On the next episode of Breaking Homicide on Investigation Discovery, why was Norma Luobikis murdered?
Was there more to Norma’s life than people knew?
Private investigator Derrick Levasseur journeys to suburban Los Angeles to uncover new leads and find out who murdered Norma Lubikis. Her death is like peeling an onion with layers of leads and clues.
But just who is Derrick Levasseur, this investigator (who kicked Big Brother’s butt) from Rhode Island?
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Now into its second season on ID, Breaking Homicide is Derrick’s baby. This former police sergeant and private investigator dives deep and solves cold cases around the nation, giving families left behind and seeking answers some closure.
Levasseur was one of the youngest officers in Central Falls (RI) department’s history, hired at age 20. He worked Patrol Division and then Detective Division, promoted to Special Investigations Unit as an undercover detective.
It was there he cut his teeth with federal agencies like the ATF, DEA, FBI, and the U.S. Secret Service. His training also ramped up with this promotion and he was taught the most advanced interrogation and interview techniques, along with his undercover experience and more crime scene analysis training too. Lavasseur also penned a bestseller, The Undercover Edge, about his life’s work.
He has earned the Medal of Valor, which is the highest honor a sworn officer can receive. In 2017, Derrick was bestowed the American Red Cross “Hero Award” saving seven lives from a lethal fire.
At the recent IDCon, Monsters & Critics spoke to Derrick at length about his series that unpacks the crime from an analytical angle.
Monsters & Critics: How did you pitch the show to Discovery … to differentiate it from the others?
Derrick Levasseur: You know, it was more of an evolution. I did a special with ID called Is OJ Innocent, the Missing Evidence. Even though it was a case that’s been viewed by a lot of people, we started from the ground up, with a fresh perspective, and almost investigated the case as if it never happened before.
And speaking to the families after the case, they felt like they got some new answers.
So we said, “well how can we help people who maybe are not as famous, who feel like their cases have been forgotten, and their loved ones haven’t gotten the closure they deserve?”
So ID naturally was a fit where we said listen, let’s do the same format as OJ, but let’s do 6-8 cases. And let’s give people opportunities to have their cases heard, who maybe don’t have the fame or the notoriety like an OJ Simpson or a Nicole Simpson, but their cases are just as important. Breaking Homicide was kind of the evolution from that.
M&C: How much, as a producer of the show, do you handpick the cases with a team, or do they bring them to you to vet?
Derrick: It’s a collaborative effort. I do view all the cases, and unless I approve that I want to do the case, like I feel I can actually make a difference, we don’t do it.
But it’s tough, because we get hundreds of thousands of cases where it’s like listen, these families all have these really compelling stories, and you feel for them but … you have to find that balance, which is, can I do something for the case that will actually move it forward, because I don’t want to create a false hope. But also, is there a way of telling the story in an hour where our viewers are going to be able to understand it.
There’s a big difference there because sometimes investigations aren’t as clear cut as you see on TV. Once we find that balance, we narrow it down. And unfortunately we can only select six to eight cases, but there’s always next year.
M&C: So for season 2, you are going to condense these stories into one hour. Talk about that.
Derrick: Correct. This year it’s just me, it’s not my colleague Dr. Kris Mohandie…So that gives us an option to really focus on the investigation aspect of it.
And we think by focusing it, we can get it down to an hour where the show is moving, but still giving all the detail that you would’ve gotten in the two hour episode, but getting it in a more concise fashion. So we think it’s going to be more, easier for the audience members to digest that.
The other advantage is, last year we did six episodes. Now because we’re doing one-hour episodes, we’re able to do eight cases, so we’re helping more families.
M&C: There’s a huge push for redemption, systemic change, sentencing laws reduced. Kim Kardashian is lobbying Trump to get people out of jail. Van Jones had that show Redemption Project on CNN. As someone who’s dealt with criminals and cases, how do you feel about it? Do you feel that there needs to be a systemic change, that there’s abuses? Or do you think that it could go too far the other way?
Derrick: Justice reform should always be evaluated, because I do think there’s room for a movement. I really do, even as a cop. I do think there’s some people serving time for crimes that, maybe are in there for too long.
And there are other people who have committed heinous acts, [and] are habitual offenders, and because of the way our laws are written, get a third, fourth, fifth, sixth chance, until they commit a crime where they’re in for life.
So there has to be reform, but I think on both ends.
In some ways, the justice system is too lenient, in other ways I think it can be too harsh. For me personally, I see some people commit financial crimes, tax evasion, and they go away for 10-15 years, and they got to do 85 percent of that time because it’s a federal offense.
And then you can have someone commit a felony assault, and they’re out on good behavior in three years. To me that’s not right.
So yes, I do think we do need to reevaluate it. Not necessarily across the board, where everybody is getting less time, but just more appropriate for the crimes being committed. And making it more of a serious offense when you have habitual offenders who are clearly not learning from their mistakes.
M&C: Who are some of the experts that you employ on the show?
Derrick: This is going to be season two of Breaking Homicide. And we go everywhere from experts in forensic pathology, experts in forensic DNA-We have Dr. Cyril Wecht, and one of my favorite pathologists, Dr. Kanthi De Alwis. She’s amazing, she’s done over, I believe over 10,000 autopsies.
She was the chief medical examiner in Honolulu. Unbelievable. She works on two of the cases this season. And the reason I like her is because there is a level of political correctness in these shows, where they’re afraid to maybe second guess a colleague. Because it’s all kind of the same boy’s and girl’s club, and they don’t want to overrule someone.
She’s not afraid to do that. She’s going to tell you what she thinks.
And there’s a few episodes where the medical examiner doesn’t come to a conclusion, which is why we don’t have an arrest. And she comes in and tells you what she thinks, even though it’s going to overrule somebody who she may know personally.
As far as some other experts, we bring in experts from serology. We bring in a digital forensics expert. I actually am going to be able to take tire tread marks from a photo, and analyze them in a way, by inverting the image and actually comparing it to a suspect.
So we do some creative things, and then we use basic tactics as well as far as like, trash dumps. Something you may not see on a lot of TV shows is that detectives will go into a trash dumpster and get evidence, because abandoned property.
You don’t usually see that in the suit and tie, but I can tell you, spoiler alert, you’re going to see me doing it. It’s not done often, but it’s an actual tool that we use, and I’m not afraid to get dirty, so we do it.
M&C: How old were you when you knew you wanted to be in law enforcement?
Derrick: I was probably about 20 years old. That’s when I actually became a police officer, 20 years old. I didn’t grow up saying I want to be a cop, but I took criminal justice as a degree, and then my first undercover mission was when I was 21 years old.
And after doing it and having the success we had, we arrested 11 people just on my operation, I got the bug and I knew it was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.
Seeing the gratification from not only the victims but the victim’s families, it’s a feeling I can’t describe. It’s like no other. So to get to do that on a national level now, and have people see it, I’m extremely lucky.
Breaking Homicide airs Monday at 10/9c on Investigation Discovery.