Jack Palladino · Marilyn Manson · T.I.

Plus: You'll never look at spam calls the same way again

Jack Palladino has died — and in the moments before his death, he solved his own murder. We last discussed Jack back in September, when I recommended you read Phil Bronstein’s piece in Alta on San Francisco’s dwindling ranks of old-school, left-leaning private eyes. At the story’s core was Palladino. Here’s a snip (this is Bronstein speaking in the first person):

One crisp fall afternoon in the early 1980s, I was sharing an outside café table on Union Street with the married private investigator team of Palladino and Sutherland. Their office was a walk-up next door.

These detectives wanted from me—what else?—information, the coin of the PI realm. In this case, about a local businessman from the Philippines looking to open a casino in the cemetery-rich suburb of Colma. They needed an introduction to a source of mine from my years in Manila to check the applicant’s background. As always, it was a negotiation. In return, I wanted something from them I could use for some future story.

At one point, the negotiation stalled.

Back then, I was seeing a woman I shouldn’t have been seeing. We’d kept the relationship secret—there was a public aspect to her life that wouldn’t have gone well if it were to have come out.

We’ll call her Connie.

Suddenly Palladino stopped his staccato monologue. He leaned in toward me, smiled, let a second pass, and asked, “So, how’s Connie?” Palladino was known as aggressive, even sometimes a bully in high-profile criminal cases. For a moment I felt caught, disarmed and without a snappy response. Sutherland, the stylish, wry Helen Mirren of PIs, put her hand on my arm and said, “Oh, don’t bother about Jack. He’s just showing off.”

The Alta piece wasn’t the first time Phil told that story: He’d use it often to demonstrate Palladino’s seeming omniscience. He’d recount the yarn with wry admiration, the same way everyone who found themselves at the wrong end of Palladino’s glare would describe him.

Palladino, who was 76, basically retired last year, though he was still taking on the occasional case. This, after a 40-year-long career working on some of the splashiest cases ever (more on that in a minute), often on the most problematic side.

According to his business partner and wife, Sandra Sutherland, Palladino “must have seen or heard something” from inside their Haight-Ashbury area home last Thursday afternoon. He ran out with his camera, the SF Examiner reports, snapping photos of whatever he saw going down. He struggled with two suspects, and was critically injured in the fight. After days on life support with no hope of recovery, he died.

But before he died, police say they tracked down both suspects, arresting them on Sunday. “I said, ‘Guess what Jack, they got the bastards, and it was all your doing,’” Sutherland said.

Palladino’s client list — and methods — were not without their issues. The NYT has a clear-eyed accounting of some of his highest-profile cases, including his work during the 1992 presidential claim to discredit Gennifer Flowers’s claims that she’d had an affair with Bill Clinton. (It’s worth reading this 2016 report on the misinformation campaign Palladino headed up.)

That wasn’t the only case of sexual misconduct (or worse) Palladino and Sutherland worked on. According to Ronan Farrow, Palladino “created dossiers on both journalists and accusers” in the Harvey Weinstein rape case, and helped to catch and kill evidence against R. Kelly, the New Yorker reports.

Other cases include work for an alleged sexual abuse victim of Michael Jackson’s, and if you remember The Insider — that Russell Crowe movie about the cigarette business — you have Palladino to thank. He’s the guy that protected whistleblower Jeffrey Wigand, work that this 1996 Vanity Fair story goes into in depth.

“I am somebody you call in when the house is on fire, not when there’s smoke in the kitchen,” Palladino said in an interview with the SF Examiner back in 1999. “You ask me to deal with that fire, to save you, to do whatever has to be done to the fire — where did it come from, where is it going, is it ever going to happen again?” — EB

This seems like as good a time as any to round up some recent celebrity-focused cases that could have/would have been great Palladino clients. — EB

The hip-hop press is buzzing over allegations that musician/actor T.I. (Ant Man, “Whatever You Like”) and his musician/reality star wife Tameka Dianne “Tiny” Harris (T.I. & Tiny: Friends & Family Hustle, “Just Kickin’ It”) have engaged in sexual coercion and abuse. Sabrina Peterson, a former friend of the family sho since accused T.I. of assault, is compiling the claims against the couple on her Instagram, with one witness account saying that “I watched [T.I.] drag girls back and forth from the bedroom, to the bathroom, to the living room … One girl was crying because she wanted to leave but they refused to give her her phone to call an Uber.” In a statement released to media, T.I. and Tiny say that “they emphatically deny in the strongest way possible the egregiously appalling allegations being made against them,” and threaten “appropriate legal action” against Peterson “if these allegations don't end.”

