What Are Your Favorite Summertime Crimes?

With July 4 just a day away, I guess it’s official — it’s summertime, even if it doesn’t quite feel like it. My husband and I (this is Eve, writing) were talking about how this summer, with a fatal virus lurking in the wings, feels a lot like two summers we distinctly remember, both of which were overshadowed by crime.

For me it was the summer of 1977 — as a six-year-old kid in a New Jersey town just a short drive from the city, I recall every headline and TV news report as a warning about David Berkowitz (here’s a great NYT piece that looks back on that year.)

For Tim, it was the Night Stalker. San Francisco’s summer of 1985 was one of fearful rumor, as Ramirez had shot two people as they slept in a quiet, residential neighborhood in the city. Then-mayor Dianne Feinstein confirmed those rumors in a press conference (that some say tipped the killer off and delayed the investigation). Curfews and the elevation of Ramirez to full-on bogeyman resulted.

What about you? When the mercury rises and days grow longer, what crimes come to mind? What criminal yarns do you associate with the doggiest days? Let’s hear ‘em.

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Long Holiday Weekend? More Like Longread Holiday Weekend!

All the true-crime news that'll be stale by Monday

Hello, friends! How is it July already? What a weird summer this has been.

To celebrate July 4, which as of publication time remains a holiday despite its problematic affiliations and origins, we’re making tomorrow’s BE a discussion-thread-only affair — we’d rather have a conversation with you than at you over the long weekend.

We’re also dropping the annual subscription price of this thing to $4 a month for folks who sign up from now through Sunday. That’s $48 (instead of $5/month or $55/year) for around five issues a week of all the true crime that is indeed worth your time. (That deal works on gift subs, too!) As always, thank you so much for subscribing and supporting — it would be impossible to continue BE and The Blotter Presents without you. — EB

Does your local police department still release mug shots to the media? There’s been a lot of talk about this lately, as newspapers (and their websites) continue to rethink the value of publishing photos of folks who’ve not been convicted.

Photos of arrestees are a web traffic cash cow, but concerns over ethics — and a renewed focus on social justice — prompted a multitude of news sites to dump those galleries. In an email sent to media Wednesday, the San Francisco Police Department announced an additional step in the debate, saying that they would no longer release booking photos to the media unless photos were being circulated to find a suspect. Though some cities have curtailed mugshot circulation to cut off mugshot gallery scams (which are seriously horrible!), the SFPD says they’re the first department in the U.S. to make the decision as part of a concerted effort to avoid minority stereotyping.

Here’s the letter the SFPD sent, in full:

San Francisco Chief of Police William Scott today implemented a groundbreaking new policy that will end the San Francisco Police Department’s practice of releasing booking photos or “mug shots” except in circumstances where their release is necessary to warn the public of imminent danger or to enlist the public’s assistance in locating individuals, including at-risk persons.

The policy change, which Chief Scott issued in a unilateral department notice this morning, was heavily influenced by SFPD’s partnership with experts in a collaborative reform process that included input from academia, community groups, news organizations and members of San Francisco’s Police Commission, Public Defender’s Office, District Attorney’s Office and Department of Police Accountability.

“This policy emerges from compelling research suggesting that the widespread publication of police booking photos in the news and on social media creates an illusory correlation for viewers that fosters racial bias and vastly overstates the propensity of black and brown men to engage in criminal behavior,” Scott said. “By implementing this groundbreaking new policy today, SFPD is taking a stand that walks the walk on implicit bias while affirming a core principle of procedural justice — that those booked on suspicion of a crime are nonetheless presumed innocent of it. I’m grateful for the expertise of our academic partners, Dr. Jack Glaser from the University of California Berkeley’s Goldman School of Public Policy and Dr. Jennifer L. Eberhardt of Stanford University, for their guidance in developing our policy. I am also thankful to the members of our San Francisco Police Commission, Public Defender Manohar Raju, District Attorney Chesa Boudin, Department of Police Accountability Director Paul Henderson, community members and news media professionals who also gave helpful input in this collaborative process.”

