Martha Mitchell · Murder Among The Mormons

Plus new books, and how the true-crime boom dilutes the prestige pool

“The premier True Crime writing team in America” has a podcast coming March 15. Not sure what it says about yours truly that I was only dimly aware of Casey Sherman and Dave Wedge’s work prior to receiving this email blast about MuddHouse Media’s upcoming Saints, Sinners & Serial Killers; maybe I just don’t travel in their demo. (The PR announcement led with The Last Days of John Lennon with James Patterson, and Hunting Whitey, which I have heard of — but Bulger is one of those cases where I had to decide after The Departed and one extremely confusing documentary that I’d reached my cap with it.) They’ve hit bestseller lists and had their works made into movies, so they’re Robert Kolker to someone, obviously.

In any event, after a flea-dip in the adjective vat, the release promised that SS&SK will “reveal shocking exclusive new information through powerful storytelling about many of America's most notorious crimes while also unveiling the twisted motives and methods behind startlingly disturbing stories listeners will hear for the first time.” And there’s a video trailer for the pod below, if you’d like a taste. — SDB

Coming from track records I’m more familiar with, Starz has picked up Gaslit, the anthology series adapted from the first season of the Slow Burn podcast. I mentioned it on Extra Hot Great today, and also mentioned that Starz is the best premium network nobody watches, an assertion I stand by (no offense, Showtime; you’re definitely bringing it in the crime-doc department the last couple of years too!). Starz’s PR team noted that

“Gaslit” is the newest title from Starz who recently launched its #TakeTheLead initiative, the company’s comprehensive effort to deepen its existing commitment to narratives by, about and for women and underrepresented audiences. 

Other things to know in case you’ve forgotten why this is a big score for Starz: Slow Burn S01 led with the “incredible untold story [of] Martha Mitchell’s historic role in Watergate” (that’s who Roberts is set to play); her co-stars include Sean Penn, and Mr. Robot and Search Party’s Robbie Pickering is show-running; Armie Hammer and Joel Edgerton, set to co-star as John Dean and G. Gordon Liddy, have exited due to “scheduling conflicts,” which is true for one of them.

No word on when this is even going to start filming, so I suspect we’re looking at early 2022 for Gaslit, but if, like me, you were like, “Hey, weren’t Harrelson and Theroux supposed to have already been in an HBO mini about Watergate?”, 1) you are correct, and 2) I found a background-actor casting call for The White House Plumbers. Looks like filming gets underway in a few months:

Filming will begin in May 2021 in the Hudson Valley area of NY (Kingston, Poughkeepsie, Newburgh, etc). Must be ok working around smoke and have natural-colored hair. Must be ok with possibly having your hair altered into a 1970s style.

And American Crime Story: Impeachment was also casting last month, so it looks like I just found my newest production-deets source/online rabbithole! — SDB

Another thing I mentioned on EHG: Exhibit B.! It’s my new shop: true crime, books and ephemera. I threw Extra Hot Great listeners a discount code, but you’re welcome to use it too — ExtraHot343 gets you 15% off. It’s good until Friday, if you want to hang out and see what inventory gets added in the meantime. (There’s a cache of Sam Sheppard books in the pipeline, FWIW.) — SDB

Running a used-book concern is not exactly shrinking my TBR pile as it is, and then here comes CrimeReads with its weekly new-books list to add to the stack. Relevant to our purposes:

  1. We Own This City: A True Story of Crime, Cops, and Corruption by Justin Fenton. The Baltimore Sun’s Fenton got a Pulitzer nom for his/the paper’s coverage of the riots following the death of Freddie Gray; We Own This City, his first book, is a “searing look” at Bodymore’s recent police-graft scandal.

  2. Confident Women: Swindlers, Grifters, and Shapeshifters of the Feminine Persuasion by Tori Telfer. Seems like “Feminine Persuasion” might have worked better before the colon, but I’m always up for a con-pendium irrespective of titling protocols.

And CrimeReads didn’t (yet) mention Elon Green’s Last Call, which I’ve been waiting for for what seems like ever and is just days away! Any books you’re haunting library for this week? — SDB

How did I not realize that Murder Among The Mormons was about the Salamander case? It’s the year’s second project from Joe Berlinger — let’s hope it’s better/better received than Crime Scene — and it hits Netflix next week. Peep the trailer here:

I have turned my online writings upside down looking for my review of Salamander: The Story of the Mormon Forgery Murders, because I know I wrote one! No joy, but the writing is straight-down-the-middle crime reporting, unfussy prose and gives you a sense of time and place. That said, I am the daughter of a coin/currency collector and an ephemera nerd (now) by profession, so I understand that forgery drama isn’t everyone’s jam — but this case is a doozy. Check out this backgrounder from the Salt Lake Trib to see if it’s for you, and I’d recommend the book too. (And IIRC there’s another book, but I haven’t gotten to that one; recs appreciated there, as always!)

Alas, a fascinating topic doesn’t necessarily mean any given docuseries is going to do justice (as it were) to the material, as Jessica Cullen notes in her Slate piece from yesterday about the “dangerous crossroads” Netflix’s true-crime boom finds itself at currently. Cullen has many of the same questions about the self-styled web sleuths in Crime Scene that I had, and ties their uncredentialed investigations — and a docuseries director’s need to include them in order not to slow down the shoveling of content coal into the engine — to the true-crime boom’s imperiling of the genre’s recent climb out of the reputation basement. (Jesus with the mixed metaphors there…sorry!) Here’s a passage from the piece tracing the rise of the current boom back to The Staircase:

These shows were part of the movement that made true crime more accessible and attractive to a wider, perhaps more sophisticated, audience. With the help of Serial and its podcast descendants, a love of true crime became a respectable pastime, an accomplishment that Netflix’s recent productions risk undoing with their emphasis on dramatization and flare.

This is an exciting time to be a true crime fan, as we can be positively gluttonous with how much content there is to consume. But it’s worrying that Netflix feels the need to enable such questionable methods.

Cullen also talks about the “ethical quandaries” involved in true-crime “fandom,” and how we resolve those for ourselves; it’s an excellent read that asks the right questions without a lot of hand-wringing. — SDB

Coming up on Best Evidence: A return to Fall River, and my review of Tom O’Neill’s Manson book.

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