The Body Farm · Jill Harth vs. Trump · Dryden, NY vs. fate

Plus Andy Mills, an upstate fugitive, and a poll

To say I “enjoyed” reading Molly Osberg’s piece in Jezebel about Andy Mills, the Caliphate contretemps, and “who is allowed to fail” isn’t quite accurate. But there’s something so captivating about what Osberg incisively describes as “the somewhat complicated circumstances under which journalists atone for shoddy work” — particularly in the true-crime space. Not that other journalism sectors aren’t dealing with 1) high stakes and 2) bottom-line concerns in the corporate offices that don’t make thorough ethical accountings very tempting. But it seems to this reviewer like there’s more than one double standard at work here: there’s the fact that women get raked across the coals in situations like this, while men get reassigned; and there’s the sense too that true crime is both too unserious and too golden a goose to qualify for harsh scrutiny. And apparently there’s a double standard when it comes to podcasting as a medium, too:

A few years later, these frustrations are being reanimated as women who’ve say they’ve experienced misogyny from the producer see a counter-intuitive message in how the Times has handled Caliphate: That the people who make audio journalism happen aren’t held to as high a standard as other reporters, and that when certain people make mistakes, they won’t be held to meaningful account.

I’d recommend not just the piece but the comments, in which various Jezebellians note, among other things, that Callimachi’s reporting has been “LONG known” as “credulous,” and that the Pulitzer creates situations like this and the Rolling Stone article on UVa. — SDB


Bill Jones, embattled supervisor of a small town in New York State, disappeared in 1997…and got picked up in December of last year. Per Ed Shanahan’s write-up in The New York Times, Jones

was convicted of official misconduct and a gun charge, went into hiding twice to avoid arrest, spent time in jail and was ultimately stripped of his office.

Scheduled for sentencing on the gun charge in October 1997, he ran off again. This time, the vanishing act succeeded. The trail went cold and it stayed that way.

Well, until Jones, shambling along a roadside in Ohio, got stopped by a statie and couldn’t provide photo ID.

This is, I think, an instructive read in the genre: it’s a reasonably quick read with straight-ahead prose; at the same time, it’s got good detail, or really the right detail, just enough to give you a sense of the story’s people (Jones’s longtime companion, a Lucy Wilck, is described by a local as “grumpy,” and started a mastiff-breeding business, and that’s all Shanahan needs to tell us — now we know her). There are golf balls. There are pigs. There are much more horrifying crimes that tie in tangentially.

We get used to true-crime stories arriving in certain packaging at certain lengths, in certain places — the Netflix four-parter, the Vanity Fair piece that was too short at 7K words and too long at 320 pages in hardcover. This one doesn’t present quite like your garden-variety longread, but everything you need is in it. — SDB


Speaking of both Vanity Fair and traditional longreads, here’s a two-fer from E. Jean Carroll, starting with a “maybe if you’d listened to me, or anyone else he assaulted, Trump wouldn’t have soaked the nation’s carpets in the cat piss of his ‘personality’” piece from a couple weeks back. Okay, that’s not accurate, although Carroll does make that point — several times, not unfairly — but it’s really the story of Jill Harth, with an update on Carroll’s lawsuit against Trump thrown in:

Reader, what are the odds that one woman who is suing Trump is sitting in a mauve boudoir drinking a margarita and interviewing another woman who has sued Trump? Pretty good, it turns out. 

So I will just nip in here a minute and shove in an update of my own Trump lawsuit, though I never know how much you want to hear—too many particulars and you wander off to snack in front of the refrigerator, too few, and you’re flummoxed. 

I don’t think I was aware that Carroll was the new Dominick Dunne, but now that it’s in my head, I kind of like the idea! Her prose has a stagey mid-century quality to it, like Dunne’s, although Carroll’s is awkward in a different way, pepperier and more self-effacing; like Dunne’s, she’s good at shaping her “characters” in the way she renders the quotations. Harth’s story is exhausting, of course (not least for Harth), but it has some highlights (she tells his team his makeup looks like shit) along with the lowlights (the description of their consensual encounter is…not vague enough).