“San Francisco’s is the first police department in the nation, to my knowledge, to implement a policy to halt the release of most booking photos in order to avoid the problems they risk creating by fostering implicit bias,” said Dr. Jack Glaser, a professor at the University of California Berkeley’s Goldman School of Public Policy and author of the book, Suspect Race — Causes & Consequences of Racial Profiling. “Kudos to SFPD Chief Bill Scott for his commitment to a reform that’s on the leading edge of 21st century policing and which holds the promise of being a national model for other police departments to follow.”

Law enforcement agencies across California and around the nation routinely release booking photos through departmental news releases, on web sites and through social media channels. A 2003 California Attorney General’s opinion, which was cited in SFPD’s notice on the new policy today, addressed a legal question as to whether law enforcement agencies in the nation’s largest state had discretion to provide copies of photographs of arrested persons in response to requests from members of the public. 

Then-Attorney General Bill Lockyer’s office opined at the time that law enforcement agencies do have such discretion, “though once a copy is furnished to one member of the general public, a copy must be made available to all who make a request.” Unlike prescribed information in which the California Public Records Act requires disclosure, however, the A.G. opinion had “no hesitation in finding that mug shots fall within the ‘records of investigations’ exemption” of relevant law, making the release of police booking photos wholly discretionary. (Source: California State Attorney General’s Opinion No. 03-205, July 14, 2003, https://oag.ca.gov/system/files/opinions/pdfs/03-205.pdf)

As I write this Wednesday night, the policy has yet to generate much coverage in SF. But the Chicago Tribune has already weighed in, quoting SFPD Chief Bill Scott as saying “This is just one small step but we hope this will be something that others might consider doing as well.”

(Yes, that is Tim Allen, here’s the deal.)

Let’s get ready to reeeeeead! Best Evidence’s story budget (that’s our list of things we need to cover) runneth over, but by Monday, July 6, a lot of this stuff might be past the sell-by date. Anyway, you’ll probably be looking for true-crime content of all stripes to read and listen to this weekend, so let us hook you up. Here we go!

And for your ears:

Friday on Best Evidence: Get ready to discuss some summer crimes, friends!

What is this thing? This should help. Follow The Blotter @blotterpresents on Twitter and Instagram, and subscribe to The Blotter Presents via the podcast app of your choice. You can also call or text us any time at 919-75-CRIME.

The Blotter Presents 149: I'll Be Gone In The Dark and Murder Made Me Famous

Plus RHONJ, even more Tiger King, and a chat with HBO-doc directors

Is my old friend Mike now my former friend Mike? I’ll Be Gone In The Dark wasn’t to blame for jeopardizing the Carol Daly Appreciation Society, though the six-parter on the Golden State Killer — and Michelle McNamara’s journey into the heart of that darkness — seemed to struggle to braid those two threads together, and to get past the halo of reverence around McNamara herself. Still, we’ll keep watching.

Murder Made Me Famous, on the other hand…ooooo-fah. I wanted a Garden State case to go with the Golden State one, and if I’d tracked down the American Greed on Mafia boiler rooms I’d REALLY wanted to talk about, it’d be a whole different world, but we ended up with S04.E06 of one of Reelz’s more cynically garrabagio offerings, the episode about Melissa Drexler/“the Prom Mom.” It is cringily hilarrible and almost defies belief, and when we go to hell for laughing at a certain tone-deaf sound effect, it's this show we'll have to watch for all eternity. Listen to Episode 149 right here (with care and gentleness towards yourselves, as there’s coverage of sexual assault, neonaticide, and…that Foley effect, yikes).


Another month, another bonus-book tiebreak battle! This month’s voting is closer than usual and I’d like to close this poll tonight; would you guys mind picking a book for me, if you haven’t already voted?

Pick July's bonus book!

For June, you tasked me with Vanity Fair’s Schools for Scandal, which I quite liked — if you’re a paid subscriber to this newsletter, you can read that review here. If you’re not, we’d really love to have you join us; want to try it out for $5 a month?

The U.S. Attorney’s District of New Jersey office confirmed yesterday the Mob ties we’ve all suspected dangle, just offscreen, from certain RHONJ cast members. You should really just read the press blast yourself, but if you’re busy putting together your annual Bobby Bonilla Day luncheon and haven’t the time, here’s a pertinent snip:

In the spring of 2015, [Thomas] Manzo, one of the owners of the Brownstone Restaurant in Paterson, New Jersey, allegedly hired [John] Perna to assault his ex-wife’s then-boyfriend in exchange for a deeply discounted wedding reception for Perna held at the upscale venue. Perna, who is a “made man” in the Lucchese Crime Family with his own crew, worked with his associates to plan and carry out the assault, which took place in July of 2015. In exchange for committing the assault, Perna held a lavish wedding reception at Manzo’s restaurant for a fraction of the price, which was paid by another Lucchese associate and close friend of Manzo’s. The wedding and reception, held in August 2015, were attended by approximately 330 people, and included many members of the Lucchese Crime Family.

