True Crime A To Z: O

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.

Just a reminder that our panel didn’t consult with each other before compiling our respective lists, so when patterns emerge — or, as here, fail to — it’s a surprise to, and unmanipulated by, me. Having not polled my esteemed colleagues, I can’t say whether there was an instinct to avoid the “obvious” picks, but that might explain why the lot of us somehow DK’d Making A Murderer a few days ago, or why I’m the only one who went near an OJ property…and put up not one, but two. (My “process” was to write down the first thing I thought of, figuring that would be indicative. Of anything good, maybe not, but here we are.)

SDB: OJ: Made In America. I know I’ve called it an astounding document about a dozen times elsewhere; it’s the best and only thing I know to call it. It’s about the murders of Nicole Brown and Ron Goldman; it’s about OJ Simpson; it’s about race in America and in Los Angeles; it’s about corrupt policing, vengeful jurisprudence, courtroom narratives, grief, redemption the plantation system created by college-sports capitalism, the media, the 1990s…this flawlessly built, scorching testimony is the only good thing to emerge from that story, I think, but it is what documentaries exist to do. (Honorable mention: Vincent Bugliosi’s Outrage, which not only got me through the 2003 blackout but was the first time I had really seen a commentator tear into that verdict without qualifiers. I’d like to re-read it now that I’ve watched OJ: MIA a couple of times and see if it holds up; there’s probably some problematic shit there, although on the other hand, V. Bug wasn’t real cozy with the cops.)

Susan Howard: Osage Indian Murders. The relentless killings of members of the Osage people in Oklahoma in the early 1900s, brought to the fore by David Grann’s Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI.

Margaret Howie: Maureen Orth. Dominick Dunne was the famous-from-being-friends-with-the-famous one, Nancy Jo Sales is the “namechecked in an iconic meme” one, but Maureen Orth arguably is the Vanity Fair contributor who did the most spadework to pull together the magazine’s signature celebrity reporting, with longform investigative crime pieces in a recognisable house style. She doggedly pursued the Woody Allen and Michael Jackson cases, and was famously on the trail of Andrew Cunanan before he killed Gianni Versace. Her book about Cunanan, Vulgar Favors, has been rightly criticised for its homophobic prissiness, and her prose is rarely that exciting. But her persistence and willingness to chip away at famous façades helped lay the ground for the profitable field of modern celeb-adjacent crime coverage. (Honorable mention: One Day In September (1999).)

Kevin Smokler: Out of the Clear Blue Sky. The 2012 documentary about the 658 employees of the Cantor Fitzgerald financial firm who went to work on the 101st floor of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001 and never came home. Cantor CEO Howard Lutnick, who was not at the office on that day, would spend only a week getting his firm back online but years mourning with and raising money for his murdered colleagues (including his own brother) and their family. His story and that mission are at the center of this horribly sad story of loss, and the agonizing attempt to do the right thing. 

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

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