Leon Black · Attica · Soduku

'Candy' adds some coolish cast members

Jordan Belfort has tied the knot for the third time. Belfort, the central figure in the movie The Wolf of Wall Street, married girlfriend Cristina Invernizzi back in February, Page Six reports.

It’s arguably a comment on Belfort’s relevance that it took until now for anyone to hear about the Las Vegan ceremony, who he’s reportedly been with since 2019. The 59-year-old, who spent 22 months in prison for his role in a $200 million fraud scheme. He was also required to pony up $110 million in restitution but has been slow to refill those coffers, a payback complicated by a dispute over the profits from the award-winning film based on his memoir.

These days, in addition to his work as a motivational speaker, Belfort is reportedly the owner of this mezcal company and is co-owner of a cannabis company. According to page Six, the pair recently moved from Los Angeles to Miami, which made me think of this story. Aw, ain’t love grand? — EB

A post shared by Jordan Belfort (@wolfofwallst)

Was Elizabeth Moss holding Candy up? As noted earlier this month Moss just bowed out of the Hulu (not the HBO) take on the Candy Montgomery case, and that Jessica Biel would take her place. No sooner did the Mad Men to Seventh Heaven switcheroo go down that even more cast members were named: Pablo “Pornstache” Schreiber will play Alan Gore, Deadline reports, and Timothy Simons — aka Jonah from Veep, will play Pat Montgomery, Candy’s husband.

I realized as I wrote this that I was having some real trouble remembering who is in which version, so I made a spreadsheet. This is my life!

I feel an overwhelming desire to mix and match these casts. Honestly, if you have me Olsen/Simons/Rabe/Plemons, I already know this would be the series of the season, but come to think of it, why isn’t Rabe playing Candy? Doesn’t that just feel right?

So far, neither show has announced a release date, so who knows, more shuffles could be in store. Until then, feel free to rearrange these castmates into a permutation you’d prefer, and drop it in the comments. — EB

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Sudoku has taken out a juror in the Theranos case. The fraud trial for Elizabeth Holmes, which is underway in San Jose, CA, lost a third juror last week for — this is not a joke — playing soduku during the trial.

Again, I am not making this up. As you might recall, one juror has already been dismissed when the realized that she would have to make a decision that might send someone to jail, which she says is against her faith as a Buddhist. A second juror departed over financial hardship — a reasonable issue, given the length of the trial (seven weeks and counting).

Now, reports CNBC, U.S. District Court Judge Edward Davila questioned a juror in chambers after “he received an email from a juror” about the puzzle playing in the courtroom. Here’s a snip:

According to a court transcript the juror kept Sudoku in her court-issued notebook and played it for around seven to ten days of testimony.

“Were you playing this Sudoku?” U.S. District Court Judge Edward Davila asked juror No. 5 while in chambers.

“I do have Sudoku, but it doesn’t interfere with me listening,” the juror said. “I’m very fidgety, so I need to do something with my hands. So at home I’ll crochet while I’m watching or listening to T.V.”

In chambers, Davila asked the juror: “So has this distracted you from listening?”

“No,” the juror said.

“Have you been able to follow and retain everything that is going on in the courtroom?” Davila asked. “Oh, yeah, definitely,” the juror said.

The prosecution hasn’t even finished with its witness list yet, so we still have a ways to go with this trial — and now, the jury consists of eight men and four women, with only two alternates left. Analysis are already suggesting that the diminished jury might help pave the way for a retrial, depending on the outcome of the case. If so, they’d have to do this thing all over again — a repeat that would have many of us reaching for something far stronger than a puzzle book. — EB

A new documentary on one of the best-known moments in prisoner rights drops late next week. Documentarian and MacArthur “Genius” Fellow Stanley Nelson directed the doc, which premieres on Showtime on November 6. Here’s the description from the release:

In 1971, tensions between inmates and guards at the Attica Correctional Facility come to a head in the early hours of September 9 when inmates from the maximum-security prison in Upstate New York launched into the largest and bloodiest prison riot in US history. Through original interviews with former inmates, family members of the hostages, and those who witnessed the rebellion firsthand, Attica brings us back to a moment in time that resonated for decades, weaving hundreds of hours of never-before-seen, archival footage from inside the prison. The film captures the people, politics, emotions and tragedy, which continue to serve as a wake-up call about the need for prison reform and a reminder of the responsibilities of justice.

It’s not claiming to have new footage or interviews, but that might be OK — given that the events of the doc happened 50 years ago, a lot of the information presented is going to be new to a huge segment of viewers.