Separately, prior to the date that Perna was scheduled to begin serving a state prison sentence in January 2016, he falsely reported that his Mercedes Benz was stolen and destroyed. Perna filed an insurance claim for the destruction of the Mercedes Benz in order for the balance due on the Mercedes Benz. However, Perna had staged the vehicle theft and arson with other members of the Lucchese Crime Family.

tl;dr: this is some sad Vesuvio II shit right here. If you’re not local and don’t therefore have a functional working knowledge of which families go with what notorious figures, the Luccheses ran the so-called “Mafia cops.” Perna specifically is a family-business guy who doesn’t seem terribly adept at staying out of the pen. There’s also a family tree for the Manzos over here, as they’ve been off the show for so long, you may have forgotten who’s related to whom; Caroline and Albert ran the Brownstone, and Albert was onscreen all the time (and on their wretched spin-offs), probably to promote the business, but IIRC “Tommy” was resolute about not appearing on camera or even being mentioned thereon. Anonymous fun’s over, friendo. — SDB

Netflix’s Unsolved Mysteries reboot is pretty good. I’m surprised too! Here’s my review for Primetimer, but basically, the new one doesn’t try to recreate the classic (there’s one case in each episode, instead of 4-5 segments; there’s no host). At the same time, it keeps a couple of nostalgic elements that old-school fans will enjoy, including the creepiest bars of the original theme song — and even the ghost of Mr. Robert Stack smiling upon the title card, as seen above. Seeing that authoritative face’s outlines made me rather emotional as I was watching the screeners, I don’t mind telling you!

The first six of the new verzh dropped this morning; not sure when the second set comes out. — SDB

I can’t wait to watch this IndieWire convo with three HBO docu directors on how they “evolve true crime stories beyond the headlines.” Sam Pollard (Atlanta’s Missing and Murdered), Erin Lee Carr (I Love You, Now Die), and James Lee Hernandez (McMillions) talked with Tambay Obenson about “creative trust” at HBO, the compulsion to learn more about certain crimes, and the larger stories of cities as told through their most notorious cases. The vid’s about 40 minutes long, and I’m particularly looking forward to what these creators have to say about how HBO made, and maintains, such a strong brand in this subgenre. — SDB

Could the pandemic help Tiger King win an Emmy? Deadline’s Matthew Carey posits that dramatic shifts in at-home viewing habits — i.e., the water-cooler docs that, with no water cooler to gather around, everyone had time to watch and discuss — could give Tiger King (and Last Dance, the other spring docuseries on everyone’s mind) a big advantage in Emmy voting.

And if you needed further proof that the algorithm is always listening (Narrator: “They didn’t.”), an email arrived as I was typing out the above, touting the participation of Tiger King participant Kelci “Saff” Saffery in an ad for Bader Scott, a Georgia injury-lawyer outfit:

Amid a global pandemic, Saff shook the world sharing his story of losing an arm in a tiger mauling during his job as a keeper at Joe’s Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park. After the accident, Saff faced the choice of amputation or years of reconstructive surgery. Saff chose amputation, losing the arm and returning to work within a week. 

The aftermath of the injury was captured by the documentary crew and Saff’s resilience and pragmatism sparked interest the world over. But what happened to Saff when filming ended? Despite his fortitude, Saff’s life-changing injuries would completely change his future, physically, mentally and financially. 

Is this the tackiest TK coattail grab we’ve seen? Not by a long shot (and honestly, good for Saff to get paid somehow). Interesting timing, though, given that Eve and I were enduring a barrage of these a couple months back.

Also, Bader Scott has at least one employee whose job title is “first impressions manager.” Oy. — SDB

Thursday on Best Evidence: Pod reviews, Outcry, and a conviction coming out in the wash?

