My inactivity is your gain! With a couple days off last week, I had a chance to catch up on my reading — and that means long reads for miles. Here’s some of the best long form true crime I read over the last few days, for you to sock away for a rainy day or two of your own.
NOTE: If you’re reading this via email, Gmail likely clipped it (as I included brief excerpts, this issue is looong), so please click through via your browser to read the whole thing. — EB
You might recall The Daily Beast’s reporting on the death of Kimberly Fattorini (above) this spring: Though the Playboy casting associate died in 2017, legal documents detailing the circumstances of her death circulated on Instagram in April, causing those who thought they knew how she died to reconsider.
Writing for Elle, narrative journalist K.J. Yossman speaks with Fattorini’s friends and family in an effort to parse out the full story of her presumable overdose. Here’s a snip:
It was a tragically beautiful day to die in West Hollywood. The summer sky was Technicolor blue, and palm fronds undulated in the breeze outside the low-rise 1960s apartment block where 30-year-old Kimberly Fattorini, a Playboy casting associate and part-time model, was drawing her last breaths on a friend’s couch. At some point between 10:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. on Friday, July 21, 2017, she slipped from chemical oblivion into eternal slumber.
Even before the toxicology report was complete, word spread that Fattorini had overdosed. She had spent the previous night at a new club called The Highlight Room with her friend Monica Maass, a Playboy model. Maass told an investigator from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department (LASD) the two women had been out all night drinking and doing cocaine before returning to Maass’s apartment at 5 a.m., where Fattorini had fallen asleep. At about 3:15 p.m. Maass realized Fattorini wasn’t breathing and called 911.
Forks, Washington, is perhaps best known as the setting of the Twilight books — according to the city’s website, the “magic of the rainiest town in the contiguous United States” really made it happen for author Stephenie Meyer, reportedly tripling tourism to the sleepy area.
This past June, however, Forks was braced for a different incursion, after a rumor circulated on Twitter that a bus packed with “violent antifa activists ready to riot” was headed their way. Wired staffer Lauren Smiley (who you might recall was the on-the-ground reporter for the Broken Harts podcast) has the scoop on how that rumor sparked a dangerous division within the town. Take a look:
On the night of May 31, a Sunday, a new Twitter account styled @Antifa_Us issued a call to arms: “Tonight's the night, Comrades. Tonight we say ‘Fuck The City’ and we move into the residential areas... the white hoods.... and we take what's ours …#BlacklivesMaters #FuckAmerica.” A brown hand emoji raised a middle finger. Donald Trump Jr. posted it to his Instagram. “Absolutely insane,” he remarked.
If the tweet sounded just a little on the nose, like shark chum tossed to a certain kind of white person, it was. The next day, Twitter deleted @Antifa_Us; it was not, as advertised, an antifa account, but rather one secretly run by a US-based white-supremacist group called Identity Evropa, one of the organizers of the infamous 2017 neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Seth Larson didn't notice Twitter's fact check. The 45-year-old manager of Freds Guns, a firearms store 70 miles east of Forks in the town of Sequim, had already reposted the tweet on his Facebook. A few days later, when he saw a notice for a Black Lives Matter demonstration planned in his hometown, he worried that antifa rioters would come. Someone had to be on the alert.
You know what phishing is, of course: that’s when you think you’re responding to an email from a person or entity you trust, but you’re really not.
Typically it’s a scam used to gain passwords or steal money, but someone’s been targeting authors like Margaret Atwood and Ethan Hawke, getting them to send early drafts of unpublished works. No one knows who’s doing it, or why. New York Times reporters Elizabeth A. Harris and Nicole Perlroth explain:
Earlier this month, the book industry website Publishers Marketplace announced that Little, Brown would be publishing “Re-Entry,” a novel by James Hannaham about a transgender woman paroled from a men’s prison. The book would be edited by Ben George.
Two days later, Mr. Hannaham got an email from Mr. George, asking him to send the latest draft of his manuscript. The email came to an address on Mr. Hannaham’s website that he rarely uses, so he opened up his usual account, attached the document, typed in Mr. George’s email address and a little note, and hit send.
“Then Ben called me,” Mr. Hannaham said, “to say, ‘That wasn’t me.’”
This one’s a really fast read, which you can gulp down here.
Not to be confused with the Inside Edition episode of the same name, False Witness is a longform report from reporter Pamela Colloff on grifter Paul Skalnik, whose false testimony is still being used to jail suspects who just might be innocent.