A post shared by Evan Rachel Wood (@evanrachelwood)

Also on Instagram are actor Evan Rachel Wood’s (Westworld) allegations against former fiancé Brian Werner, aka musician/actor Marilyn Manson (“The Beautiful People,” American Gods). “He started grooming me when I was a teenager and horrifically abused me for years,” Wood said of their high-profile relationship, which went public in 2007, when she was 19 and he was 38. Wood had spoken in general terms about an abusive relationship she’d had in her teens, including Senate testimony in 2019 about abuse she experienced at age 18. In an interview with Spin in 2009, Werner said, “I have fantasies every day about smashing [Wood’s] skull in with a sledgehammer,” a remark that went largely without comment from his colleagues or the public. Werner disputed the claims via Instagram, but according to Variety, his record label has dropped him and his upcoming streaming/TV appearances have been canceled. — EB

This might be the most relatable true-crime longread I’ve consumed so far this year. I promise you, after reading it, you’ll be reminded of it multiple times a day unless your spam call blocker is WAY better than mine is (if so, please recommend in the comments!).

So here’s the deal: Reporter Yudhijit Bhattacharjee (who I realize when I look at his site has written some of my favorite magazine-style longreads of the last couple decades — how do we become friends with this guy?!?) caught wind of Jim Browning, the popular YouTube personality behind my new favorite channel, which is dedicated to going after the phone scammers who call us all every day pretending to be with some sort of “official” company or organization — but who are just attempting to steal our cash.

Bhattacharjee not only tracks down Browning, who has managed to hack into many of the scam call centers, but some of the call center workers, participants in a (estimated to be) $20 billion industry. Here’s a snip:

In Kolkata, I met Aniruddha Nath, then 23, who said he spent a week working at a call center that he quickly realized was engaged in fraud. Nath has a pensive air and a shy smile that intermittently cut through his solemnness as he spoke. While finishing his undergraduate degree in engineering from a local college — he took a loan to study there — Nath got a job offer after a campus interview. The company insisted he join immediately, for a monthly salary of about $200. Nath asked me not to name the company out of fear that he would be exposing himself legally.

His jubilation turned into skepticism on his very first day, when he and other fresh recruits were told to simply memorize the contents of the company’s website, which claimed his employer was based in Australia. On a whim, he Googled the address of the Australian office listed on the site and discovered that only a parking garage was located there. He said he learned a couple of days later what he was to do: Call Indian students in Australia whose visas were about to expire and offer to place them in a job in Australia if they paid $800 to take a training course.

On his seventh day at work, Nath said, he received evidence from a student in Australia that the company’s promise to help with job placements was simply a ruse to steal $800; the training the company offered was apparently little more than a farce. “She sent me screenshots of complaints from individuals who had been defrauded,” Nath said. He stopped going in to work the next day. His parents were unhappy, and, he said, told him: “What does it matter to you what the company is doing? You’ll be getting your salary.” Nath answered, “If there’s a raid there, I’ll be charged with fraud.”

Bhattacharjee’s report for the New York Times is one of the most engrossing things I’ve read in recent weeks, eye-opening and slightly axis-tilting. Set this one aside to read when you have time to really relish it.

If you’re looking for more phone scam reading, this BBC report from 2020 is quite illuminating, and this 2017 report on how local cops are struggling to fight scams is also great. — EB

Wednesday on Best Evidence: I left Sarah a Brooklyn real-estate scam longread in the budget because she’d do a way better job with the story than I would — maybeee if we’re extra good and nice to her she’ll eviscerate the participants with her home town/MLS expertise.

What is this thing? This should help. Follow Best Evidence @bestevidencefyi on Twitter and Instagram. You can also call or text us any time at 919-75-CRIME.