It doesn’t hurt that Nelson is great at what he does: this is the guy who brought us Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool, the 30 for 30 on Michael Vick, and Tulsa Burning: The 1921 Race Massacre and Crack: Cocaine, Corruption & Conspiracy, among others. This is a guy who has period content down, and who manages to package it in a way that doesn’t feel like homework. I’m intrigued. — EB

Leon Black just stuck his head out, and at what a strange event. Black, the investor who described himself as Jeffery Epstein’s “best friend,” has been pretty quiet since March, when he left the investment firm he co-founded over his ties with — and compensation of — the convicted sex offender. Last month, two women accused Black of rape (he denies the claims), with one saying the alleged assault occurred in Epstein’s Manhattan townhouse.

Vanity Fair reports this week that Black made one of his first public appearances earlier this month, at an event with one of the wildest guest lists I’ve seen lately: Michael “junk bond king” Milken, Questlove, Uma Thurman, and Steven Mnuchin were reportedly in attendance at the Milken Institute Global Conference, a Beverly Hilton conference on high finance. But even as he did, an investigation into the allegations against him continued:

Black’s attempt to return to public life is being complicated by mounting legal problems. The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office has opened a criminal investigation into Black, according to two sources briefed on the probe. Sources said prosecutors are examining allegations in court documents that Black raped and sexually assaulted the two former models. The allegations were included in former Russian model Guzel Ganieva’s civil lawsuit against Black. Ganieva and a woman identified in court documents as “Jane Doe” recently met with prosecutors to discuss their claims, one of the sources said. A spokesperson for the Manhattan D.A. declined to comment. 

A spokesperson for Black said, “We have no knowledge of any investigation of Mr. Black. As we have previously stated, Mr. Black has provided substantial documentary evidence in legal filings, including text messages and recordings, that show Ms. Ganieva’s claims to be completely false. In addition, we have been in contact with the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office and provided detailed evidence of Ms. Ganieva’s extortion of Mr. Black.” Ganieva’s lawyer, Jeanne Christensen, declined to comment specifically on the investigation, but said: “We believe in our clients and seek to hold Black accountable.” 

BNN Bloomberg has a gossipy and loose piece on the conference, which was themed “Charting a New Course.” There isn’t much true crime to be found in the story, barring the ongoing heist that is capitalism, but it’s packed with fun passages like this one:

A Washington lobbyist ran back to her hotel room to get more business cards mid-conference because she’d underestimated how many she’d need after more than a year of not using any. Carlyle Group Inc. partner Macky Tall said he wrestled with whether to fist-bump, shake hands or hug an industry colleague he hadn’t seen in two years. He settled on a hug.

For some, the event is watered down. For others, it’s a welcome return to an intimate setting among their own. Ex-Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and former Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross roamed the hallways, at ease in their natural habitat after a four-year run in the Trump administration. Ross is scavenging for deals for his own special-purpose acquisition company, the cherished toy this year for every recognizable financier.“The Stock Exchange was very nice to welcome me back with the ROSS stock symbol for my SPAC,” Ross said. “So I feel like I have a vanity license plate trading on the New York Stock Exchange.”

Blech, I need a shower. — EB

Wednesday on Best Evidence: A midweek festival of longreads.

What is this thing? This should help. Follow Best Evidence @bestevidencefyi on Twitter and Instagram. You can also call or text us any time at 919-75-CRIME.

Guilty Party · Shrink Next Door · The Arconia

Cheaters never win, but they do get podcasts

Sad news from Best Evidence’s East Coast HQ. Barbara Bunting, a cool an accomplished woman and Sarah’s mom, died this past weekend at age 78. We are diminished, as you can imagine — and for this week, at least, I’ll be your host here at BE while Sarah spends time with family. Thanks in advance for your patience, kindness, and support. — EB

Three episodes in Guilty Party, Paramount Plus’s new show about a disgraced journalist reporting a crime story, is a show with an identity crisis. 

The streaming service is billing the show as a “dark comedy,” yet it brings none of the laughs Only Murders in the Building did. At times it feels like a basic cable take on Mare of Easttown, with a messy, self-destructive heroine attempting to solve a murder, but in other moments it feels like a light critique of the white saviorism found in the true crime genre. A stronger show may have been able to carry all these threads, but, despite solid performances, Guilty Party is not that. Instead, it crumbles under the weight of all the competing narratives. 

