Canada's Dirty John · The Capote Tapes · The PBA

Plus "The Republic of CyberBunker" (ikr?), Fed-aganda, and more

Good morning! Just a reminder that you readers help us program Best Evidence, starting with the monthly bonus book review for paid subscribers, which for October has me reading The Cold Vanish: Seeking the Missing in North America’s Wildlands. I’m already partway through it and I can’t wait to hear what others think; it’s this weird but appealing Unsolved Mysteries-topic remix involving Amy Wroe Bechtel, Roman Dial, and…Bigfoot. Grab a copy at the link above, or ask your library — Brooklyn PL had it rather promptly.

Eve and I have also taken a page from Extra Hot Great to do the inaugural Best Evidence Forcening! Suggest a show, doc, or pod you want one of us to review; we’ll each choose one property to make the other watch. — SDB


Speaking of the Brooklyn Public Library, bless their hearts for finally bringing The Capote Tapes to my eyeballs as part of their LitFilm 2020 festival. I cannot tell you how many OTHER film festivals I registered for around our great nation, only to find out once they had my money that showings were geoblocked for non-locals.

I’m actually fine with this — film fests need our support! — but I’ll remind you here that your subscription monies pay for VOD, streaming/+ services, and the like that let us review more stuff for y’all…and we’re not geoblocked anywhere!

I’ll have a review for Thursday AM’s edition, so get excited for, among other things, B-minus dad jokes about Capote’s mask compliance; I’ll also have a sneak peek at Quibi’s Last Looks (that fashion-industry true-crime thing Dakota Fanning is narrating), and if anyone else wants to clap an eyeball on The FBI Declassified, I’ll have a review of that too. Here’s the deets from CBS’s press blast:

FBI agents and analysts take viewers inside a real-life race against the clock mission to save a 5-year-old boy held hostage by an armed gunman in the series premiere of CBS News’ THE FBI DECLASSIFIED, to be broadcast Tuesday, Oct. 6 (10:00-11:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network. Narrated by Alana De La Garza from CBS’ drama series FBI, “Saving Ethan” will give viewers unprecedented insight into the tactics investigators used to rescue a young boy kidnapped in rural Alabama.

Glad to see De La Garza collecting a paycheck, I guess (although I’d forgotten the existence of FBI, never mind that she’s on it), but the list of things working against this joint not sucking includes: 1) it’s on during weeknight primetime (i.e., this is a pandemic-content-shortage show, possibly upcycled from 48HRS eps); 2) it’s on CBS; and 3) that probably means federal copaganda and filler galore. — SDB


Can’t get enough Love Fraud-style content? Toronto Life is here for you with a longread on “Dirty” Shaun Rootenberg, a serial scammer who only turned to flim-flamming the ladies when other schemes stopped working. Here’s a snip from Katherine Laidlaw’s eminently readable piece:

In the U.S. in 2019, some 25,000 people reported being the victim of online romance scams, with losses estimated at more than $200 million (U.S.). In Canada in that same year, 760 Canadians lost $22.5 million to romance scammers, according to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre and the RCMP. In both countries, according to the FBI, romance scams now constitute the highest-loss form of consumer fraud.

“Well, we had a good run” - Sea Monkeys. — SDB


A New Yorker issue from August has a couple of great longreads too. It’s early in the month, so you might have freebies left to burn on the mag’s website — and you’ll get your (no) money’s worth with “Underworld,” Ed Caesar’s very deep dive into the “eccentric Dutchman” (who insisted on being called Xennt; eye-roll emoji) who “descended into an old German military bunker — and set up a server empire used by cybercriminals.” Xennt is one of those obnoxious nineties-vintage “webizens” with no discernible sense of humor who saw the internet primarily as a gateway to not having to follow bourgeois rules that inconvenienced them, and as such, he’s an easy target, but Caesar’s descriptions of him are dry enough to smoke in the shower:

Citing a U.N. Security Council resolution from 1960, which said that “all people have the right to self-determination,” the Republic of CyberBunker — population six — seceded from the Netherlands. … Unusually for a republic, it had a royal family. Its President was His Majesty King Xennt von CyberBunker, and its minister of foreign affairs and telecommunications was His Royal Highness Prince Sven Olaf von CyberBunker-Kamphuis.

