Letourneau · Lorance · Lacy Crawford

Plus Unsolved Mysteries tips, Heidi Fleiss's sensei, and dueling casinos

No new episode of The Blotter Presents today, but plenty going on in the world of true crime, and I’ve tried to round up the highlights. And our tip line is always open: 919-75-CRIME. Call or text with tips and coverage requests! — SDB

Mary Kay Letourneau has died. Details of her passing seem sketchy as of this writing — Letourneau, 58, had cancer — but Time for one is not interested in soft-pedaling why we know her name; their lede’s appositive is “who married her former sixth-grade student after she was convicted for raping him.” And: good, because that’s what happened, irrespective of our culture’s strange relationship with the case as 1) primarily fodder for late-night monologue jokes and/or 2) a quaint relic of the ’90s, like celebrities smoking cigars on magazine covers. Yes, they married in 2005 (Fualaau filed for a separation in 2017), but when the story first hit headlines, Vili Fualaau was twelve.

At about 1:20 a.m. on June 19, 1996, police discovered them in a minivan parked at the Des Moines Marina.

Letourneau, then 34, initially told officers the boy was 18, raising suspicions that something sexual was going on. But back at the police station, Fualaau and Letourneau denied there had been any “touching.” Instead, they said, Letourneau had been babysitting the boy and took him from her home after she and her husband had a fight.

About two months after the marina incident, Letourneau became pregnant with the couple’s first daughter. Their second child was conceived in 1998, after Letourneau had pleaded guilty to child rape and received a 7 1/2-year prison term, which was suspended on condition she have no contact with Fualaau.

All-American Girl: The Mary Kay Letourneau Story, starring Penelope Ann Miller as Letourneau, aired on USA Network in January of 2000; I’ve not seen it, but I have said from time to time that I think the case would benefit from the Lorena or Slow Burn Season 2 treatment: three or four episodes digging into the sexual politics of the mid-nineties, the broader cultural history of the cougar as harmless rite of passage for boys and young men, and how our thoughts on Letourneau’s crimes have evolved in the #MeToo era. (And into the Letourneau family’s “ties to Bush family, Trump” as outlined in this USA Today explainer. To quote my esteemed colleague Eve: “Fucking Blackwater!!”) Not sure who I’d have direct it; maybe Jeremiah Zagar (the Pamela Smart doc) or A Thousand Cuts’s Ramona Díaz? Let me know your ideas. — SDB

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The new Unsolved Mysteries has already produced 20 credible tips. Thanks to @rf_curtis for alerting me to this on Twitter; as I told them last night, my esteemed colleague Mark Blankenship and I spent a good ten minutes on the phone yesterday chewing over the reboot, despairing of E02’s cretinous Rob, and wondering what in the hell really happened to Rey Rivera. A tip Rivera’s case is one of ones Unsolved.com deemed worthy of passing along to the FBI.

(Over it with the new version and want to marinate in the old one instead? I get it — and I ranked a handful of classics in Brief 23, if you’re looking to refresh your watchlist.) — SDB

WaPo’s Clint Lorance-aftermath longread “The Cursed Platoon” got a lot of play last week. You may not have made time to read it then — it took me a couple days to make the time — but it’s extensively researched, well written, and well designed, and I recommend it. (Not least for the pic above, taken by Bonnie Jo Mount, in which Lorance platoon-mate Lucas Gray is relatably disrespected by a feline.)

My Quaid In Full co-host Jeb Lund and I talked about Leavenworth last year; if you watched that, many of the faces and names will look familiar to you in the Post’s story, but “TCP” is far more focused on the outcomes for Lorance’s platoon-mates, and more up to date on Lorance’s post-pardon status as a FOX News darling/mouthpiece whose truth will likely never be known, even to himself. It’s not an easy read, and IMO the armed forces’ continuing “struggle” to care effectively for returning veterans may be the real crime at the heart of the case, but we’ve all consumed so much material over the years related to war crimes, clear and ambiguous; the rape culture of the armed forces; jurisdictional struggles between military and civilian authorities that let the facts slide between the couch cushions; horrible crimes just on Fort Bragg…it’s worth reminding ourselves not just that the military’s “justice” “system” is rigged, in ways similar to the civilian one and in additional ways too; but that the servicepeople participating in it have the added burdens of trauma, Army bureaucracy, and the medal-humping executive branch using them as marketing tools.