It dropped a little more than a year ago, and subsequently scored attention like the Texas Observer’s MOLLY Investigative Journalism Prize for 2020. So, obviously, that’s worth reading — and if you read it when it pubbed, you might want to take a look at it again after reading this new interview with Colloff where she talks about how she spun that yarn. Here’s a peek:
I first went to see [Skalnik] back in 2018, when he was in federal prison. I tried to be my most charming self. My pitch was that he should talk to me about what he had done, because so many years had gone by. I tried to appeal to his vanity because he’s a very vain person and enjoys the limelight. He could not have been more delightful to speak with. That was helpful for me to see because then I understood how people had been conned by him for so long. He promised me that he would tell me everything. We only had an hour together but we agreed to write back and forth after the meeting was over. I was elated. I called my editors and said, “This is going to be incredible. He’s going to tell me everything.”
And stupidly—and, again, this helped me understand how people fell victim to him—I didn’t realize I’d been had. He had no intention of telling me anything. For months, I sent him questions and he would reply with, “The mail was down last week, I’m sorry I didn’t see your letter. Can you send it again?” And there are enough problems communicating with anyone in prison that for a while I thought he was telling me the truth.
This one is a piece of vintage-style VF true crime coverage: A lovely, affluent white woman marries a wealthy, philandering guy, and eventually disappears. The well-trod beats all arrive as you expect them to, expertly unfurled by Vanessa Grigoriadis. This is a great piece for when you’re in the mood for some classic, inside New York-baseball true crime. Here’s what I mean:
As Farber had more babies, she shifted into the psychic space of motherhood, her former self moving into the rearview mirror. They found parenting five children stressful, particularly because when the children were small, Dulos kept moving the family into whatever home he had not yet sold while building another, to keep cash flowing. Sometimes a wing would go undecorated because the houses, many of them over 10,000 square feet, were simply too large to furnish, pack, and unpack before Dulos sold them off. They lived surrounded by cardboard boxes in a series of model mansions—luxurious homes, to be sure, with open-plan kitchens made of marble and great rooms the size of preschools. But these McMansions on steroids were almost grotesquely luxurious, the opposite of the compact elegance of a Manhattan "perfect eight."
Farber craved a lifelong partner with intellect and depth. But tracing herself over Dulos, more and more, seemed to mean extinguishing herself. He was like the kid in Shel Silverstein's The Giving Tree, the one who takes and takes from an apple tree until no apples are left, at which point he decides to cut down the tree, leaving only the stump. "Fotis likes to sleep in each other's arms," Farber wrote. "He says that people who love each other do this. I do this sometimes. Sometimes I curl into a tight ball and escape life. Sometimes (most times) I lie on my back, at peace, and drift far far away."
Are you thinking, “hey, I am so happy to have some new stuff to read” about now? Well, that’s what Sarah and I are here to do: five days a week (barring holidays, naturally) we serve up all the true crime that’s worth your time, separating the brilliant from the trend-riding dreck. Many people find that a pursuit worth paying for! If you’re one of those people already, thank you, you’re amazing. If not, perhaps consider making the leap to a paid subscription — and if that’s not a financial option right now (which we understand, we’ve been there) a great way to help is to share this publication with anyone else who might dig what we’re doing. We thank you.
We haven’t talked about self-help guru Tony Robbins lately. Last year, BuzzFeed published a six-part investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct and abuse that I believe we discussed — you can find the full series here. And now Robbins is in the news again, this time the focus of a federal lawsuit that alleges that Robbins is lying about his role in a former employee’s fight against COVID-19, eventually firing her in the process.
Reporter Zoe Schiffer (who, back when we all worked together in SF’s Vox Media offices, always had the cutest purses, I must note) has the yarn:
The story Tony Robbins told on his podcast was harrowing — if also a little convoluted. One of his staff members had come down with a fever of 102 when she started watching the news and freaking out. She went to the hospital, presumably with COVID-19, and began to hyperventilate. The doctors put her on a ventilator — then in a medically induced coma. “The doctor said … ‘If she doesn’t wake up in three weeks, we’ll declare her dead,’” Robbins recounted.
The self-help guru had been researching coronavirus treatments and decided pressure from ventilators could damage the lungs. “I’m not saying these people are trying to harm. I think they’re all trying to help, but the research is now showing a very different component there,” he said on the Tony Robbins Podcast. So Robbins asked a physician friend to call the hospital and convince the woman’s doctors to lower the pressure. “As a result, four or five days later, she opened her eyes, which we’re so grateful for, and she’s still in the hospital but she’s healing,” Robbins said.
The episode fit neatly into Robbins’ self-aggrandizing coronavirus narrative. Since the early days of the pandemic, he’d been suspicious of the hysteria surrounding COVID-19. He told employees in late March that the flu was worse than coronavirus, adding: “We have lost our minds on this.” He also hosted two events amid the crisis.
