Snapchat · Streamers · The Boy In The Box
Plus more Capote, interrogating fingerprints, and more
It’s the first of the month, and you know what that means: bonus-review voting time! I went back to books for our final slate of the year, and on the downside, some of these are obscure AF and you may have a tougher time reading along. On the upside, if it’s at all close at the top of the polling, I’ll read more than one of them. (This is the year I actually finish the damn GoodReads challenge I set for myself! I’ve still got time!)
On the ballot: San Fran political murder; more Zodiac (still not my dad); another academic history of counterfeiting that my actual non-felonious coin-collector dad would probably reject as too dry; a new meta monograph; a classic rarity; and…Munch. So, you know, just another day at Best Evidence.
And don’t forget, it’s set for multiple picks, so vote for anything that looks interesting (or terrible enough to get both barrels).
Also don’t forget that, while anyone can vote, only paid subscribers get to read my review/s — and I’ve really banked a bunch by now, so grabbing a subscription today should carry you through the weekend wandering the paywall stacks.
“Buntsy, you know I love y’all but I can’t afford all the true-crime-forward streaming services I rely on AND a sub to Best Evidence!” I get it! We can’t afford them without your help! Great news, however: my esteemed work wife Tara Ariano has a new regular column at GQ.com that sifts through all the big streamers and tells you which one you can’t live without each month. For December, it’s Netflix, and while Last Chance U: Basketball isn’t true crime per se, 1) it does treat with racial inequality in/and the carceral state on a consistent basis franchise-wide, and 2) I love it and didn’t know it was set to return this month!
T-Bone breaks the offerings down by genre so you can skim them and see what’s available in your viewing lanes — and if you can afford two streamers, she furnishes a back-up option.
Now, this isn’t necessarily a cost-cutter for true-crime consumers like us, because it’s a different calculus, and you have to strain certain costs through the cheesecloth of proportional quality (i.e., Discovery+ may have the highest volume, but do you care whether it’s always available?), plus timing marathons of limited serieses (as Tara notes about Hulu’s Welcome to Chippendales, it’s not dropping all at once, so to maximize your Hulu-sub buck, you should wait until it’s all out in January). And then there’s Disney+, which has little programming of relevance to Best Evidence, but cutting the Pixar supply to my husband’s brainstem is a perilous prospect, and we still have to carry a ruinously pricy and bloated cable package (I think there’s a college-football channel for every year of my life) for work, etc. etc.
What streaming services do you guys think true-crime consumers have to have as our “baseline”? I try to note in my reviews of various properties, when pertinent, whether it’s worthwhile to grab a sub or free trial based on a particular series or doc, but if this genre is your jam, some streamers can feel compulsory (HBO Max and Peacock, for me). And do you cost-cut this way yourselves/do free-trial hopping, or just live with missing stuff sometimes, or try to economize on the book side? — SDB
Wondering what you’ll think of WaPo’s longread from yesterday, “Poison pill: How fentanyl killed a 17-year-old.” It’s well enough written by Devlin Barrett, but I found a handful of things striking, starting with how…not striking the story is from a topical and structural standpoint: a (squeaky-clean, OR SO IT SEEMED) teenager dies tragically and pointlessly, his family turns to activism in the wake of their untimely demise, and while justice of a sort is done, social media and What We Don’t Know About What Teen-Agers Get Up To still lurk in the chilly shadows of every other parents’ nightmares. This isn’t to make light of the Didier family’s tragedy, and part of the point of the piece is just how disquietingly frequent deaths like Zach’s have become since 2020.
Not to mention the Dateline-y “everyone you love is in fact an unknowable cipher that only death or law enforcement can unlock” moment so common to these narratives:
A soccer teammate recalled Zach saying something about taking a Percocet pill – a prescription painkiller that contains oxycodone and acetaminophen and is often prescribed for moderate pain, such as after dental surgery.
