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Do Real Detectives Put Pictures on a Wall?


It seems like every detective show I watch on Netflix includes a few scenes where we see that the detective has placed pictures or newspaper clippings, etc., on a wall so they can step back and look at them all to figure out what's going on with the crime.


It's kinda cool I guess, but I'm curious: do real detectives do this kind of thing in their offices?


Good question, Michael! I observed this last night watching House of Cards, Season 5 where a journalist is uncovering the murder mystery of Zoe Barnes to refute her apparent suicide. Like a detective, he has a board of pictures and artifacts, but one of the key photos goes missing. A lot of dramatic irony occurs as the audience knows that a govt. official is responsible for the murder in one of the most gasp-worthy scenes I have ever viewed! I'm curious to know how the magic actually happens since detectives work on multiple cases at once.


-Kristen H.


Hi Michael,


I'm glad you asked this question. Unlike televison and Hollywood's depiction of being able to solve a case in 30 or 60 minutes, the reality is there isn't any crystal ball or magic wand to solve an investigation. Detectives use various tools to establish leads in the hope to determine fact from fiction. Using a wall to lay out leads and facts is used in real life. The use of a wall to put pictures up or display known evidence permits a Detective to use indictive and deductive reasoning to pursue leads and continue the investigation.  In complex investigations I have used the posting of pictures and evidence which helped to analyze. 


Hi kristen,


Yes I just finished House of Cards myself. The use of a wall or board displaying key information or evidence is a great method to establish a timeline thus revealing opportunities to gather additional info. Most Detectives have several cases they are working at one time. The use of the wall or board allows to keep information separate avoiding any mix ups. 

Thanks so much for this info.  I'm glad to hear that there's something real going on in these detective mystery shows I've been watching.  In one of the shows (I think the show was called "Witnesses" - Les Temoins), however, there was a scene in which a witness was being interrogated and the pictures were on the wall behind the witness.  I didn't think that would happen so I began to wonder about this whole thing.  

Valued Contributor

Mike, when I worked cases back in the day, we would only post pictures like you see on TV during preparation for investgative activities; raids, apprehensions, searches, etc., and when the event was over the photos were returned to the case file. I enjoy watching  TV police shows and have found some to be a little more realistic, than others, because they typically work more than one case at a time, and do a lot of paperwork!


We also used photos for lineups, vehicle matches, etc. The bottom line is that hollywood does make the job seem a little more glamorous and interesting than it is in real life...depending on where you work!