Tina Turner · Amateur Detectives · Ghislaine Maxwell

Plus: Elizabeth Holmes, recast

Federal prosecutors have filed new charges against Ghislaine Maxwell. The ex-girlfriend/alleged roper for Jeffrey Epstein (CNN calls her a “former associate,” which while not technically false seems a bit vague) now faces a “superseding indictment” filed Monday (that means it replaces the prior charges) that includes claims that as recently as 2004, Maxwell recruited and groomed a 14-year-old girl for "sexualized massages.”

Newsweek notes that the time frame during which Maxwell and Epstein allegedly engaged with the victim “include the period when the pedophile was friends with Prince Andrew” and is “during the same era when the prince would sometimes stay overnight as a guest of the New York financier.”

In January of 2020, the royal released a public statement saying that he was eager to help law enforcement officials with information on the case, but the United States attorney in Manhattan said that in actuality, “Prince Andrew has provided zero cooperation.” As recently as last June, the two sides appear to be in a stalemate, with the Guardian reporting that while the feds want “a sit-down interview,” Andrew’s “PR advisers say Andrew is ready to provide a witness statement” only, and wasn’t willing to sit down for questioning. The DoJ has reportedly filed a “formal request, known as a mutual legal assistance treaty submission, to get access to Andrew,” but so far, little progress has been made.

According to the New York Times, Maxwell has remained in jail since she was arrested last July; though she found conditions in lockup “intolerable,” a judge rejected her proposal that she post $28.5 million in bail in December of 2020. Her trial is currently scheduled to begin in July. — EB


A new musical documentary overlaps with true crime, but not in the way you might expect. Tina, which dropped on HBO last weekend, isn’t focused on a misbehaving rock-and-roll “bad boy.” Its focus is the long life and career of Tina Turner, who — as fans of the 1993 dramatic adaptation of her story already know — survived decades of abuse at the hands of her one-time husband.

Tina co-director Dan Lindsay suggests to USA Today that documentarians face a conundrum when covering past trauma, as true crime filmmakers (and reporters, and podcasters, etc etc) inevitably must. There’s value “in people coming forward with their truth, to not only shine a light on certain aspects of our society, but also to help other survivors,” Lindsay says. “But the other side of that, and the kind of paradox, is that by asking people who suffered this trauma to talk about it, you are inevitably retraumatizing them in some shape or form.” 

In the case of Tina, that means leaning heavily on old footage in which Turner discussed her past, as “we didn't want to drag her back into the muck of her past,” co-director T.J. Martin says.

It’s an interesting admission Tina’s creators make, and one that’s at odds with how we think of true crime in general — if you’re like me, one of the things that draws you to a property is the prospect of new interviews from stakeholders in a case (and one of the things that I side-eye is an over-reliance on archival material). Is there a way for true-crime showrunners to serve both masters: an audience that wants fresh interviews, and a victim or survivor who might be best served by moving on? — EB


The Guardian is taking a look at how amateur detectives operate online. The piece focuses on online forum Websleuths and the Reddit Bureau of Investigations (RBI), and argues that the sites hundreds of thousands of users are a useful tool that should be taken more seriously by law enforcement. Here’s a snip:

The reach of Websleuths means that, right now, there are more eyes on cases than at any other time in history. One member – we’ll call her Jane – a mother of four from Shropshire, tells me: “Maybe in another life, I might have been a police officer or a criminal psychologist, or something of that type. My brain is constantly curious. I always want to know how, who, why, where. You don’t get these answers from mainstream media, and places like Facebook have too much unsubstantiated gossip.”

A member of Websleuths for six years, Jane describes it as “almost like a grown-up’s Where’s Wally”, though she admits the hobby is an unusual one. “I suppose ‘what kind of blood spatter pattern was found?’ or, ‘did you read the autopsy report?’ isn’t really the kind of chitchat you have with a neighbour.”

Nevertheless she has followed many cases through from the very beginning. “You want to see justice for the victim and their loved ones,” she says – and the reach of the site means that there is a diverse set of talents available to that end.

“Some people scour social media for information, while other members are great at finding birth records, which can prove very interesting. Others are good at researching business details. And we have one member in my particular friend group who is a whiz at putting together a map with significant areas pinpointed – where a missing person lives, where the arrested suspect lives, where the missing was last seen and so on.”

You can read the full story here. — EB

As I was writing this brief, I also noticed that Websleuths does multiple YouTube live events every day — have any of you ever attended? They look pretty wild!


We have our new Elizabeth Holmes. Like everyone else, we were bummed when Kate McKinnon dropped out of The Dropout, Hulu’s dramatic adaptation of the ABC News/ABC Radio podcast about the rise and fall of allegedly fraudulent blood testing startup Theranos. A month later, McKinnon has been replaced in the Holmes role by Amanda Seyfried, Deadline reports, writing that the Mama Mia star will also executive produce.

“McKinnon admittedly resembled Holmes a lot more than Seyfried, but maybe if Seyfried can get the frazzled facial expressions and weird, low voice down, she could be a convincing Holmes,” the AV Club writes on the casting news, but…I don’t know, folks! I like Seyfried, but this is a tough one for me to get my head around. Your counsel is required in the comments. — EB

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Is it true crime’s job to ensure the safety of potential victims? That appears to be the argument presented by Grinnell anthropology prof Brigittine French, who writes for Salon that “consuming [true crime] as a form of entertainment without considering the structural issues that allow them to continue to happen makes all women vulnerable.”

So here’s what’s interesting about this piece: according to French, “statistics that could show us patterns of violence are not collected or shared and are, therefore, almost invisible,” but that “currently, the FBI does not provide such records for the public.” Also:

Many popular stories of unsolved "true crime" tend to focus on individual cases and how to solve them, rather than investigate how individual cases are linked to patterns in cases or social factors that make women more vulnerable. The kinds of data collection conducted by governmental law enforcement agencies regarding violent crime and types of murder women experience is consequential for victims, families, researchers and public policies. The lack of visibility of collective patterns leaves families who search for justice isolated from each other, it leaves analysts with a lacuna of precise and concrete information about patterns that can point to underlying causes of violence, and it renders almost impossible the ability to bring these crimes to justice under a larger gendered legal frame. 

It seems like French’s frustration stems not from what true-crime content creators choose to cover, but what they’re able to cover with the information provided to them by officials. If the concern is visibility of pattern-illustrative data, and that’s data that the feds actually have on hand already but aren’t willing to share, I’m struggling to see why true-crime consumers or creators are the baddies, here. What am I missing? — EB


Wednesday on Best Evidence: We should probably try to pin down The Serpent, unless Sarah has other plans.


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