After relaying that information to the local prosecutor’s office, the family was visited by an undercover drug investigator.
“He showed up wearing a Budweiser shirt, with a nametag that said ‘Hank’, and a long beard like the guys in ZZ Top,” said Chris, who insisted on being shown a police badge.
It took the investigator less than 90 seconds to find the drug dealer on Zach’s phone.
The article goes on to detail how drug dealers thrive on Snapchat et al., but it felt strangely un-process-y to me, like a missed opportunity — or like the story of the aftermath for Zach’s parents, the activities and remembrances that they clung to so they wouldn’t also drown (the big buttons with his face on them, the not touching his room), became the story instead when, perhaps, the Didiers made it clear that too tight a focus on the ugly particulars might gainsay their participation? If that makes sense. Like, the account of Zach’s father finding him has a catechistic quality that suggests to me that the story was pitched with a certain agenda?
Because I was struck as well, as I often am, by the startled-deer whiteness of the story — again, not that this isn’t a legitimate calamity for this family, and not that counterfeit pill-dealing on social media isn’t a problem along a lot of axes. I just wonder what the coverage looks like if the same problem is killing kids on reservations, or in Appalachia, or in East New York.
That’s all braided in for me with the way police departments have leveraged ignorance about what fentanyl actually is/can do to reinforce us-vs.-them rhetoric about selflessly brave first responders, and recent editorial in the vein of “huh, it’s funny that easily led voters responded to fear-mongering about crime stats that we also promoted.” Net, it ends up feeling like a more interesting iteration of this dispiriting story was left on Barrett’s computer clipboard. — SDB
A few more bits and bobs for your Thursday…
“A Matter Of Honor,” Sarah Souli for Atavist // Immediately evocative account of Souli’s search for answers in the murders of three Afghan women. Here’s where Souli got me/made me crave soft-serve:
“We sat at a plastic table, where a waiter placed a dish of ice cream swirled to a perfect point and dusted with pistachio. After we ate, Tabsheer suggested, “Let’s just ask one more person. We’re here. We might as well.” We settled on a middle-aged man who, in a pressed shirt and slacks, would have looked the consummate professional if not for the comically large banana smoothie he was drinking.”
“Do Fingerprints Lie?,” Michael Specter for The New Yorker // Challenges to the rock-solidity of various forensic subdisciplines 1) felt more recent to me than 2002, when this piece first ran, and 2) seemed to exclude fingerprints from, well, cross-examination. Not so much.
“Truman Capote’s unhappy ending,” Dr. Howard Markel for PBS Newshour // Not much new here, though it’s interesting that Markel’s coming at Capote’s decline from a medical angle; I tend to think of Capote’s addiction issues as an effect, not a cause, but I suppose it’s a bit of both. I’ve gone down something of a rabbit hole the last couple of weeks, trying to find materials that illuminate Capote’s early/mid-seventies activities a bit better in re: the Corll case; not much luck, and I frankly don’t have a ton of hope for Jack Dunphy’s novelized “memoir” of their lives together, but I did find an episode of Firing Line featuring Capote on capital punishment
and here’s Dr. Katherine Ramsland on “Capote’s Missed Opportunity” for Psychology Today. Ramsland and my esteemed colleague Tracy Ullman have a book on the Houston mass murders in process and I can’t wait to interview them about that.
“Boy Missing,” Sarah Weinman for Philadelphia City Paper // Our esteemed colleague tipped this on Twitter earlier; her write-up is 15 years old, and she didn’t seem entirely glad the wayback machine turned it up (hee, been there), but it’s good background on one of Those Cases for Weinman — we all have them, we can’t stop picking at them, I have a few and so do you. But this one’s set to end at last, with Philly PD saying they’ve finally tracked down the identity of the long-nameless “Boy in the Box.” — SDB
Friday on Best Evidence: Guess we’re just lettin’ the Chippendales pile up in the sink? Plus your true-crime weekend plans.