George Orwell · Nancy Grace · The MAGA Bomber

Plus: an "Outcry" update and a tempting book excerpt

What better year, I ask you, for a little Orwell reading than this one? My faithful true-crime-recommendation correspondent Ben H. wondered on Twitter last week if I’d read Orwell’s “Decline of the English Murder.” I hadn’t, or at least not recently, but I’m glad Ben recommended it so that I can in turn recommend it to you guys. Here’s a snippet:

With all this in mind one can construct what would be, from a News of the World reader's point of view, the ‘perfect’ murder. The murderer should be a little man of the professional class — a dentist or a solicitor, say — living an intensely respectable life somewhere in the suburbs, and preferably in a semi-detached house, which will allow the neighbours to hear suspicious sounds through the wall. He should be either chairman of the local Conservative Party branch, or a leading Nonconformist and strong Temperance advocate. He should go astray through cherishing a guilty passion for his secretary or the wife of a rival professional man, and should only bring himself to the point of murder after long and terrible wrestles with his conscience. … In the last analysis he should commit murder because this seems to him less disgraceful, and less damaging to his career, than being detected in adultery. With this kind of background, a crime can have dramatic and even tragic qualities which make it memorable and excite pity for both victim and murderer.

If you liked the aspects of Bill James’s Popular Crime that contended with why a given crime dominates the headlines and our cultural attention, you’ll enjoy this essay, which is short, but packs a great deal of withering anti-American sentiment into a few paragraphs. — SDB


If you too had forgotten all about the so-called “MAGA Bomber,” Wired ran a deep dive into “the race to catch him” last week. Given that the events of late 2018 seem to have occurred 18 years ago, not 18 months, you might be forgiven for ceding the brain cell that held this case to more pressing concerns, but Garrett M. Graff’s piece (with illustrations by Mike McQuade) from Wired’s September issue is a solid one: briskly paced, with cinematic “cuts” between “The Hunted Man”’s grim childhood and the FBI’s response to his terror campaign. I did get a little impatient with Graff for explaining the Unabomber and anthrax cases, but that’s on me; not every reader 1) does this for a living and/or 2) is old enough to remember these cases firsthand.

But every reader will probably find some sobering information vis-a-vis the profile of the Post Office in cracking cases like this:

Luckily for investigators, the national response to the 2001 anthrax crisis had furnished them with some new capabilities, thanks in part to an effort to bulk up the capacity of the US Postal Inspection Service—a low-profile but wide-ranging law enforcement agency. The Post Office, for instance, had bolstered a program to take time-stamped digital photographs of all the more than 140 billion pieces of mail that enter its system each year. The effort primarily allows mail to be sorted electronically as it rushes through one of the system's hundreds of large processing centers, but it has the added benefit of helping postal inspectors narrow down precisely where a given piece of mail has entered the system.

Graff’s detailed but concise bio of The Hunted Man has a lot of compassion for a certain pitiable sort of Trump adherent, a person perhaps not habituated to critical thinking who takes comfort from a wholehearted belief in the president’s gold-plated image. It’s also somewhat sobering on the extent of law enforcement’s surveillance and tracing capabilities — not that I didn’t assume the FBI had “an elite technical unit known as the Cellular Analysis Survey Team” that can “trac[e] and match…every cell phone that had been in the vicinity of” a map point, but still. It’s a good read, exciting and packed with info…including a Yelp review of a strip club, heh. — SDB


We gave a movie about a strip club a pretty good review. We love talking about movies based on real cases around here — in fact, Eve’s my guest this week to discuss Most Wanted (…I know, right?) and While The City Sleeps — but those iTunes rental costs do start to add up after a while, and paid subscriptions really help us with research expenses…

…but building a little community of like-minded students of the genre is invaluable, so if you’re reading free, we’re just glad you’re reading, and we hope you’ll stick around!


FilmRise is moving into the original-production space…with Nancy Grace. If FilmRise’s name sounds familiar to some of you, it’s likely because you’ve watched some old-school Unsolved Mysterieses on Amazon and seen its production logo before each episode; it’s also syndicated Forensic Files to streaming services. But the Brooklyn-based company is making its own true-crime product now: Bloodline Detectives, hosted by Grace, “will unpack cold case murder investigations solved through Familial DNA Search, a growing branch of forensics where detectives trace an unknown criminal through a relative’s DNA.” The series is set to premiere October 3 “on stations reaching nearly 90% of the country” (so, probably HLN, where a lot of Grace’s other content lives) and will head to streaming in 2021.

Grace also has a book out next month called Don’t Be A Victim, which I’m sort of morbidly curious to read, but probably not morbidly curious enough to add it to September’s book poll. Anyone planning to hate-read it, let us know; we might pay you to review it! — SDB

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E!, of all outlets, has a medium-read on how Greg Kelley is moving forward after his wrongful conviction. Kelley’s battle to get his conviction overturned is the subject of recent Showtime docuseries Outcry, which I liked quite a bit; Kelley was formally exonerated last November, and since the series premiered last month, a couple of the figures in the original investigation have gotten fired or seen job offers disappear. Kelley himself is pursuing a civil suit against those figures and the city of Cedar Park, but he’s also planning to start a prison ministry, and hopes to play for the UT Longhorns as a walk-on if the Big 12 has a season in 2020.

Meanwhile, nobody else has been charged in the molestation case that wrongly sent Kelley to prison.

Natalie Finn’s piece isn’t anything groundbreaking, although it’s nice to see Kelley reintegrating to life on the outside and enjoying being a newlywed (he and Gaebri got married in January). If you watched the series — and you should! — you won’t learn a ton from the E! article. It’s mostly of interest because it’s on E!, and while the People-ish tone is on-brand for them, the topic is a bit unusual.

Kelley apparently sat for an interview with E!’s Justin Sylvester for the network’s Just the Sip podcast; that episode drops this coming Wednesday, August 19. I doubt it’s terribly substantial — again, consider the source — but if you’re a case completist, that’s happening. — SDB


The last thing I need is another book for the to-read stack, but CrimeReads is really tempting me with this excerpt from Rone Tempest’s The Last Western. Edward Lee “Eddie” Cantrell was born in Bloomington, IN in 1927, and knocked around for a couple of decades trying to find his true north…which wound up being the American West, specifically Wyoming, which Cantrell fell in love with after visiting in the mid-1950s. He moved to Lovell, WY in 1958 to become a deputy sheriff in Big Horn, and transformed himself “into the very model of a nineteenth century Western lawman, short on talk and lightning quick with his guns and his fists.” He immersed himself in “Wild Bill” Hickok lore, “practiced constantly” with his handguns, and made himself over so completely that “countless newspapers and television programs featured him in mostly fawning stories pegged to the reincarnation of the mythical Western gunslinger.” He even got hired as Robert Duvall’s “personal advisor on the Texas film set” of Lonesome Dove.

And then he shot an undercover cop. Spoilers ahoy in that link, in the event that you’re intrigued by the book excerpt and don’t want to know how the case turned out…but since I’ve already Googled it and know the outcome, I’m slightly less tempted to buy the book. Only slightly, though! If you know the case; know the author; or have already read the book and want to guide me in either direction, I welcome your counsel! In the meantime, I’ll just throw it on my Best-Evidence-only Amazon wishlist and hope the universe provides. (PS: I link to it not as a hint, but so you guys can let me know what needs to be on there and isn’t…or perhaps get inspiration for your own upcoming gift-adjacent events.) — SDB


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