Fifteen true crime stories we've been meaning to mention
Answering the question "what should I read this weekend?"
Every time we think the true-crime wave has crested, it grows by a foot or two. It’s funny, when we started this publication over two years ago (which makes Best Evidence voting age in Substack years) we weren’t sure that we’d have enough content to make this a five-days-a-week affair. But between May of 2019 and now, our budget doc seems to fill more and more quickly, and the links Sarah and I Slack each other for Bad Art Friend-level mockery pile up faster and faster.
So today is another of those big bad roundup days of stories we meant to get to but haven’t so far — so we’re serving them up to you for your consideration, so you can read, discuss, and basically just take them off our hands. — EB
HBO Max Alters ‘Generation Hustle’ Descriptions Of Ex-WeWork CEO Adam Neumann; Drops “True Crime” From Docuseries’ Definition [Deadline]
I can’t do better than reporters Dominic Patten and Dade Hayes with a summary for this one:
Still having the tagline of “Is WeWork founder Adam Neumann a brilliant salesman or a false prophet who convinced an entire generation to follow him to the promised land?” the 46-minute second episode of the April 22 launching docuseries EP’d by Angie Day and Yon Motskin has made some pivotal changes after getting an informative correspondence or two from the well-documented ex-exec’s lawyers earlier this year, if you know what I mean?
That’s not the only criminal element that was softened in the episode on the questionable workspace rental company, as Patten and Hayes serve up a list of cards and assertions that have been revised under — one would assume — threats of litigation.
True Crime Is Rotting Our Brains [Gawker]
This isn’t another of those “you’re gross for wanting to read about murder” shamings, hooray. Instead, it’s a take on the idea that true crime (like Nextdoor and broadcast news) is feeding into our collective state of mean world syndrome. It’s a good one. [“People are on one about it on Twitter, though. Interested to hear what the readers think.” — SDB]
Father of Killed Reporter Asks Regulators to Investigate Facebook [New York Times]
TV reporter Alison Parker and videographer Adam Ward were killed on camera in 2015 by a former colleague. Parker’s father, Andy, has spent many of the years since trying to shut down shared clips of his daughter’s slaying, expressing frustration with companies like Google over its hosting of the clips. This week, he filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission claiming that Facebook and Instagram continue to host those videos, saying, “Posting violent content and murder is not free speech, it’s savagery.” This isn’t the first time he’s come to the FTC over claims like these, but given Facebook’s current seat in America’s penalty box, this time he might see some significant success.
In 1992, thousands of furious, drunken cops descended on City Hall — and changed New York history [NY Mag]
This longread collab with The Garrison Project details a racist protest by thousands of NYPD officers against Mayor David Dinkins (the city’s first Black mayor) after he proposed a change in the makeup of the city’s Civilian Complaint Review Board. Rudy Giuliani, who was then mainly known as a failed mayoral candidate, makes an appearance in the yarn — and it’s not on the side of the angels. It’s a deeply-reported, infuriating read that provides a great foundation for any arguments you might make on why police reform isn’t as easy as some claim.
Murdaugh True-Crime Saga Getting Scripted Treatment at Lionsgate TV [Hollywood Reporter]
Journalist Matthew Lysiak’s book, Money, Mayhem and Murder in South Carolina: The Murdaugh Family Saga, isn’t even done yet, but Lionsgate has already snapped it up for a scripted adaptation. Remind me, can Brendan Gleeson do a good Southern accent?
Ex-police officer's DNA ends 35-year hunt for notorious serial killer in France [NBC]
Call it the French version of the Golden State Killer saga: “DNA from a 59-year-old retired officer corresponded to genetic traces found at the scene of multiple crimes in the 1980s and 1990s,” including “at least six rapes and four killings,” mostly of young girls.
Elizabeth Holmes trial: Buddhist Juror No. 4 off jury over concerns about punishment [Bay Area News Group]
From Ethan Baron’s always excellent reporting: “Juror No. 4, a dark-haired woman in surgical mask and a green floral blouse, told Judge Edward Davila in U.S. District Court in San Jose that as a Buddhist, she believes in love and forgiveness. She worried that if she and other jurors find Holmes guilty, ‘I’m thinking of all the time she’ll be in jail.’”
Couldn’t you have mentioned that when you got your jury duty summons? Is this kind of reasonable thinking you get when you seek a jury of folks who have avoided all information about a high profile case? Another juror has also expressed “concerns that English wasn’t her first language and as a juror, her role could impact Holmes’ ‘future.’” Oh, boy.
The Long American History of “Missing White Woman Syndrome” [New Yorker]
We’ve all read a lot of content on this in the last few weeks, but this piece by journalism all-star Helen Rosner is different. It’s a Q&A with Jean Murley, “an English professor and scholar of true crime who teaches at Queensborough Community College,” with Rosner asking insightful and probing questions that Murley thoughtfully answers with a remarkable depth of knowledge. This is a non-fluffy item that requires your full attention, so save it for a time you’re feeling sharp.
