Unprisoned · The New Yorker · 2020

Plus: Yes, we found a milk-related true-crime story

Not even Modern Farmer is immune to the lure of true crime. Oh, what, you don’t read ModFarm (as we in the food media call it), that venture-backed, seven-year-old quarterly-turned web-only pub that’s beloved by any well-paid tech worker who’s left it all behind to make artisanal jams in a rural setting? Well, who can blame you.

But that’s where you’ll find the best account of the crime at the heart of Day 8 (maids a-milking) of the 12 days of Best Evidence: the death of the Germond dairy farming family, which is known as one of the Hudson Valley’s most infamous cold cases.

Here’s a snip:

Bernice Germond stepped off the bus near her family’s farm on the outskirts of Stanfordville, a small town in New York’s Dutchess County, about 90 miles north of New York City. The 18-year-old was returning home for Thanksgiving from Poughkeepsie, the county seat, where she was attending business school. The bus dropped her off just after 5 p.m., November 26, 1930, and it was already beginning to get dark. She wished the driver a happy Thanksgiving, but then noticed something strange about her parents’ house, which she could see from the road.

“Looks like nobody’s home. The house is dark,” Bernice commented, a bit perplexed. She then made her way to the farm as the bus pulled away. It was the last time she was seen alive.

What follows is a compromised crime scene, intervention from then-Governor Roosevelt, and numerous dead ends. You can read the full story here, but wait, there’s more:

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It’s the end of the year, which means roundups! My inbox is full of them: best 2020 TV shows about skateboarding, all the movies from 2020 that have a cute dog, most thrilling restaurants that opened in Australia in 2020: takeout edition.

It’s a handy editorial trick, rounding up the past year, and while I am too lazy to do it myself, I am more than happy to round up the true-crime roundups for you. So consider this the first entry in an annual end-of-year series.

  • 2020 Redefined True Crime for the Better [Decider] “In the midst of an unpredictable year there’s been one shining star: true crime. From Tiger King to The Vow, some of this year’s most discussed shows and movies haven’t been fictional at all. It’s fitting because this year has marked a drastic shift in the true crime genre. For the first time in perhaps forever some of the biggest additions to this genre have revolved not around the world’s murderers and rapists. 2020’s most powerful documentaries and docuseries have instead been about survivors.”

  • The Best True Crime Books Of 2020 For Holiday Gifting [Oxygen] “From a deep dive into the legal pursuit of Jeffrey Epstein to the grisly tale of abductions in rural South Dakota, these are the top book choices for the true crime fan on your holiday shopping list.” (Respect to Oxygen for having their gift guide cake and eating their end-of-year cake too!)

  • More than just 'Tiger King': The 10 best true-crime docs of 2020 that share the crown [USA Today] “Our list is not ranked, but listed alphabetically.”

  • The Best Podcasts of 2020 [Vulture] and The Best Podcasts of 2020 [the New Yorker] What struck me on these lists is the shortfall of true crime! Do you think that there’s a backlash against crime pods at these publications? Or did some SEO-savvy staffer convince their critics to break a true crime podcast ranking out for maximum traffic?

While we’re on crime podcasts…Eve Abrams, whose podcast Unprisoned: Stories From The System examines criminal justice in “New Orleans and Louisiana, the world’s incarceration capital,” just spoke with NPR about how mass incarceration has changed the face of her town.

The whole interview is worth a listen, but one thing that really interested me is how Abrams extended her focus beyond prisons and into schools, as aggressive security guards at area schools might provide a counter-intuitive prod — implicitly pushing kids toward a life of crime by treating them like scofflaws before they have even done anything.

“The security guards yell and treat us like we're inmates,” one student tells Abrams. “They routinely grab students by their shirts. And they're big guys, so they often physically pick students up off the floor.” Another says that “it's like they're trying to solve violence with violence. And we're not in a prison. This is school. We're supposed to be here to get our education.” According to Abrams “a student said it's really hard to concentrate on your math problems when there's somebody with a gun on their hip in your classroom.” I haven’t listened to her podcast yet, but this five-minute interview has me intrigued. — EB

What is up with the New Yorker? First we have Jeffrey Toobin, the staff writer/CNN legal analyst caught with his pants down during an election season zoom. Now there’s Daniel Shanahan.

He’s been a cartoonist for the magazine since the 1990s, with his most recent item appearing in a February issue of the publication. According to a press release from the New York State Police, he was arrested earlier this month for possession of child pornography.

That’s not where this story ends, though: just a couple months ago, Shanahan’s son, Render Stetson-Shanahan, was sentenced in the 2016 slaying of his roommate, “fellow Bard College alum Carolyn Bush,” whom he reportedly stabbed at least seven times.

Most of the charges against Stetson-Shanahan were dismissed “with the court finding Stetson-Shanahan suffered a psychotic break due to his marijuana use on the night of the killing,” the Daily News reports. He’s expected to serve 5 to 15 years in prison.

So, you know that. Now let me show you his dad’s most recent (Feb 2020) cartoon for the New Yorker. Does this weird you out the way it does me?

And now Shanahan pere faces charges that could end in a sentence of up to four years, police say. He’s expected to return to court on January 20. — EB

Man oh man I loved this longread on Miriam Rodríguez. Writing for the New York Times, Azam Ahmed reports on Rodríguez’s frankly cinematic vengeance campaign against the people who kidnapped and killed her daughter. This isn’t Kill Bill or Peppermint: Rodríguez was a real woman, who dealt with real consequences after she brought 10 people to justice. This time, her story is told in parallel with another, more recent kidnapping, suggesting that while one person’s bravery can have a remarkable impact on a city, standing up against violence isn’t as black-and-white as the movies make it seem. You can read the full story here. — EB

Wednesday on Best Evidence: Nine ladies dancing seems like some really rich true crime territory to mine, I say as I watch this for the thousandth time.

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