Dauphin County Coroner Graham Hetrick has always felt there was much society could learn from the dead — not only how they died, but how we should live.
Hetrick, who grew up above his father’s funeral home in Susquehanna Township and investigated forensic cases while serving as a young man in the military police, offers the perspective of a seasoned forensics expert with hundreds of homicide investigations under his belt in a new television series called “The Coroner: I Speak For The Dead.”
The national show, which airs on Investigation Discovery, premieres Monday at 10 p.m.
“I have always wanted to do a show that would take a little different look at something like homicide,” said Hetrick, who has been county coroner since 1990 and overseen more than 3,000 autopsies.
It took more than desire to make the series a reality, however. To balance the show’s production with his daily work and community projects, including publishing a bilingual newspaper, Hetrick said he needed a little help with time management.
He has a small team of people who help him maintain his daily schedule. He also credited his staff in the coroner’s office and local law enforcement officers, area detectives, district attorneys, public officials and families for helping to pull off the series.
“This focuses on me because of talking about the investigations,” Hetrick said. “(But) it’s a team effort.”
Over an eight-week series, Hetrick pulls back the curtain on what it’s like to look to the dead for answers.
Each episode will feature a compelling homicide case pulled directly from real-life cases Hetrick has handled.
From the moment he receives the call to the crime scene where he is first introduced to the victim, to the autopsy, viewers will learn about the many layers involved in an investigation and find out how murders happen and who is ultimately to blame for the deaths.
“These are all adjudicated cases, so we’re not interfering with any investigations,” Hetrick said of the show, which will run through mid-September.
Each episode will look at the different sciences used to solve the riddles that pop up in murder investigations, he said. “There are multiple sciences in every case.”
Hetrick, who also teaches forensic courses at Harrisburg University of Science and Technology, said he sees the show as the culmination of his long career.
“I have never gotten away from the spectrum of death,” he said. “Everything has led me to this point to do this show.”
Upon returning from Army service, Hetrick completed his education and took over his father’s business as funeral director. He sold the family funeral home in 2003 to former employee Nathan Bitner, who continues to grow the business.
The series filmed local interviews to avoid disruptions in schedules for area investigators and others who contributed. The scenes reenacting cases depicted in the series, which included hiring actors to portray Hetrick and his wife, were shot in California.
“If we didn’t have the technology we have today, we really couldn’t produce a show like this and on these timelines,” he said, citing a ton of back-and-forth communications about case details. “It takes months and months.”
Hetrick hopes to continue the project or related projects that might present different concepts, he said. “It’s a complex platform. If I do well, I will do it as long as I can.”
A special screening for the premiere will be held Sunday at Spring Gate Vineyard in Lower Paxton Township. Tickets are available to the event.
Hetrick also will be blogging about the cases profiled.