Piper Rountree · Room 2806 · Decade's Best Docs

Plus COVamID schemes and Chris Messina

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On the 11th day of Best Evidence, my research gave to meeeee…a rhyming topic with Piper Rountreeeeeee. I apologize for the glibness, although compared to the way CBS News came at the story title-wise — “Two Wigs, A Gun And A Murder” — I’m practically Cotton Mather over here. In CBS’s defense, the story is pretty out there: boy meets girl (in the communications class he’s teaching), boy marries girl, boy divorces girl, boy gets gunned down in front of his home on Mischief Night of 2005, girl is accused of hiring her own sister as a hitwoman. Standard TV-tabloid fodder, but I recommend it for a few reasons.

  1. The sister in question, Tina Rountree, isn’t doing a ton to dispel suspicion with her “bless his heart”-at-best take on her sister’s marriage to Fred Jablin: “‘From Day One, I was always disappointed that she married Fred, because I always thought she would marry someone who was more successful,’ says Tina Rountree. ‘Someone who's interesting. Someone who was funny. He was not.’” Brr.

  2. That Rountree, a practicing attorney, was behaving “erratically” enough around their divorce for Jablin to get full custody of their three kids — and then complain to CBS’s Rebecca Leung that Fred knew how to manipulate the legal/custody system — is an eyebrow-raiser.

  3. Rountree’s pitch for her innocence: “I did not kill Fred Jablin. That's not what a good parent does.” A good parent probably doesn’t also accumulate seven hundred thousand dollars in unpaid child support? But my “kids” don’t have thumbs so what do I know.

Shifting alibi sands; smoking wigs; cell-phone-tower forensic evidence — this one’s got all the ingredients for a case to obsess over. According to the CBS piece, Rountree got life in prison but was eligible for release…this year. I couldn’t find any headlines indicating that that occurred; I did find a blog telling interested prospective pen pals where to write to Rountree, and a former correctional “colleague” of Rountree had positive things to say about Rountree’s influence in the comments, dated just last month.

Here’s the video presentation of the story from 48 Hours, if you’d like to save that to wrap presents by this week. And if this case isn’t your jam, past Blotter guest/FOBE Piper Weiss’s You All Grow Up And Leave Me is a solid bet. — SDB

“Income scams” hit record levels in 2020’s second quarter. When a documentary comes out in early 2022 called Hindsight Is 2020, we’ll all learn more than we wanted to about human nature in a pandemic-based sour economy — and we can expect to see WaPo’s Michelle Singletary in talking-head interviews in the doc. Singletary, whose reporting apparently led to the shutdown of pyramid schemers Financial Independence Group, wrote a piece last week noting that cons and cheats have really ramped up their efforts in response to record levels of un- and underemployment this past year, including one that didn’t even bother with a fig leaf of “product”:

People paid for various levels of membership — $1,000 to $25,000 — and in return they could “earn” the right to make money off the recruitment of other people into the program. For example, someone paying $1,000 for an entrepreneur-level membership could make $500 if another person was sold a membership at that same level. There were no products involved or services offered. As I read how the scam worked, I was wondering how anyone could fall for it. But desperation can make you susceptible to what appears to be an easy way to make money.

Other scams targeted minority groups, and/or touted backing from corporate giants like Amazon, and the Federal Trade Commission’s Bureau of Consumer Protection is working overtime whack-a-moling various Nigerian princes and Spanish prisoners of 2020.

What’s interesting about the piece isn’t necessarily that this is happening, because of course it is — it’s that service-y piece about avoiding pandemic flim-flammery seems like more of a fit with Yahoo!’s readership than the Washington Post’s. Are the people most likely to fall victim to scams like the ones Singletary describes subscribers to “The Woodstein Gazette”? — SDB

As often happens over a weekend, we’ve got Best Evidence budget-doc overload, so here’s a highlight reel of recent headlines.

  • Argo’s Chris Messina “has been tapped as the lead in HBO Max pilot Verbatim, an anthology series from Brett Weiner (Honest Trailers), Ben Stiller’s Red Hour Films, Left/Right Productions and The New York Times. Created and directed by Weiner, Verbatim is based on his New York Times Op-Docs digital series. It tackles actual events with all dialogue taken from primary sources and presented verbatim. The pilot episode follows the story of the 2019 college admissions scandal.” I wasn’t certain the scandal would work as part of an anthology series, but the narrative structure is interesting. (Here’s the Verbatim short on the Ferguson case.)