…Dang, that was a long sentence. Anyway: the Post also solicited opinions from veterans on “TCP,” and you can read those here. There’s a tendency to view vets as a monolithic voting bloc, which is I think not helpful for anyone. Nor are my generalizations about Army fuckery/the VA, probably, but I was raised by an army brat, and one of my relatives was basically paid off not to make a fuss about his own government dropping Agent Orange on him, so I am rull cynical about this institution’s ability to handle its shit, and with the Vanessa Guillén case so much in the headlines right now, well, maybe it’s time for yet another painful accounting in 2020. — SDB

Every accounting is painful in 2020, let’s face it. We are not exempt from that, so if you would like to support Best Evidence with a subscription, we would really appreciate it!

But if your checkbook reckoning won’t allow that, 1) we totally get it and we’re staying mostly free for right now! And 2) maybe we can help? If you’d like to review or listicle-ize something for us, hey: we pay! It’s not much, but it’ll justify a few months of Britbox, or dropping the AC to 72 during this heat wave we’re all bracing for. Email us at editorial at the-blotter dot com to learn more! And thanks for reading. — SDB

And now, a marginally less grim longread (that isn’t that long! you’ll see) on Hot Springs, AR’s Casinodome. David Hill’s piece starts with some backseat fooling around and a gun battle, then irises out for an overview of the gambling biz in the early 1960s. And then the excerpt stops, at the perfect place to induce an impatient reader like myself to buy Hill’s book. I would say I hate it when CrimeReads does that to me, but I obviously don’t or I wouldn’t keep letting myself fall for it.

I am going to stash that one on my Libby hold list for right now, though, because I pre-ordered Lacy Crawford’s Notes On A Silencing based on her New York Times opinion piece from Monday, “How to Sell Your Rape Story.” I clicked on it expecting a glib these-publishing-times bit of business I could rip on for this here newsletter; it is not that, at all. It’s scalding, in the best way, and “Punctured, return.” was such a well-cut gem that I opened an Amazon tab immediately. It’s set to arrive today and I’m currently shoving every other parachuter on my to-do list out of the plane so I can put my feet up with it for the afternoon. (Here’s a Notes excerpt at Vanity Fair; coincidentally, June’s bonus book review, of VF’s Schools for Scandal, is not unrelated to Peterson’s experience at St. Paul’s.)

Any of y’all reading either the Hill or the Crawford? Any other true-crime books coming out — or off your hold list — that you’re clearing your scheduling decks for? I hesitate to ask this given the aforementioned reading stack (and the, no shit, seven related screeners I’m staring down the barrel of) but I also trust your collective judgment. In case we’re not friends on Goodreads, drop a comment! (And hey: friend me!)

Today in true-crime history: Elizabeth “Madam Alex” Adams dies of complications at 60 following heart surgery. Not sure anyone remembers the name today, but Adams “operated a Beverly Hills prostitution ring for two decades until she was arrested in 1988 and displaced by her former assistant, Heidi Fleiss.” Adams agreed to name names in exchange for a reduced sentence, a decision that — a la Ghislaine Maxwell — sent the coldest chills down spines around L.A. Vanity Fair, unsurprisingly, has your vintage longread on Madam Alex, a piece I’m positive I read back in high school (that “photograph by Firooz Zahedi” credit really took me back) and enjoyed revisiting this morning. — SDB

Thursday on Best Evidence: Kim Wall, Kwaneta Harris, and cop unions.

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