Plus new podcasts and definition creep
If 2016 seems for you, as it does for me, like another life/dimension and not merely six years ago, you might need a refresher on the pertinent facts in Angelina Jolie’s lawsuit against the FBI. “Angelina Jolie’s what now?” I had the same reaction, and I’d like to thank this BuzzFeed headline for its thoroughness: “A Previously Anonymous FBI Lawsuit Filed By Angelina Jolie Has Shed New Light On The Alleged Airplane Incident Believed To Have Caused [Her And Brad Pitt’s] Divorce In 2016.” The lawsuit gets into more detail than previous accounts of the dust-up (which you should read with care for yourselves; it’s an ugly scene), and apparently Jolie filed it because FOIA requests didn’t go anywhere.
The FBI also investigated the anonymous report about Pitt’s alleged behavior on the flight in 2016, and closed their case later that year. (You may also have joined me in wondering why the feds got involved in a child-welfare case; as the BuzzFeed piece explains, they have “jurisdiction in the air.”) It doesn’t seem like Jolie takes exception to the disposition of the case per se, but rather that she wants access to the files on it. From The Cut:
Jolie filed her anonymous lawsuit in order to “better understand the FBI’s investigation and obtain information necessary for her children to receive medical care and trauma counseling.” In the suit, which Jolie kept anonymous to protect her children from the “physical and mental health risks” of public exposure, Jolie alleged that the FBI had “publicly announced” it was closing its investigation into Pitt without notifying her of its decision to do so.
Maybe someone with a better background in family law, or just someone who’s getting more hours of sleep a night than I, can help me out here: what would the FBI’s case files contain that Jolie, 1) a witness/complainant who was present and 2) the custodial parent of all six of her children with Pitt, would not already know or could not get by…asking? I understand memory isn’t always reliable, I understand not wanting to re-traumatize a child or appear to interfere with their relationship with Pitt, and the rationale may strike me as perhaps specious given the legal wrangling that basically hasn’t stopped since Jolie filed for divorce — but she’s absolutely right on the larger point. Again from The Cut’s coverage:
Amanda Kramer, the attorney who originally filed the suit, told the outlet in April that “victims and survivors should be able to access federal agency records of crimes they experienced or reported, as is common at the state level, so they can advocate for health and trauma care and legal protections for their children and themselves.”
Honestly, if this makes it easier for survivors of intimate-partner violence to protect themselves and their families and make protective action stick, who cares what Jolie’s reasoning is…but if her reasoning is in fact that she can embarrass the FBI and her ex-husband with a nuclear-option lawsuit, and she loses on that basis, that’s maybe not so helpful. (My understanding, based on other matters, is that federal judges’ tolerance for “frivolous” filings is much lower, and their willingness to ding plaintiffs they see as wasting the court’s time with fines much higher, but again, my law degree is from Law & Order Rerun U.)
Interested to hear y’all’s thoughts…
…and let the B.E. comments be the only ones you read on articles about this, because I made the mistake of looking at one publication’s, and it was like a men’s-rights meeting after last call. — SDB
It’s hard for me to believe we didn’t link to Sarah Weinman’s longread on the 1955 murder of playboy scammer and Napoleon stan Serge Rubinstein when it came out two years ago — but Substack search remains un-great, and I couldn’t find it by other means, so: behold, “Serge Rubinstein And The Scourge Of Bad Men.” Weinman takes almost no time to locate you in midcentury New York. Just the name of the nightclub takes you right back to rotary dials and pants worn high; you can almost hear the rustle of tulle. Here’s a snip:
He'd gone out with a date at Nino's La Rue, a nightclub around the corner, until two in the morning. There were photographs of him and the woman dancing together to prove it. A phone call to a different woman immediately upon returning home, sometime after 3 AM. Then the butler found him dead just after 8:30 AM. Rubinstein's killer or killers had come in, done their work, and exited, like the ghosts they knew they would remain.
Weinman became “completely obsessed,” back in the mid-aughts, with forcing those ghosts to manifest, and few people do a research-process story better. And the graphics, [chef’s kiss].
But what caught my eye about the story initially is Weinman’s tweet about it, and about the title of her latest, Scoundrel, a “word [that] is much more of a pejorative than people realize.” It does seem like “scoundrel” has slid closer over the years to “scamp,” or “rogue” — a winking, politically incorrect, Connery-Bond type whose grab-assing is benign and consented to. As well, there’s an old-timey-ness to “scoundrel” and “rascal,” a sanitizing distance that lets us sepia-wash beloved figures of the past.
In a semi-parallel, the entertainment press has come to content itself with describing the serial predations of people like Jeffrey Epstein and Bill Cosby as “scandals”…which they are, in a sense, but as I noted in a reply from my Exhibit B. account, words have meanings, and I think “drugged dozens of women and assaulted them” or “arranged for sexual congress with minor children” should not dwell under the same fizzy umbrella as, like, nip slips, or misappropriating a congressman’s petty cash to buy scratch-off tickets. — SDB
Exhibit B. doesn’t have any Rubinstein-only inventory at the moment — but I do have a compendium that includes him, and that’s on sale through 8/25 with code ExBTS22 at checkout. I’ve also got some signed Scoundrels.
