According to TVNZ's current lineup, there are two ways to investigate an unsolved murder.

The first option is to work with actual detectives and go behind the scenes of a genuine police review, as forensic pathologists and DNA specialists comb through the details of a case and turn up new information.

The second option is to follow a trio of psychics as they shuffle around an old crime scene, sharing earth-shattering observations about murder victims such as: "She wanted to get home from where she'd been, but she didn't get there."

Yes, Sensing Murder is back on our screens. And it's feeling more farcical than ever, given it is now screening in the same month as TVNZ's other new true crime series, the infinitely more credible and compelling Cold Case.


Narrated by Hilary Barry, Cold Case shares some obvious similarities with Sensing Murder, given both shows examine unsolved crimes.

Each of their opening episodes deal with the murder of a young woman, with Sensing Murder referencing the case of 30-year-old hairdresser Paula Brown, who was killed during a night out with friends in Sydney in 1996, and Cold Case examining the disappearance of 18-year-old Mona Blades near Taupō in 1975.

Both shows also use re-enactments of supposed events, historic footage and interviews with the victims' nearest and dearest to establish a sense of the story.

But that is where the similarities end.

Cold Case examines each case with detectives and forensic experts. Photo / Supplied
Cold Case examines each case with detectives and forensic experts. Photo / Supplied

Because while Cold Case thoughtfully examines each of its cases with actual detectives and teams of forensic experts, Sensing Murder rolls in the psychics – series veteran Deb Webber and newbies Kerry-Marie Callander and Carin Anderson – to carry on a long tradition of failing to produce even a single scrap of useful information.

Annoyingly stretched over two bloated episodes, Sensing Murder's latest effort manages to be a bigger fool's errand than usual, in that the police and Paula Brown's family are both quite certain they already know who killed her.

Yet, two hours of television are dedicated to the psychics deciding whether or not a second person might have been involved, despite police being confident the murder was the act of one man.

The three psychics make some astounding observations about the case. They describe Brown (or every person ever) as someone who was "making her way in the world". Webber goes so far as to describe Brown's killer (or every murderer ever) as "very angry and dangerous".


"She was attacked," Webber adds helpfully, perhaps forgetting she's filming a show called Sensing Murder and not Sensing Natural Causes of Death.

Paired with some quite sensationalised re-enactments, the whole effect is almost amusing - until I remember they're talking about the brutal murder of a bright and much-loved woman.

Even less amusing is when Webber says of Brown: "She's trying to rest, but she can't rest." It's an especially cruel and unnecessary statement, even for a show with a long history of exploiting families' grief.

Some might argue that regardless of its many faults, Sensing Murder at least gives these families a chance to talk about their loved one in the hopes an episode might jog some vital memories somewhere.

But, as Cold Case has proven, you don't need the supposed "entertainment" value of psychics to tell a victim's story well, in the hopes of solving the mystery around their death.

Their opening episode sees a whole new investigation into Mona Blades' disappearance, with a group of past and present police officers discussing what might have been missed in the case the first time around. The show also offers an interesting peek at the work that goes into a police investigation and how that work has changed over the years.

Cold Case is beautifully shot, too, steering well clear of lurid re-enactments of the Sensing Murder ilk.

But, most importantly, by the end of its first hour, Cold Case's detectives have come up with a whole new theory as to what happened to Mona Blades all those years ago.

And in doing so, they've done more to progress an unsolved crime in the space of that one episode than Sensing Murder has so far managed in six seasons.

Sensing Murder screens Thursdays 8.30pm on TVNZ 2

Cold Case screens Sundays 8.30pm on TVNZ 1