True Crime A To Z: J

Welcome to Best Evidence’s crime-alphabet project! Not sure what the hell we’re doing here? Start at the beginning! And it’s never too late to add your own thoughts.

Happy Mother’s Day! Insert lame joke about “bad mother(fucker)s” here; I’m going to note that we’re up to J in our true-crime alphabet. Buckle up for Jim Jones, Jeffrey Dahmer, a baseball writer, and a crackpot theory…

Margaret Howie: The “Jolly Jane” episode of Criminal. Everything you want from a Criminal episode, the podcast that’s got that extra-classy sheen to it that your My Favorite White Wine Last House Garages just don’t. In a tight twenty-five minutes, the honeyed tones of Phoebe Judge and her librarian guest star Diane Ranney introduce us to serial killer “Jolly” Jane Toppan. They even manage to classily slag off her hairstyle (“unflattering”) as well as debate the finer details of her decades-long murder spree. There’s a hint of necrophilia in this, yet you could still recommend it to your most proper grandmother (the one with all the Reader’s Digest crime books).

Kevin Smokler: July 17. Personal theory of Blotter Editor Sarah D. Bunting that the heat and restlessness of first weeks of midsummer causes bad shit to go down. Ken McElroy's murder happened on July 10th. The McDonald's Massacre of 1984, where 21 people were murdered at a San Diego McDonalds, the deadliest single day killing by one person in U.S. history up to then, happened on July 18th.   

SDB: Thanks for surfacing this crackpot theory, Kevin! …I first noticed it because of a handful of “tentpole” headlines that seemed to cluster 7/17, including TWA Flight 800 exploding; John F. Kennedy Jr.’s plane going down (actually 7/16, but it was the 17th when the country seemed to lose hope); and the one that really made me think something was up, the death of Abelino Mazariego-Torres — which occurred in my hometown, where my parents still live, in a “pocket park” where I was taken to see Santa Claus back in the seventies. If this weren’t a family member’s birthday, I likely wouldn’t have noticed it, but it is…so I did.

Then I really started digging into what else happened between 7/16-18 over the years. A short, non-exhaustive list includes the execution of the Romanovs; Chappaquiddick; police closing in on Casey Anthony; Dan Markel, subject of the Over My Dead Body podcast, is murdered (this is the one that made me open a new sheet in Excel to track these); and Susan Walsh vanishing in Nutley, NJ.

There’s another cluster a few days earlier — Billy The Kid; Rebecca Zahau — and the “bad shit” that goes down isn’t limited to crime. It’s also not all bad; my brother’s anniversary is in there! And of course I don’t have statistical significance to point to versus, say, December 16-18, or another date range that might be just as lethal…this could be nothing. (The fact that the .44-Caliber Killer, whoever he actually is, managed to miss those dates makes me wonder.) But: that’s the theory! Feel free to add yours to the list/prob-stat me into not noticing this anymore.

My actual picks are Bill (and Rachel McCarthy) James for Popular Crime and The Man From The Train, with honorable mentions to American Experience’s Jonestown episode; and to The Jeffrey Dahmer Files, an experimental doc/re-enactment blend a la Bart Layton whose last five minutes manage to be terribly sad.

Susan Howard: Jonestown. The horror of mass suicide at the hands of a drug-addled narcissist in a false utopia lingers in the American consciousness. (Honorable mentions: The Jinx; JFK; Jack the Ripper.)

True Crime A To Z is available to all subscribers…and we’d love your input! Comment on our picks, and tell an interested friend!

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