A true pulp magazine, Ellery Queen’s was my childhood go-to for short crime fiction from the detective novelists of the day. Eighty years since its founding (NOT my childhood, shut up) the pub is still kicking, mixing short-form stories with historical content like journalist Dean Jobb’s look at Arthur Conan Doyle’s iffy dive into non-fiction as he reported on a mutiny at sea. Here’s a bit:
Conan Doyle’s account was accurate—he appears to have relied on British newspaper accounts and may have consulted the trial transcript—but began with an imagined conversation between the captain and the first mate before they sailed from London. Carswell supposedly warned that the unruly crew will “need thrashing into shape,” and it was safe to assume the mate said something along those lines.
Conan Doyle’s description of the captain, however, strayed from fact into fiction. He was “a jovial, genial soul,” he claimed, “with good humour shining from his red, weather-stained face.” It was as if he feared it would taint the honor of the Empire for readers to learn the truth, that the commander of a British vessel could be so cruel. And when it came to describing the Manila men, Doyle succumbed to the racist stereotypes and attitudes of his times. They were dangerous, untrustworthy, and even looked evil, with their “flat Tartar noses, small eyes, low brutish foreheads, and lank, black hair.” Their execution, he wrote, was a “fitting consummation” to a “monstrous” crime.
I love any story that reminds folks that tabloid journalism isn’t a modern-day invention — and that, in fact, newspapers used to be a lot more shady than they are today. Read the full story here.
She Called Police Over a Neo-Nazi Threat. But the Neo-Nazis Were Inside the Police. [New York Times]
Will you feel better or worse if you read this piece on how it’s not just the U.S. that has problems with its police officers? A racially threatening fax sent to German defense lawyer Seda Basay-Yildiz in 2018 was traced back to a police computer, just one in a slew of neo-Nazi crimes allegedly committed by local cops.
NYT reporter Katrin Bennhold, who’s been writing for the paper from Europe for well over a decade, details some of those crimes in a series of tweets, saying that “At least six German states have discovered far-right groups inside their police forces over the past six months alone.” Here’s an excerpt from her investigation:
The officer who had been logged into the work station that had been used to access Ms. Basay-Yildiz’s home address, and the names and birthdays of her daughter, husband, mother and father, turned out to be part of a WhatsApp group containing half a dozen police officers who shared racist, neo-Nazi content.
One image showed Hitler on a rainbow with the caption “Good night, you Jews.” There were images of concentration camp inmates and images mocking drowned refugees and people with Down syndrome.
The officers were suspended and interrogated. They offered multiple alibis — requests for information are so numerous, they could not recall accessing the information; many officers can use the same computer.
The investigation stalled.
New York Magazine @NYMagA whıte woman called the polıce on her Black neıghbors. Sıx months later, they stıll share a property lıne. @AllisonPDavis reports on a June incident in Montclair that went viral, and on what happened next https://t.co/mLaI3PfYLc
Montclair, New Jersey, is known as “Park Slope with backyards,” but its vaunted diversity was cast into question after a widely-viewed “Karen” incident this summer, Allison P. Davis reports. As Davis correctly notes above, her probing look at an altercation in which a white woman called the cops on a Black guy for no reason got a bit lost in the Shkreli shuffle, but it’s never too late to catch up on a story like this one, that takes you past the Instagram video into the people at risk here. Let me show you:
Over the phone, Schulz told the police, “I need an officer … the gentleman who is taller than me pushed me off his property.”
Neighbors began to yell things like “Shame on you” and “In this climate, you’re doing this?” while Schulz continued her defense, sometimes to the neighbors, sometimes to Norrinda and Fareed. “He pushed me ten feet … I came over here alone. I should have brought my son … Are you gonna say you didn’t put your hands on me?”
“It was like, Yo, this woman really believes what she’s saying,” Fareed recounted. “I feel like, in her mind, she really did start believing that she was assaulted. Maybe she was affronted by being told no. But for her, that affront was synonymous with me physically assaulting her. There was no difference in her mind.”
If you only have time for one of these stories, this is the one I’d pick for you. Here it is.
It’s the end of this piece on the slaying of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia that will floor you — one reader says it “made me feel something akin to the beginnings of a heart attack,” while another tells New Yorker staffer Ben Taub, “The way you chose to end the piece was especially beautiful and poignant.” A taste:
A local farmer heard a pop and a scream, and watched Daphne yank the emergency brake. Then the gas tank exploded, launching her car into a field. The boom resonated throughout Bidnija valley.
Matthew ran down the hill, barefoot, squinting in the afternoon sun. When he reached the fireball, he thought for a few seconds that the twisted chassis couldn’t be that of his mother’s car, because it was burning white, and hers was charcoal gray. But then Matthew saw the beginning of the license plate—QQZ—and circled the car, helpless, screaming, searching for his mother’s silhouette, his skin as hot as he could stand it.
Grab some tissues, here we go.
Wednesday on Best Evidence: It’s the last BE of 2020!