True Crime A To Z: R

Welcome to Best Evidence’s crime-alphabet project! Not sure what the hell we’re doing here? Start at the beginning! And don’t be afraid to call out stuff we missed...

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After a fairly quiet entry yesterday, it’s back to a deep line-up with R — one of those letters that sees a lot of overlap amongst the panelists, and a number of hall-of-fame references relegated to the honorable mentions. Pageants, spying, and the founding mother of the genre in print…let’s get to it.

Kevin Smokler: Reversal of Fortune. Remember a time, perhaps in the age of bronze and fire, when Allen Dershowitz wasn't the biggest ass in his own life story? Reversal of Fortune, the 1990 film based on Dershowitz’s 1985 book about the case of socialite Klaus Von Bulow, accused of poisoning his estranged wife Sunny, takes us there. We should probably ignore where the movie's unquestionably noble intentions come from ("Everyone, even the rich and disgusting, deserves a criminal defense" is right there in the Constitution, Amendment 6. We just have to sit through a younger, pre-OJ/Mike Tyson/Leona Helmsley Dershowitz reminding us) and focus on RoF's real legacy: One of the great performances of villainy in film history by Jeremy Irons (who won an Oscar for it) and made the line "I have the utmost respect for the Jewish people" about as creepy as Hannibal Lector's "fava beans" around the same time.  

SDB: JonBenét Ramsey. The murder of the pageant-princess 6-year-old at Christmastime in 1996 has never really left the headlines since, and while we may have inched closer to learning how it happened, the who remains elusive — and Ramsey’s older brother, Burke, is determined not to let anyone suggest he was involved. The crime rotted Boulder’s municipal law-enforcement structure from the inside out and spawned hundreds of cynically trashy docuseries and newsmag episodes…and one weird take on the case, Casting JonBenét, that turned out smart and affecting. This is one of those cases that tells us about ourselves, our media, and our cultural allergy to nuance. Not that we necessarily listen to what it says. (Honorable mentions: Ann Rule; Robert Ressler; Selwyn Raab.)

Susan Howard: Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. Americans put to death for spying for the Soviet Union in the 1940s. Decades later, doubts abide about Ethel’s actual involvement. (Honorable mentions: Ann Rule; Clark Rockefeller; Darlie Routier; JonBenét Ramsey; Richard Ramirez.)

Margaret Howie: Rogue Trader (book, 1996; movie, 1999). The Nick Leeson story seemed like a one-off when it broke, fascinating mostly because it seemed so outlandish. An unassuming-looking twentysomething Brit derivatives trader who started off hiding one of his team’s errors with a bit of creative accounting, Leeson would bankrupt a 200-year-old bank in record time. Leeson wasn’t a typical “Nice But Dim Tim” posh boy but the son of a plasterer from solidly middle-class Watford. By the time he was played in a movie by Ewan MacGregor with all his ’90s wideboy charm, Leeson was presented more like a modern Icarus, and not at all a symptom of a financial system incredibly vulnerable to the quirks of the emerging derivatives market. (Honorable mention: Reversal of Fortune (1990).)

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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