Broken Harts · The Staircase · France's Greatest Escape Artist

Plus, wild times in the Kansas legislature

Good afternoon! Apologies for the delay today. I had one of those choppy “something every 90 minutes” mornings that wouldn’t let me settle into what I really wanted to work on, this newsletter.

MAY as well (…sorry) delay the May bonus-review poll another day also, in case you didn’t have a chance to vote. The documentary Who Killed Little Gregory? is leading at the moment, but not by much, so if you want a review of something else, you know what to do…

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The viral photo of Devonte Hart hugging a cop at a BLM protest. The debate as to whether it was staged (or whether Devonte actually wanted someone to rescue him from his parents) continues. (Glamour)

Another documentary about the Hart family tragedy hits discovery+ on May 18. Like the high-profile podcast on the case that everyone was talking about back in December of 2018, the doc is called Broken Harts, and EW has an exclusive first look at this link.

…I don’t know, guys. On one hand, I’d like to see a documentary that does a better job than A Thread Of Deceit did at not getting stuck on questions we’ll simply never get the answers to. On the other hand, the other aspects of the case that have lodged it in the cultural craw — the failures of children’s services; the systemic biases that worked against the Hart children — are extremely tricky ground, and if you didn’t feel the original podcast was able to unpack those issues effectively, well, this doc comes from the same team.

Eve’s review of the podcast is here if you want to refresh your memory, and here’s Lauren Smiley’s piece from September of 2018…which is probably going to be enough for me. I’m just not sure California-coastline B-roll is going to add much to my understanding of the case. What do you think? — SDB

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On the OTHER other hand, I’d watch Broken Harts on repeat for a week if it meant networks would stop backing Brinks trucks up to Nancy Grace’s house, but alas, that’s not the world we live in. In THIS world, Nancy’s celebrating her new big-whoop deal with Fox Nation with In the Valley of Sin, “which will explore the harrowing claims of child abuse in the sleepy town of Wenatchee, WA.” In the Valley of Sin bows this Sunday, May 9 — Haaaappy Mother’s Day, y’all!! …blech — and I won’t be watching it, because I don’t hate myself. But I would be interested to hear how the histrionically pro-law-enforcement Grace handles a case that was mishandled this egregiously by authorities. How egregiously? Dig the “See Also” section from the case’s Wikipedia page.

Still, I hadn’t heard of the case before this and the story itself isn’t without interest, so if you’d like to know more about it but don’t want to deal with ol’ Nance, 1) word, and 2) here’s the Seattle Post-Intelligencer’s series on it. — SDB


Toni Collette has signed onto the scripted version of The Staircase. I didn’t really need further prodding after Colin Firth joined up as novelist/accused murderer Michael Peterson, but IMO Collette is actually slightly closer casting as victim Kathleen Peterson. Nothing against Firth-y, of course, but the IRL Peterson’s particular freckly aspect seems like a better fit with…I don’t know. Robert Patrick? I mean, good luck talking the money guys into paying for T2 as your star, but then again, Firth played the King of England AND was in Mamma Mia, so.

We don’t have even a neighborhood for the premiere date, obviously, but that gives us time to catch up on producer/director Antonio Campos’s other relevant work. Stories about the series and the casting don’t tend to mention the projects I think bode the best for his Staircase, including The Sinner, a show I’ve meant to catch up on for aaaages because the casting is so uniformly awesome; and Martha Marcy May Marlene, which, how is that shteez TEN YEARS OLD already? Granted, it’s hard to say how much producing Campos really did on MMMM especially since he wasn’t even 30 when it came out — but I think there’s a sense of trying to get to the truths in a fictional/scripted crime or crime-adjacent property that means Campos has a solid handle on the case material and how to present it. And clearly respected actors concur, so I’m hopeful about this one. — SDB


I wasn’t so hopeful about the longread in GQ featuring France’s greatest escape artist; Apple News suggested it for me, and I’ve often found those recs a letdown — but not this time! Adam Leith Gollner really knows how to keep “The Secrets of the World’s Greatest Jailbreak Artist” moving; the subhed, about the ways Hollywood action movies and directors inspired Rédoine Faïd’s various crimes and breakouts, might suggest indulgent musing about the works of Tarantino, but the piece is process-y and informative. The comparisons to feelm come from Faïd himself, mostly, and the piece is well structured, pulling you in with a feat of derring-do, then rewinding to Faïd’s childhood, and the larger societal issues that create a figure like him in France:

In 1969, Derradji moved his wife and their first seven children to Creil, not far from the chemical factory where he was rehired. And in 1972, their ninth child, Rédoine, was born. The family lived in one of the suburb's housing projects, where from a very young age Rédoine became acutely aware of how different his family was from those in the wealthy neighboring suburbs like Chantilly. He began to think about how to get ahead.

Soon he was stealing more from the mall—toys and comic books. By the time he was 11, he had banded together with three other kids from the neighborhood to form what he called a “cosmopolitan gang.” They robbed supermarkets and as teenagers eventually graduated to apartments, looting TVs and stereos. With the cash their crimes provided them, they bought their favorite outfits: Lacoste shirts and Adidas sneakers and Tacchini tracksuits. In those adolescent years, Faïd developed a mantra: “What you can't get legally, you've got to take.”

Gollner’s piece also mentions several other properties that made me want to cancel the aforementioned fugazi schedule and settle in with an e-book or a subtitled docu; I’d describe the reading experience as The Imposter meets Ocean’s 11. Enjoy! — SDB


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Normally I’d file this item under True-Crime Buttholes, but upon further reflection, I think Kansas state rep Mark Samsel’s arrest belongs under another rubric…like “untreated mental illness,” or even as the stub of a longer-form piece about misconduct in the KS legislature. I certainly hope a Kansan journo is fixing to tackle various kerfuffles of late (Rachel McCarthy James, take a break from that book and get after it!), starting with Samsel getting arrested for misdemeanor battery after putting his hands on a student. (And, evidently, kicking that student in the nuts.) Here’s a snip from KansasCity.com’s piece:

On Wednesday, Samsel, R-Wellsville, was substitute teaching at the Wellsville school district’s secondary school. Throughout the day, high school students began recording videos of the lawmaker talking about suicide, sex, masturbation, God and the Bible.

In one video shared with The Star, Samsel tells students about “a sophomore who’s tried killing himself three times,” adding that it was because “he has two parents and they’re both females.”

The story does not get any saner from there. References to the devil’s music? Check. Samsel — who “was one of just 13 lawmakers to vote against a bill that would have ended an exemption for spouses from the state’s sexual battery law,” i.e., he’s pro-marital rape — claiming it was a planned “happening”? Check. A mention of former senate majority leader Gene Suellentrop, whom Samsel tried to impeach, who

was charged with felony eluding and fleeing from police and also faces misdemeanor charges of drunk and reckless driving after allegedly driving the wrong way on Topeka highways on March 16. He was forced to step down from his leadership post.

…Check. And a tweet from the mayor of KC, Quinton Lucas, wondering “What the hell is going on with the #KSLEG this session?” makes me think this is just the tip of an inappropriate-berg in the halls of state government, because Lord knows we only ever hear a fraction of the illegal foolishness happening in Albany. Anyway, check out the piece, which is a marvel of restraint on the parts of Sarah Ritter and Jonathan Shorman; MY version of the piece would probably be “…this fucking guy!” cut and pasted 143 times. — SDB


This week on Best Evidence: An Unsolved case reopened, justice for Gaga’s dog, and the Oxygen spin cycle.


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