The Phantom · Slender Man · Zebra Killer

Plus: The Staircase continues to dribble out casting info

Everyone, wish Sarah a happy anniversary! She just hit eight years of marital bliss, and is enjoying a week off to celebrate. So you’re stuck with me (any my typos, as Sarah always gives me a nice edit), I’m afraid. Thanks in advance for putting up with me! — EB

The Phantom dropped last weekend. No, I’m not talking about that Billy Zane movie from the 90s: this The Phantom is a documentary produced by folks like director Doug Liman (Go, Edge of Tomorrow) about the execution of Carlos DeLuna for the 1983 slaying of gas station clerk Wanda Lopez.

But according to a Columbia law school study from 2012, he likely didn’t commit the crime, and prosecutors and police ignored his assertions that another man, Carlos Hernandez, was the killer. The doc lays out the case against Hernandez (as well as the one exonerating DeLuna), saying that DeLuna’s execution in 1989 disproves Antonin Scalia’s assertion that there has not been "a single case – not one – in which it is clear that a person was executed for a crime he did not commit. If such an event had occurred … the innocent's name would be shouted from the rooftops."

Texas Monthly takes a deep look at the doc within the context of the other coverage of the case, concluding that the documentary “provides no new tangible proof of DeLuna’s innocence, it lays out every other kind of evidence, in a vivid, creative, neo-noir style.” In fact, reporter Michael Hall writes, the film “has the same eye-opening feel” of The Thin Blue Line, high praise indeed.

The Phantom was released on July 2 on all the usual streaming services as well as in select theaters, if you’re ready for in-person moviegoing. I haven’t had time to watch it yet, but if you have, please do share your own capsule review in the comments. — EB

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Speaking of the comments…Our weekend open thread, on everyone’s favorite true-crime material with “American” in the title, is still going strong! Is Evil Genius a true crime gateway property? Is OJ: Made in America an instant classic? It’s not too late to weigh in on your faves. — EB


And now for some headlines relevant to some of our favorite true crime narratives:

  • Judge Orders Release Of Wisconsin Woman In Slender Man Case [Associated Press]
    The creepypasta-based meme that allegedly prompted a 2014 stabbing was the subject of a multitude of adaptations and properties, most of which were…not that great. (The Verge has a great 2018 piece on the rise and fall of the obsession with the meme and case.) The AP reported last week that Anissa Weier, one of the teens who allegedly attacked a classmate in an effort to appease the Slender Man character, will be released from the state mental health facility to which she was sentenced to 25 years. A judge agreed with her defense petition, which said that she’d had “exhausted all her treatment options” and “needed to rejoin society.” She’ll be monitored by the Wisconsin Department of Health Services until she's 37 years old.

  • Man Known as One of San Francisco's ‘Zebra Killers' Dies in Prison [NBC Bay Area]
    San Francisco’s series of so-called Zebra Murders might have involved as many as 73 victims back in the early 1970s, but the story has never really gained traction as a true crime property despite the incendiary details: The group of four killers called themselves “Death Angels,” and were Black Muslims; the victims (including future San Francisco mayor Art Agnos) were almost all white. The wave of killings prompted curfews, racial profiling, ended in what was — at the time — the longest criminal trial in California history. One of those four men, 76-year-old Jessie Lee Cooks, was found dead in his cell last week. I have to wonder — will some true crime-seeking producer see the brief on his death and decide that now is the time for a Zebra adaptation?

  • Zodiac killer code cracked? The S.F. Chronicle gets tips like this almost every day [SF Chronicle]
    The Chron isn’t having it with French engineer Fayçal Ziraoui — or the countless others who claim that they’ve cracked the serial killer’s cipher. “This year alone, I’ve received nearly 400 communications from Zodiac tipsters fingering suspects and proposing solutions to all four ciphers,” reporter Kevin Fagan writes, a “ceaseless tsunami of tips [that] can be unsettling and, well, wearing to wade through.”

Today in The Staircase casting: We’ve got another Peterson! Deadline reports that Tim Guinee (Homeland, Hell on Wheels) will play Michael’s (Colin Firth’s) brother Bill, who Redditors note was a loud voice in the earliest episodes of the doc version of The Staircase, but who didn’t appear in the latter eps.

And that’s not all: we also hear from Deadline that Michael Stuhlbarg (Call Me By Your Name) will play Peterson attorney David Rudolf (who, incidentally, did his own blogging of the doc including a detailed defense of the owl theory). Is there anyone left to cast in this thing? If so, I’m sure Deadline will tell us, tomorrow, the next day, and on and on until the eight-episode series’s release. — EB

A new HBO Max series seeks to unravel a Spanish false conviction case. Variety reports that the streaming service has commissioned a six-part docuseries called Dolores: The Truth About the Wanninkhof Case, about the Rocío Wanninkhof slaying.

The story was big news at the turn of the millennium: 52-year-old María Dolores "Loli" Vázquez was convicted of the teen’s death in 2001, after with what Variety characterizes as “a shocking lack of evidence she was arrested, convicted and sentenced in an extremely public trial.” DNA evidence eventually exonerated her, but only after she spent 519 days in jail.

Vázquez has been quiet ever since, and filmmakers say that this is “the first time in two decades” that she’ll speak about the case. This was one of the most serious miscarriages of justice in Spain ever,” one of the show’s producers says via press release, and “finally the story will be told in all its details for the first time. Reality is sometimes stranger than fiction, and in this case it’s even more obvious. This is a thriller full of unexpected twists, a controversial and amazing personal story.” As of publication time, a release date for the series has yet to be set. — EB

Thursday on Best Evidence: It’s a new podcast bonanza issue, with all the shows that might deserve your ears.

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