In 1993, Tammy Tatum’s murder shook the community of Longmont. She was strangled to death in her home while her one-year-old daughter lay sleeping in a crib. Then, the case went cold. It wasn’t until 2009 that the killer, Rudy Gaytan, was arrested after his DNA was resubmitted to the Colorado Bureau of Investigations.
Tatum’s murder is one of two Colorado cases that Chris Hansen—the former Dateline NBC host—will examine in the upcoming season of Investigation Discovery’s Killer Instinct, which premiers Tuesday, September 5 at 7 p.m. MST. Hansen, known for his former work on To Catch a Predator, will also revisit the 1997 murder of Susannah Chase, who was a senior at the University of Colorado Boulder when she was beaten with a baseball bat, sexually assaulted, and then left in an alley to die.
Over the past year, Hansen visited both Longmont and Boulder to interview the family members of each victim and the investigators who finally cracked the cases. Ahead of next week’s season premier, we caught up Hansen.
5280: Why did you choose Tammy Tatum’s case for the season 3 premier of Killer Instinct?
CH: “It’s a very compelling story. What we try to do with Killer Instinct is find these stories that were either not widely covered, or where people are speaking out for the first time. It really fascinated us because these detectives stayed with this case, and one of them refused to retire until it was solved. With the advancement of DNA technology, they finally put the thing to bed.
You also have the narrative of this poor woman who was murdered in front of her one-year-old, who was in a crib nearby. In hindsight, it’s just such a haunting and horrifying tale that this young girl witnessed the murder as a one-year-old. Her father, who ultimately got custody of her, lived in the shadow of suspicion for literally a decade. People thinking he’s the one who killed her. So, the real killer committed [another] rape [in 1996], the DNA hit came in, and they go after him.”
5280: You sat down with Tammy Tatum’s daughter, Sadie, who is now 24. How did you approach that conversation?
CH: “She’s very poised. Very together. She loves her father. She feels bad that he was looked at as a suspect in this crime. And she tries to, as best she can, to remember her mother as the good woman she was. It’s one of those interviews where you want to dig deep and examine the emotions and the rawness of it, but at the same time you have to be respectful of the fact that she was one when this went down.
Doing this job, and interviewing people like that, is almost like being an anesthesiologist. You have to cover that person in a level where they are comfortable and still be able to tell the truth and get in their head.”
5280: Will the premier episode reveal any details that haven’t previously been brought to the public’s attention?
CH: “There are details of the crime that I don’t think have been revealed before. When we look at these cases with the benefit of hindsight, [people involved] have a tendency to open up in way that they never have before. They feel comfortable. They know we’re going to do a good job telling their story. They have a tendency to be far more open ten years after the fact.”
5280: How long were you in Longmont, and what was your impression?
CH: “The crew was there for five days and I was there for four. We go in and immerse ourselves, we live these stories for 12 hours a day, four days straight. You live it like it really happened. Longmont seemed to me to be a really cool town with a little bit of everything there and a great place to raise a family. It’s not the kind of place where you’d suspect that someone would be a victim the way Tammy Tatum was in her apartment.”
5280: You researched the case thoroughly before you traveled to Longmont. Did anything surprise you once you got there?
CH: “What surprised me is that the real killer just continued his life—and I have to wonder, quite honestly, are there other crimes that he committed. Typically, someone doesn’t just kill once, or commit one sexual assault. So, what else is out there?”
5280: In this upcoming season of Killer Instinct, you also reexamine the murder of Susannah Case in Boulder (Episode 3, September 26). Why did you choose to cover her case?
CH: “Her story is compelling for a number of reasons. I feel a bit of a personal connection to it. She was from Stamford, Connecticut. I lived in Stamford for 20-something years. And her siblings agreed to be interviewed in detail for the first time ever on the case. I built a bond with them having been from the same area. They trusted me with their story.
My kids are 26 and 23. You worry about them when they go off to college. Here she is, leaving a graduation party for her boyfriend, and fifty feet from the front door of her home she’s viciously attacked by a guy with a baseball bat and dragged into a car, then an alley, assaulted and left for dead. It was a situation where the detectives just wouldn’t let it go.”
5280: You’ve been digging into murders and vicious crimes for essentially your whole career. Does it have a personal impact on you?
CH: “I think you have to put your personal issues aside and go cover the story. I’ve been always fortunate—I have the ability to set it aside and play a game of tennis, catch a fish, or ski down a mountain or go to a football game. You can’t let it envelop you. You have to live in the moment when you do it and then let it go. It’s all sealed under a very strong cement cap.”
5280: What is your major takeaway after covering these two cases in detail?
CH: “These two cases are arguably two of the most fascinating from this season. It is still amazing to me that something so diabolical could happen in the landscape of the beautiful mountains of Boulder, Colorado. It’s a reminder that while people feel very safe everywhere, people also lurk everywhere.”