Colin Firth · Confession Letter · Doodler Controversy

Plus: A slew of new podcasts

Colin Firth will play convicted wife-killer Michael Peterson. Deadline reports that Firth will head up the cast of a HBO Max series based on true crime doc The Staircase, about the slaying of Kathleen Peterson. Her husband, crime novelist Michael Peterson, spent 16 years fighting his conviction in her death, and was freed in 2017, 13 years after The Staircase was released.

According to the Hollywood Reporter, the series will run eight episodes, and was originally slated to star Harrison Ford — who I like, of course, but somehow Firth feels like a better fit. Maybe some of that is an age thing? Ford is 78, Peterson is 77 now, and Firth is 60. Peterson would have been 57 when his wife was killed, so depending on what period in the case the show focuses on, Firth feels more age-appropriate.

Of course, who knows how old Firth will be when the show goes into production, as so far no other cast has been set nor a film date been announced. Needless to say, we’ll keep you posted. — EB

Paid subscribers got a bonus in their inboxes last night: Sarah’s review of Randall Batinkoff's 2019 biopic Inside Game. If you missed it, you can read her review here, and if you can’t access it, well, perhaps you need to…

Now it’s time to figure out what she should review in April; no pranks, please. You can vote here (I will not attempt to sway you by writing Fatal Voyage Fatal Voyage Fatal Voyage all The Shining-like), and we’ll let you know what property triumphed later this month.

The I-5 Strangler case just gets weirder and weirder. We’ve discussed the death of 81-year-old Roger Kibbe here and here: Kibbe, the so-called 1-5 Strangler, was himself strangled by his cellmate Jason Budrow, who is also a convicted strangler.

Notice how I didn’t say “allegedly,” which as a crime-writing pedant I do even about the most obvious of cases? That’s because in a five-page letter sent to the East Bay Times, Budrow admitted to the crime.

In the letter, which Budrow reportedly titled “Ascension …may their souls go to heaven…” he wrote that his initial reason for killing Kibbe was because he wanted to move to a one-person cell, but that “What had started out as my original bare-bones plan of doing a straightforward homicide of a cellmate to obtain my single-cell status evolved into a mission for avenging that youngest girl and all of Roger Kibbe’s other victims.”

During the time before the killing, Budrow was working out one day when a TV special about Kibbe was broadcast. Budrow said he watched in “horrifying disgust and heart-wrenching empathy” and “it was the report of his youngest victim that impacted me the deepest.” He took the “coincidental” airing as “a dark omen and spiritual calling for me” that was later backed up by two “dream visions.”

“As my design for orchestrating my way into becoming Roger Kibbe’s cellmate reached fruition to culminate in the outcome that occurred, I consecrated the inception of the waning lunar cycle with his ‘death throws’ during a human sacrificial offering in a ceremonial rite of homage to the ‘God Most High,’” Budrow said, adding that he believes the souls of Kibbe’s victims “have been released from the possession of their killer and I pray that they now rest in peace.”

“As for me, I now have my single-cell status,” Budrow wrote.

The entire report, which is quite bizarre, is worth a read. — EB

The Doodler podcast is courting some controversy. As you know, I’ve been pretty pumped about the San Francisco Chronicle’s Doodler podcast: It’s a case I’d never heard of until Elon Green’s 2014 piece for The Awl, and his well-researched report is one I go back to often when I’m thinking about other cases that were poorly investigated at the time. Now the show’s four episodes in, and some respected names in the true-crime community are calling it out.

My first intimation that something was amiss was when a Best Evidence subscriber — a well-known true-crime figure (not to brag, but our subscribers are a BIG DEAL) — emailed to say “I'm sorry to report that Eve's optimism about the Doodler podcast is not warranted.” When I probed, they wrote that “I have it on excellent authority that he does not, in fact, have the goods,” and that “there are lines of investigation that should have been pursued, and probably won't be.” So I was thinking about that when I saw some frustrated tweets Wednesday from Green, the OG Doodler scribe who arguably brought the case into contemporary public attention. Here are just a few:

And perhaps most telling, given what Best Evidence was earlier told about the show:

Green’s questions on the show have since been taken up by other high-profile true crime folks like Crime Writers On’s (and many other podcasts) Rebecca Lavoie, as you can see above.

I don’t know what’s going on at the Chron, and why the producers of the Doodler have (at least so far) failed to acknowledge the work that came before it. I can tell you this, though: A longstanding issue with legacy media is its refusal to cite prior reporting, and to essentially claim ownership of a story. Ask any journalist in any city with a big daily newspaper and they’ll say the same thing: in SF we say it about the Chron, in New York the target of such claims is typically the NYT, and so on and so on.

A lot of times, that’s because the reporter who’s working on a yarn is from a pre-attribution time, a journalistic era in which linking wasn’t a thing. Kevin Fagan, the reporter behind the Doodler, is definitely of that generation…but presumably, many of the other folks behind the podcast are not.

Of course, there’s always the argument that Fagan likely did his own reporting and investigating, so acknowledging Green wasn’t necessary. And, sure, that’s maybe true legalistically, but it certainly calls into question how you can call a story “untold” when it was, in fact, told (and told quite well) several years before.

Then there’s the argument that no one who worked on the podcast had seen Green’s piece, which if true, means that Fagan and his colleagues just didn’t do their research. So, either they were aware of his work and ignored it, or they didn’t, like, google. Either way, not great.

Legacy media, and the SF Chronicle, is doing a lot better when it comes to acknowledging prior work these days than even 5 years ago, and it’s an ethical improvement that I hope continues. But to be taken seriously, Fagan or his colleagues should probably acknowledge the concerns that are being raised about their podcast sooner rather than later, because the tide of criticism of the show just seems to be getting higher and higher. — EB

Speaking of podcasts, there are a couple newly-released shows that I’m already setting aside for my next road trip (I’m just a week away from my second vaccination, y’all!!!). As always, if you have inside scoop or just thoughts on any of these shows, drop us a line or give us a call at 919-75-CRIME.

  • Name: Late Edition Crime Beat Chronicles (Season 2) Release date: March 29

    “Journalists from the Omaha World-Herald will tell the tale of two sets of brutal double-murders that took place five years apart and shocked the otherwise quiet neighborhoods where they occurred. Investigators eventually found themselves on the trail of an unlikely suspect, whose arrest was followed by a bizarre and high-profile trial.”

  • Name: O.C. Swingers Release date: March 29

    “When the charges against Newport Beach orthopedic surgeon and former Bravo reality star Dr. Grant Robicheaux and his girlfriend, substitute teacher Cerissa Riley, were revealed back in September of 2018, the world gawked at the unlikely criminals. And when a search warrant resulted in a haul that included unlawful guns, drugs, cash, and a mountain of digital evidence, the two were accused of drugging and raping MANY women.” This one is from journalist Justine Harman the the creator and host of  The Baron of Botox and Broken Harts.

  • Name: Spy Affair Release Date: March 28

    “A charismatic Russian woman arrives in the US on a mission to improve relations between the two countries, and she soon makes some powerful friends. But who is Maria Butina? And who is she working for? As Maria gets closer to the rich and connected she also attracts the attention of the FBI. In the politically charged world of US-Russia relations, everyone has secrets and almost nothing is what it seems.” Butina, herself, is interviewed on the show, which is hosted by Celia Aniskovich.

Friday on Best Evidence: As always, we’ll have a nice chat.

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.