Somerton Man · Ohio Heists · Only Murders In The Building

Plus Barrymore clickbait analysis, and Kathie Lee blows SDB's sweet summer mind

The Ambies announced their winners earlier this week. The Ambies are a newer podcast-awards entity that wasn’t on my radar before a press release hit my inbox the other day, so I cherished a faint hope that these “awards for excellence in audio” were a more independent prospect than, say, the Webbies.

Well, the price of the pay to play is lower, but…it’s still pay to play. So, while the Ambie-winner for Best True Crime podcast, Dr. Death’s second season, might in fact be the class of the field, it might also be merely 1) the best of large/aggregated podcast companies who could afford to field nominees at a hundo a pop, 2) companies which also sponsor the Ambies. Nothing against Wondery or Tenderfoot product per se (a Tenderfoot pod about the NBA-ref scandal, which I’d been meaning to listen to until I shortcutted the story with the biopic instead, took Best Sports honors); I just don’t see what “wins” sponsored by the winners’ financial backers tell us about quality audio storytelling. Well, except that money talks, and we knew that, no? — SDB

You may have seen a trending Twitter story yesterday to the effect that Drew Barrymore was “gaslit” into taking Woody Allen’s side re: the allegations made against him by Dylan Farrow. On her show on Monday, Barrymore talked with Farrow about the “career calling card” that working with Allen represented (Barrymore starred in Everyone Says I Love You), and added that she didn’t really get the full picture until she had children of her own. I always find that qualifier irritating, I have to tell you; “as the father of daughters” is the most repellent of the species, of course, but there’s just something about the idea that becoming a parent lets the scales fall from one’s eyes about dastardly behavior by “geniuses” that never sits right with me. And it’s not because the parent speaking is claiming a special insight unavailable to childless people like your correspondent (which, of course that’s the case, in dozens of ways). It’s because it shifts responsibility from the speaker to the speaker’s life situation. Does that make sense? I confess that I too rejected the allegations from Dylan Farrow, for years, or positioned my eyes in such a way that I could reject/not engage them, instead of believing her, and I can list a number of reasons for that, but 1) they all come down to what we might call “the privilege of convenience” and not wanting to have to stop loving the cello sight gags in Take The Money And Run; and 2) “the ethical laziness of youth” is a reason, but not an excuse. (Not to mention 2b) I wasn’t young enough to get by with it in the second place.)

I’ve always liked and rooted for Drew Barrymore, actually, and I think she’s sincere here in wanting to correct the record and make it right for Farrow. It reads as on-brand ingenuousness, to put it another way. Certainly Farrow seems to have accepted it in the spirit:

While listening to Barrymore, Dylan Farrow blinked back tears. Despite her accusation — which dates back to 1992, when she was 7 years old — many prominent stars have continued to appear in Allen’s films over the years. (Though several have since spoken out against him and vowed never to work with him again.)

“Thank you,” Dylan Farrow said. “Hearing what you just said, I’m trying not to cry right now. It is just so meaningful because it’s easy for me to say, ‘Of course you shouldn’t work with him. He’s a jerk. He’s a monster.’ But I find it incredibly brave and incredibly generous that you would say to me that my story and what I went through was important enough to you to reconsider that.”

But there’s an interesting aspect of that exchange and of the entire conversation that I think eluded the clickbaitier packaging of the takeaway — leaving aside the fact that, in most of the ledes, the story is plated as dish on Barrymore only, and kind of buries the fact that this “announcement” was in fact an apology delivered to Farrow, who then had more to say. That’s significant too, but there’s also the fact that Farrow is still functionally having to go through it in real time. She speaks about that in the segment — specifically, about her family’s involvement in the HBO project and how it surprised her — and her emotional response to Barrymore is a window into an ongoing process Farrow’s had to perform, both publicly and alone, for decades.

You can watch the full segment below. — SDB

There’s finally a premiere date for Only Murders In The Building, huzzah! Granted, we have to wait until nearly Labor Day, boo — but the Hulu original starring Steve Martin, Martin Short, and Selena Gomez is set to drop August 31, and on the “plus” side, this gives me plenty of time to hone a series of The Three Amurderinos jokes. Here’s the trailer:

The trailer is…a trailer, and doesn’t tell us a whole lot, but I’m cautiously optimistic, not least because I’d forgotten a couple bits of casting:

Co-created and written by Martin and John Hoffman based on an idea by Martin, Only Murders In The Building follows three strangers (Martin, Short and Gomez) who share an obsession with true crime and suddenly find themselves wrapped up in one as they investigate the mysterious death of a neighbor in their New York City apartment building.

Amy Ryan and Aaron Dominguez also star. Nathan Lane will recur.

I’m bracing for mild disappointment thanks to the long build-up BUT what won’t be disappointing is our fine feathered contributor Elizabeth Held’s take on it as yet another meta narrative in/about the genre, which will hit these pages not long after the series premieres. You can read her first two installments here and here. — SDB

Ms. Held has other exegeses (you heard me!) in store for us this summer, plus Susan Howard’s taking an Edgars time machine back to the eighties. It would really help us pay them closer to what they’re worth if you grabbed a paid subscription!