    Deadline’s Nellie Andreeva didn’t have any certain intel on Messina’s role, but “hears” Messina is set to play scheme “ringleader” Rick Singer. [Deadline]

  • The International Documentary Association dropped its staff list of the decade’s best docs. True-crime or t.c.-adjacent properties include 13th, Did You Wonder Who Fired The Gun?, Heavyweight, LA 92, OJ: Made In America, The Painter and The Thief, Serial, Shirkers, Strong Island, The Act of Killing, and Time. A couple of these got on my radar for the first time via this list; a couple others, I’ve recommended repeatedly. Would love to hear your-all’s thoughts on the list and whether the IDA missed anything. [IDA]

  • The CBC has wrapped production on the second season of Farm Crime. Relevant to our eight maids a-milking interests, perhaps? Not sure what the availability is of the show here in the States, but this description has me highly motivated to track it down: “Farm Crime launched in August 2018 and set a then record as the most-streamed CBC Gem original unscripted series over its first seven days, and over its first 12 weeks. … The true crime-style doc series looks at unconventional offences in the world of farming and agriculture. Season one included stories of cattle rustling, the theft of millions of bees, and a 100K load of stolen blueberries.” I’ll forgo the “class-bee felony” joke (…oh, will you look at that) to note that S02 is set for spring of 2021. [tv-eh.com]

  • Reelz is not the klassiest destination on your cable grid, but it’s got a couple of January premieres that, while not proud of it, I will probably check out. FOR YOU. [“Leave us out of this.” — you] Joining docs about Axl Rose and recently re-outed bigot Eric Clapton on the early-’21 docket are specials about Ethan “Affluenza Teen” Couch and Robert Chambers, as well as Geraldo Rivera’s Murder In The Family. Reelz also has a show called World’s Most Evil Killers, which sounds like either a parody of true-crime show names, or like an SEO intern threw up into a box full of Blackberries…making it all the more shameful that I will probably watch the Chambers thing, but if you’re on board for any or all of Reelz’s shteez in the new year, let me know and we can DM each other remorsefully during. [The Futon Critic] — SDB

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The crime
Initially, that head of the International Monetary Fund, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, assaulted a member of the Sofitel housekeeping staff in May of 2011. That particular case may have fallen apart, but the accusations were the tip (if you’ll forgive the expression) of an iceberg of known infidelities, alleged sex parties, and liaisons within the French government and the IMF that may have not been as consenting as Strauss-Kahn and his defenders would have liked to think. Meanwhile, the French president at that time is devoting government resources to compiling a dossier on his rival Strauss-Kahn’s activities.

The story
It felt like Netflix tucked Room 2806: The Accusation in among higher-profile releases this month; The Ripper, Carmel, even the Night Stalker limited series coming out next month seem to have gotten more attention. Maybe it’s the subtitles, maybe it’s that New York v. Strauss-Kahn feels like a relic of another time…but then, almost everything does. Cases that dominated headlines only a year ago travel to us now as if over the old transatlantic phone lines. Cases from before the current presidency fairly smell of sepia.

And there’s the sense that Strauss-Kahn case was unique even for a NYC-tabloid topic: it burned through plot at a white-hot pace for weeks; it crumbled into coals; the inevitable SVU episode based on the case aired, just weeks after charges were dismissed (followed a few years later by Abel Ferrara’s Welcome To New York, which Strauss-Kahn and his third ex-wife threatened to sue over, so now I’m dying to see it); and then it, and outcry witness Nafissatou Diallo, were left at the curb. So, if for no other reason than to remind us that the corruptions of the world haven’t gone away, despite the pandemic (and the corruptions of a particular tangerine-colored person) blocking out all their sunlight, Room 2806 is worth a look.

It’s also just a solid sit, provided you don’t mind the aforementioned subtitles. Director Jalil Lespert (Yves Saint Laurent) gets the participation of Diallo; Sofitel security officers; Special Victims detectives; Strauss-Kahn’s friends and associates; and reporters on both sides of the pond, one of whom sighs portentously that “you have to go quickly on a story like this, and we did go quickly.” The pacing is perhaps slightly more painstaking than necessary, particularly in the first episode — Lespert likely could have gotten this done in three eps, versus four, with some pruning of financial-crisis exposition and moody shots of the hotel suite — but the way he moves around in the timeline is smart, and creates some tension without feeling cynical about it. I’ve only seen the first two, but I’m inclined to finish it over the holiday break, because it’s a smoothly assembled overview of the case, not tricksy, and while I wouldn’t call it a pleasure to revisit, it’s well done and informative. Recommend! — SDB

Tuesday on Best Evidence: The last day of Best Evidence-mas!

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