Murder Ballads · Epstein's Bankroll · Cyber-Blackmail

Plus premiere dates, reality-TV scams, and a whale of a passion project

Remember Gemma Chan’s Vincent Chin project, the one turning a table read into a podcast, that had me intrigued? Well, “intrigue” is right, as the pod’s gotten pulled. Per The Wrap, it seems nobody behind the scenes at Hold Still, Vincent thought to get permission from, or consult with, Chin’s family and/or estate:

Late last month, Helen Zia, an Asian American activist and journalist who represents the Chin estate, wrote on Instagram that she had not been contacted by A-Major Media or any of the producers of the star-studded podcast. In the podcast, which is based on a screenplay by Johnny Ngo, Zia is voiced by Kelly Marie Tran.

Reading between the lines of various statements, it sounds to me like A-Major Media knew they should have reached out to Chin’s family, but preferred not to risk getting in a territorial battle with a competing project (sound familiar?). Whether or not such a project even exists is an open question, as a cousin of Chin’s, Annie Tan, also put out a statement, this one asserting that many relatives don’t want to participate in Vincent Chin projects “because they do not want to be retraumatized.”

It also sounds to me like Gemma Chan assumed this part of it was handled, and had nothing to do with the lapse…but, you know, this is what happens when everyone’s maybe a little too focused on an innovative re-imagining or Making A Statement, and forgets that stories feature and happen to actual people. In any event, the podcast is no longer available. Did any of y’all sample it before it got yanked? Was I right to be interested in the use of the format? — SDB

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Jeffrey Epstein material tends to tire me out before I even finish reading the subhed, but Vanity Fair’s Gabriel Sherman got me with his. “The Mogul and the Monster” tries to unpack one of the few aspects of Epstein’s story that I find interesting enough to offset the revulsion:

Of the many mysteries that still surround the life and crimes of Jeffrey Epstein, the source of his wealth, and thus his power, might be the greatest. His long-standing business ties with his most prominent client, billionaire retail magnate Leslie Wexner, hold the key.

Netflix’s Filthy Rich didn’t get very far with that aspect of Epstein’s somewhat bewildering rise, IIRC, but Sherman notes fairly early in the piece that he spent six months trying to figure out how Epstein got the money that landed him the “financier” label, and “enabled him to sexually abuse and traffic hundreds of girls on multiple continents,” in the first place — or, more to the point, if he fleeced Leslie Wexner of it using little more than Trumpian bluster. Sherman couldn’t get a whole lot further than Filthy Rich, but it’s still a good read, full of quotes calling Epstein a con man whose true “financial management” talent lay in reading people, then leveraging what he saw as their needs into his own gain. — SDB

Any thoughts on Mental Floss’s “11 True Crime Books to Add to Your Collection”? I almost admire the purposeful broadness of that hed; at the same time, it’s a shame that it doesn’t give readers more of an indication of what’s in store — namely, an unexpected mix of classics, “new classics,” and under-covered stories, at least one of which I hadn’t heard of. Even the entries I kind of eye-rolled (Hodel; Ellroy) are seminal genre works, despite perhaps requiring the use of a grain of salt as a bookmark, and I didn’t think as well of the McNamara as most, but it’s such an amazing meta story that I see no problem including it here.

In other words, Delilah Gray snuck some thoughtful range into clickbait; well done! — SDB

…That’s actually not a bad elevator pitch for what we’re trying to do around here, hee hee. Paid subscriptions help us and our valued contributors stay on top of the unending tidal wave of true-crime content, new and old, so if you like what you read and you haven’t yet, maybe you’ll consider upgrading to a paid sub?

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And now, a quick-hit roundup!

  • Today in The Staircase casting: Odessa Young (The Stand) has joined the series as the other adopted daughter, Martha Ratliff. (Interesting “true-crime prestige miniseries are a small world” tidbit: Young was replaced in Tokyo Vice last year by Dirty John alum Rachel Keller.) [Deadline]

  • A reality-TV exec “agreed to plead guilty to defrauding a lender out of $2 million.” Jonathan Lee Smith of Hoplite used fraudulent licensing agreements to score a $2M bridge loan, then “immediately defaulted”; apparently Smith also tried “The Delvey” (my term for the creation of fictional wire-transfer documents), among other scammy moves. Hoplite filed for bankruptcy earlier this year, and given that I had not heard of a single one of the shows listed in the piece, that’s not a huge shock. [Variety]

  • Cold Justice is back for its 6th season on Oxygen July 10. The same press release notes that the show is the network’s “highest-rated,” which I wouldn’t have guessed. [Oxygen]

  • Another murder-balladry-focused podcast is coming out next week. Songs In The Key Of Death drops June 16 with an episode on “Delia,” a song from the early twentieth century. [Rolling Stone]

  • Joshua Zeman has another documentary coming out next month — about a whale, and no, it’s not a killer whale but I had the same thought. The Loneliest Whale: The Search for 52 is about a “mysterious whale whose strange song has captivated scientists and whale-lovers for decades” (the 52 is a reference to this particular whale’s song, which is “pitched at 52 Hertz, a frequency unrecognized by other whales”); the project was funded in part by a Kickstarter set up in 2015 by Zeman and…Adrian Grenier? What a world. Trailer’s below! [Collider] — SDB

Rachel Monroe’s “The Go-Between” is one of those New Yorker pieces you never want to end. It’s about Kurtis Minder, who negotiates “between hackers and the hacked,” but as New Yorker pieces tend to be, it’s about the whole world around that interaction, and several of the worlds before that world. Just a few of the things I learned:

  1. An early exemplar of ransomware, the so-called AIDS Trojan, was created by an evolutionary biologist, Joseph Popp, who “was declared unfit to stand trial” and went on to found a butterfly sanctuary in upstate New York; someone needs to produce an audio doc on that dude and call it “The Poppcast,” don’t at me.

  2. In Central America in the 1970s, there was a thriving trade in kidnapping executives. One muckety-muck got kidnapped twice, with the ransom increasing by nearly $7 million between the first abduction and the second one two years later.

  3. The kidnap-and-ransom insurance sector “surged” as a result — a sector that emerged after the Lindbergh kidnapping in 1932.

  4. When the city of Atlanta was a victim of ransomware a few years ago, it “declined” to pay a 50K ransom…and then spent $2 million “on crisis P.R., digital forensics, and consulting.”

You’re probably going to have to bookmark the piece halfway through so you can run change alllll your passwords, but that’s because it’s doing its job; Monroe’s prose is effortless, weaving together a lot of background info, explaining the dark web without condescending, and giving you a sense of Minder without overdoing the signifiers. — SDB

Thursday on Best Evidence: New podcasts, and murder games.

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