Law and Order

DA Investigator John Munch (born July 31, 1951) was a Detective and later a Sergeant assigned to Manhattan's Special Victims Unit. He was previously affiliated with the Baltimore Police Department. As of Season 15, he is retired from the NYPD and is a DA Investigator.

Early Life

Very little is known about John Munch, and over the years, he has tried to keep it that way. What is known is that his childhood was not a happy one. He and his brother (who now works as a mortician) were physically abused by their father, who was apparently bipolar. One night, after getting a beating "for being a wiseass", John told his father that he hated his guts. That was the last thing he ever said to his father; the elder Munch killed himself with a gunshot to the head shortly after. (SVU: "Painless") As if that wasn't traumatic enough, when he was in high school, Munch began to see a little girl watching him from the porch across the street from his house, always looking at him with an expression that he didn't recognize. He became accustomed to seeing her every afternoon when he got home from school, but then, one afternoon, she stopped appearing; the girl's mother had killed her by shoving her through a plate-glass window (SVU: "Legacy").

On the episode of Homicide: Life on the Streets titled "Kaddish", Munch's high school years are depicted with nostalgic flashbacks to the 1960s. Throughout high school, he was bullied for being "a little geek" by a popular jock guy. Munch liked a popular girl in his class, Helen Rosenthal, and even puts himself in harm's way to defend her from her possessive boyfriend (getting himself knocked out in the process), but Helen only regards Munch as a close friend and never loves him back. Munch is shown watching television with his little brother (who is dressed as a cowboy and says it's his future career). Munch declares that he'll be a detective someday. Helen Rosenthal, as an adult, is raped and murdered, which takes a toll on Munch as he has to interview the now grown-up guys who used to bully him. Munch also has to witness Helen's dead body.

In the sixties, Munch went through a free-love hippie phase. One of his girlfriends during that period photographed him naked one night; that girlfriend later became a successful artistic photographer, and in the 1990s the photo ended up in a public exhibition, much to his chagrin.


As an adult, Munch became a homicide detective in Baltimore. During his time, he met his first wife, Gwen, who was mentally unstable. Munch loved her, but she refused to take medication and wouldn't see a therapist, and finally, her mental illness became too much of a strain and they divorced. Little is known about the second and third marriage, but he eventually married a final time, to Billie Lou, a bartender at the Waterfront Bar, which Munch owned with fellow detectives Tim Bayliss and Meldrick Lewis. However, by late 1999, the couple had broken up after Billie Lou (supposedly) slept with another officer from the Baltimore P.D. and was in the process of getting divorced. Sometime before his fourth marriage, he and his fellow officers met Lennie Briscoe and Reynaldo Curtis, who had come to investigate a murder that had happened in New York, but whose roots appeared to trace back to Baltimore. Munch disliked Briscoe at first because Briscoe had slept with Gwen (L&O:"Baby, It's You"). However, in time, they became good friends and would team up several more times.

During a raid on a suspected child molester and murderer, he witnesses three of his fellow detectives - Stanley Bolander, Beau Felton, and Kay Howard - get shot while the criminal escaped without a scratch. It was originally assumed the child molester shot them, but he was eventually cleared. The real shooter, Gordon Pratt, was eventually found and Munch's colleagues interrogated him but were forced to let him go. When Pratt was murdered, Tim Bayliss was assigned to find his killer, much to the chagrin of his colleagues. Everyone gave alibis for the time of the murder, including Munch, but Munch's alibi was later proven to be false. Munch dared Bayliss to check his service weapon for ballistics, but Bayliss covered for Munch and let the case go unsolved. It is left ambiguous whether Munch had anything to do with Pratt's death.

While in the Baltimore Homicide Unit, on three crossover episodes with Homicide, he and Lennie Briscoe got along well. He also had many partners in the unit: (first to last) Stanley Bolander (retired), Megan Russert (quit), Mike Kellerman (quit) and Tim Bayliss (quit). Russert quit because she moved in with a French diplomat because she was carrying his baby. Mike Kellerman killed a drug lord out of revenge and he quit so other officers involved could keep their jobs. Tim Bayliss killed a serial killer and took a leave of absence; it was implied he killed himself in Homicide: The Movie. In that film, Munch's former boss, Lt. Al Giardello, is shot and killed, so Munch comes back to aid into the investigation. He has a minor role in the movie.

Munch in 2008


Munch took early retirement from the Baltimore P.D. in 1999 and moved to New York, swearing he would never set foot in Baltimore again. While living off his pension from Baltimore, Munch joined the NYPD and was assigned to the Manhattan Special Victims Unit. He has had four partners there over the years: Brian Cassidy, Monique Jeffries, Odafin Tutuola and Nick Amaro. He is especially close to Tutuola, frequently engaging him in good-natured banter. At one point, he was annoyed Fin never told him of his son. (SVU: "Counterfeit").

In 2006 his uncle Andrew (played by Jerry Lewis) re-entered his life in New York City, after being found sleeping on a grate. Munch thought his uncle was in Florida at a nursing home and had no idea that he was homeless. While in the squad room Andrew overheard Dani Beck talking to a rape victim. When that case was thrown out for improper procedure Andrew followed the suspect along with Stabler and Beck, and pushed the man onto the tracks of an oncoming subway car. Horrified by his own actions, Andrew said goodbye to Munch, and then had himself committed to a mental facility. (SVU: "Uncle")

More recently, Munch was reunited with Gwen when he discovered that she'd been communicating with a dangerous paranoiac named Peter Harrison. When Harrison's lawyer was murdered during his arrest, the NYPD rounded up everyone else who'd been in regular contact with him, including Gwen. Gwen was infuriated by this and, believing that Munch had sold her out, told him she never wanted to see him again. ("Zebras")

