Last January, the BBC released the first episode of a true-crime style podcast called The Case of Charles Dexter Ward. Created by Julian Simpson, this story took a Serial-esque approach to a locked room mystery involving an American man who disappeared from an asylum in England. But as the story progresses, it quickly becomes apparent that there's something darker going on.
That "something darker" would be the fact that it's a loose adaptation of The Curious Case of Charles Dexter Ward by HP Lovecraft. Simpson's podcast version takes the initial Lovecraftian premise — a person of privilege uncovers some hidden knowledge that inevitably connects back to ancient evil Elder Gods — and spins an updated modern tale that spans the Atlantic Ocean. Simpson cleverly weaves in English folklore and the occultism of Aleister Crowley as the journalist narrators travel back-and-forth between England and Rhode Island.
One of those narrators, it should be noted, is a woman. And there are people of color, and class issues, too — a clear response to Lovecraft's notorious bigotry (the dude was so terrified of black people and vaginas that he literally crafted an entire universe of creepy-ass tentacled fish monsters just to try and justify it). It's an organic way to breathe new life into a story that doesn't have to be so bogged down in Lovecraft's more unfortunate qualities.
I recently binged all 10 episodes of the podcast while working on some home renovations, and I found it utterly delightful. The Investigative Reporting approach gives it an almost Blair Witch-like vibe — it's certainly presented as if it is a genuine true crime podcast, and you wouldn't be faulted for falling for it (In my humble opinion, that also makes for a more gripping narrative device than the usual Lovecraft method of Random Trustfund Baby Takes A Bus Into a Random Creepy Town and Randomly Gets Involved In This Dark Mystery About Cthulhu). Read the rest
A recent Boston Police report has revealed the probable plot to Ben Affleck's next crime movie:
A 29-year-old male from South Boston, had stolen a box truck loaded with at least $10,000 worth of lobsters from a local lobster company located in Charlestown. Employees of the company were in the process of loading the truck at the dock when the suspect jumped into the cabin of the truck and sped off. Several employees of the lobster company gave chase in a second box truck and caught up with the suspect on Medford Street near Main Street. The suspect refused to stop but instead deliberately crashed the stolen truck into the second box truck. The employees of the lobster company were able to detain the suspect until police arrived on scene.
To recap: someone left a truck running with $10,000 of lobster in it. And another guy just … got into the truck and drove away. So the employees hopped into another lobster truck and chased after him. The thief ultimately crashed into the truck that was chasing him, and the employees held him there until Boston's Finest showed up.
The company in question turned out to be Buy New England Lobsters. Boston Magazine spoke with Peter Lagorio, the company's sales and marketing manager, who said, “It’s probably the most Boston thing that’s ever happened.”
The fahkin Boston Fish Guys could not be reached fuh comment.
Foiled Lobster Truck Heist in Charlestown “Was a Very Boston Experience for Everyone Involved” [Spencer Buell / Boston Magazine]
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If you appreciate the true crime genre, this New York Times feature is a fantastic checklist of books to read. Tina Jordan and Ross MacDonald selected one true crime book to represent each of the fifty United States. I live in California and really enjoyed Jeffrey Toobin's “American Heiress: The Wild Saga of the Kidnapping, Crimes and Trial of Patty Hearst." But even having grown up in Ohio, I hadn't heard of the heinous crimes of Billy Mulligan who “became the first person in this country’s history to be declared not guilty by reason of insanity on the grounds of a psychiatric diagnosis of ‘multiple personality.’” Here are a few more from the article that I've now added to my reading list:
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Mikal Gilmore, “Shot in the Heart”
“A compelling volume that traces the sad, violent history of the Gilmore family and shows, in its author’s words, ‘how its webwork of dark secrets and failed hopes helped create the legacy that, in part, became my brother’s impetus to murder.’”
Ethan Brown, “Murder in the Bayou: Who Killed the Women Known as the Jeff Davis 8?”
The women — “all prostitutes and drug addicts, which made them vulnerable and defenseless, expendable in a jurisdiction that’s centrally positioned along the route of the Gulf Coast drug trade” — were killed between 2005 and 2009.
David Grann, “Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI”
“Grann’s book, about how dozens of members of the Osage Indian nation in Oklahoma in the 1920s were shot, poisoned or blown to bits by rapacious whites who coveted the oil under their land, is close to impeccable.
Burbank librarian Sarah McKinley Oakes (proprietor of the excellent Remains of LA blog, which reviews all of LA's surviving grand old restaurants and dives) uses her excellent librarian skills to take a deep dive into the tragic tale of Diana Jean Heaney, whose first mention in print was in a 1947 article on the notorious "Black Dahlia" murder, but only to mention that Heaney was definitely not a victim of the same murderer.
