Big Deep - An Ocean Podcast

Murder at the Bottom of a Pond: Michael Berry on his life as an Underwater Scuba Criminal Investigator

December 03, 2019 Hosts Jason Elias and Paul Kelway Season 1 Episode 9
Big Deep - An Ocean Podcast
Murder at the Bottom of a Pond: Michael Berry on his life as an Underwater Scuba Criminal Investigator
Chapters
Big Deep - An Ocean Podcast
Murder at the Bottom of a Pond: Michael Berry on his life as an Underwater Scuba Criminal Investigator
Dec 03, 2019 Season 1 Episode 9
Hosts Jason Elias and Paul Kelway

Murder at the Bottom of a Pond: Michael Berry on his life as an Underwater Scuba Criminal Investigator

Show Notes Transcript

Murder at the Bottom of a Pond: Michael Berry on his life as an Underwater Scuba Criminal Investigator

Hosts:

Hi, and welcome to the big deep podcast, big , deepest , a about people who have a connection to the ocean, people for whom that connection is so strong, it defined some aspect of their life. Over the course of the series, we'll talk to all sorts of people. Then each episode we'll explore the deeper meaning of that connection. In this episode, I speak with someone who spent his entire career underwater helping catch murderers. Hello, this is Paul Kellaway and I'm Jason Lewis . Welcome to the big deep podcast.

Paul Kelway:

When most people think about scuba diving, they picture Sunkist beaches, crystal clear waters, and tropical coral reefs, but our next guest has a very different take on what diving is about. Not only has he turned it into his career, but he's the kind of guy that actually looks forward to jumping into farmers' ponds, rock quarries, and muddy lakes with zero visibility.

Mike Berry:

My name is Mike Berry and I'm an underwater criminal investigator.

Jason Elias:

Well, you know that immediately sounds super cool, but what does that exactly mean? Being an underwater criminal investigator.

Mike Berry:

Someone calls the police and when a crime leads to the water's edge, where a land investigator is standing there with his shoes and he's wondering what to do next, there are people like us that they can call. Certified scuba divers that go into the water and carry on that criminal investigation. It's just not somebody with scuba gear. It's someone with scuba gear that's highly trained because what you do next can blow it or they could solve the case. Just wiping off a fingerprint, the fingerprint that's been sitting there for two weeks waiting for your recovery and then based on your inabilities, you're touching it too much and wiping that fingerprint off that could have solved the case and led to a murderer going to jail.

Jason Elias:

So it's pretty funny. Mike. This is a very different kind of diving than most people would be used to.

Mike Berry:

You know the thing about what we do is we do not get to pick our dive site. You got to understand that my phone rings and someone has picked my dive site for me. So you're not, you're not usually, you know, seeing beautiful tropical fish and coral reefs . It's usually some farmer's pond or rock quarry or inlet or assessed pool waiting for you.

Jason Elias:

When you go into these farmers ponds or rock quarries, what are the parameters of the job that you actually do?

Mike Berry:

Your three cores to underwater criminal investigations, are body recoveries, vehicle recoveries, and evidence recovery. With body recoveries, that could be an accident, it could be a drowning, it could be a homicide. It could be some person that was murdered a month ago or 10 years ago. then you're no longer looking for a body, you're looking for the r emains, for the skeleton. Maybe if there was a bullet lodged inside the body, you're looking for a bullet that's now in the bottom composition. With evidence, it could be anything. It could be a murder weapon. It could be a stolen gun. It could be a safe. It's anything that's limited to a person's imagination.

Jason Elias:

So when you're swimming along the bottom of the crime scene, how are you searching the area?

Mike Berry:

You normally don't find anything unless your hand gets it. Then once your hand touches it, then your brain is saying, rock, tree, bottle, and then all of a sudden....gun! And then the moment your brain says gun, you have to be trained to let go. Because your job as an underwater criminal investigator is to recover any piece of evidence exactly like it was on the bottom . You know, it's been sitting there a day or two a week, a month, a year. It's been sitting there all that time waiting for someone to recover it. If it's sitting there laying on the bottom with a fingerprint, a pubic hair, anything. If it's sitting there with some evidence that could help contribute to the solving of the case, that's your job. Your job is to recover it. Exactly like it was found.

