Unsolved Mysteries · Shake Shack · Roy Cohn

Plus: The murder of Octavius Catto

Unsolved Mysteries is back with new episodes for the first time in a decade. Netflix’s iteration of the true-crime progenitor has a slightly different format, its producers say, with each episode featuring one (unsolved, of course) mystery instead of the OG version’s multi-segmented style.

According to Decider, “The campy reenactments have been replaced with slick cinematography, and the show decided to proceed without a host” (Robert Stack, its original host from 1987-2002, died in 2003, and Dennis Farina, its second host from 2008-2010, died in 2013). Is it still really Unsolved Mysteries with all these switcheroos? You can set up a reminder here, and find out for yourself on Wednesday, July 1. — EB

Ivy Meeropol, the granddaughter of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, is coming after Donald Trump. Meeropol is a documentarian who tackled her grandparents’ deaths in 2004 with an HBO film called Heir To An Execution: A Granddaughter's Story, and her recent doc, Bully. Coward. Victim. The Story Of Roy Cohn, dropped on HBO last week (Sarah looked it at for Primetimer, here).

Speaking to Vanity Fair, Meeropol says that Cohn — well-known as a mafia-affiliated fixer — “really paved the way for Trump and set him up with the right people, introduced him to Paul Manafort and Roger Stone—the people who helped him get to the White House…I’ve been thinking about Cohn as the Henry Higgins to Donald Trump’s Eliza Doolittle,” which means I’ll never think about the rain in Spain quite the same way again.

The result, Meeropol says, was a monster. “Trump seems to have, if it’s possible, less empathy and less capacity for caring for people than even Cohn had,” she tells VF. “Because what I learned about Cohn is that he did have some close friendships and he did care about people…Trump ended up abandoning Cohn at the end of Cohn’s life, after all that Cohn did for him.” You can read her entire interview here. — EB

A year ago today…

  • The Blotter Presents, Episode 102 had just dropped, covering 16 Shots and The Thin Blue Line.

  • Essayist Tirhakah Love accused Netflix’s true-crime properties of “cashing in on the enveloping darkness across the pop-culture sphere.” Oh my goodness, that envelope has certainly gotten darker since then!

  • Podcast Where's William Tyrell?, about a three-year-old, had just been released. This week, investigators launched a fresh search in the Australian bushland for the child, the New Daily reports, with “riot squad police, sniffer dogs and SES crews.”

And much more! Here’s June 26, 2019’s issue of Best Evidence, for your own walk back through true crime memory lane. If you’re looking to reward us for over a year of hard work and haven’t become a paid subscriber yet, perhaps today is the day? (Though it is fine if it is not! Money is tight all over, we get it! We’re just happy you are here.)

Best Evidence contrib Margaret Howie tipped us off to this remarkable piece on the slaying of Octavius Catto, the son of freed slaves who was shot dead on a Philadelphia street. Catto, who fought for civil rights alongside Frederick Douglass, also played baseball, which is likely why his tale ended up in veteran reporter Eric Nusbaum’s newsletter, Sports Stories. Here’s a snip:

…Octavius Catto played baseball. In fact, he absolutely loved baseball. He was a second baseman. The sport was in its early days as a Big Thing in American life, and Catto not only liked to play, he was a true believer in the idea that baseball could be a positive force in society. He founded a club that became known as the Pythians (based on the name of a fraternal order to which Catto and some of his teammates belonged, the Knights of Pythias.) The Pythians were the second African American club in Philadelphia after the Excelsiors. But they were very clearly the superior club -- often traveling to other cities like D.C. for games against other teams. 

Catto saw baseball as a part of his larger goal. To Catto, the sport was a vehicle for activism. He turned games between all black clubs into more than just games. They were political rallies, social events, and above all, opportunities to organize. Catto would pair his ballgames with speeches and potluck dinners.

In 1867, Catto applied for his club to be admitted in the local chapter of the National Association of Base Ball Players (NABBP). This was an era before formal leagues had really taken off, and before professionalization changed the sport forever. The NABBP was the closest thing there was to an organizing body for baseball. Catto’s Pythians even had the support of Philadelphia’s greatest white baseball club, the Athletics. But the Pennsylvania chapter denied the Pythians membership. 

You can read “The Murder of Octavius Catto” here. — EB

The previous item leads us into a roundup of police-reform longreads and podcasts, some from (perhaps) surprising sources. Yeah, there’s a lot of them! And, yeah, that’s probably good.

Monday on Best Evidence: How the hell is June almost over.

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