E. Jean Carroll Piece No. 2 for today is one I found in Best American Crime Writing 2002, which the Daily Beast got permission to reprint from Spin. It’s about Dryden, NY — the town in ID limited series Village of the Damned — and while I liked that series quite well, the article is more effective in the way it concatenates the ongoing horrors that keep visiting this town and a few families in particular. The cooperation Carroll gets from subjects is really quite something, too. And here’s that quotation-shaping again:

“I’ll never get over it,” says Tiffany. “As a female, it’s the most terrifying thing to imagine happening to you. Sixteen! They are 16! Young women are so protective of their bodies, about being touched… and then the way they’re killed is so bad. And the question we keep asking is: Why does it keep happening to us, our town, our group of people?”

This is how good writers get across what non-writers mean, sometimes — that it’s not the words, it’s the rhythm. — SDB


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And not for nothing, but Valentine’s Day approacheth, and if your val- or pal-entine isn’t a flowers/candy sort, why not give them the gift of the true crime that’s worth everyone’s time? Non-perishable and responsive to all mutations.

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And frankly, I would pay for a decent segue from gift subs to body-farm donations, because I can’t come up with one, so let’s just get into it, I guess? C.M. Frankie has a look at probably the best-known one, the eponymous facility at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, in an A&E Real Crime blog post from last weekend. If you’re like me and 1) find the body-farm concept fascinating, but struggle to find truly good writing about it, AND 2) also struggle with spatial/distance relationships and how big an acre or a hectare is, Frankie’s piece may have something for you. You’re not going to think the prose is Casey Cep or anything, but I learned that the Body Farm is merely two acres. I had it in my mind for years and years as, like, basically a park, but with corpses — and it is, but I grew up on an acre and a quarter. A nice gig for a kid (thanks, Ma and Dad) but if you stood out by the property line in the back, you could see 90 percent of the lot, and we weren’t trying to place dozens of bodies in various outdoor situations for study.

The Farm receives about a hundred bodies a year — and it’s not like “participants” only “work” for a few days or on one study:

On any given day, FAC team members could be on the phone with living donors or receiving deceased ones. Researchers take photographs, enter details like height and weight into a massive database then transfer donors to the Anthropology Research Facility.

Bodies are used for multiple studies and could be placed out in the open, buried, covered with plastic or put inside a car, for example. 

Again, I knew all this, but now I’m preoccupied with the spreadsheet that must exist for spacing out the bodies, and do researchers have, like, phone alarms that tell them it’s time to pop the trunk on the LeSabre and see how Mr. Bixby’s getting along? Has an experiment ever ended because someone* tripped over Mrs. Towne and disturbed the insect life cycle?

*obviously I would do this and get fired on Day 1

I don’t think I knew about the Bass Donated Skeletal Collection, and this quote from Forensic Anthropology Center associate director Lee Jantz got me for some reason: “I really wanted to work…to help families and individuals who died alone come back together.”

…Oh, right. That reason. Wear your masks, y’all. — SDB


It’s time to pick the next review book…but I have a spreadsheet of my own, of “cold case” properties I need to get to at some point, so this month, let’s try something a little different. I’ve had a random number generator select five of the 180+ books, cases, docs, etc. in my spreadsheet; you tell me which one to review!

Vote now!

Possibilities include:

  • Appropriate Adult, a Beeb two-parter about Fred and Rosemary West (sort of)

  • Savage Grace, about Barbara Baekeland and a “famous scandal from the 1970s,” starring Julianne Moore and Freckles Redmayne

  • The Lost Boys of Bucks County, about July 2017 disappearances in PA; the miniseries is from ID, so, crapshoot

  • Capone (not the weird-ass thing Margaret survived last year; the 1975 one with Ben Gazzara)

  • and The Hot One, Carolyn Murnick’s crimoir from 2018

Pick me a good one! You invariably do. — SDB


Thursday on Best Evidence: Eve’ll pick you some good ones, as she invariably does. Plus maybe my preview of The Lady and The Dale (preview of the preview: it’s good, watch it).


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