True Crime A To Z: D

Welcome to Best Evidence’s crime-alphabet project! Not sure what the hell we’re doing here? Check it out.

Our panel is taking on its fourth letter of the alphabet today, and you’ll see some patterns emerging again (note that the contributors and I didn’t consult amongst ourselves before submitting). Did we pick the entries you expected? And what’s your most noteworthy D (…I know, “phrasing”)?

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SDB: The Deliberate Stranger. It’s very odd to me that this still isn’t available except on DVD, because it really holds up. The 1980s pacing is more deliberate than a Netflix true-crime bingeable-series audience perhaps is used to, but Mark Harmon’s performance as Ted Bundy is remarkable — charming, easy, and juuuuust a little off — and Gil Mellé’s necrotic glissade still raises the old arm-hairs. And that shot of the hand sticking out of the snow-melt…Deliberate Stranger may not be the best the genre has to offer for the letter D, but it was a formative watch for many, and its subject is still spawning material decades after his execution.

Susan Howard: Diane Downs. The most infamous filicide case of the 1980s, Downs’ crimes spawned two true crime classics in the book Small Sacrifices by Ann Rule, and the made for television movie version starring Farrah Fawcett. (Honorable mentions: Devil In The White City by Erik Larson; Dreams Of Ada by Robert Mayer.)

Margaret Howie: New York, “The Drag Queen Had A Mummy In Her Closet” (Jeanie Russell Kasindorf). Drag queens have given us many cultural riches, and unlike most documentary subjects Paris Is Burning star Dorian Corey wound up in the dictionary for her deadpan definition of shade (all together now: “I don’t tell you you’re ugly, but I don’t have to tell you because you know you’re ugly.”) But her legacy also includes an actual skeleton in an actual closet, found after her death and unpacked — figuratively — by Kasindorf in this trawl through New York during the AIDS epidemic. Written when it seemed likely that Corey’s underground world would fade away forever while the NYPD were distinctly uninterested in learning too much about the crime, it’s about something other than love that could not speak its name — the art of getting away with murder. (Honorable mentions: This American Life’s 2013 episode “Dr. Gilmer and Mr. Hyde”; Erik Larson, The Devil In The White City.)

Kevin Smokler: Dog Day Afternoon.