Jason Elias:

This is such a different kind of life than most people would envision for themselves. Can you go back and tell me a little bit about what brought you to this place? Were you always interested in water as a kid and how did you get this job?

Mike Berry:

I always had a connection with water. What helped my love grow was my dad had these photographs. They're all old black and white photographs of him scuba diving. In one he had this spear gun and he was standing about k nee deep in a water with a bunch of his friends. I just thought that was the coolest thing. I didn't know really what was going on, but it looked cool and I knew as I was growing up that one day I was going to be a scuba diver. It was after I served my term in the military. I went to a scuba store and I, my first scuba lessons and I loved it. I also knew I was going to be a police officer. I put in my applications to all the departments around Virginia and I was hired by the Virginia state police. With just the luck of the draw, I got this training officer just out of the blue. He said, do you happen to scuba dive? And I said, yes sir, I do scuba dive. He says, well, we're going on a scuba dive tomorrow for some stolen guns. If you'd like to go, you can come. And the next day I was with these two state police divers. I couldn't believe it, but they were telling me what to do on t he search pattern. I was u nder w ater and total darkness s earch i n the bottom. Next thing I know my hand i n a handgun. Right then I knew what I was supposed to do for the rest of my life. I was going to take my love for the water a nd my love for diving and t his thing I wanted to be was a police officer. I was going to combine them. I was g onna put them together and that's what I was g oing t o do for the rest of my life. Now it's 35 years later and I love it just like that day, there's nothing I would do different. What an opportunity it is. Imagine finding a murder weapon and that murder weapon is the key to the arrest. And here you are finding that evidence and based on your recovery they're making an arrest and a bad guy goes to jail. But look on the other side of that. Look what you're doing for the victim's family. I look at it as an honor. What an honor it is to be asked to try to help bring closure to this horrible situation.

Jason Elias:

Yeah, I would say anything where you can be of benefit to others always has a deeper meaning and that that's got to feel great. So is there one recovery that you made that broke a case that was really dramatic or something that really meant a lot to you as a person?

Mike Berry:

I've had a number of murderers, after interviewing the murderer , they would bring them back to the scene, tell me to my face, I'll never find it. And then seeing the look on his face when he sees my buoy come to the surface marking the target, packaging and walk it by him and given him a grin. Those are always rewarding cause they're thinking they picked the right spot and they threw it far enough and they had no idea that there were people out there that did this kind of thing. And then the body recoveries are always rewarding because you know the emotion. You're getting involved in a terrible situation and you know the pain that the family's going through. Those are always rewarding. You drive away and a lot of times you don't get thanked and you're not there for the thank you. You're there trying to just do your best, but every now and then you do get a Pat . Every now and then you do get a letter or just having a mother mouth the words as you're getting out of the water, "Thank you." You know what? What a gift that is. You kind of understand why you're doing it. Just being around criminal investigations in general, you see the horror that's out there, the wickedness, the evil. But on the other side of that, you're on the other team where you're trying to help and you're trying to bring the light into the darkness.

Hosts:

Thank you for listening to the big deep podcast next time on big deep, "The idea of me being a mermaid, I'm challenged about it all the time. I don't actually believe I'm a mermaid, but I am as close as it gets." We really appreciate you being with us on this journey to the Big Deep as we explore an ocean of stories. If you like what you're doing, please make sure to subscribe, like and comment on our show in iTunes, overcast, SoundCloud, or wherever you catch your podcasts. But those subscribes and links really make a difference. The more info on our guests, extra audio and photos, as well as updates on anything you've heard, you can find a lot more content. Our website, [inaudible] dot com plus . If you know someone you think we should talk to, just let us know what the big deep website is. We are always looking to hear more stories from interesting people who are deeply connected to our world's oceans. Thanks again for joining us.