True Crime A To Z: H

Welcome to Best Evidence’s crime-alphabet project! Not sure what the hell we’re doing here? Start at the beginning, and add your own nominees!

A week in, we’ve arrived at H, one of those spoiled-for-choice letters we’ll look back on nostalgically when we get to Q. What’s the first crimey H that comes to your minds? Let us know.

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SDB: James Hogue. Long ago, at a university not that far away, a sophomore “named” Alexi Indris-Santana was marched out of his geology class by federal agents. His real name was James Hogue, he was nearly 30, and he’d been identity-thieving his way through various undergrad populations for years by that time already. (Also straight larceny-style thieving.) From what I can tell, he hasn’t stopped. Hogue really ought to get the Bart Layton treatment, IMO (more on Layton and Bourdin tomorrow in our I installment, I suspect!); the film that has been made about him, Con Man, isn’t terribly satisfying. The New Yorker also took a run at him in 2001, and that piece is quite good (stick to the article; the book-length version got fillery fast), because it starts to get at what we find so compelling about identity thieves…and particularly the compulsive ones who keep trying to do their youths over somehow.

Part of what I find compelling about him is that he’s “ours.” It was a grimily sad story whose implications about haves vs. have-nots nobody at Have U was eager to confront. But it happened right next to us.

I was a freshman when he got pinched, but I didn’t know Hogue, at all. To my knowledge I never met the guy and I didn’t even know anyone who did know him; his picture in the paper didn’t look familiar to me. He ran track, he wasn’t my year, we just moved in different circles (I did recognize some of the people from his year in the documentary, but only by name). But I know how preoccupied the entire campus was with it. Everyone had a “Free James Hogue” t-shirt — everyone. Professors had them. You still see them at Reunions now and again.

Are there more “universal” selections for H? Sure. Will you care as much about Hogue if your uni’s daily wasn’t running, like, a “Today In Hogue” column? Unlikely. But if you’ve ever said to yourself, “Self, what I need is a Bourdin of the New West, but with less insight into himself,” Jimmy’s your guy. (Honorable mentions: Bruno Hauptmann; HH Holmes.)

Susan Howard: HBO. The wealth of true-crime documentaries brought to us by HBO is really something. Many of these titles could [“and will” - SDB] justifiably have their very own entries on this list: Mommy Dead and Dearest, There’s Something Wrong with Aunt Diane, Beware the Slenderman, Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief, the Paradise Lost series, The Cheshire Murders, the list goes on and on. (Honorable mentions: Helter Skelter by Vincent Bugliosi; Patty Hearst; Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets by David Simon; Jimmy Hoffa’s disappearance; the Robert Hanssen espionage case.)

Margaret Howie: Heavenly Creatures. The ’90s were full of potent teen girl energy, some used for good (Clueless, Buffy, riot grrrl), some used for evil (The Craft, The Faculty, Brenda Walsh). But Heavenly Creatures showed a shocking side of adolescent intensity. Based on the real-life Parker/Hulme murder case that rattled staid 1950s New Zealand society, this was the movie that sent Peter Jackson from indie splatter director to Lord of the Rings, and he’s never made anything with the same emotional complexity. And there’s twist that wouldn’t be realistic in a movie — one of the murderers, Juliet Hulme, would later become a crime novelist under the name Anne Perry. (Honorable mentions: "The Hustlers at Scores" by Jessica Pressler; Hustlers the motion picture; Werner Herzog.)

Kevin Smokler: Homicide: Life on the Street. Often overlooked as a dry run for The Wire, David Simon's first television series may have been handicapped by network TV rules and commercial breaks, as well as some unfortunate ’90s choices in music supervision and men's suiting. But if you want know where his artistic priorities were born, his tools forged, it’s here.