If that’s not in your post-taxes budget rn, we get it — but if you know (or are!) someone who’d like to write for us, we’d love to hear from them/you! I don’t know if you know this buuuuut there’s really a lot of true crime, and it’s going to take a village for us to cover it. — SDB

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Case (so to speak) in point: hat tip to villager @gcbiggles on Twitter, who tipped us to “the exhumation of the grave of the Somerton man” in Adelaide, Australia yesterday. The photo from Matt J. Smith’s original tweet on the story is utterly mesmerizing:

The way the other headstones seem to be crowding in to bear witness; that sky…sublime, in the Romantic sense.

Since the tweet, the exhumation has been accomplished, and cold-case investigators are hopeful that they can retrieve DNA from the remains of the Somerton Man (his case is often called the Tamam Shud case), and perhaps solve a mystery that has captivated the world for over seven decades. Case sound familiar, but you’ve forgotten why it’s such a poser? ABC News deep-dived into the mystery on its 70th anniversary; you can catch up here.

I could have sworn I first heard about this case via Unsolved Mysteries, but isn’t backing me up and neither is the Wiki list of UM episodes. In Search Of… didn’t cover it either, evidently, although this is right down that show’s center lane, but as far as I can tell even the reboot didn’t cover it either. There’s just something about a “unidentified decedent” case that puts itself in your pocket, as it were. Everyone’s got at least one — mine was this one — and I think it’s one of the reasons we’re attracted to true crime, particularly the unsolved ones. The unknowns must be known by someone; every someone must be someone…to someone, right? And in the drive to make Somerton Man not a no one, he becomes a someone…to everyone.

…Hard to believe an accredited university graduated me with a creative-writing degree sometimes, innit? Talk about your mysteries. (hee) Anyway: thanks to Jane for the heads-up, and best of luck to the forensics team; we’ll keep you posted here, of course. — SDB

Yesterday marked the anniversary of Aimee Semple McPherson’s (faked?) kidnapping. I remember digging into the story when a thinly-veiled version of McPherson, “Sister Alice,” figured in early episodes of Perry Mason, but then again, I also “remembered” that Julianne Nicholson played her to perfection in Ryan Murphy’s Hollywood, which is kind of not even in the neighborhood (sorry, Tatiana Maslany!), so it’s no surprise that I had to refresh myself on the actual story. McPherson, a celebrity evangelist, vanished…and then her “friend,” radio announcer Kenneth Ormiston, also vanished, and the scandalous nature of that relationship threw McPherson’s account of her kidnapping into question almost immediately when she reappeared in New Mexico a month later.

The BBC has a longread on the case here, if you’d like a less-sweaty account of a classic American case from a British remove; if you’d like everything the official United States info hoard (I say this with love!) can throw at the story, you can try the Smithsonian’s take.

And if you want to stare uncomprehendingly at this newsletter for a few minutes, then throw your tablet in the garbage and walk away from the internet, get this — the story was turned into a musical with a book and lyrics by Kathie Lee Gifford. KATHIE! LEE! GIFFORD! This starts to make a little more sense when you dig into the biographies of Davids Pomeranz and Friedman, who wrote the music for this…whatever this was. Not Pomeranz, so much (he sang the Perfect Strangers theme song, FWIW), but Friedman has an ongoing gig writing with Kathie Lee and performing on The Today Show.

…This existed. A cast recording exists! Carolee Carmello, who originated the McPherson role, was nominated for real, actual awards I have heard of! But then nature healed itself:

Scandalous closed on December 9, 2012 after 29 regular performances and 31 previews. Difficulties arising from Hurricane Sandy were cited as a contributing factor to the closing.

Years ago now, I did a roundtable on The Blotter Presents (RIP) about unacceptable true-crime topics for musical theater, and was horrified at how many cases had in fact already been adapted — with no small success! — for the stage, but this one didn’t come up, somehow. Readers, if you have had contact with this production, please, tell us your story in the comments. If you haven’t, but feel strongly that McPherson really was kidnapped, versus faked her disappearance for publicity reasons/to get it in with Ormiston on the DL for a few weeks, tell us that too! — SDB

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A Kathie Lee true-crime musical (…I’ll never get over it, guys!) is a tough act to follow, but someone’s got to do it and it would be rude to stick Eve with the task, so let’s go out on a Buckeye note with Ohio Heists. Margaret Quamme reviewed the new book from Jane Ann Turzillo on “nine men who made burglary their business” in and around Ohio. Here’s a snip:

Not all of Turzillo's subjects robbed banks. Alvin “Creepy” Karpis, who was elevated to Public Enemy No. 1 in 1935, when “the most notorious gangsters and killers were either in the big house or six feet under,” made a specialty of robbing trains and mail trucks.

Some of her 19th-century subjects robbed graves, making “ghoulish dropoffs” to the Medical College in Cincinnati. Practiced thief Bill Mason stole jewelry from the hotel rooms of comedian Phyllis Diller, who was performing in Ohio, not just once but twice, also making off with her address book, the discovery of which eventually led to his arrest.

I’m still stuck on the misdemeanor that is Ohio’s selection of “Hang On Sloopy” as their “state rock song” — like, who made that call, Kathie Lee Gifford? …strap in, I’ve got hundreds of these — but the book sounds pretty interesting, although sometimes these geo-targeted true-crime projects can be a little amateurish. On the other hand, that has its charms, and this book promises a pic of…death dishes? — SDB

Thursday on Best Evidence: True-crime real estate; that’s where Eve’s a Viking!

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