Helloooo! We have a lot of new folks out there today, which is very exciting and warms Sarah’s and my hearts — we’re both so sad that the Blotter Presents has ended its run (I might be sadder than Sarah, because all I had to do was show up and talk when I’d appear on the podcast; she did all the work) but are so happy that so many of you have joined us here.
Don’t assume that you won’t ever hear our voices again, though: Substack also has an audio function, and our podcast RSS feed, should you choose to accept it, is https://api.substack.com/feed/podcast/9493.rss. But, in any case, welcome, welcome. — EB
Did you know that it was a shocking and bizarre true-crime case that first brought RNC speechifier Kim Guilfoyle to the public’s attention? Folks outside of San Francisco likely know Guilfoyle as either a host on Fox News or Donald Trump Jr.'s girlfriend (or as someone unaware that residents of Puerto Rico have been U.S. citizens for over 100 years), but folks from SF know her as the prosecutor in an incredibly weird dog-mauling trial that made international headlines and spawned multiple true-crime properties. [“And was the subject of TBP Episode 002, if I recall right!” - SDB]
The death of Diane Whipple, attacked by dogs in the hallway of her luxury apartment building, is almost too awful to contemplate, and what followed was even stranger, the story of two successful attorneys who “adopted” a convicted criminal and raised dangerous pets. The editors of the case’s Wikipedia page did a great job summarizing the ins-and-outs of the case, which was prosecuted by a team that included Guilfoyle — then an assistant district attorney in San Francisco, as well as the wife of then-Mayor Gavin Newsom, who these days is the governor of California.
As the SF Chronicle reports, during the trial, “Guilfoyle caught the eye of cable executives in New York who began using her as an on-air legal analyst.” Eventually, the Newsom/Guilfoyle romance became a bi-coastal one, as Guilfoyle pursued a TV career while Newsom oversaw SF. Eventually, the pair parted ways, Guilfoyle’s TV appearances veered further and further right, and next thing you know, she’s at the GOP convention saying that California is “a land of discarded heroin needles in parks, riots in streets and blackouts in homes.”
I mean, sure, if she wasn’t there saying it, someone else would; people love to hate on CA. But I can’t help think that if it weren’t for that scandalous trial — excellently covered by Aphrodite Jones in Red Zone: The Behind-the-Scenes Story of the San Francisco Dog Mauling — Guilfoyle’s life might have gone a very different way. Sliding Doors 2, anyone? — EB
Pulitzer nominee Jason Cherkis is taking an unflinching look at how he’s written about crime. Longread fans likely know Cherkis’s name as the reporter behind Dying to be Free, a breathtaking, 2015 report from HuffPost on the U.S. opioid epidemic. (If you haven’t read it, it’s here — set aside some time and some anger for this one.)
But before he was penning these remarkable longreads, he was a working, on-the-ground journalist, doing something a lot of us have done — writing up crime briefs, giving truth to the axiom “if it bleeds, it leads.” It’s a job that’s part of most journalists’ origin stories, and it’s a part many of us are reexamining now, now that we’re forced to look, full face, at how much deeper and more systemic the legal system’s racism and bias are than even we — as inside-baseball cynics — understood.
Unlike most of us, Cherkis allowed his reexamination to play out in the pages of CJR, in a piece headlined “Telling stories about crime is hard. That’s no excuse for not doing better.” A snip:
Police reporting, like policing itself, is still very much shaped by the crack epidemic and the hysteria that fueled that era. I thought of the cop I’d done my first exposé on back in the late nineties. When a supervisor questioned his rough ways, the cop thumped his chest with his fists and declared that he was “a man of personal valor” and that “there’s a war being fought on the streets!” In 2020, cops still see themselves as soldiers, and their beats as war zones. They still earn respect via the sheer number of arrests they make.
Cop reporting is still tethered to the police scanner. Reporters churn out crime brief after crime brief that contain little more than addresses and bodies. They still run stories where the police and the prosecutors are the only sources. This is how well-intentioned journalists turn into mouthpieces for authority.
