CrimeDoor App Review · Baby God · Lisa McVey

and 12 Days Of Best Evidence is underway!

On the first day of Best Evidence, my Google gave to me… Welcome to The 12 Days Of Best Evidence, in which we use an old Christmas carol to unearth some lesser-known cases — and the worthwhile reading/watching related to them — for you, and ourselves.

The first day, of course, sees the true love gifted with a partridge in a pear tree, and while it’s extremely tempting for me to recommend this series of novelizations (which inevitably feature David Cassidy on the cover, regardless of the book’s topic), but instead I’ll go with Justin Michael Wolfe. A different animal entirely, but Wolfe was convicted of the 2001 murder of Danny Petrole and sent to death row…and that’s just the beginning of his complex case, which has seen numerous confessions, recantations, reversals, and stays. Why’s he here?

During trial, the commonwealth asserted that Wolfe wanted Petrole dead because he owed him a drug debt of more than $80,000.  However, Wolfe’s attorney noted that he had very little reason to kill the person who stocked his drug operation. In the realm of a $10 million marijuana and Ecstasy drug ring, $80,000 was not a big debt.

This is actually not the worst defense I’ve ever heard. It’s like that Law & Order where the bookie played by Mike Starr is like, it’s bad business for me to outright kill people with outstanding debt — right? Well, the jury didn’t buy it.

After deliberating for five hours, they recommended that Wolfe be executed.

Circuit Judge Herman A. Whisenant, Jr. imposed the death sentence on June 26.  A little more than a month later, Whisenant also sentenced Barber, the sworn killer, to a considerably lower sentence.  Barber received 38 years in prison.

The Supreme Court of Virginia upheld Wolfe’s death sentence on Feb. 28, 2003.  Less than a month later, the state’s disciplinary board suspended the law license of John H. Partridge, Wolfe’s lead counsel, for repeatedly mishandling client cases. In light of the disciplinary action, Wolfe asked the district court to financially assist him with his death sentence appeal. Whisenant denied Wolfe’s request.

Emphasis added. Partridge’s misdeeds seem to have boiled down to misappropriation of funds. You can read more about the case in a two-part 48 HRS transcript of their 2002 episode on the case (I think Part 2 of the piece, which had Peter Van Sant in the investigative driver’s seat, aired later as a follow-up); it’s not great, but the somber explanation of kids today and their newfangled pot is a fuggin’ classic:

But they weren't smoking the same weed that their parents' generation did. They were smoking a much more powerful version of the drug, known as "chronic," which is also much more expensive. It costs up to five times more than normal marijuana, also known as "schwag," and can cost up to $350 an ounce on the street.

Tee hee. If CBS News clutching their pearls over the yoots isn’t your jam, Washingtonian had an explainer on it in 2009 that might be less damp.

The case appears to have stalled out nearly two years ago, after the Supreme Court ordered the Commonwealth of Virginia to re-hear Wolfe’s claims of “vindictive” prosecution; this does seem like an ideal candidate for an episode of The Confession Tapes or the new UM. It raises a lot of questions about the efficacy/reliability of plea deals and co-conspirators turning on one another, just for starters. — SDB

What’s Eve got planned for the turtle-doves entry? We’ll all be surprised! Suggestions and additional reading welcome, as always.

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Why not get your true love the gift of Best Evidence this year? A lot less messy than swimming swans or milkmaids, and we’ll watch and read a lot of crap to find the true crime worth everyone’s time.

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The crime
For cheapskates like myself, the only “augmented reality” crime scene available on the CrimeDoor app is the murder site of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman. If you spring for a single paid door ($1.99) or a subscription plan ($4.99/month or $49.99/year), you can pick from amongst the “featured doors” on the app’s landing page, which currently include “the basement of the Ramsey home” and the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre’s “gruesome scene.” You can also use CrimeDoor’s map feature to find notorious crimes near you; the app will even furnish directions, presumably so you can step into…

The story
right where it actually happened. (One of the closer sites to me is where the Hamilton/Burr duel occurred, and I wasn’t really going to drive over to Jersey, open up a VR door in a park on the Hudson, and tool around the scene…but I wasn’t definitely not going to do that either.)

That’s how CrimeDoor works: you select one of the titular doors; you scan the space around you to find a good place to “open it up”; once it manifests on your phone, which is pretty neat, you step through, and explore the crime scene as it’s mapped onto your immediate surroundings, which is…pretty beat. I won’t deny the appeal of AR in that CS Lewis, pull-on-a-library-book-and-a-secret-staircase-appears way, and no doubt CrimeDoor is counting on that — and also the nosiness of many true-crime consumers, myself not excluded — to sell its idea. It’s also a good time to launch an “explorer app” like this, a time when people really can’t take ghost tours or visit historical societies; users can “wander around” “in” a crime scene and feel like it’s an activity.