Guilty Party stars Kate Beckinsale as Beth, a former star journalist accused of fabricating quotes. She’s now working at a web startup that publishes fluffy stories, such as “Hermione’s Hottest Looks,” not the sort of investigative work Beth wants to do. While everyone at her new job knows of Beth’s past scandal, there’s no explanation of how she was so quickly or easily able to find a new journalism gig. It’s one of many oversights that left me wondering how familiar the show’s writers are with how newsrooms actually work.

When Beth receives a letter from Toni, played by Jules Latimer, a Black woman who claims she’s in prison for a crime — killing her husband — she did not commit. At their jailhouse meeting, Beth makes it clear to Toni that she failed to do any research on her case, and Toni chooses to move forward with another reporter. The journalist responds by manipulating Toni into working with her, by falsely promising to reunite the imprisoned woman with her daughter. 

When Beth pitches the story to her young colleagues, one responds, “I don’t know … It sounds a bit ‘white savior-y’ to me.” The disgraced journalist denies the charge, but Beth — and viewers — know that she is pursuing the story to rehabilitate her image, not out a crusaders’ need to right a wrong. 

It’s this thread I wish Guilty Party spent more time and energy engaging with. If the efforts of a white journalist help to achieve justice for a wrongly imprisoned Black woman, is that justice or is it white saviorism? Does it matter that the reporter was driven by her own self-interest instead of doing the right thing? These are questions I grapple with as true crime fan and I would have loved to see a piece of art thoughtfully consider them.

Beckinsale, Latimer and Geoffrey Stults, who plays Beth’s beleaguered husband, all do their best with weak material. Latimer, in particular, shines in her first onscreen role. I’m eager to see what she does next, even if I’m not waiting with bated breath for the next episode of Guilty Party. — Elizabeth Held

I don’t know if I am ready for Paul Rudd in those glasses. Few things make me feel like best Evidence is fully established than following a project from start to finish — let alone following it through two iterations. We first discussed podcast The Shrink Next Door when it debuted back in June of 2019, where I declared it “a good gateway pod” for folks who might not otherwise be into true crime.

Since the podcast on alleged mind control/fraud from esteemed shrink Dr. Isaac Herschkopf dropped, Herschkopf has faced claims that could cost him his license and the prospect of a TV series based on his allegedly problematic treatment of textiles magnate Marty Markowitz, Herschkopf’s Hamptons neighbor.

That series — a eight-episode show on Apple+ — is all but completed, its recently released second trailer confirms, with Paul Rudd donning those wild frames as Herschkopf and Will Ferrell as Herschkopf’s patient/alleged victim Markowitz. The show, which follow a downright retro schedule of weekly episodes instead of a nice all-at-once drop, will premiere on the streaming platform on November 12. You pretty much had me at Rudd, but other cast members include Kathryn Hahn and Casey Wilson, and the director is Michael Showalter, so you know I’ll be watching. How about you? — EB

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Y’all! If Sarah and I can get a million paid subscribers for Best Evidence, we can move into the building from Only Murders in the Building! I finally found time to finish up the show over the weekend, then shot over to read Sarah’s review of the finale (which I skipped during that day’s newsletter edits — the perils of being a small operation!). “The pleasure is in the place and the people,” she wrote, and I agree — as much of the show was about real estate as it was about folks like us with an obsession with true crime and podcasting, right down to red herrings about motives around a desire to expand an apartment.

I know I am not the only person who’s been online shopping for wallpaper since the show wrapped, but now I can make my interest in the titular Building far more official. Real estate site 6sqft reports that a condo in The Belnord, the historic Upper West Side building that played the Arconia (the building in which the equally titular Murders occurred), is available for $4,495,000.

OK, so we’ll actually need more than a million paid subscribers to cover closing costs, taxes, and the HOA (unspecified in the article but I have a feeling it’s a biggie), so maybe we should drop this plan. House Beautiful has more on the building, which was purchased by its current owners in 2015 for $575 million…and has 13 floors (spooky).

If you really want to nerd out on the building you can see that $4.5 million is on the low end for the place, with a $14+ million five bedroom, seven bath currently in contract. Hmm, hard to imagine a place in a building like that on a bassoonist’s salary. — EB

We don’t expect you to pay for our luxury Manhattan condo. In fact, we don’t expect you to pay for this newsletter at all — we’re just happy to have you here! But if you’d like to ensure you get all our bonus and subscriber only content, your paid subscription is much appreciated, as it allows us to continue writing this little newsletter for you.

