The Blotter Presents 130: Falling For A Killer and If You Tell

Plus Lost Girls reviews, and Bembenek's boyfriend's bad book

The Blotter Presents 130 is out now! Stephanie Early Green returned to discuss the usual complement of anti-cheery material, starting with Amazon’s new Ted Bundy series, Ted Bundy: Falling For A Killer. The five-parter tries to subtract Bundy himself from the story of his crimes and their aftermath, and in some ways does a good job; in other ways, Trish Wood is too ambitious, and Stephanie and I would both like to see her take some of the bigger subjects she tried to cram into the first episode — women in law enforcement in the 20th century; institutional attitudes towards how women “should” behave during an assault — and turn them into their own series.

We also discussed Gregg Olsen’s If You Tell: A True Story of Murder, Family Secrets, and the Unbreakable Bond of Sisterhood. In both traditional book and Audible form, the story moves fast — so fast, and with such unrelenting detail as to the abuse Michelle “Shelly” Knotek subjected her family and boarders to, that the lack of analysis took a while to become evident. Why doesn’t Olsen push back on some of Shelly’s abetters? How did nobody in the community notice what was happening? And where’s the diagnosis of Shelly herself — or is she just bad? We’re looking for a longread on the case that less reporting and more inquiry, if anyone’s got one…but we also recommend the book.

Watching or reading either property? Let us hear from you. — SDB

View comments


Eve and I teamed up to talk more true crime on Extra Hot Great this week. The lead topic in Ep 288 is McMillion$, which bowed on HBO Monday; the six-part series digs into the massive (and Mob-driven) scam infecting the McDonald’s Monopoly promotion in the late nineties and early aughts. The EHG panel agreed that the story is a great one, and while the show is a bit overdirected at times, it does a good job laying out the “org tree” of the fraud without having to rely on shortcut animations. Will it join the Rushmore of con docus like The Imposter and The Dropout? Maybe!

There’s also a spirited debate about McDonald’s fries (amongst two vegetarians and a vegequarian; idk). And if you’re not a show-notes checker, let me pull over some auxiliary McDonald’s material from those, including the documentary about the litigation surrounding that notorious broiling Mickey D’s coffee, Hot Coffee; and past Blotter guest Dr. Marcia Chatelain’s new book, Franchise: The Golden Arches in Black America. — SDB


The long-awaited scripted adaptation of Lost Girls is getting mixed reviews. IndieWire’s Kate Erbland gave it a B, praising Amy Ryan’s intense performance as the resolute and raw mother of one of the missing women, and the muted blue-greys and “sickly greens” of the cinematography. As far as how director Liz Garbus goes about shaping a narrative that, alas, has no ending, Erbland notes, “[Lost Girls author Robert] Kolker himself has compared his book to writing about the maiden voyage of the Titanic — everyone knows how it ends, the trick is making people care about how it gets there — and Garbus mostly succeeds in keeping up that unique tension.”

Collider’s Matt Goldberg was decidedly less impressed, tagging Lost Girls with a D and saying that the adaptation “always seems to miss the bigger picture,” with the focus on Mari turning the film into a repetitive portrait of Mari’s anger that fails to dimensionalize the characters beyond Mari and her daughters.

I have tickets to see it at a film fest on February 29, and the movie hits Netflix a couple weeks later on March 13. Because I revered the book, I’m bracing for some disappointment here. Do you-all have the same doubts? — SDB


There’s absolutely no doubt that Nick Gugliatto’s memoir is a shitshow. Gugliatto, who helped Laurie “Bambi” Bembenek break out of prison back in the day, and in his defense, he’s not a writer. Unfortunately, the co-author detailed to helping him with You Never Have To Remember The Truth isn’t a writer either, and I might have piled on them both in my 2013 review…but people got paid for this shite.

*****

I got a bad feeling about Dominic Gugliatto's memoir before I'd even gotten to the cast of characters -- organized its own self in a counterintuitive alphabetical list that anyone unfamiliar with the case would find baffling -- but I forged ahead, telling myself that sometimes intros and acknowledgments don't get quite the stern edit that main texts do. And I wanted to read Gugliatto's story; nobody else had helped Lawrencia "Bambi" Bembenek, the Playboy-Club vet and controversial Milwaukee cop accused of killing her husband Fred Schultz's ex-wife in 1981, escape from prison, and I hoped to get a better sense of Bembenek as a person. Most case overviews I've read make her sound like something of a straw in the wind of a frame-up; presumably Gugliatto would have a different perspective.

