Bill Cosby · Delphi Murders · Crater Lake

Plus: The headlines that'll eventually be ripped from

As you know, our goal here is to look at how true crime is told and sold. There are few crime content outlets more deserving of scrutiny than the cops and crime beat at your local paper, which is why this Columbia Journalism Review look at Nate Gartrell, who covers Contra Costa and Alameda and NorCal federal courts for the Bay Area News Group, is presented here today. Gartrell writes hundreds and hundreds of stories a year, from the simple “body found” ones to the more complicated police-shooting or incarceration reports.

The profile, by journo Jaeah Lee (who herself has covered crime-related stories like this profile of the mother of a man shot by San Francisco police and this look at life for folks after incarceration) is a rich one, full of process (Gartrell spends a lot of time with documents) and thoughtfulness, as he belies the Hollywood-driven stereotype of the reporter who doesn’t give a shit about anything but the story. Here’s a snip:

For Gartrell, who is white, watching the video of an officer killing George Floyd was a reminder of the need to question official narratives. He was struck by how much the footage contradicted the initial statement by police, which had attributed Floyd’s death to a “medical incident.”

Gartrell never wanted to be the kind of reporter who would accept that kind of story. “I remember this sinking feeling of, Holy shit, have I ever had something like this happen on my watch, in my jurisdiction, and not dug because it wasn’t on video?” he said. “It’s a scary thought, that maybe there’s something people should know about that they didn’t know about because I was too naive or stupid.” He had to make sure he always scrutinized the paperwork. The weekly court record checks could be tedious and time-consuming, but such is the work required to always be watching, to notice when something is off.

You can read the whole profile — and you really should — here. — EB

It appears that former President Trump has reached the bottom of the barrel. The impeachment trial for Donald John Trump begins next week, and the defendant has been scrambling to score representation, cutting ties with attorney after attorney. His final (presumably?) picks are doozies: One is David Schoen, a lawyer who was in talks to join Jeffrey Epstein’s defense team until Epstein died (Schoen believes he was murdered, BTW).

The other is Bruce L. Castor Jr., a former Montgomery County, Pa. district attorney who not only declined to charge Bill Cosby when he was accused of sexual assault in 2005, but who ended up suing Cosby victim Andrea Constand — the woman whose case he refused to move on — blaming her for his defeat when voters gave him the boot.

The Washington Post has a thorough look at Castor’s actions (or lack thereof) in the Cosby case that’s worth a read; here’s a quick excerpt to get your blood boiling:

What’s particularly notable about Castor is what he did in the years after his decision not to prosecute Cosby: He advanced a rather novel legal theory that his decision not to prosecute was somehow also binding on future prosecutions, and thus Cosby couldn’t be charged in the case.

Cosby’s team called Castor as a witness, and Castor claimed there was just such a secret deal in place, despite there having been no mention of it in his news release announcing his decision.

“Mr. Cosby was not getting prosecuted at all — ever — as far as I was concerned,” Castor said. “My belief was that I had the power to make such a statement.”

I think it’s safe to assume that at this point in the game, Trump is long past attracting the varsity-level players to his team, but you still have to wonder if this guy (Schoen, if we’re grading on a curve, seems…competent?) was the best he could do. Guess we’ll see next week. — EB

As long as we’re talking about real-life cases, let’s circle back on some past figures from this newsletter to see what they’re up to:

  • Dan Abrams is making BANK. Axios reports that his Law&Crime Network turned its first profit in 2020, raking in $13 million that year (in 2019, it only made $3 million). Abrams says that expansion plans include more live programming, more live trial coverage, and an increased slate of podcast offerings.

  • No one said a word when Brian “Marilyn Manson” Warner admitted to a slew of crimes in 1999. Someone at Page Six was apparently able to dig up Warner’s memoir, The Long Hard Road Out of Hell, and discovered that he detailed his plan to kill an ex-girlfriend within its pages — and admitted that he’d regularly call a woman who ignored his advances and threaten to rape her. Apparently no one at any of the casting agencies that put him into shows, record labels who worked with him, or talent management groups that profited over him read that book, and were made aware of his alleged behavior only when it was reported earlier this month.

  • No, Jeffrey “Ja Rule” Adkins didn’t graduate from Harvard Business School. Look, I believe that the degree=merit system is as much of a scam as Adkins’s Fyre Fest event (and don’t get me started on Ivy League bullshit), but I’m still irritated by headlines like these that claim that he graduated from the school. Adkins, who was cleared of wrongdoing for his role in the Fyre Fest failure, completed a four-week, pay-to-play online program at the Ivy League school, not a degree program. To be clear, Adkins didn’t make any claims that he did get a degree! And his pride in completing the program, whatever it entailed, is likable and nice. Here’s hoping it gave him the tools to avoid a Fyre Fest 2. — EB

HLN has turned one of its podcasts into a docuseries. I remember mentioning Down the Hill: The Delphi Murders when the podcast was announced more than a year ago, but I never got around to listening; did any of you?

The pod about the unsolved slaying of two women in a small Indiana town was apparently a big hit for the network — its website says it has over 10 million downloads, and that it reached the top slot on Apple’s true-crime leaderboard. Its success was apparently enough to spur a TV adaptation, HLN announced via press release this week.

According to the release, the podcast will drop a new episode on February 8, then on February 14-15 will air two one-hour specials on the case (also called Down the Hill: The Delphi Murders) with “several new developments in the case,” including an interview with the lead investigator and “a new national exclusive interview with the lead prosecutor, Nick McLeland, who remains steadfast and refuses to call this a cold case.” — EB

You gotta love a longread that comes with a webinar. For this month’s issue of Alta, Portland journalist Julian Smith takes on a 1952 double murder at Crater Lake National Park, a place I recall my parents taking us to during one of our epic summer-long road trips. [“Same here! And I’m a little surprised someone at Crater Lake Lodge didn’t double-murder whatever shitwit kept pulling the fire alarm every two hours when we were there.” - SDB] Ungrateful child that I was, I might have been more interested in the spot if I’d known that it was the site of “one of the biggest unsolved mysteries in the Pacific Northwest.” The granddaughter of one of the victims started investigating the case in 1994. Here’s how it all began:

As a child growing up in Southern California in the 1950s and ’60s, Alice Simms occasionally heard her mother mention a startling fact: her father, Albert Jones, Alice’s grandfather, had been murdered in Crater Lake National Park, in southern Oregon, in 1952. Her mother was 28 and Alice was a year and a half old when it happened. The killers were never caught.

“She never talked about it in great detail, how or why it happened,” Simms says. “Maybe she didn’t want to relive it. I always regretted not talking to her about it.” Her mother passed away in 1993 still not knowing who had killed her father.

The next year, Simms woke one morning with a sudden determination to figure out what had happened. “I don’t know why,” she says. “I just thought, I have to do something about it. I’m sure it was my mother contacting me.” She asked her father if he knew anything about the murder. As a matter of fact, he said, he had recently found something among his wife’s belongings that might help.

It’s an absorbing longread, but wait, there’s more: on February 10, at 12:30 PM PT, Mark will hop on a free-to-attend webinar to talk about the story, hosted by Best Evidence subscriber/commenter Beth Spotswood. You can read the full story here, and sign up to watch the chat here. — EB

Friday on Best Evidence: I had an idea for a discussion thread, then forgot it, but am determined to remember it before tomorrow morning! So stay tuned.

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.