Danny Masterson · Diego Maradona · Dateline
Plus more Satanic panic, some casting updates, and a Giannulli family vacation
|Best Evidence||May 26||3||7|
Podcast The Devil Within hit Wondery+ yesterday. I’ve had my fill of Satanic-panic content for a while, even properties that thoroughly debunk it, but if the name Tommy Sullivan resonates with you, maybe you want to check it out. Deadline has more intel:
The first season of the ten-part series follows the 1988 story of Tommy Sullivan who brutally murdered his mother and later took his own life. Investigations revealed that Tommy was a part of a Satanic Cult, sparking the nationwide hysteria now known as ‘Satanic Panic’. After more than three decades, the truth behind this horrific crime will finally be revealed.
Peter White’s write-up goes on to note that the pod is “written, directed, and narrated by Branden Morgan, Senior Podcast Producer at Cavalry Audio, who is also from the town in New Jersey where this story unfolded.” The town in question is Milton, which isn’t too far from my own Garden State hometown, and while I’ve heard of the case, the assertion that it touched off the “nationwide hysteria” is odd at best. Maybe if it had gone down in nineteen seventy-eight, but at the end of the eighties?
That’s, like, strike five for me, but if you guys listen — and for you non-Wondery+ folks, it’ll hit your podcast apps June 8 — let me know how you find it. Certainly Wondery seems optimistic, as a second season is already in production. — SDB
The Phil Collins issue of Texas Monthly…is a thing I just typed (heh), but also features a look back at the Juneteenth 1981 drowning of three Black teens at Lake Mexia. Anthony Freeman, Carl Baker, and Steve Booker, taken into police custody for marijuana possession, got loaded into a boat by the three Limestone County cops who cuffed them; the boat, well overweight, promptly capsized, and while all three cops survived, Freeman and Baker and Booker all drowned — possibly because they hadn’t been uncuffed for the trip across the lake to the sheriff’s command post.
The incident still haunts the locals, and cast a pall over an historic annual celebration that remains undispelled. It’s possible there’s no crime here, but my first instinct is to assume some kind of law-enforcement negligence; either way, Michael Hall’s prose creates a compelling and mournful atmosphere. — SDB
Is HLN trying to eat City Confidential’s lunch with Murder Nation? It doesn’t seem super-likely that a network I’ve taken to calling “the Nancy Grace channel” would aspire to the specific soothing middlebrow greatness of CC, plus the upcoming show is taking on entire states, versus metro areas. According to the HLN press release on Futon Critic, two back-to-back episodes will air each week, and
each season of Murder Nation focuses on the crimes that are distinct to one U.S. region, whether it is bodies that turn up in swamps in the Bayou, killers stalking the sandy beaches of the Jersey Shore, victims lusting for fame in the Hollywood Hills, or screams lost in the cold Alaskan tundra.
The series illuminates what connects these crimes to their environments and what makes them so uniquely American.
The series premieres June 13 at 9 PM ET, and its first season takes on Louisiana; the PR blast above has more details on the cases you can expect. I’m-a skip this one, but if your interest is piqued, the trailer’s below! — SDB
Speaking of non-prestige but reliable true-crime stalwarts, The New Yorker’s Sarah Larson’s analysis of “Why ‘Dateline’ Remains The True-Crime King” is on point. I don’t love everything Larson points to as a plus, mind you; the snip below highlights a couple of my crime-newsmag pet peeves, the omnipresent lighting up of rooms and the reaction prompts:
The victim is introduced with images and remembrances from loved ones, and is often described as both an individual and a type: a “girly girl” or a “tomboy,” a dad who is also a “Mr. Mom,” a person whose smile would light up a room. The correspondents, some near-comically telegenic, are good listeners; the camera alternates between interviewer and interviewee, emphasizing empathetic connection. The correspondents often seem in synch with the victim’s loved ones—even to the extent of suggesting phrases that the interviewee repeats, nodding along. (This happens so much that I began recording it, in fascination. “Daddy’s girl?” “Daddy’s girl.” “Somebody’s gotta pay?” “Somebody’s got to pay.” “Could Tammy sell anything?” “She could sell anything.”)
But that predictability isn’t confined to the downer-market precincts of true-crime TV…and it’s part of the point. It’s part of why my husband and I bonded over it, lo these many years ago when we first met, and it’s how the fact that, in the Dateline-verse, “more than one husband has pushed his wife off a cliff and made it look like an accident” has become a running gag in our household. (Spouse: “[apologizes for forgetting to do a chore for the umpteenth time]” Other Spouse: “It’s fiiiine. So, want to go for a hike?”) And Larson has a felt understanding of why Keith Morrison is so popular, particularly in Dateline podcasts and particularly in the last year in a half. There is value in consistency, and in knowing what your show is and what your audience needs you to do… — SDB
…which is why we keep bringing you the latest in Theranews and Loughlinigans! Let’s start with that pre-trial motion we mentioned last week, in which Elizabeth Holmes’s defense team argued that evidence relating to her wealth and lifestyle would be prejudicial, and prosecutors responded that said lifestyle “was bolstered by the alleged fraud.” Well, the judge has ruled, and while the state “can put evidence before the jury that Holmes’ enjoyed a lifestyle comparable to other heads of tech firms,” they can’t use brand names, or “any evidence of Holmes’ wealth, spending and lifestyle ‘outside the general nature of her position as Theranos CEO,’” which when you think about it is a pretty tiny crumb for the defense. After all, whatever else you think about Holmes and her (pricey, IIRC) turtlenecks, my impression isn’t that she collected investors’ money and then just fucked off to go eat bon-bons and watch Days; it doesn’t seem like she had much of a life outside of work, so having to do the courtroom equivalent of blurring out logos on an MTV show is not much of a concession.
