The Lady and The Dale · The Charley Project · Jury Duty

(Not us, thankfully.) Plus a mommyblogger's fake kidnap scare, and a journo scam.

Welcome back, all. Hard not to feel somewhat extraneous, with everything going on at the national level — and if you’ve got longreads or listens you’ve found helpful or striking, concerning the high crimes unfolding in D.C., please share them with us in the comments, or at 919-75-CRIME (that’s a textable number, BTW) if you’d rather communicate privately. — SDB


A “mommy influencer” went viral thanks to an Instagram video suggesting a couple tried to kidnap her kids in a craft store. The story — which, shocker, turned out to be baseless Karening by Katie Sorensen, who has since deleted her Insta — may have been signal-boosted by QAnon hashtag #savethechildren, according to the accused couple’s daughter. (The SFGate piece I’ve just linked is at pains to pause for a not-that-quick, very-low-pH explainer about Qberts and their kookbag beliefs, which I’m all for in theory, though in practice, I’m not seeing an explicit link between Sorensen and QAnon; she just seems like a drama queen who played into Q narratives, but feel free to correct me.)

This all went down before Christmas, and once Sorensen’s spot got blown up, the accused couple — and local police — appeared ready to make an example of Sorensen:

Although Sorensen said in her video that she wasn’t interested in pressing charges, police said in a follow-up interview she did want the couple prosecuted for attempted kidnapping. Now, Petaluma police are investigating whether Sorensen herself will face hate crime or false report charges.

But I’m not finding any updates from the last week or so. If you hear anything (or have access to the Petaluma, CA parent rumor mill), drop us a line. — SDB

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Women in sports media, look out: a scammer is using a fake job offer to show-me-your-tits female journos. He’s probably stopped now, since the Association of Women in Sports Media tipped its members last week that a “creep” calling himself “Trevor” (…of course he was) and claiming an affiliation first with Yahoo Sports, then with Barstool was targeting women in the field (and in one case, a woman’s mom). He reached out to personal numbers with a job listing, then quickly got sketchy with requests to see them on camera in low-cut tops and short skirts.

Almost as grody as “Trevor”’s feeble catfishing attempt was the reaction of Barstool Sports chief Dave Portnoy, who instead of denying any affiliation with “Trevor” decided to whine about one of the targets slandering him by posting the exchange on Twitter.

What have we learned? 1) Don’t be named Trevor; 2) Barstool sucks. — SDB


The Lady And The Dale hits HBO January 31. The Dale was a three-wheeled two-seater whose inventor, Elizabeth Carmichael, hoped it would revolutionize the automotive industry…or her bank balance. But the entire company turned out to be a scam, and Carmichael was convicted of various fraud and money-laundering charges, only to disappear during a lengthy appeals fight. An Unsolved Mysteries viewer tip returned her to law-enforcement custody in the late eighties; Carmichael died in 2004. Now the Duplasses have a four-part HBO series on Carmichael, her car, and her grift. The trailer dropped last week:

Can’t wait for this one; the contemporary footage alone is going to be bonkers. — SDB


Another one from the Best American Crime Writing 2002 file: D. Graham Burnett’s account of serving as jury foreman on a murder trial for the New York Times. Having gotten called almost relentlessly during the time I lived in Manhattan, I have to give Burnett credit for evoking the simultaneously august and frumpily stale surroundings:

Actually ending up on a jury never crossed my mind. The day before I reported for duty, I had a conversation with a friend, a logician, who claimed that the magic word was ''philosophy'': once the lawyers heard it, you were kindly asked to leave*. I figured that introducing myself as an academic ought to have the same effect. With a lawyer wife who had worked for a public defender's office, I promised to give any healthy prosecutor hives.

In the twice-exhaled air of the jury waiting room, about 200 disgruntled New Yorkers had arranged themselves like a tray of magnetic monopoles: maximum space between each particle and its neighbors. Some read newspapers, others books; a few students had staked out desks in the corner and had begun to study, wearing Walkmans. Most people simply stared into space**.

* this shit is like blackjack in that everyone has A System and no one’s system really works; “I’m a racist, can I go now” was popular, and ineffective, the last time I actually got seated in 2002

** the last time I got called was not that long ago, and somehow, this was still true

The case itself is a he said/he said whose dedicated Law & Order episode would likely make us cringe, as some of the sequences do here 20 years later (flip references to Paris Is Burning; Burnett’s description of the defendant, a person of color, as “well spoken”), and Burnett’s archness…well, I took the same anthropological-reporting tone in writing about jury experiences, and in retrospect, it’s obnoxious, but it also has its purpose, at this distance. Particularly as the story moves into the deliberations portion of the trial, the debates over the charges, the “mistaken recollections” of prosecution witnesses (which would likely be called out as “testilying” were the piece written today), the repeated references to the definition of reasonable doubt, and Burnett’s academic remove all combine to brighten the light he’s hanging on the imperfections of the system. And then the tone collapses in on itself thanks to events, a meta occurrence Burnett duly records in a later conversation with a cop at a cocktail party:

Trying to explain how you might think you were probably looking at a murderer but decide the law would not permit you to convict him. Trying to explain what it felt like to go home in tears, to sit in the dark, wondering if you had done the right thing.

And then there’s another twist.

I don’t know if “good” is the right word to describe the piece, but I do recommend it, paired with the testimony of the jurors in OJ: Made In America, because of what it tells us about “our peers” — that they’re hungry and bored and not objective, that the fumbling towards justice isn’t cinematic. — SDB


I would call our freelance rates “cinematic” either — unless you consider pittances to be marvels of cinematography — but your paid subscriptions help us reward our correspondents with at least a small fraction of their worth. It’s just $5 a month, and it helps us bring you more news and reviews, so if you can, we’d love it.


“Chances are that if you mention someone who has disappeared in America, Meaghan Good can tell you the circumstances from memory — the who, what, when, and where. The why is almost always a mystery.” That’s from Jeremy Lybarger’s longform piece about Good and her “Encyclopedia Of The Missing,” the online Charley Project database. It’s named for Charley Ross, pictured above; often considered the country’s first kidnapping for ransom, the case reached its unsatisfying conclusion with a dying declaration following a burglary at the home of Judge Charles Van Brunt — in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. A lot of stuff is named after the Van Brunts around our fine borough; the house itself is no longer standing, but the property is likely where Fort Hamilton High stands today, and folks who follow me on Twitter may recall that I am extremely familiar with the courtyard after voting early there last year.

Anyway: Lybarger’s piece, which I discovered the piece at the back of Weinman’s Unspeakable Acts, really gets at the spookiness of these cases, both individually and in the aggregate:

There are thousands more stories like these, many of them banal in their particulars: A man goes to the grocery store and never comes home; a woman enters a phone booth to call her boyfriend and vanishes. What gives the stories the frisson of campfire tales are the three haunting words embedded in the heart of each: they were “never seen again.”

It also gets at Good’s relationship to these cases, and talks about the shadow investigators of the internet without either lionizing them or taking a 1997 “can you believe these World Wide Web people??” tack, which is still all too common IME. — SDB


Tuesday on Best Evidence: The Girl Scout Murders, and the big business of pod merch.


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