Born and raised in New York City’s Lower East Side, John Munch is Jewish, but not active in his religion. He has a brother, Bernie, who owns a funeral parlor, and a cousin, Lee, who was once the accountant for the Waterfront bar that Munch and fellow Homicide detectives owned in Baltimore. His relationship with his brother is sporadic, and when his parents were alive, his relationship with them was tenuous, at best.
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. 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 poor girl had been killed by her abusive mother, who had shoved her through a plate-glass window.
As a teenager in the heady late 1960s, Munch dabbled in drugs and alcohol. Eventually, in his late teens/early 20s, he became a junkie. He lived on the streets at points and this only worsened things with his parents. He met the first (and perhaps only) love of his life, a coke-addicted woman named Arabel. It was a drug-fueled affair, with inflated highs and rock-bottom lows, but John truly believed he was in love with her. Over several years, she would come and go in his life. She was the woman he’d try to find in every other woman afterward. Their affair came to a halt when she overdosed during one of their binges.
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 1990's the photo ended up in a public exhibition, much to his chagrin.
His 20s were nearly over and he had nothing to show for it. He sobered up and married his first wife, Gwen. She is perhaps the only other woman besides Arabel that he really, truly regrets not being able to make things work with. He was too newly sober and she too young for it to have worked.
The end of his marriage and the struggle to stay clean in the City that had broken his heart so many times caused John to relocate to Baltimore. Soon after moving there, he became a police officer with the Baltimore PD. It was the start of a long, still continuing police career that would take him from running papers as a uniform to the gritty streets of Baltimore, and back to New York City, which was no less grim than when he’d left it.
In 1989, Detective Munch investigated the breaking and entering of a warehouse in Fells Point Industrial Park. He interrogated John Fitzgerald Byers and learned of the events that had occurred at the Baltimore Convention Center involving Susanne Modeski, John Fitzgerald Byers,Richard Langly, Melvin Frohike, and FBI Special Agent Fox Mulder. Byers, Langly, and Frohike were arrested for the trespassing, Modeski disappeared, and Agent Mulder was taken into custody by the FBI. When Mulder was released from the FBI's restraints, he ordered Munch to let Frohike, Langly, and Byers out of their holding cells and they were freed.
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 after his fourth marriage collapsed, 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 his ex-wife Gwen. However, in time, they became good friends and would team up two more times.
Munch took early retirement from the Baltimore P.D. in 1999 and moved to New York, swearing he would never step 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 three partners there over the years: Brian Cassidy, Monique Jeffries, and Odafin Tutuola.
In 2006 his uncle Andrew 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.
While in Baltimore Homicide Unit, he and Lennie Briscoe of NYPD got along well. Also in the unit he had many partners: (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 absense it was implied he killed himself in "Homicide: the movie". In "Homicide: The Movie" his former boss, Lt. Al Giardello is shot and killed so he comes back to aid into the investigation. He has a minor role in the movie. Though he was partnered with 20 year veteran Stanley "The Big Man" Bolander.
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 is seen mostly in the precinct helping with interrogations and research, as Tutuola is partnered with Detective Rollins. He continues to act as squad commander when Cragen is absent. Munch was temporarily reassigned to the Cold Case Unit, after solving a decade old cold child abduction case. He returns to SV in which he brings back a 1980's rape-homicide cold case for the squad to look into.
Munch is an odd mix of street smarts and compassion. On the one hand, he uses personal experience to help others (such as in the case of Amy Solwey). He reaches out to unlikely people, such as Solwey, herself a suspect, and the drug-addicted woman who’d lost custody of her child. A lot of times, however, the personal interaction parts of cases are left to the more “sensitive” detectives, while Munch and his partner Fin are the ones doing the leg work—tracking down perps, etc.
Munch is an avid conspiracy theorist, often heard talking about “the black helicopters” and other ways the government is allegedly watching over people. He likes dogs but thinks that cats are “demonic fur balls.” In addition, he is a world-class smartass. Most of his sarcasm comes in the form of retorting to something his partner has said or something a perp has uttered.
He is a germphobe and a hypochondriac, who has been known to call in sick with diseases he doesn’t actually have. He has a habit of picking the wrong women, marrying them and then divorcing them. He often dwells on his past and usually blames himself for the things that are wrong in his life. Also, he tends to often mask how he is really feeling with sarcasm or occasionally anger.
Munch is notable for being able to dimensionally jump from various of the Omniverse, as dreamed by Tommy Westphall. It is unknown if he is aware of this power, or even if he is directing it, or if it simply happens. He has never made reference to the oddness of it.
- Homicide: Life on the Street
- Homicide: The Movie
- Law & Order
- Law & Order: Special Victims Unit
- Law & Order: Trial by Jury
- The Wire
- The X Files
- The Beat
- Arrested Development
- Sesame Street
- 30 Rock
- 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.
- Munch is the only character to have appeared on every department of Law & Order (except Law & Order: Criminal Intent), and also the only one carried over from another city.
- Munch is Jewish.
- In addition to English, Munch speaks Yiddish, Hebrew, Russian, and Greek.
- Munch is the first detective in Manhattan SVU to be promoted to Sergeant.
- John has a brother who works as a mortician.
- Has 4 ex-wives. He keeps in contact with one of them, Gwen. 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 a Sergeant Munch does not have much supervisory 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.
- Munch took the Sergeant's exam on a bar bet. He had originally planned to take it in 1996, but failed to show up when he could not find his lucky socks that morning.
- Munch's brother is named Bernard.
- Munch is Romanian.
- Munch's father killed himself hours after Munch told him he hated him and he regretted it ever since.
- He had a crush on Helen Rosenthal who turned out to be a rape/murder victim. Leading Munch to pick up the rapist that killed her and chuck him around in a cell yelling. "WHY DID YOU KILL HELEN ROSENTHAL!!? WHY? WHY? WHY? WHY? WHY?"
- 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.