Detectives, forensic work, and unsolved crimes have led to some ratings-rich television and entertainment recently. But “Killing Fields” on Discovery Channel has been a bit different. It’s produced and directed by Emmy- and Academy- Award winners, and it tracks a cold-case murder investigation in real-time.
Doing the job in front of TV cameras has been a unique situation for Leslie Bradford, one of the six detectives in the Iberville Parish Sheriff’s Office on the show.
The first season ended earlier this year without an arrest in the unsolved 1997 homicide of Eugenie Boisfontaine, a 34-year-old woman, outside Baton Rouge, La. The initial focus was on Derrick Todd Lee, a suspected serial killer already on death row in Angola State Prison for multiple murders in the area around that time. Evidence seemed to rule him out during the first season – but in a strange twist, he died behind bars during the show’s recording.
Now the second season of the TV show, which premieres next week, continues the hunt for the killer – and adds a few new cases to the true storyline.
Bradford was initially reluctant to be part of the show. But she has become more of a central figure as the search for Boisfontaine’s killer proceeds. Bradford made a big breakthrough in collecting DNA from the victim’s ex-husband near the end of the first season.
Bradford, who was honored as her department’s detective of the year in 2015, spoke with Forensic Magazine by phone recently about being a real detective – and also one on TV. (The questions and answers have been edited for length).
Forensic Magazine: Do you think Derrick Todd Lee is excluded as a person of interest in the Boisfontaine case?
Detective Leslie Bradford: Derrick Todd Lee is definitely excluded in the Eugenie Boisfontaine homicide, because we were able to get his DNA profile, and compare it, and he was excluded.
It was an amazing coincidence, that Lee had done some of his crimes so close to where Boisfontaine was found.
It definitely was interesting. He was active at the time, and he was so close in proximity. However, he was excluded.
At the end of last season, you were the one who got the DNA swab of the ex-husband of Boisfontaine, and as you went through the investigation, you found out he had married again within a month of leaving her. How is that case, in general, proceeding with that person of interest in the new season?
At this point, we’re still doing everything we possibly can do on that case. That includes working new leads, as well as the leads we have now. It’s not a case that we’re no longer looking into, we just have to look at it from a different angle at this point, to try to move forward.
Besides that case, there is another homicide, with a body found in a barrel. How is the work load, as you have these multiple active investigations, with other responsibilities, like your juvenile work? Are we talking long days?
We’re definitely talking long days (laughs). But you know, here in Iberville Parish, we have a very unique situation as it comes to teamwork. All of the detectives work together, and we all play a part in making everything run smoothly. So it’s long days, but that’s what we signed up for. That’s what we’re here to do.
“Even though there is a TV show, we are law enforcement professionals – and the key word is “Professionals.” There was no way that I would compromise myself or this team or the Sheriff’s Office professionally, because of a TV show. We are here to help the people, we are public servants, and that is our job. Our job isn’t television.”
-Det. Leslie Bradford
Many of Forensic Magazine’s readers may be doing the same things you’re doing, but they haven’t had to do it with a TV crew around. Was there a learning curve?
It definitely was an adjustment, to have the TV crews around. First of all, you don’t expect a crew of 20 to be around – and that’s on a good day. Sometimes there’s more, sometimes there’s less. You just have to make sure you’re aware of them being there – and make sure that even though they’re following our investigation, there are some things they cannot film or release. It is a learning experience, just having them there.
Newspapers reported that you were initially reluctant to be part of the show, and that you carefully considered before agreeing to be part of it.
I definitely had to take everything into consideration. Even though there is a TV show, we are law enforcement professionals – and the key word is “Professionals.” There was no way that I would compromise myself or this team or the Sheriff’s Office professionally, because of a TV show. We are here to help the people, we are public servants, and that is our job. Our job isn’t television – we’re just being documented. Even with the TV crew around, we want to make sure that we’re still doing our job, and making sure that all these cases we’re investigating and everything we’re following are getting done. Our ultimate goal is a conviction. I didn’t want to make the case compromised at any point for the TV cameras.
What about your other cases, especially with the Juvenile Bureau? How many do you have going while the TV cases are proceeding?
Just because the TV crews are here, doesn’t mean that cases don’t keep coming in. It was definitely an adjustment. However, we have made it work. We are a rural community, but we still have a high case load. It’s just about time management.
You were originally a dental assistant before joining law enforcement. Was there any particular moment of inspiration from that career change?
I was assigned to go to dental school. However, the day-to-day activity of the job led me to believe it wasn’t something I could see myself doing for the duration. But I liked working with children, and I liked working with juveniles. So when a position in the Office of Juvenile Justice opened up, I applied and got it (as a Juvenile Probation Officer). I’ve been in law enforcement ever since. It kind of found me (laughs).
You’re going to assume more of a central role in the second season of The Killing Fields. Can you talk in general about that?
In this season, you’re definitely going to see the entire community come together – especially the detectives in this case. Everyone came together and made sure that we had enough probable cause to make an arrest. So it was just a big collaboration of the department.
You’re known for changing your hairstyles. How many will you have in the second season?
(Laughs). I can’t tell you how many different hairstyles I’m going to have. But at least three. That’s a form of expression, and I like changing my hair.
Anything else about the show you’d like to mention?
At this point, with the cases we’re still working – with the two newer ones from season two – now we’re just making sure everything’s in line to get a conviction. We’re making sure we’re doing everything we can to work the case until all the leads are depleted. The TV crews may leave town soon, so life may go back to normal for a little while. I’ll miss them – not the filming process, but as people.
Killing Fields’ second season premieres Tuesday, Jan. 3, at 10 p.m. on the Discovery Channel.