FKA twigs · Britney Spears · Stan Lee

Also: A doc about transitional housing you can watch on your lunch break

Looking at our Best Evidence budget doc, we’ve just entered a bumper-crop period for true-crime books. Here’s a roundup of four recent publications that might be worth reserving, from a report within the NAACP to a comics-related yarn that can only now be told. — EB

  • The Darkest Glare: A True Story of Murder, Blackmail, and Real Estate Greed in 1979 Los Angeles [Publication date: March 9, 2021] Publishers Weekly calls this upcoming book on a LA real estate company assassination-for-hire plot “entertaining if uneven,” which one could really say about the 1970s in general, right? According to author Jerry Jones, this book has “required by far the most journalistic techniques to capture. Constant interviews. Hunting for documents. Sitting back to see how the puzzle pieces fit together.” It’s available for preorder on Amazon.

  • The Vanishing Triangle [April, 2021] This one is for those who like to listen to their books: The Vanishing Triangle is the first true-crime book from novelist Claire McGowan, and when it drops it’ll only be on Audible (not paper or e-book). It’s about a string of at least eight disappearances in mid-1990s Dublin, all women, all gone without (even to this day) a trace. You can preorder it here.

  • True Believer: The Rise and Fall of Stan Lee [Out now] One wouldn’t expect a bio of beloved comic book guy/cameo actor Lee to be labeled as true crime, but that’s how this excerpt at Vulture makes it sound. It’s Lee partner and alleged longtime con man Peter Paul who allegedly got up to shenanigans, including an embezzlement case tied to Hillary Clinton's first Senatorial campaign. You can order True Believer here.

  • The Rope: A True Story of Murder, Heroism, and the Dawn of the NAACP [Out now] The case at hand is the 1910 slaying of ten-year-old Marie Smith, a crime for which a Black handyman, Tom Williams, was arrested. Some members of the community weren’t so sure Williams was the suspect, so they hired an out-of-town detective to come in and take a look at the case, eventually running a sting operation to find the real killer. You can order The Rope here.

San Francisco’s Public Defender’s office has launched a true-crime documentary arm. Called the Adachi Project, after late public defender/documentarian Jeff Adachi, it’s intended to be a “storytelling initiative … that illuminates timely stories and unseen perspectives of the US criminal legal system through seminal documentary film, videos and photojournalism.”

Its first project, called One Eleven Taylor, is about a privately-run “reentry facility” in one of San Francisco’s most troubled areas, the Tenderloin. It’s intended to “help prepare [recently incarcerated] individuals to reintegrate back to society and be responsible individuals who are accountable for their actions,” according to the Getting Out & Staying Out Guide for People Leaving Jails and Prisons, but according to the Adachi Project, its currently “engaged in a dangerous pattern of neglect which is exposing residents to COVID-19.” As they documented this pattern, they created a short film about the residence, and is the first part of film, art, and media project DEFENDER - Vol. 00. From its press release:

The San Francisco Public Defender’s Office began documenting conditions at 111 Taylor in May 2020, after a resident notified his attorney about risks to personal safety due to lack of COVID-19 protocols. In response, the Office worked to help relocate their clients who were housed in the Center, where possible. The reporting resident also began to record interviews and capture videos of the crisis and the residents’ deepening fear, not only of COVID-19 spreading throughout the facility, but also of the potential retaliation for speaking out. The result is a tense 11-minute immersive documentary seen and experienced through the eyes of residents who are forced to live at 111 Taylor and risk violating parole and being sent back to prison to protect themselves from the virus. 

The film dropped on Tuesday, which is kind of remarkable timing for my inbox — as your comments rolled in on how you wished Netflix’s Cecil Hotel series might have tackled these same themes of poverty and fear, this short film appeared, tugging at a lot of the same threads. You can read more about 111 Taylor and the documentary here, and watch via the “play film” button here. — EB

Erin Lee Carr is reportedly working on a Britney Spears documentary. Unless you’ve been on a retreat somewhere, you likely know that NYT/Hulu doc Framing Britney Spears, about her 13-year-long court-sanctioned conservatorship, has inspired a flurry of discussion around the pop star — everything from how we treat young women in entertainment to how we approach mental health crisis to exactly why Spears isn’t allowed to control her own life.

While a gripping conversation, not precisely a true-crime narrative (from what we know so far). But that might be changing: Bloomberg reports that crime-tale documentarian Erin Lee Carr has been working on a Spears-related project for Netflix since well before the competing project, Framing, dropped this month.

“Carr’s project isn’t completed and doesn’t have a release date yet,” the outlet reports in a slender, detail-scarce item…which means that Carr’s take might not be up the true crime alley, either. But as Oxygen notes, almost all of Carr’s recent works have centered on lawbreakers (most women), so a departure might be unlikely. — EB

Elle has been doing some fantastic true-crime work lately. Of course, there was the sensational The Journalist and the Pharma Bro, which I ASSUME everyone here read (if not go now), as well as 2019’s Slippery When Wet, that strange and compelling portrait of so-called Kayak Killer Angelika Graswald. Now they’ve turned what could have been a standard celebrity interview with artist FKA twigs into a stunning (and quite relatable) master class on domestic abuse.

It begins as the standard romantic stuff we were all raised to applaud: a woman and a man meet at work, and the man:

[E]nacted a “charm offensive” shortly after meeting twigs that seemed straight out of a movie: professing he “loved her” a mere week or two into their relationship, and jumping over the fence of her London home to leave her love notes and flowers. When they hit a rough spot later in their relationship, the actor went overboard in his attempts to win her back. “He would send me between 10 and 20 bunches of flowers a day for 10 days. Every time I would sit down to work or watch something, the doorbell would ring, and it would be another three bunches of flowers. On the tag, each time, it would say, ‘More love,’ ‘More love,’ ‘More love.’ ”

Of course, the man is actor Shia LaBeouf, about whom twigs’ allegations of domestic violence and abuse are now well known.

But as opposed to making this a mere chronicle of a relationship gone bad, reporter Marjon Carlos grounds it in facts and abuse statistics, and contextualizes it with details on LaBeouf’s public treatment during the alleged attacks, as well as with how race plays a factor in how allegations like hers are perceived. It’s an important read for folks far beyond twigs’ fan base, and — if they’re smart — an excellent template for editors to use when covering other abuse allegations (Marilyn Manson and Armie Hammer come to mind) to make their celebrity/crime reporting as impactful as its deserves to be. — EB

Friday on Best Evidence: I want us to talk about the Night Stalker and his role in pop culture. I have thoughts.

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