There’s a new podcast that’s all about cheating in school. I’ve always thought that students my age had it easy — back when we wrote papers based on books we’d find at the library, tracking down plagiarists wasn’t something most teachers were equipped to do. (To be fair, plagiarism was also harder — after all, you’d still have to go find print material to copy, then transcribe the books/articles! What a chore!)

But now, in the era of cut and paste, remote learning, and bots, there’s a whole new world of ways to scam your way through school, says The Score, a new podcast from education reporter Kathryn Baron. From the show’s logline:

The Score addresses the topics of contract cheating, essay mills, collusion, plagiarism, AI bots, and the simple ways students cheat on exams such as hiding notes or writing on their forearm, to the complex like using imposters, virtual machines, and electronic devices. Episodes also cover the for-profit cheating companies and the billion-dollar investments spawning new generations of cheating technology.

So, wait, is this podcast going to teach me how to cheat better? Because it kind of sounds like it. Two episodes are out now, and are solid and processy. If you dug the college admissions scandal beyond the Felicity Huffman/Lori Loughlin stuff and are eager to be further dismayed at the state of higher education today, this just might be the show for you. Maybe you can listen to it while you try to figure out how to pay off the last of your student loans! (Me, I plan on deferring them again and again until I die. That’s what passes for financial planning in my household, what can I say.) — EB

Tuesday on Best Evidence: Attica and Sudoku

What is this thing? This should help. Follow Best Evidence @bestevidencefyi on Twitter and Instagram. You can also call or text us any time at 919-75-CRIME.

It's the anniversary of Ann Rule's birth

The godmother of true-crime books would have turned 90 years old today. Was Ann Rule’s prose the most beautifully Capotean thing you ever read? No. Did she make the wider market for true-crime stories and rule it with a prolific fist for decades? Hell yes she did. (Should Becky Ann Baker play her in a biopic? Ohhh yes — and Baker’s BET-CRP c.v. is impressive as it is, so keep an eye out for that soon.)

So, let’s celebrate with an Ann Rule open thread. What’s the first one you read? Have you not read any? Do you think she’s the sine qua non of the genre as we understand it today, or a hack — or both?

(And do you like to save money on used books? Because Exhibit B.’s got an Ann Rule-oween sale on! Enter code RULE22 at checkout to save on all her work, her daughter’s work, any cases out of the PNW, any genre classics, and more.) — SDB

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What it's like to be a talking head on a true-crime show

Eve takes the true-crime anthology show chair

Long before the current era of so-called “prestige” true crime, there were always those standbys. Snapped. Unsolved Mysteries. America’s Most Wanted. You know the drill: narrator/host introduces the case, camera pans over photos and redacted report docs, and between those visuals someone in a chair — a cop, an “expert,” a family member of the victim, a reporter who covered the case — shares their recollections of the case. Well, in today’s Best Evidence, the person in the chair is me.

This story begins in October 2019, a date my mother would refer to (in a manner that continues to worry me) as The Before Times. A producer for Jupiter Entertainment, the company behind Fatal Attraction — not the Glenn Close movie; this is an eight-year-old domestic homicide docuseries — asked if I’d come on the show to discuss a case I’d written about in 2010.

Sarah and I were already doing Best Evidence together, and I forwarded the guy’s email to her. She encouraged me to participate, so I agreed. The plan, the producer said, was to film in the spring of 2020. So, you can guess how that turned out.

The same producer emailed me again this past May, saying that the company was slowly trying to get the show back on track. They expected to be in the Bay Area (I live in San Francisco) in the next couple months because, yay, the pandemic is practically over now! Yay, I agreed, finally life is normal again! So, you can guess how that turned out, 2.0.

At some point in the fall, Jupiter, along with the rest of us, decided to go ahead and just start doing what they/we do again. The producers sent me a packet of media coverage (including mine) of the case, as well as some court filings from the suspect’s trial and sentencing. This was super-useful, as the case was 11 years old, so when I’d googled when they first reached out, I’d gotten a lot of long-dead links. They also managed to snag some court filings I hadn’t been able to score at the time.

The producer called me while I was visiting family in Indiana, my sister’s kids taunting each other in the background. Jupiter would be in my area in October, would I be back by then? It would be two years nearly to the date of when they first reached out, and, yes, I wasn’t planning on being in Indiana forever, so we’re good. Due to safety concerns around COVID-19, though, I wouldn’t be interviewed in person — instead, I’d talk to a producer via a laptop, from a hotel conference room in Emeryville, just across the bridge from SF.

