Colbert · Cosby · Cold Justice
Plus Michael Avenatti, robbery re-enactments, and a vintage British con
I’ve got four reasons you should watch Heist, this week’s true-crime drop on Netflix. It’s compelling and stylish but not flip; here’s a snip from my review on Primetimer:
Heist is also good at presenting the ripple effects on perpetrators' families, especially teenagers oblivious to their parents' pasts.
And it gets really great sound bites, too. Karls Monzon, who he taught himself to rob the Lufthansa currency bay from watching FBI shows on TV, smiles when he says that "Discovery Channel helped me a lot," while Monzon's henchman Pinky is a bona fide raconteur who needs his own show. A Las Vegas detective admits that he became a cop because "You get to drive fast and mess with people." [Armored-truck heister Heather] Tallchief explains without apology that she grew up without luxuries, and "wanted some opulent shit in [her] life"; later, she gets real about lounging on a pile of money in her underwear, confessing that it's uncomfortable.
This is definitely one you shouldn’t Google about while watching, but the good news about that is that, unless you’re writing it up for your job, you probably won’t be tempted to second-screen; the episodes will hold your attention. Check it out, let me know what you think. (And no, I’m not going to stop fluffing American Animals anytime soon; “sorry”!) — SDB
There’s a segue here about skilled re-enactors, but I can’t quite get at it, and I kind of had nowhere else to put this item…so here’s a reminder that Law & Order: Criminal Intent took on the Mark Hofmann/Mormon-forgery bombings case during its third season, and that episode starred Stephen Colbert. Here’s Danette Chavez at The AV Club with more on the ep, which
saw Colbert, then just a year away from debuting The Colbert Report, take on the role of James Bennett, a collector and authenticator of rare documents—and, as we soon learn, forger of many of said documents. Detectives Goren (Vincent D’Onofrio) and Eames (Kathryn Erbe) uncover the antiques dealer’s fraudulent activities while in pursuit of a killer, who also turns out to be Bennett.
As Bennett, Colbert is a big old history nerd, his cadence crescendoing when providing document analysis. But he’s just as resentful as he is bookish, which jibes with Hofmann’s background as well. The Late Show host is also clearly having fun in the role of a mastermind who, just as Hofmann did, elicits a kind of appalled awe from investigators. Even Goren admits Bennett’s “not just good” but “extraordinary.”
That’s one of the reasons I stuck with CI until the bitter end: its love for vengeful-obsessive stories like this, real and imagined. Yeah, Goren’s inevitable expertise in whatever subculture was hosting the Case Of The Week was an eye-roller, but at least we got to visit these subcultures…or see what TV writers thought they were like, anyway. (I can tell you with weary firsthand authority that the subset of true-crime “fans” devoted to Manson-case completism could easily hold down a four-season docuseries, on the book side alone.)
If you forgot what everyone was saying about the Netflix series a few months back, here’s my review of Murder Among The Mormons, and if you’d rather read the book I mentioned, well, to my annoyance I don’t have it in stock at the moment, but I do carry the OTHER book on the case, which can double as a doorstop if you find the prose underwhelming. (Just want to watch Colbert do his thing? The episode is on Peacock.) — SDB
Speaking of Peacock and its ilk: we subscribe to a bunch of streaming services so that we can let YOU know whether you should bother with them, or just use the free trial to binge an interesting doc or two. As you know, that shteez adds up, and your paid subscriptions help us maintain OUR subscriptions — and pay our awesome contributors, too. It’s just $5 a month — or you can go annual and save a little money.
And about those awesome contributors…you can be one! We can’t pay you MUCH, but we do pay, and I for one would be super-psyched to collab on that “all the real-life cases Criminal Intent had takes on, ranked” piece I never seem to have time to do on my own. Send those pitches to editorial at bestevidence dot fyi; we’re listening. — SDB
[throws open fridge door, frowns, starts tossing butter and garlic in a skillet] Welp, time to cook what’s in the story budget before it goes bad! (Warning: list was prepared in a facility that may contain lawyers.) Seven headlines and longreads that need to come out of the B.E. crisper:
Avenatti gets thirty months for Nike extortion [CNBC] // “Trump foe” Michael Avenatti, who represented adult-film star Stormy Daniels in the hush-money matter involving former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen, got less time than sentencing guidelines suggested (and prosecutors hoped). That said, “Daniels is one of several former Avenatti clients that he is charged with swindling in two other separate federal prosecutions, one of which is due to begin [this] week in California,” so Avenatti is probably looking at more time in the end.
Gloria Allred “refuses” to see Cosby decision as a “red flag for #MeToo” [WNYC] // Allred reports that she hasn’t seen a chilling effect on her clients’ willingness to testify against, say, Harvey Weinstein based on Bill Cosby’s release. That notwithstanding, Jami Floyd’s piece is worthwhile just for the way it clarifies why exactly Cosby was released, without getting bogged down in attorney-speak.
Cold Justice’s Kelly Siegler on the importance of circumstantial evidence [Fansided] // It’s a wider-ranging interview than that, covering the show’s upcoming season, what Siegler thinks of Bundy content and I’ll Be Gone In The Dark, etc., but I found this quote striking: “Circumstantial evidence cases, I mean, think about 50 years ago, there was no DNA. So if you didn’t have a confession, the crime was never on videotape, but they solved murder cases all the time.” Well, yes, they did…by coercing those confessions, relying on “forensics” that weren’t, using unreliable eyewitnesses, and so on. I think Siegler’s point is that DAs are reluctant to go ahead with circumstantial cases among the cold cases she’s trying to crack, because they think the convictions won’t “hold”…whereas I think that reluctance is justified, albeit incorrectly motivated, as circumstantial evidence leads to wrongful convictions, and cuts against defendants of color far deeper. Anyway, it’s an interesting read, especially if, like me, you find Siegler likable but understand that she’s a cop with a TV show, and wonder what it might be like to get drunk with her and see what she’d say.
Actually worthwhile Bundy content, perhaps: one of his surviving victims tells her story to Tori Telfer [Rolling Stone] // This one comes from the recs at the back of Sarah Weinman’s Unspeakable Acts.
A taxonomy of Lifetime Originals [Primetimer] // Not a groundbreaking classification system from Claire Spellberg Lustig, but having just watched an egregiously poor and dated outing in order to review it for Again With Again With This, it served as a solid reminder that Lifetime has a certain way of going into these real-life cases — one that can conflate centering victims and blaming them.
The rise and fall of Jeffrey Archer [The Guardian] // I simply cannot recall which Wiki-labyrinth hallway led me to the case(s) of “novelist, playright [sic], former Tory deputy chairman, would-be London mayor, champion athlete and friend of the stars” Archer, who is a second-generation felony-generator, but this 20-year-old overview of Archer’s storied career is really something. Now, if someone can crack the case of what I was originally looking up when I got sidetracked onto Archer — con men? plagiarists? hell if I know — I’d love it.
“The Fire on the 57 Bus in Oakland” [New York Times] // I DO recall the provenance of this one: The 57 Bus, an award-winning book I was writing up for the shop. One of the awards is for YA nonfiction, a category I need to explore further; the book is an expansion of the article linked here, a story of two teenagers living at opposite ends of an Oakland bus line, and the hate crime that connects them. A tough read, but heartening in places as well. Anyone read the book too? — SDB
Thursday on Best Evidence: International true-crime marketing.