people or the investigation in its entirety, and therefore should not be taken as such. It is also often (for the sake of clarity and drama) presented from a single person's perspective, usually (but not exclusively) the victim's, therefore it will contain a certain level of bias to get across this single perspective, which may not be the overall opinion of those involved or associated.
*** LEGAL DISCLAIMER ***
Michael J Buchanan-Dunne is a writer, crime historian, podcaster and tour-guide who runs Murder Mile Walks, a guided tour of Soho’s most notorious murder cases, hailed as “one of the top ten curious, quirky, unusual and different things to do in London”, nominated "one of the best true-crime podcasts at the British Podcast Awards 2018", one of The Telegraph's top five true-crime podcasts and featuring 12 murderers, including 3 serial killers, across 15 locations, totaling 50 deaths, over just a one mile walk
Michael J Buchanan-Dunne is a crime writer, podcaster of Murder Mile UK True Crime and creator of true-crime TV series.
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