No doubt he does, but 1) in the course of blaming her without delay for getting them caught by local police, he wonders aloud why he put up with her post-incarceration packrat tendencies, then says it's because her hot body made him "rock hard" -- bleah; and 2) it's so crappily written that I only got a few pages in before abandoning the book. The "real" writer, Kelly Moran, is allegedly a romance author, but her writing is like a fifth-grade book report:

So over dinner one night with my husband and then three-year-old twin boys, I discussed the project. Well, the twins discussed Toy Story, my husband, Darren and I discussed the book. Halfway through my spiel, my husband lifts his hand up to stop me and says, "Do it." My response was somewhere along the lines of, "Huh?"

All spelling, punctuation, failure to italicize works of cinema, tense inconsistencies et al. [sic], by the way. A single copy-edit would have de-garbaged the text a great deal, but it's apparent that that wasn't in the budget:

This book would not have been achievable without a whole lot of help from various parties. Though it is not nearly possible to acknowledge everyone, we will sure try.

It's both straining at a higher level of diction ("achievable") and dragging its balls in the toilet bowl of folksy ("whole lot of help," "will sure try"). Having no ear doesn't make Moran a bad person or anything, and it's not like true-crime writing is a bastion of elegance on the sentence level, but for fuck's sake, I paid good money for the book. Maybe don't have a usage error in the first line (in a crass image that makes no sense in the second place):

The day that Lawrencia Bembenek and I were captured by the authorities in Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada, on October 17th 1990, was a meteorologists wet dream.

Gugliatto never really explains that, by the way. It was snowing, in a part of Canada that's pretty far north. Not sure a meteorologist even buys that dinner, but you could probably explain the figure of speech, unlike this one:

The woman had more cats than dryer sheets.

You know, 'cause people have so many dryer sheets! …Wait, what? There are, no shit, six hundred thousand other ways to say that. Given that entrusting Moran with a metaphor is like letting Louis Braille drive home from the bar, let's go with a simple one like, oh, I don't know, "she had a lot of cats." Better yet, just cut it, since nobody, including "the woman" herself, cares about the landlady's pet situation in the middle of a story about the notorious end of an international prison break.

I quit at the end of the following passage:

I always thought the uniforms for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police made the men inside of them resemble Dudley Do Right. If the situation hadn't been so horrifying, I would've laughed as the thought came to mind then, but such as it was, Jennifer issued them inside. I stepped out of the garage and headed towards the stairs with my hands up. Literally.

[face palm] Well, yes. Dudley Do-Right -- please note the hyphen, or in fact any hyphen -- is a Mountie, so. Thaaaaat's the point of...Dudley Do-Right. Also, "the men inside of them"? It's a uniform, not a lighthouse. "Made their wearers"? "Made the Mounties"? What's with that tortured phrasing? Moving on to "then," which you don't need, and "such as it was," which makes no sense, to "issued them inside," which ditto, and that brings us to "Literally." The cops are at your house. You are surrendering. YOU DO NOT NEED TO TELL US YOUR HANDS ARE NOT "FIGURATIVELY" IN THE AIR. GEHHH.

…There is a good story in here. Bembenek's long, strange trip through various relationships with law enforcement is one of the great American crime stories, and it really never got any less bizarre (see: her jumping out a window, claiming Dr. Phil McGraw's producers had harassed her to the point where she had no choice -- thereby breaking her leg so badly that it was amputated below the knee). Could Gugliatto and Moran's crudely done co-memoir contain insights into the woman and the life? Sure. But based on the few pages holding my (…METAPHORICAL) nose let me read, it's unlikely to be expressed intelligently.

Editors, people. Spend the money. — SDB, 9/20/13


Not a Best Evidence paid subscriber? We’d love to have you; even more reviews and discussion threads await, and your $5 a month lets us commission review series, buy the latest prestige true crime in hardcover, and more.


Thursday in Best Evidence: I don’t know if Eve’s going to have the heart to delve into that POS Dylan Howard’s attempted rebrand as an MSM player; we’ll all find out tomorrow!


What is this thing? This should help. Follow The Blotter @blotterpresents on Twitter and Instagram, and subscribe to The Blotter Presents via the podcast app of your choice. You can also call or text us any time at 919-75-CRIME.