What is this thing? This should help. Follow The Blotter @blotterpresents on Twitter and Instagram, and subscribe to The Blotter Presents via the podcast app of your choice. You can also call or text us any time at 919-75-CRIME.

GSK Resolution · Athlete A · Perfect Art Heist

Plus: Another telling of a well-worn tale

As expected, the Golden State Killer has entered a guilty plea. The SF Chronicle reports that 74-year-old former police officer Joseph DeAngelo admitted to 26 charges of kidnapping and murder Monday as part of a plea deal to avoid the death penalty.

According to Sacramento County Deputy District Attorney Thien Ho, DeAngelo made a partial confession when he was arrested in 2018, a bizarre echo of The Jinx’s hot mic scene. From the East Bay Times:

Sitting alone in an interview room, DeAngelo began talking to himself, according to Ho, saying: “I did all that. … I didn’t have the strength to push him out. He made me. He went with me. It was like, in my head, I mean, he’s a part of me.”

“I didn’t want to do those things. I pushed Jerry out and had a happy life. I did all those things; I’ve destroyed their lives. … I raped. So now I’ve gotta pay the price.”

As part of the plea, DeAngelo also agreed to “admit responsibility” for about 60 rapes investigators believe he committed — but that he can’t be prosecuted for, as the statute of limitations for charges in those cases has expired. DeAngelo is expected to be sentenced to 11 consecutive sentences of life without parole, during a future hearing — likely to be held in a Sacramento State University ballroom, to allow for social distancing — at which his victims will address him regarding the corrosive effect he had on their lives. — EB

A new Netflix doc tackles the abuse scandal at USA Gymnastics. Athlete A details the athletic org’s attempts to cover up the sexual assault allegations against Dr. Larry Nassar, the doctor accused by over 156 women of rape and other forms of sexual misconduct. It dropped last Wednesday, and remains (per Netflix in) “#4 in the US” as of Monday night.

Associated Press reviewer Jake Coyle says the doc is “one of the best of the many powerful #MeToo-era documentaries to delve into stories of powerful men and abuse,” and warns that “you may never again watch America's pursuit for gold with quite the same enthusiasm.” If you’ve yet to watch it, it’s available here. — EB

There’s a new movie in the works about the Black Donnellys massacre. According to the Hollywood Reporter, Mayans M.C. actress Sarah Bolger will star in Black Donnelly's (yes, there is an apostrophe. No, I don’t know why), a dramatic adaptation of the 1880 case in which an entire Ontario family (the Donnellys) were slain by an angry mob.

It’s a popular story, popular enough that the remarkably extensive Wikipedia entry on the case lists 13 various adaptations of the incident. Plus, the songs! Seriously, there are at least five songs about the case!

Production on the film is set to begin next year, and so far Bolger (who will play matriarch Johannah Donnelly) is the only cast member that’s been announced. The film will be directed by Adam McDonald, a Canadian person and director of a Netflix property called Slasher Solstice, so, yeah. — EB

Forget longreads, now we’re all about cartoons. Sarah flagged this delightful Bloomberg piece on an art theft that wasn’t, an illustrated explainer on a 2018 hacking case in which the purchase price for John Constable’s A View of Hampstead Heath: Child’s Hill, Harrow in the Distance went to a mysterious third party instead of its intended recipient.

Publications like ArtNet have been on the case for a while: The case is basically about a hacked email, but it’s arguably an art heist in which no criminals actually made contact with any actual art. But don’t listen to me; let the elephants, frogs, and mice explain it. — EB

Just kidding! Longreads are great! In fact, Best Evidence contrib Margaret Howie recommended this one for its headline alone: “Murder in Old Barns” is about one specific murder in one specific old barn.

The case in question is the death of Elmer Yuill, who was shot to death as he worked in his barn. That was 1991, and the case remains unsolved, despite a $150,000 reward offered in 2017. What gives? Here’s the yarn. — EB

Wednesday on Best Evidence: It’s The Blotter Presents Episode 149! Sarah is joined by Michael Dunn to discuss I'll Be Gone In The Dark and the “Prom Mom” episode of Murder Made Me Famous.

What is this thing? This should help. Follow The Blotter @blotterpresents on Twitter and Instagram, and subscribe to The Blotter Presents via the podcast app of your choice. You can also call or text us any time at 919-75-CRIME.

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