But…it’s a crime scene. Y’all know how many times I’ve seen OJ: Made In America, so I really didn’t need much more information vis-a-vis the awful damage wrought on those two people physically, but CrimeDoor’s version of the scene doesn’t provide that information in the second place. Not rendering the scenes completely is a choice, likely to show victims some gentleness (and to deflect criticism), as one of the app’s creators noted in a release a couple of weeks ago:

Creator Neil Mandt says, "We aren't celebrating killers, we are giving a voice to the victims.  Our biggest focus is on unsolved murders and missing persons and by adding cases and content on a daily basis we hope to raise awareness and quite possibly justice for those who can no longer speak for themselves."

…but leaving aside for a moment that what they “hope to raise” first and foremost is American dollars, I don’t quite see what value is added by CrimeDoor — educationally or investigatively — if the scenes aren’t close to photo-realistic. Yes, you’ll get rubberneckers, but you’ll get those anyway, that’s the genre. I’m not saying it’s a feature I’d want, I’m not saying it’s a feature they should provide…I’m saying that, if their logline genuinely is Vidocq-ing unsolved cases, they kiiiind of can’t have it both ways. It’s murder. It’s ugly. You can’t solve a puzzle you aren’t looking squarely at.

But because it is in fact entertainment and they’re charging for it, they can’t go there. I get it. CrimeDoor does have something else to recommend it: it’s a thorough aggregator. Clicking on the Hamilton/Burr pin on the map brings you a little what’s-what card, followed by a quick summary of the case; related videos, articles, and photos from around the internet; related podcast episodes (here, from You’re Wrong About and History Author Show, among others); and similar cases. Do I understand how the Johnny Stompanato stabbing relates to two Founding Fathers trying to wing each other at dawn? I don’t. But I disappeared down a wiki-hole about it, so CrimeDoor is crazy like a fox with the algorithm some way.

The app also boots up with a content warning, and provides a Mental Health Resources listing in the info section, so I think it has good intentions — but good intentions and careful coverage don’t always make for compelling reading. I may drop a couple bucks on the Hamilton/Burr duel one vacation day soon and see what it’s like to use the app “on-scene,” but until then, I can’t really recommend CrimeDoor, which is a technological-advance answer to a question I’m not sure anyone asked. — SDB

I’ll issue my own content warning for this next section, but A&E Real Crime’s interview with Lisa McVey (now Lisa Noland) is still worth reading. Eve and I talked about Noland’s story in a Lifetime-movie-twofer episode of The Blotter Presents* a couple years ago; more on that movie here.

Melinda Beck asked Noland how she thought to note and retain so many details about Bobby Joe Long and his car. Noland: “I watched a lot of crime shows. You’d be surprised about the survival skills you have when you’re in a position like that.” Later, she adds that “When he lets me go to the bathroom, I leave my fingerprints everywhere. In case he does kill me, I want the police to know I was there.”

Some of the interview feels a little canned — Noland has told this story many times over the years, no doubt — but it tells us a lot about victimology, and about believing women. — SDB

*let me know if this or any other TBP ep isn’t available any longer, and I’ll repost it here

My review of Baby God for Primetimer isn’t live yet as I write this, but it isn’t difficult to summarize. Hannah Olson’s debut doc feature is a trim 78 minutes — and need 7-8 episodes to contend with everything that comes up about Quincy Fortier’s insemination of hundreds of patients with his own sperm, and without their consent. And about everything else baroquely fraudulent about him. Baby God airs tonight on HBO, and it’s not a waste of time or anything; I just wish Olson had had more time to dig in.

While I was reviewing that, my esteemed colleague Aaron Barnhart took a crack at Empires Of New York, which seemed like a great fit for Best Evidence since everyone pictured is a crook/embroiled with O.C.

These faces were so much of the headlines and nightly news of my childhood and adolescence, too (whatever that might say…heh) — but for some reason I didn’t make time to check out the screeners I got, and Barnhart suggests I had the right instinct:

Though billed as a rare prestige piece for CNBC, a “limited event series,” Empires of New York has the look and feel of its durable schedule-filler American Greed, especially its cheesy reenactments. (The one that imagines the meeting between Boesky and Milken, where Boesky wore a wire and picked up incriminating evidence, is so gauzy and boring you wonder why they even bothered filming it.) Paul Giamatti, who seems to be in a contest with JK Simmons to see who can make more viewers forget the Oscar-worthy portions of their careers, narrates a workmanlike script.

[hums the “We Are Farmers” jingle] Ouch. — SDB

Thursday on Best Evidence: Well, we’ll see if a jury chooses to convict me of murdering the guy who got “Meli Kalikimaka” stuck in my head, and also Eve has some things.

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