Jolly Joseph · DIY True Crime · A Wilderness Of Error

Plus even yet STILL more "Tiger King," and Bong Joon Ho in theaters

Greetings from Brooklyn HQ. We hope all our readers are continuing to stay safe and well, particularly those of you in the Pacific time zone…and that you’ll find a thing or two in today’s newsletter to distract you for a little while. Don’t forget that we welcome tips — and pitches! — at 919-75-CRIME. — SDB


Death, Lies & Cyanide — what Podnews called India’s first true-crime podcast — premiered last week on Spotify. Jolly Joseph, a serial poisoner, was convicted earlier in 2020 of dosing several family members and in-laws over a period of 14 years, possibly in a bid to acquire property. The pod’s creator, journalist Sashi Kumar, had some good insights for The Hindu about the challenges of making a compelling, but ethical, audio narrative: “You cannot take too many liberties with the facts. Some crimes are not as fascinating as they are constructed — sometimes the narratives get tedious. So one has to make it fascinating, in being true to the facts and engaging.” Kumar also talked about providing a well-researched corrective to the sensationalism around the case, as well as charmingly referring to podcasts as “the happening thing now,” hee/aw. — SDB


The Anoka County (MN) historical society is making its own show on an unsolved mystery from 120 years ago. The Star-Tribune’s Kim Hyatt has key background on the Wise family case:

Four family members sitting at the kitchen table playing cards that evening were shot, leaving two dead and two survivors. Speculation mounted about the potential involvement of the two teenage Wise girls, and while there were several persons of interest, multiple arrests and a trial that grabbed headlines across the country, no one was ever convicted in the killings.

The Historical Society had a treasure trove of documents from the case — letters, court transcripts, evidence and the notes of former County Attorney Albert Pratt — that staffers discovered two years ago. The cold case was seemingly forgotten despite all the attention surrounding it in 1900.

Staffers at ACHS thought the story would make a gripping murder-mystery dinner that doubled as a fundraiser — but how to leverage that style of narrative during a pandemic, when donations to non-“urgent” non-profits like a historical society take a dip, and especially when you’re not a filmmaker by trade? You just…start:

Volunteer coordinator Sara Given, who had no background in film, took on the roles of producer, videographer and editor. With the History Center in downtown Anoka on lockdown, she brought the microfilm machine home to pore over newspaper clippings, and even ventured to Forest Hill Cemetery in Anoka to write the script near the graves of residents who would have been following the case.

Anyone else hoping there’s a making-of doc AND the show itself? Anyway, said show airs next Saturday, September 19; you can buy tickets and learn more about the ACHS right here. — SDB


Margaret Howie was right! …Not for nothing, but before I tell you what our esteemed correspondent was right about, would anyone else listen to a, like, five-to-eight-minute podcast called Margaret Howie Was Right? “Here’s me telling you guys Kevin Spacey was a creep on my MySpace back in 1999. Well, he’s a creep; I was right. [end theme song]”

Anyhoodle, not even two weeks ago, Margaret gave us a primer on Korean true-crime cinema. Her very first suggestion was Bong Joon Ho’s Memories Of Murder, which she noted wasn’t on any streaming services “in the U.S., though I’d bet hard cash that Bong Joon-Ho’s back catalogue will land on one of them in a storm of hype sometime over the next year.” Sure enough, Neon is sending the film back to theaters for two nights next month; the event will include “exclusive content” and a discussion with Boon Jong Ho. Here’s the trailer:

Granted, this isn’t streaming; the announcement seems to presume that we’ll all have returned to a more “traditional” way of seeing films by October 20, which I don’t think is terribly likely, so we’ll see whether Neon pivots to a virtual-cinemas option in the next few weeks. — Subscriber #1 To The MWR Pod


Paid subscriptions help us subsidize more Margaret correctitude, plus filmmaker interviews, rentals of obscure docus, and more. $5 a month gets you bonus content, so if you can join us at the paid level, we’d love it.

If you can’t, we still love that you’re reading, and in 2020, we’ll be keeping most of our content free, so please keep us bookmarked. — SDB


If my periodic rants about Jeffrey MacDonald, Janet Malcolm, and/or Errol Morris presume too high (read: “fanatical”) a level of familiarity with the case that Fatal Vision made (in)famous, 1) I apologize, and 2) Slate is here to help with a pre-A Wilderness Of Error explainer. I particularly like that Laura Miller contextualizes MacDonald’s version of events — that he awoke to find four hippies standing over him, chanting “Acid is groovy, kill the pigs” — by noting that, as asininely “how do you do, fellow kids” as that may sound to us today, “MacDonald’s version of events sounded a lot less preposterous in 1970 than it does now.” (Miller also cites Inside Edition’s “False Witness,” which Jeb Lund and I talked about on The Blotter Presents; it’s kind of a weird one but you can watch it on YouTube if you like, or below.)

Eager to get into the companion podcast this week; I’ll have a review in a day or two. — SDB


I’d love it if someone could explain to me the logic behind continuing to generate Tiger King content. I mean, I guess the logic is pretty obvious given that I’m covering it, albeit with an unseen string of eye-roll emojis, but…is that in fact the logic, that there’s no such thing as bad press and that the Nielsens don’t distinguish as to whether a show is hate-watched?

All this by way of letting you know that Investigation Discovery is taking yet another run at the topic starting September 27. From last week’s press release:

ID’s definitive sequel, JOE EXOTIC: TIGERS, LIES AND COVER-UP, examines the biggest question in true crime today – what happened to Carole Baskin’s husband, Don Lewis? This three-hour special takes a new look at the evidence surrounding Lewis’s mysterious disappearance, featuring exclusive jailhouse interviews from the biggest character in the world: Joe Exotic himself.

Retired homicide investigator Jim Rathmann leads the investigation to discover the truth, revealing new theories uncovered by private investigators, reliving Lewis’s final days and demeanor with those closest to him, and unpacking evidence exposed by criminal and legal experts. Punctuated throughout are interviews with those in Joe Exotic’s inner circle, including his husband Dillon Passage and members of “Team Tiger,” a group working to free Joe from jail. Beyond the controversial missing person investigation, this special also explores the criminal case against Joe Exotic and raises the question: Was Joe Exotic the predator all along, or is he actually the prey? JOE EXOTIC: TIGERS, LIES AND COVER-UP begins with Part 1 & 2 airing Sunday, September 27 at 9/8c and concludes with Part 3 on Monday, September 28 at 9/8c on Investigation Discovery.

… Immediately following the finale of JOE EXOTIC: TIGERS, LIES AND COVER-UP is ID’s definitive prequel, JOE EXOTIC: BEFORE HE WAS KING, examining the childhood traumas and dramatic events which shaped the mind of the man who called himself the “Tiger King.” This comprehensive, one-hour special puts the entire salacious story in context and uncovers dark secrets about Joe’s past.

The context…is the salaciousness, no? Like, is there anything else to know or learn — even from “exclusive” content, which just because it’s not available elsewhere doesn’t by definition give it any probative value? Speaking of Jeb Lund, every time I see Tiger King and/or case figures in the news the last few days (which, thanks to Baskin’s turn on Dancing With The Stars, is pretty often, even if only in passing), I think of this:


Tuesday on Best Evidence: Muzzling Dog the Bounty Hunter, Elizabeth Holmes’s “mental condition,” and more.


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