“We picked the location at the request of the victim’s family,” the producer said, which I liked hearing. I know he’s just trying to get a show made, but let’s face it: these folks would probably drive any distance to tell their mother/grandmother/sister’s story. That the show extended this small kindness to them felt like a good sign.

I pored over the packets they sent me the night before, pulling up my notes (aha! This is why I keep EVERYTHING) to confirm the many details and conversations I’d forgotten. I would have been fucked without that packet they sent, though. But if you wonder how some of these talking heads on these shows seem so well-prepared, it’s likely the folks making the series deserve some of the credit.

The next day, I freak out over what to wear (no one had told me anything about that) and if I should wear makeup (no guidance there, either) show up at the hotel, and ask the worker at the front desk where I should go. He directs me to a conference room that has “Jupiter Entertainment” on the door. This is what I see when I go in.

Yikes, right? Surely this is not right. Am I being tricked? Is someone at my house stealing my dog since they know I’ll be here like a chump? I dig through my email to find the number for the producer, who says he’ll track the crew (whew, so there’s a crew) down. The camera guy finds me a minute later — the production had changed rooms, all is well. I am relieved.

The next room feels far more official.

As you can see, the crew is masked, and I was too. When I sat down in the chair, I unmasked (I’m vaxxed and boostered). The crew kept theirs on and kept a distance from me. I felt safer there, unmasked in a dark hotel room in a city across a bridge from my home, than I did in most gatherings in Indiana, just saying.

“Your glasses are really cool, but…” said the camera guy, and I knew where this was going. I’d worn a jacket with a breast pocket because I assumed I’d need it for my spectacles, which have massively thick lenses that basically become mirrors in direct light. The glasses have to go. So now I am unmasked and blind in a dark room with two strangers. (Still safer than Indiana, ha ha!)

The camera guy takes a few test photos, sends them to “the bosses,” and I start wondering if they’ll just say I’m too hideous and send me home. That, apparently, does not happen. He opens a laptop that’s on a table about 7-8 feet away from me, and dials in the producer, who I cannot see, because: no glasses.

“This is just going to be a conversation,” the producer says, before reminding me that since this is TV, I need to essentially restate his questions in my answers. As a person who watched UnREAL, I was prepared for this.

We ended up talking for a lot longer than I expected, over two hours. I don’t know if this is because I am a blabbermouth, or what? The producer was a good interviewer, and I felt like he picked up on my leanings right away, following breadcrumbs I didn’t fully realize I was dropping when it came to the suspect’s ultimate guilt, as well as to some issues with media perception/reaction to the case. It was interesting to be the interviewee instead of the interviewer, and to feel some of my same techniques being used on me.

In general, I didn’t feel pushed to conform to a narrative, except in one area: the victim spent a lot of time in, and eventually died in, a neighborhood in San Francisco that’s become a Fox News-type banner for “everything wrong with cities with Democrats in charge.” I’m talking about the Tenderloin, a neighborhood near downtown SF that is tremendously diverse — income-wise, culturally, and racially — and is also the site of many city services for folks with mental illness, substance-use disorders, and no other access to health care. There’s a lot of supportive housing there, and a lot of folks living on the streets.

He tried a couple different runs at the Tenderloin to get a quote, I think, asking me to describe it a couple times, and pushing me to explain why “it seems like things like this happen there.” It’s true, the Tenderloin has its fair share of issues, but it’s not that simple — as I answered, I thought about the way The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel characterized the L.A. neighborhood surrounding the Cecil, and I knew I didn’t want to be a talking head who provided a similarly superficial take on an area.

In the end, I was left with renewed respect for my fellow talking heads, all of whom manage to remember details of a case while restating the question, not embarrassing themselves, and being mindful enough not to swear. Oh, and not sweating and shining like the top of the Chrysler building — the camera guy had to stop at least once to deal with the Exxon Valdez that was my face. (I had settled on concealer, powder and lip tint to resolve the makeup question.)

And I hope I did OK. I was their first interview for the show, so I’m sure if they get better stuff from folks with an actual involvement, you’ll see my beady, un-vision-corrected face on the cutting room floor.

And that, my friends, is what it’s like to be a talking head on a true crime show. — EB

Friday on Best Evidence: Happy birthday, Ann Rule!

What is this thing? This should help. Follow Best Evidence @bestevidencefyi on Twitter and Instagram. You can also call or text us any time at 919-75-CRIME.

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