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.
Greetings from the top of the backstretch, where I predicted we’d have a fair bit of overlap in the panel’s picks…but was WAY off on where we’d have it! M is for murder…but also for fraud? Read on.
Susan Howard: Mississippi Burning murders. The brutal murder of three civil rights workers during the summer of 1964 that went unpunished for four decades. (Honorable mentions: Manson family murders; Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt; Mindhunter (the series); Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme.)
Margaret Howie: M (1931). Fritz Lang’s best movie holds up as a gripping thriller that tells every other serial-killer movie to go sit in the corner and think about what they’ve done wrong. True-crime stories have always been part of cinema (the first full-length feature was about Ned Kelly), and Lang showed how they could also be great art. Based on the real-life story of the hunt for a child murderer, it launched both Lang and star Peter Lorre as international stars.
Where to watch:
(Honorable mentions: Enriqueta Marti, the Spanish serial killer known as the Vampire of Barcelona and subject of folk songs, books, movies, and many warnings to Spanish children to be good or she’d get them. Recent revisionist histories suggest that Marti might not have been the monster she was made out to be — but will the myth ever die?; The Maids (Jean Genet’s 1947 play based on the Papin sisters); Errol Morris.)
Kevin Smokler: M. Fritz Lang didn't need to make the film he called his most important, now considered the first great example of a crime procedural in cinema. The director was rich and famous in his adopted home of Germany and could have stayed far away from an adaptation of the still-in-the-headlines series of murders of children in Dusseldorf, which ultimately indicts not the perpetrator but ordinary Germans themselves for becoming a bloodthirsty mob seeing revenge instead of justice. But Nazism was in the air and Lang, furious at his own for letting themselves be taken by hateful charlatans in brown shirts, handed them this movie to remember him by. By 1933, after a meeting with Joseph Goebbels about heading the Nazi's national film studio, Lang fled to America and never returned.
SDB: Joe McGinniss. Think what you want about his writing on the prose level (he’s not Mailer) or his ethics in pursuit of what really happened that night in 1970 (nothing out of bounds, IMO…yet): Fatal Vision is a stone classic — and even if McGinniss had “only” written that, he’d probably be here, but he also brought us Blind Faith; Never Enough; the undersung Kindle series 15 Gothic Street; and Cruel Doubt (track this one down, y’all; everyone in it is an infuriating mess). McGinniss’s sentences don’t always sing, but he has a sure sense of what really drives a narrative in the genre, the tiny void of unknowable every true-crime story kernel carries. (Honorable mentions: Janet Malcolm, twinned forever with McGinniss in the conversation about Jeffrey MacDonald; the Moors murders; and Norman Mailer.)
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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