I sprained both eyeballs just typing that try-hard foolishness out; I can only imagine how Caesar felt having to live with the story for months.

Later in the same issue is William Finnegan’s excellent “The Blue Wall,” about police unions’ battle “to keep their power” in response to the latest protests and calls for reform. This is a pretty salty piece, of which I approve — Finnegan’s more than happy to let NYC PBA jefe Patrick Lynch look like the bully he is, and describes another police union’s leader as “bellicose” in the very first sentence of the article — but it’s not what I would call a cheery read. Still, I recommend it. — SDB


“The Final Five Percent” is Tim Requarth’s account of his half-brother’s (second) traumatic brain injury and subsequent slide into — underneath, really — a system not equipped to handle the effects of TBI on behavior, even as that system sees a far higher proportion of post-TBI individuals than in the general population. Requarth describes “Conway”’s neurobiology, the accidents that led to a marked personality change, and the crimes that landed Conway in the penitentiary, crimes Conway felt “compelled” to commit; he also explores “courtroom neuroscience,” and whether “blaming” certain crimes on their committers’ neurostructures is helpful, or actually harmfully reductive. Here’s a snip:

The neuroscience of crime has flourished in recent years. Some researchers have claimed that psychopaths’ brains have defects in what has been called the paralimbic system. Other researchers have claimed that reduced activation in areas of the prefrontal cortex and hypothalamus may contribute to pedophilia. Yet another team concluded that perpetrators of domestic violence had “higher activation in the anterior and posterior cingulate cortex and in the middle prefrontal cortex and a decreased activation in the superior prefrontal cortex.” Scientists have posited telltale neural signatures for “intent” and “recklessness.”

I had the topic on my mind last night as Dan and I watched the third installment of The Life & Trials of Oscar Pistorius, because a few years before he shot Reeva Steenkamp, Pistorius survived a serious boating accident — one I’d completely forgotten about — that broke every bone in his face. One assumes a TBI or other concussive “event” went with that, and the irascible volatility and lack of impulse control that often attends people who survive TBIs…well, it isn’t NOT a part of the story for Pistorius in subsequent years. But the docuseries doesn’t explicitly mention it, or it hasn’t so far, and I found myself wondering what role the after-effects might have played on that fateful night, whether it can be true that he murdered her AND that it was a terrible mistake, not within Pistorius’s cognitive control. God knows there’s a wealth of pitiable material related to the depressed and violent declines of former NFL players; I’m a little surprised it’s a factor we don’t mention more reflexively when we’re discussing certain cases. — SDB


One last longread for you: Samuel Ashworth’s “The Slow, Troubling Death of the Autopsy.” It’s a little too pleased with itself in spots, but if you’re not squeamish (the piece comes with a content warning for some of the photos) and you like process-y stuff, give it a look. It’s mostly about non-forensic autopsies (i.e., the ones for “natural deaths”), but it’s got some good intel:

[W]hen adults die suddenly and unexpectedly from natural causes, the physician who pronounces them dead frequently writes “arrhythmia” or some variant, like “cardiac arrest.” “Cardiac arrest” is particularly infuriating to pathologists; as one put it to me, “We all die of cardiac arrest. Your heart stops. It means nothing.”

There’s also the fact that 10% of autopsies reveal antemortem diagnostic errors that, well, sent the patient to the morgue in the first place. Ten percent! And that one pathology tech looked at an autopsy kit from the Civil War “and thought, I could get the job done with that.” Ashworth goes on to tie this…er, dying art (NB: he doesn’t use that phrase; blame me entirely) to what we may not be finding out about COVID-19. — SDB


Tuesday on Best Evidence: Extra TV docus, hold the journalism!


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