Food dye as paint, hair as a brush: how a lifer found an escape in art [Guardian]
Donny Johnson is serving a life sentence in a California prison over his role in a San Jose homicide. He started painting in 2002 using leftover food and his hair; now he has a show of his work in London at the Riverside Studios as well as a companion doc called Painted With My Hair that will debut later this month. Of note: Notorious Negroni bastardizer Stanley Tucci will provide Johnson’s voice in the film, as since he’s still locked up he wasn’t exactly available for VO sessions.
Are you thinking about how freakin’ handy it is to have all these great stories to read while you’re commuting/waiting for the kids at pickup/snuggled at home in bed? Sarah and I spend hours every week sifting through the true-crime dreck (and, friends, there is dreck galore) to bring you the good stuff. Help us keep that going by snapping up a paid subscription today:
(Those of you who already have paid subscriptions are so patient for enduring these little messages; we thank you from the bottom of our hearts for your support.)
Vice Hit With $300M Suit From Controversial Surveillance Company [The Daily Beast]
Everyone who watched broadcast news knows of Shotspotter, the hidden mic tech used by police departments to monitor high crime areas for potential gunfire. An ACLU report claims that the company lacks “operational value” and said that its use “it increases the incidence of stop and frisk tactics by police officers in some neighborhoods,” Vice, among other outlets, have reported critically on the company with stories like “Gunshot-Detecting Tech Is Summoning Armed Police to Black Neighborhoods.”
Now Shotspotter is accusing Vice of defamation for its reporting, which is based on “publicly available court documents and testimony from experts and public defenders who have taken issue with the reliability of ShotSpotter’s technology,” TBD notes. They’ve hired law firm Clare Locke, which has successfully muted coverage of figures like “Matt Lauer and New York Times reporter Glenn Thrush, who were previously accused of sexual misconduct in reporting by major news outlets.”
‘This Is Ear Hustle’ adds the personal story of podcast host’s journey to San Quentin [SF Chronicle]
A book about a podcast? Sure, when the podcast in question is Ear Hustle, the show by folks incarcerated in San Quentin prison. I’m way down in the reserve list for the time, which reviewer Samantha Schoech says “covers many of the stories and individuals it has covered on the podcast, with added context. Readers are apprised of the thinking behind certain interviews and episodes, how and why the hosts chose to cover complex topics like prison marriage, prison race relations and victim experience in a certain way.” If you think the book sounds too meta for you (and maybe it is!) reading this review will cover all your bases.
Judge to Resentence Scott Peterson in December to Life Term [NBC Bay Area]
If I had a dollar for everyone whose said “I don’t understand what is happening with Scott Peterson’s case,” I wouldn’t have to do those “please get a paid subscription to Best Evidence!” write-ups. So here’s the deal: Judge Anne-Christine Massullo will re-sentence Scott Peterson to life in prison on Dec. 8, after ruling that jurors in the death row resident’s original trial “who personally disagreed with the death penalty but were willing to impose it were improperly dismissed.”
Peterson’s defense team is still fighting for an entirely new trial, saying there’s evidence to prove he didn’t kill his wife, Laci, in 2002. No decision has been made on that quite yet, nor has a hearing on the potential retrial been scheduled. Don’t hold your breath waiting for that part of the story, as a Peterson lawyer says that decision could be delayed “even a year or more.”
Kidnapping, assassination and a London shoot-out: Inside the CIA's secret war plans against WikiLeaks [Yahoo News]
I didn’t see much pickup of Zach Dorfman, Sean D. Naylor and Michael Isikoff’s longread on official discussions to kidnap or kill Julian Assange, which surprised me, as the story is wild. Maybe it’s because no one even realized that Yahoo News is still a thing, or because these days its pages look like they’re on one of those websites you accidentally end up on when you mistakenly click on an iffy “related content” link. Don’t let the off-brandness or website sketchiness put you off — if this piece was on a site that didn’t look like a scam, it would be all over the place, and well deservedly so
After parole, podcast producers are turning skills learned in prison into paying gigs [Current]
Including this item at risk of seeming like an Ear Hustle stan, as its greater theme — that learning about journalism/reporting/podcasting in prison can create a new wave of content creators — is an important one for its potential impact on how true crime is told and sold.
Unsolved Murdaugh Murders Expose Years of South Carolina Mysteries [New York Times]
As we wait for Matthew Lysiak to finish up his Murdaugh book, we can content ourselves with this longread from Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs and Richard Fausset on five people with connections to the family that have died under troubling circumstances in recent years. It’s a solidly thorough overview of several South Carolina cases that might have a connection to the powerful family — a family that some are now saying operated outside the law with few consequences for decades.
Friday on Best Evidence: Paid subscribers will enjoy original content from Sarah on some of the genre’s most recent properties, including a review of Hulu’s Dopesick. For everyone else, we’ll see you back here on Monday.