Munch bidding farewell to Captain Cragen

In Season 13, Munch is seen mostly in the precinct helping with interrogations and research, as Tutuola is partnered with Detective Amanda Rollins. He continues to act as squad commander when Captain Donald Cragen is absent. In Season 14, Munch is temporarily reassigned to the Cold Case Unit, after solving a decade-old cold child abduction case in the episode, "Manhattan Vigil". He returns to SVU in the episode "Secrets Exhumed", in which he brings back a 1980's rape-homicide cold case for the squad to look into. He decides to quit the police force after Jolene Castille, a racist murderer he had helped to arrest, goes free; he is shaken by the injustice he witnesses in the legal system, and decides he can no longer be a part of it. ("American Tragedy") He retires from the NYPD to be a DA investigator. A party is held at his honor, with two of his ex-wives, some of his Baltimore coworkers, and his brother in attendance. ("Wonderland Story".)

He returns to help the SVU, when Nick is arrested for the violent assault of a suspected pedophile, Simon Wilkes. Munch pays Nick's bail and offers him advice on the case. Munch later pays a visit to SVU where he shares a good laugh with Olivia on the circumstances. ("Spring Awakening")

Munch later helps in a case that they were struggling. He and Fin interview one of the employees but she gives them very little info. After the case is complete, he babysat Noah Porter-Benson for Olivia. The two spoke about their views of SVU, before they part on good terms. ("Fashionable Crimes")


  • Munch is a huge conspiracy theorist, much to the dismay of many of his fellow detectives, who frequently ignore his ramblings or tune him out. In real life, Richard Belzer has written and published numerous conspiracy theory books.
  • Munch is the only character carried over from another non-Dick Wolf franchise, Homicide: Life on the Street (Peter Stone was carried over from Chicago Justice, a show in the Dick Wolf created Chicago franchise).
  • As revealed in the SVU episodes "Care" and "Perverted", Munch is Jewish.
  • Munch is a fan of the British television show Doctor Who (SVU: "Perverted").
  • In addition to English, Munch speaks Yiddish, Hebrew, Russian, and Greek.
  • Munch is the first detective in Manhattan SVU to be promoted to Sergeant.
  • According to SVU: "Taken", John has a brother who works as a mortician.
  • Has four ex-wives. According to "Zebras", he keeps in contact with one of them, Gwen. In one episode, it is implied that at least one of them may have been Italian. After seeing Detective Amaro's wife angry, he commented, "That's why I stopped marrying Italian women."
  • Although Sergeant Munch does not have much supervisory authority over the other Detectives, in the real NYPD a Sergeant normally is a squad supervisor. Munch mentions that he only took the Sergeant's exam on a dare and did not really want the supervisory responsibility, even when he took over while Cragen was on leave and said that the job "sucks".
  • Munch took the Sergeant's exam on a bar bet (SVU: "Alternate"). He had originally planned to take it in 1996, but failed to show up when he could not find his lucky socks that morning (Homicide: Life on the Street - "Fire").
  • Munch is Romanian. (SVU: "Legacy")
  • Munch is based on Sgt. Jay Landsman from the true crime book Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets written by David Simon which is also what Homicide Life on the Street is based on. Also, two of Munch's four partners on that show were based on real homicide cops: Det. Stanley Bolander (based on Det. Donald "Big Man" Wordon) and Det. Tim Bayliss (loosely based on Det. Tom Pellegrini, who worked under the command of Sgt. Landsman. Though it seems as if Landsman is far more crazy (insulting a prostitute on the street is fun for Landsman). Munch eventually was on The Wire, an HBO show in which the creator wrote A Year on the Killing Streets, and one character was called Sgt. Jay Landsman.
  • Munch joined the homicide unit in 1983.
  • If Munch spent 16 years as a homicide detective out of his 20-year bid with the department that means Munch only spent four years in another division.
  • Munch has stated that he would never step back into Baltimore. The only time we see him in Baltimore is when he returns to help find the shooter (and future murderer) of his former Lieutenant AL Giardello.
  • Munch regards Detective Olivia Benson as a dear friend, although they don't work many cases together; in the episode "Spring Awakening" he visits her at the office, hugging her and telling her that he missed her most of all after his retirement. He also babysits her adopted son Noah on one occasion.
  • It is revealed in Canadian author Rebecca McNutt's novel Shoot the Drag: the Fourth Smog City Novel that the main character, Mandy Valems, says that Munch is her favorite fictional character. Rebecca McNutt has also stated on her Goodreads "Ask the Author" profile section that "Homicide: Life on the Streets just wouldn't be the same without Richard Belzer playing the role of Detective John Munch."
  • Munch is the first main character on SVU to have been played by more than one actor, though that was when his teenage years were depicted in Homicide: Life on the Street. The second would be Elliot Stabler who would be portrayed as a child by James Lynch starting the second season of Law & Order: Organized Crime.
  • Just like Munch's father, Richard Belzer's real-life father and later his brother both committed suicide.


Icon SVU.jpg Law & Order: Special Victims Unit - Main Characters

Senior Detectives: Elliot StablerJohn MunchOdafin TutuolaOlivia BensonAmanda Rollins

Junior Detectives: Olivia BensonMonique JeffriesOdafin TutuolaChester LakeAmanda RollinsNick AmaroDominick Carisi, Jr.Katriona TaminJoe Velasco

Squad Supervisors: John MunchOlivia BensonOdafin Tutuola

Commanding Officers: Donald CragenOlivia BensonChristian Garland

Assistant District Attorneys: Alexandra CabotCasey NovakKim GreylekRafael BarbaPeter StoneDominick Carisi, Jr.

Others: Melinda WarnerGeorge Huang