Meanwhile, college-admissions schemesters Lori Loughlin and Mossimo Giannulli continue to try to…customize reality, I guess? Loughlin and Giannulli, who completed his prison term last month, each separately petitioned the court for permission to go to Mexico for a family vacay, adding that they’ve been rilly rilly good so can Judge Scary Mommy lift the grounding just for a week, pretty please?
…Okay, they didn’t say it like that; they said it like this: “Loughlin has paid a fine of $150,000 and met her community service requirement, and Giannulli has paid a fine of 250,000 and is working to complete his community service, the request said.” And…sure? It’s not like they’re asking the court to pay for the trip, is A. B, if they decide to lam it from the Cabo Hilton and it turns into A Whole Thing again, that would be hilarious, and C, honestly, I’m not sure six days and five nights with the younger Giannullis isn’t a punishment of its own. Like, “second prize is TWO weeks of Olivia Jade bitching that customs confiscated her ring light”? Hard pass. — SDB
Holmeses: from Elizabeth to HH to the real-life Sherlocks, they’re what we do. Our brand is unusual, but if you’re into it, and you’re also into saving money, here’s a hed for you: an annual paid subscription to Best Evidence is just $50 this week!
That includes gift subs, so cross that dad/grad shopping off your list now and go back to marinating in your favorite podcast. — SDB
Danny Masterson is going to trial on three rape charges. A hearing last week spotlighted testimony from one of Masterson’s accusers, and the snippet below suggests there’s grounds for hauling goddamn Scientology before the court as well. (The quotation and the article from which it’s taken are rather rough going, so take care of yourselves by skipping this segment if need be.)
After a second assault from Masterson, she told the court she approached ethics officials at the Church of Scientology, where they were both members. Instead of helping her, church officials convinced her that she was not actually raped, she said. That is why, she told the court, she didn’t report the incident until 15 years later. When a defense lawyer for Masterson asked her why she hadn’t at the time thought that the first incident had been rape, the accuser broke down. “Because it was normal,” she said.
The “normal” behavior in question: Masterson assaulting the accuser while she was asleep. One of Masterson’s attorneys — not for nothing, but his lead lawyer is Thomas Mesereau, who also defended such bastions of sexual propriety as Bill Cosby and Michael Jackson — “accused prosecutors and investigators of having ‘religious bias in the most blatant form’” against the apparently blameless servant of Xenu, but a Superior Court judge found this and other accusers’ testimony credible enough to order Masterson to stand trial.
That trial will represent the rare prosecution of a Hollywood figure in the #MeToo era despite dozens of investigations by police and the Los Angeles district attorney, most of which have ended without charges.
Masterson apparently had little reaction to the decision. We can probably expect a fairly major reaction from Scientology; the three accusers who testified at the hearings had filed a lawsuit against Masterson, which his defense team characterized as collusion in pursuit of financial gain but which prosecutors said was “filed to stop the harassment they had been receiving from the church since coming forward.” And apparently that’s got Masterson feeling pretty confident, if the tasteless Insta selfie he posted outside court last week is any indication.
It’s unclear when that trial will start; Masterson gets re-arraigned early next month, and I hope Leah Remini does a follow-up special of some sort about this skeeze over the summer. — SDB
Already listened to today’s Extra Hot Great? Great! Then you can skip this scripted-true-crime casting round-up. For the rest of you, a hat trick of additions to upcoming projects:
and Juliette Binoche, just the latest big name added to The Staircase — but her character “is being kept under wraps.” I could say I regret commenting on EHG that maybe she’s playing the owl, but I don’t. — SDB
Soccer legend Diego Maradona died of heart failure in November of last year, two weeks after he’d had brain surgery — and now seven members of his medical team are charged with homicide. The neurosurgeon who performed the operation, as well as Maradona’s psychiatrist, deny any wrongdoing, but it seems the issue isn’t with the surgery:
Audio of private conversations between doctors and people from Maradona's entourage were leaked to the media and have indicated that Maradona was not being properly looked after prior to his death.
The [medical] board [appointed by prosecutors to investigate “culpable homicide”] revealed in a report that the medical team who attended Maradona prior to his death acted in an "inappropriate, deficient and reckless manner" and left him "to his own devices."
In the States, these proceedings would drag on for years. Argentina don’t play that: “The accused will begin to testify from May 31.”
Looking for a snapshot of Maradona to lead this section, I was struck by the wide range in his relative healthfulness. In some pictures, from the eighties, he looked cherubic and fast; in many others he looked diabetic and vague. Then I turned up a New Yorker brief from 2019. Titled “The Tragedy Of Diego Maradona, One Of Soccer’s Greatest Stars,” it’s a remembrance via a recommendation of Asif Kapadia’s documentary, Diego Maradona, and it begins by describing a tribute game Maradona appeared in in 2001:
In his prime, Maradona could flit past defenders with sublime ease, but now, at forty-one, he was overweight, with bad knees and bad ankles, and had been fighting drug addiction for nearly two decades. The opposing players indulged him, stepping aside as he lumbered by. He scored two goals that day, both penalties against René Higuita, the former goalkeeper for the Colombian national team, who obliged his old friend by jumping out of the way.
It ends with the author’s cousin, a med student at the time of the conversation, telling the author that “Diego is going to die.” And this was 20 years ago. You have to wonder if the information in the ESPN story about Maradona’s family demanding a reckoning, not to mention the toxicology report, aren’t trying to say without actually saying it that Maradona’s death was an outcome everyone had braced for for decades.
We’ll see what develops; I’ve added the documentary to my watchlist on HBO Max. Anyone seen it? — SDB
Tomorrow on Best Evidence: Victorian poisoning experts, Uncle Jesse and Li’l Frank, and how to rob a bank.