Understanding Istanbul through murders

Understanding Istanbul through murders

İpek Özbey - ISTANBUL
Understanding Istanbul through murders The book “Cinayet Sohbetleri” (Murder Talks) will be published next week. With Mesut Demirbilek, one of its authors, we discussed the man who murdered his mother and served her to people, and the differences between “woman murderer” and “man murderer.”
Almost 10 days ago, the former owners of Ören Bayan, the most famous yarn brand in Turkey, were stabbed to death in their home. The Uzbek servants who confessed to the murder of Jak and Georgia Karako after they were caught in Kumkapı neighborhood and arrested. 

According to the police report, Farkhodjon Yusufova had requested money for their sick child from their bosses, and Jak had shouted in reply. The man took a knife from the kitchen and murdered them in their bedroom, and threw the murder weapon into the sea at Kabataş. 

“It was an easy murder in terms of finding the suspect,” says Mesut Demirbilek, who has worked as a detective in Istanbul’s Homicide Bureau for nine years. He went to New York with scholarship to earn a master’s degree on criminal research and technology. In 2005 he resigned from the department, which he dreamed of entering after watching Commissioner Colombo and Baretta and after 22 years in the office. 

Demirbilek gave tips to solve numerous murders that occupied the Turkish media, such as the murder of American tourist Sarai Sierra. “I got to know Istanbul through murders,” Demirbilek says. In the book he wrote with Onur Arkhan, he summarizes 22 years of his detective career.

Understanding Istanbul through murders

(Photo by Selçuk Şamiloğlu)

How did your nose first meet the stench of murder?
When you join the homicidal bureau, you are not directly sent to the field. You read dossiers between dusty racks. You look into your superior’s eyes, begging; “I want to work in the field.” On a day like that, I went on the field for the first time. There was a woman’s body in Belgrad Forest. It was the first time I smelled a cadaver, on that warm August day. There were flies everywhere. The body was not fresh; it was approximately 10 days old. There was a mattress on the ground... a sex worker killed by one of her clients.

How did you get used to it?
It wasn’t that easy. That day, the constables with me were experienced. They checked the body and tried to find any piece of identification. I was curious as you are now. How could they stand that smell? Because I was sniffing cologne, trying to forget the smell. I started to feel dizzy. I saw them smoking. I learnt later that smoking masks bad smells. Later on, my nose got used to it and I started to ignore the stench.

You’re working on a decapitation murder, with a severed head in a bag, which is in your hands. You go to the bureau and make jokes about it. That scared me as much as the murder itself. How can you be so cold-blooded?
I’m not sure we can call that cold blood, but so be it. I had two choices. Either I was going to be afraid of these [murders] and disgusted by it, like a surgeon who can’t see blood, or I was not going to do that. When I first smelled that stench, I decided that I could do it.

Must every murderer be a psychopath, mad or addicted to committing murder?
Regardless of language, religion, nationalitiy and ethnicity, everyone can commit murder with enough motivation.

Is that building up of motivation the last fringe of patience?
There are some murders that we sometimes say, “No, this can’t be the reason….” While you are in the traffic, someone can hit your car and something snaps. You had never seen that guy before. You start to fight and the fight gets violent. If you have a knife or a gun on you, you would use it, and you are a murderer.

Understanding Istanbul through murders

According to Mesut Demirbilek, looking for complexity in a murder is unnecessary. You should always look at the simple things. Like the murderers being servants in Ören Bayan case, her lover in Münevver Karabulut case, the assistant in the pharmacist murder case and the homeless man in the Sarai Sierra case.

You know sometimes, we say “I’ll kill you” when we get angry. Is it a sign?
Yes, what if you had means to do it at that moment? Murder is as simple as that.

Why do people usually commit murders?
Women-men relationships and money. It has been the same since the start of time.

Do men and women use different weapons when they commit murder?
Men use knives. Especially if it is an honor killing, he wants to reflect his anger, and stabs his victim multiple times. But a woman would prefer a gun or poison.

What about the education level of murderers?
A significant number of murders in Istanbul are committed by people who dropped out of high school, or elementary school graduates. Of course there are doctors and professors who commit murder, but they are not numerous.

Is age an important factor?
Most murders are committed between [the ages of] 19 to 25. As age increases, the murder rates drop.

Why are more murders committed in this age?
During my career, it was more about love and relationships. I am sure it is caused by money nowadays.

Is there a special season for murders?
Of course there is. May, June and July... Those are the months where people are more out going and have more interaction.

What about the bloodiest day?
Sundays, because people tend to stay at home. That’s when the domestic violence increases.

Which murderers are harder to catch? Men or women?
It is always harder to catch a woman lying during the interrogation; they hide their feelings. Men give more signals when they are lying. It is harder to catch these signals on women.

You throw a bait. Who falls for it?
When you throw a bait, the men usually come to the point of confession. If it was an honor killing, it is easier to make him confess with “manhood” bait. I always admire women’s intelligence, as it is more developed. I can say that they are highly controlled, from my experience. They can cry easier during interrogations, for example.

Have you ever said to yourself “He/she is fair” during interrogation?
That is quite hard. There are some subjects that makes you think, “I would kill too, under these conditions.” But you are human, and you should not kill another human.

Understanding Istanbul through murders

An excerpt from Demirbilek's new book, quoting the interrogation of a murderer who cut her mother into pieces and served them to her neighbours during the 1980s in Fatih: 

Police: What did you do with the meat?
Murderer: I gave it to our neighbors.
Police: Why did you do that?
Murderer: Because it's a tradition.
Police: Did you eat it yourself?
Murderer: No, why should I eat my own mother?!
Police: Then why did you distribute it to your neighbors?
Murderer: Because it is a sacrifice, and the meat should be shared with neighbors. [According to Islamic customs, the meat of sacrificed animals should be distributed to neighbors, particularly during Eid al-Adha]

An eternal house of cement
There was a notice by some residents of an apartment: “There is a horrible stench.” 

A woman was living on that flat with her daughter. They had to break the door to get in. One of the rooms was locked. When they broke that door, they saw a concrete grave, with her mother inside. They learnt that the daughter had bought two bags of cement a couple of weeks ago. They started to interrogate her.

Police: What were you going to do with the cement you bought from the houseware shop?
Özlem: I was going to prepare a resting place for my mother.
Police: What kind of a place you were going to prepare for her, Özlem?
Özlem: I was going to prepare her a grave.
Police: Can you tell me what happened? Where is your mother?
Özlem: She’s home.
Police: Yes, we found her in your home.
Özlem: You found her?
Police: Yes, in the place you have prepared for her. Özlem, do you have a hunting rifle at home?
Özlem: Yes, there is [one].
Police: Have you ever used it in your fights with your mother?
Özlem: Yes, but I don’t know if she’s dead.
Police: You do remember the place you prepared for her right?
Özlem: Yes, I bought two bags of cement. There was a hand carriage there. I carried them home. I took the carpet away from that room and prepared a nice place for her.
Police: Why did you need to prepare such a place for your mother?
Özlem: I wanted her to be with me.
Police: How was your relationship?
Özlem: We used to fight a lot. She did not understand me; she became really angry.
Police: What did she say?
Özlem: She was always saying that I was mad.
Police: And do you have an illness?
Özlem: Yes, I am being treated. I used to get mad at her and didn’t take my medications. I haven’t been taking them for a while.
* Özlem never remembered how she shot her mother. She was initially arrested and then sent to the hospital for schizophrenia treatment.

Translated by Yunus Yüzsüren
Edited by Delphine Rodrik