And if you’d like to spend some of the money you’ve saved on a paid subscription, it’s just $5 a month! Over three years of archives, and there’s a long weekend coming up — drop a fiver and spend the end of summer reading.
If you need that fiver to buy gas, we get it; thanks for coming by, and most of our content will remain free — bring a friend, won’t you? — SDB
If you’re looking for a wiki-hole to vanish down, NatGeo’s piece from last year on the provenance of stolen French diamond “the Blue” — which became the notorious Hope diamond post-cutdown — is a sparkly one. Unfortunately, that piece describing the Blue/Hope’s status as the O.G., very literal conflict diamond is behind the subscribers’ paywall, so you may need to start the Chrome-tab-proliferation process with this video from L’École School of Jewelry Arts,
or this timeline from PBS.org. When you come out at Evalyn Walsh McLean, wave hello, hydrate, then turn left into the Lindbergh case. — SDB
Need a few podcast recs for that end-of-summer road trip? Let’s see if there’s anything on this short list that fits the bill.
Le Monstre “takes a look at a real life monster: serial killer, pedophile, and kidnapper Marc Dutroux, who later became known as ‘Le Monstre’” for his Belgian reign of terror in the eighties and nineties. That podcast drops August 23.
I’ve got Conning The Con on my list thanks to Sarah Carradine at Crime Seen. Two sisters, Emma and yet another Sarah, team up to investigate the rom-con who’s seducing Emma.
Nick Quah recommended Crooked City. “From Marc Smerling, the creator of Crimetown and The Jinx, welcome to CROOKED CITY. The Saturday Evening Post dubbed Youngstown, Ohio ‘Crimetown U.S.A.’ It was a mob town.” It also may have been tied to the Cleveland torso case; not sure if CC goes there, so if you listen, let me know. Quah’s newsletter from yesterday also tipped me to…
“An all-new investigative podcast hosted by world-renowned literary critic and publishing insider Bethanne Patrick. Across its eight-episode debut season, Missing Pages uncovers the power struggles, mistaken identities, and unfathomably bad behavior within the secretive world of book publishing. Each episode brings in authors, experts, publishing insiders, and a circus of NYC media elites to tell the real story; unfit for print.” How true-crimey it is may depend on how dimly you view plagiarism stories, but Quah notes that there’s coverage of the Penguin/S&S antitrust proceeding, which probably counts. — SDB
Per Wikipedia’s Mary Rogers page,
Rogers was a noted beauty who worked in a New York tobacco store, which attracted the custom of many distinguished men, clearly on her account. When her body was found in the Hudson River, she was assumed to have been the victim of gang violence. However, one witness swore that she was dumped after a failed abortion attempt, and her boyfriend's suicide note suggested possible involvement on his part. Rogers' death remains unexplained.
The Beautiful Cigar Girl: Mary Rogers, Edgar Allan Poe, and the Invention of Murder is a surprisingly sprightly read given the pressure that subtitle is inevitably going to put on author Daniel Stashower. A murder case that, as Bill James asserts in Popular Crime, played a role in “the re-organization of the New York police department,” “the history of the detective story,” the history of journalism, and abortion law…despite never seeing an arrest made or solution arrived at; a titan of American letters, whose fictionalized version of the case underwent 11th-hour revisions between installments to keep pace with new theories; that every “it’s a lot” aspect we do have information on is matched by a space where evidence belongs, but it doesn’t exist…it’s a big job.
It’s an even bigger job to try to keep it from getting too big, I imagine — to resist the urge to Robert Caro the story, issuing a doorstop-sized installment every few years and hoping you don’t die before Poe does in your outline. Stashower gets it done in 366 pages in the paperback edition, and structures the chapters smartly, moving back and forth between the historical case timeline and Poe’s movements up and down the eastern seaboard (and in and out of favor with the literary/publishing establishment of the time — mostly out). There’s solid, immersive contextual description, but Stashower doesn’t get bogged down in any one section of the history, or stubbornly bog himself down all “I ruined my eyesight in the Inquirer archives and goddammit the info’s staying in the book.”
But it doesn’t feel rushed or shallow, either; I dog-eared a bunch of pages to wallow in their tantalizing deep-cut references later, but Stashower stays on task without seeming to miss anything. It did feel as I was reading like he might have treated Poe’s marriage to his very young first cousin Virginia more sternly, but when I went back to that section, I did get a sense that Stashower had decided to let the off-putting facts speak for themselves (and other scholars speak on them in more detail, probably). The Beautiful Cigar Girl is nicely paced and informative, and makes that look far easier than it must have been, although Stashower’s previous work includes a bio of Arthur Conan Doyle, and after the obstacle course that subject must have presented, Poe’s relationship with this single murder may have seemed like child’s play by comparison.
Stashower doesn’t present a definitive theory or solution to the crime, and the one proposed by Will Clemens in Era Magazine via James — the latter of whom I think is mistaken on a couple of aspects of the case on the New Jersey side of the river, as it happens — isn’t really discussed, so a solve-minded reader may not enjoy the book as much, but it’s process-y as hell without getting too granular, and I recommend it. — SDB
Friday on Best Evidence: TikTok clapbacks.