Dateline · Most Wanted · CrimeDoor

Plus: Four of whatever kind of bird you prefer

We’re on Day 4 of the 12 days of Best Evidence! As you know, the fourth verse of the holiday carol refers to birds — but after that, there’s a bit of debate.

Some say that the lyrics as originally written are “four colly birds,” which Vox says is “an archaic term meaning black as coal (blackbirds, in other words).” If I’m going to go with the original lyrics, then, I have to turn to the case of Jane Marie Prichard, a University of Maryland student who was found dead in Blackbird State Forest in 1986.

Her slaying remains unsolved to this day. One suspect (an area squirrel hunter) was exonerated via DNA evidence, and it wasn’t until 2015 that the area police department even got a cold case unit…but when it did, her death was the first case they reopened. It’s since become the stuff of internet detective legend, with reddit thread after reddit thread after reddit thread (among other things) hashing over the (scanty) evidence.

But if we’re going to go with “four calling birds,” as the lyrics were supposedly adapted by composer Frederic Austin in 1909, then the choice is clear: seminal ’zine Mondo 2000’s rundown of phone phreaks, the 1970s-era technological prank that predated what we think of as contemporary hacking. If you want more landline shananigans, I recommend the Atlantic’s Whatever Happened to the Phone Phreaks? and will remind you of a previous Best Evidence pick, Wired’s Inside the Hidden World of Elevator Phone Phreaking. — EB

Hey, do you remember Most Wanted? This true-crime tale starred Josh Hartnett, features an award-worthy performance from a Philip Seymour Hoffman-esque Jim Gaffigan, and Sarah and I discussed it on the last full episode of The Blotter Presents (sniff! sob!). Back then the newish release was a $7 rental on most platforms, but as of this week it’s available as part of a subscription to Amazon Prime.

The movie isn’t perfect — as Sarah and I note, if women appear in the movie they’re there to not understand a more complicated male’s obsessions, but mostly, they don’t exist. But Hartnett is solid, Gaffigan is a revelation, and for the most part, the movie holds true to the story of Alain Olivier, who I discovered just now has written a book called Good Luck Frenchy (it appears that Olivier was involved in the film’s production, which likely did not hurt). If you’re looking for something to watch, especially during the holiday content doldrums, you could do worse than this movie — and afterwards, you can join Sarah and me on our campaign to get Gaffigan a Best Supporting Oscar nom. — EB

CrimeDoor is pissing off victims’ advocates. I’m talking, of course, about the crime scene app that Sarah reviewed just last week. Part of its offerings is a VR function when you’re at the scene, and it’s that that’s apparently upsetting folks near some scenes, 12 News reports.

According to the broadcast report, the app “shows you things we can’t show you on TV, and some things the courts won’t let you see, either,” which kind of sounds like the coverage CrimeDoor’s owners must be salivating for! But victims’ advocates who appear in the report call out the platform for being entertainment instead of an actual tool for internet sleuths (and the crass-ish way the owners speak in the segment don’t help their case, to be honest). And no matter what side you’re on, this is some classic broadcast news finger-wagging type stuff, presented to intensely that it almost feels like parody. You can watch the full segment above. — EB

Wow, a lot of people watch Dateline! Deadline reports that the true crime-heavy series has sold its fifth annual syndicated run to “75% of the U.S.,” so if you live somewhere where you can’t get Dateline, you either live in paradise or hell.

It’s apparently “one of only three syndicated programs in positive territory this season,” and “was watched by more than 133 million unique viewers in 2019” on stations owned by every baddie you can think of, including Fox, Sinclair, and Hearst. The show’s viewership actually grew by 7 percent this past year, which in a sea of true crime content is no easy task. So, good for them, I guess. — EB

You knew this was coming. A tiger at Dancing With The Stars contender/possible black widow Carole Baskin’s rescue group “nearly ripped off” a volunteer’s arm last week, multiple news reports say. Baskin, who was prominently featured in true-crime doc Tiger King as a critic of rival big-cat aficionado Joe Exotic, confirms that Candy Couser, a five-year volunteer at Baskin’s Big Cat Rescue, “was feeding a tiger named Kimba when the animal grabbed her arm.”

According to Baskin, “When [Couser] went to raise the second door she saw it was clipped shut. This is our universal signal NOT to open a gate without the coordinator coming to assist, but Candy said she just wasn’t thinking when she reached in to unclip it. It is against our protocols for anyone to stick any part of their body into a cage with a cat in it. Kimba grabbed her arm and nearly tore it off at the shoulder.”

The New York Times reports that the 69-year-old Couser was in good condition as of last week, and that her “arm was broken in three places and that her shoulder was badly damaged but that she could move her fingers.” According to Baskin, that’s the first injury of that nature her rescue has seen since 1988. — EB

Wednesday on Best Evidence: What will Sarah choose for the best (both from a crime and singing standpoint) 12 Days lyric?

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