The piece is a must-read for anyone who consumes crime content, from folks who casually watch America’s Most Wanted to folks who click through on local blotter news. Though Cherkis takes the full force of blame on his own shoulders, he shouldn’t have to — the only reason there’s a market for the stories he’s now uncomfortable about writing is because we read them. Cherkis says, correctly, that journalists need to do better, but that’ll only happen if audiences also demand better — and fail to reward those who do worse. — EB
I want to pull a string out from the Golden State Killer sentencing hearing news. I like what Sarah said about the trial’s conclusion last week, especially how it ended with a whimper instead of a bang. There’s one thing I can’t stop thinking about, though, and it’s the letter 74-year-old Joseph James DeAngelo’s 38-year-old daughter sent to the court.
In the multi-page letter, DeAngelo’s daughter mentions neither his admitted victims nor his admitted crimes, and instead heaps glowing praise on him and repeatedly says that both she and her daughter (DeAngelo’s granddaughter) are suffering a great trauma without him in their daily lives. You can read the full letter here.
I'm not mad at this woman, nor am I suggesting you should be. I’m just…perplexed. This letter reads like a lovely eulogy, and maybe that’s what she intended it to be, a way to say goodbye. But…it’s more effusive than the eulogy I wrote for my father (who, as previously noted, was not the Zodiac); nicer than the obit I wrote, too. To me, this letter is the end of the tale (that is, until DeAngelo actually passes, which I certainly hope will not be for a long while), this daughter rewriting her history with her father as an impossibly idyllic relationship, and even bringing her own young child along for the ride. This story is over for us, but for so many people, it never, ever will be. — EB
While I’m singing Sarah’s praises…she reviewed Showtime con-chasing docuseries Love Fraud for Primetimer, and called it a “triumph of true crime TV.” Here’s a peek:
Love Fraud is like a mini-season of Catfish, but without all the filler, the overly choreographed "research," and the subjects who really only want to get on television. It's like Dirty John, but less violent (...mostly) and with more day-drinking and exploitive karaoke. (Trust me, this will all make sense.) Smart, exciting, and satisfying, Love Fraud is a great docuseries to end the summer on.
You can read her full review here. — EB
Didn’t someone here propose this casting already? NBCUniversal Television confirmed this week that it’s making a dramatic adaptation of Carole Baskin’s side of the Tiger King case, with Kate McKinnon (!!!!) playing Baskin.
In a statement to CNet, Baskin said that “Kate McKinnon is a wonderful actress. We hope McKinnon has a passion for animals and that her series will focus on the horrible lives captive big cats lead when exploited by breeders like Joe Exotic. We further hope she urges the public to support the Big Cat Public Safety Act that would end the cub petting abuse in America."
As fans of the SNL cast member know, not only does McKinnon eschew meat for animal-rights reasons, but she’s a full-on crazy cat lady. (So are Sarah and I, so we can say that.) Does that mean Baskin will be pleased with her portrayal in the show, which is based on Wondery’s Joe Exotic podcast? Beats me; McKinnon can be pretty ruthless in her portrayals, and she’s a legit weirdo, I think. The show’s in such early stages that they haven’t even cast Joe yet, so we’ve got time to hash this out. — EB
COVID-19 has claimed Coffee with Cullotta. “Coffee with Cullotta is a Youtube Channel about a real life hit man for the Chicago outfit,” its subscribe page reads. At its center was Frank Cullotta, a mobster who flipped in exchange for immunity back in the early 1980s, ended up in witness protection, then busted out of anonymity when his memoir, Cullotta: The Life of a Chicago Criminal, Las Vegas Mobster, and Government Witness, dropped in 2007.
Cullotta died in a Las Vegas hospital last week, a victim of the novel coronavirus. The New York Times has a meaty obituary for him, noting that he consulted on Casino, was in a group of thieves called the “Hole in the Wall Gang” because they drilled holes in walls to break into places, and admitted to involvement in four murders, 20 arsons, and over 500 thefts. If you want more, here’s a 2017 interview he did with the Daily Beast, saying then that “there’s graft in anything you do, even on the legal side. ... It’s difficult to be legit, and I am legit. But I’m always having to fight the system for some reason. It seems like nobody wants me to be legit.” — EB
Friday on Best Evidence: I was thinking some sort of discussion thread about sports. You guys like sports, right?