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Following director Joseph Berlinger's Netflix docu-series "Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes," he brings us "Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile," a Ted Bundy biopic starring Zac Efron as the alluring and horrible serial killer. The story is apparently told from the viewpoint of Bundy's girlfriend Elizabeth Kloepfer, played by Lily Collins.
Coming to Netflix on May 3.
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This spring, HBO will air a new documentary about Adnan Syed, the subject of the first season of the Serial podcast. The four-part series is directed by Amy Berg ("Deliver Us from Evil"). From the Baltimore Sun:
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Syed, the subject of the wildly popular “Serial” podcast, was convicted in 2000 of killing his former girlfriend and Woodlawn High School classmate. But “Serial” raised questions about why his attorney, M. Cristina Gutierrez, did not call a potential alibi witness. The attorney died in 2004.
Syed’s conviction was vacated in June 2016 by a Baltimore circuit judge, and the Court of Special Appeals upheld the decision, prompting the state to bring its case for reinstating the conviction before Maryland’s highest court in November.
The HBO trailer prominently features Syed’s family friend, Rabia Chaudry, who brought the case to “Serial” host and former Baltimore Sun reporter Sarah Koenig. The documentary, directed by Academy Award nominee Amy Berg, promises “a piece of evidence that nobody even realized existed for all these years.”
It’s unclear when the Court of Appeals, Maryland’s highest court, will make a decision. Chaudry said in November that Syed’s family expects a ruling by August.
If you're into the dark fringes of true crime media... The forthcoming documentary "Conversations With A Killer," about serial killer Ted Bundy, is based on 100 hours of two journalists' unheard audio interviews conducted on death row before Bundy was executed in 1989. From Rolling Stone:
The series also explores how Bundy was able to avert capture as he didn’t adhere to the serial killer stereotype; women flocked to Bundy’s trial despite the serial killer’s gruesome “sex crime slayings of more than 30 women.” “He was charming, good-looking, smart... Are you sure you got the right guy,” one woman says of Bundy in voiceover.
“I’m not an animal, I’m not crazy, I don’t have a split personality,” Bundy said in one recording. “I mean I’m just a normal individual.”
"Conversations With a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes" premieres on Netflix on January 24, the anniversary of Bundy's execution.
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As a true crime journalist who searches for the missing, I am keenly aware of the breadcrumbs I’m leaving behind throughout a typical day. If I were to suddenly disappear, these bits of information will mean everything to detectives. But I worry that these clues will be misleading, that my receipts and cell phone pings will only muddy the waters of the official investigation should I vanish without a trace, because the littlest detail can seem quite suspicious when taken out of context.
James Renner is a novelist and journalist from Ohio. He’s new work of nonfiction, True Crime Addict
, follows his investigation into the disappearance of Maura Murray. It’s available everywhere books are sold, May 24.
For instance, the police might find the credit card slip in my car that shows I was in the bad part of Akron, today, and think that has something to do with whatever happened. That’s where people go to buy crack, after all. But really, I only drove out to Exchange because I found a new place over there that serves authentic Pho. Yesterday, I paid for several mirrors at a craft-supply store I’d never visited in the past. If I disappeared, the detectives will wonder why I altered my routine that day. Maybe they’ll suspect I was using those mirrors to cut cocaine (my son needed them to build a periscope for Cub Scouts – honest!).
When someone goes missing, the clues they leave behind lack context. There’s no telling which detail is important and which isn’t. Read the rest
Back in the 80s, Ronald Reagan paid a lot of rhetorical attention to the story of an anonymous "welfare queen" who drove a Cadillac and lived high on the taxpayer's dime. I'd long assumed that Reagan's queen was a fictional construct, but the truth is much, much more fascinating.
At Slate, Josh Levin has a long read on the life and times of "Linda Taylor" (in quotes because that's only one of her many, many aliases), the real woman who served as the basis for Reagan's story. Taylor really did drive a Cadillac and perpetrate a decent amount of welfare fraud. But her story isn't really representative of the typical sort of welfare fraud — let alone the typical welfare recipient, in general. In fact, Taylor was the sort of person that gets armchair diagnosed as a sociopath. She spent most of her life grifting somebody and was possibly involved in the deaths of multiple people. Read the rest
"…when officers searched [Marcus] Banwell they found another four [Scotch Bonnet] chili peppers in his pocket, a stolen milkshake and fruit juice, and a clarinet stashed in his waistband, which was missing from a music shop." Scotch Bonnets are up to 50 times hotter than jalapeños by weight. Read the rest