Culture Feature

Scandal Scrapbook: When Ted Bundy Stans Feuded with Charles Manson Stans on Twitter

In online post-irony media, empathy gets lost in our nihilism, and we mock the idea of a moral world — by stanning serial killers.

When you think of Ted Bundy, don't you think of Chad Michael Murray?

"Ted Bundy" was trending once again thanks to the announcement of yet another tasteless movie based on true crime from director Daniel Farrands (The Haunting of Sharon Tate, The Murder of Nicole Brown Simpson). Murray, the House of Wax and Cinderella Story star, will play Ted Bundy in the upcoming film, titled American Boogeyman..

Scheduled for theatrical release on August 16, the film is "set in a gritty and decadent 1970s America" following "the elusive and charming killer and the manhunt that brought him to justice involving the detective and the FBI rookie who coined the phrase 'serial killer.'"

People on Twitter were predictably mad, condemning the media's obsessive coverage of Ted Bundy. If the discourse about serial killers being glamorized seemed familiar, it's because we've pretty much recycled the same exploitative true crime content for years. For instance, remember when #TedBundy stans were feuding with #CharlesManson stans about which mad man was the most outstanding serial killer?

Hop into our time machine back to 2019 to ask the unthinkable: Have we as a society made...progress? Do we still fall prey to irony poisoning and give our outrage to online trolls? Do we finally take murder, like, seriously?

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TV Reviews

HBO's "I'll Be Gone In the Dark" Is a Complex Portrait of Serial Killer-Hunter Michelle McNamara

The improbably fascinating "I'll Be Gone In the Dark" subverts traditional serial killer narratives.

Michelle McNamara

UPDATE: On Friday, August 21st, 2020, the Golden State Killer—finally revealed to be 74-year-old former police officer Joseph D'Angelo—was sentenced to life in prison without parole.

In the years leading up to her death, Michelle McNamara haunted message boards, libraries, and Sacramento families to get to the bottom of the case that obsessed and consumed her.

McNamara, a true crime blogger whose interest in serial killers morphed into a compulsive desire to hunt and catch them, is the subject of a new HBO documentary series. The show, which premiered this spring, presents a window into the mind of a woman who hunted serial killers until she accidentally overdosed on sleeping pills.

It's completely enthralling, a marked subversion of typical serial killer narratives as well as a commentary on their devastating and peculiar appeal.

I'll Be Gone In the Dark (2020): Official Trailer | HBO

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Why Did "Tiger King" Creators Cut Joe Exotic's Racism from the Show?

A recently uncovered rant from Joe Exotic points to larger questions in the series

Joe Exotic, the central figure of the hit Netflix documentary Tiger King: Murder Mayhem and Madness, is surprising in many ways.

He is a gay, polygamist, self-described redneck from Oklahoma who had a country music career, ran for president and governor, and ran a private zoo specializing in tigers before being sentenced to 22 years in prison on charges of murder-for-hire. He also plied young men with drugs to be in sexual relationships with him—and even marry him—regardless of their own sexuality. For anyone who has watched the insanity of the show, the additional detail that h is also racist is perhaps the least surprising thing about him. So why did the Tiger King creators cut out a recently leaked rant about the N-word and Joe's frustration that he isn't supposed to say it?

The highlight of the rant is Joe's assertion that "you can get on YouTube and watch any Black man's rap video, and they're calling each other the N-word. What the hell, is this discrimination? I'm white, I can't say the N-word?" The fact that Joe sees this supposed restriction on his speech as "absolutely pathetic," and a sign of things going wrong in America might seem to be telling of who he is, but the show's creators apparently didn't think it was worth including.

The seven episode run of Tiger King featured no shortage of misogynistic rants about Carole Baskin—whom Joe regularly referred to as a "b*tch" and variously assaulted in effigy, before actually attempting to have her murdered. But then, that was central to Tiger King's narrative. In the almost-entirely white world of the GW Zoo and the big cat collectors in the documentary, perhaps Joe's abhorrent positions on racial issues just didn't register. That's the angle that creator Rebecca Chaiklin adopted in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter on Wednesday, saying that though Joe "is a racist" and "said things while we were filming that were very unsettling," "they didn't have a context in the story."

But then, what about the identity of one of his few non-white workers—and possibly the most likable and impressive figure in the whole series. Saff is the keeper who returned to G.W. Zoo five days after having an arm amputated. Everyone who has seen the show loves Saff. So is it worth noting that "Saff" is a trans man, that he goes exclusively by Saff, and would probably rather not be listed in the show's cast as Kelci? Is it revealing of Joe's insensitivity toward his employees that he regularly mis-gendered Saff? More importantly, is it revealing about the show that they chose to leave that fact out, even while including news footage that referred to Saff as a woman?

Perhaps Chaiklin and fellow director Eric Goode just didn't want to distract from the story they had to tell by taking stances on topics like gender and race. Leaving aside the fact that the show dealt directly with the politics of a gubernatorial election, issues like race and gender that are fundamental to people's identities are not political, they are built into our world. While there are a lot of backward people who hold antisocial views on these topics—and maybe the Tiger King creators preferred not to alienate those people from their audience—the actual political stance is the one that treats those aspects of reality as taboo subjects that need to be erased from the narrative.

As much as anything Joe said or did to reveal his character, his racist rants tell us something about who he is. While we don't yet know what other "unsettling" things he might have said, the creators have talked about how much unused footage they have and the possibility of using it for a second season of Tiger King that also covers ongoing events—for instance, the fact that Joe was recently transferred from isolation (where he couldn't have his regular phone calls with husband Dillon Passage) into the Federal Medical Center in Fort Worth, Texas.

If that plan manifests, the creators will have the chance to flesh out the story of Joe Exotic with topics they avoided in the first season. Until then, we won't know what other "unsettling" things Joe said that might reveal more of who he is, but we've certainly learned something about the show's creators.


Is Carole Baskin of "Tiger King" Finally Going to Become a Suspect in Her Husband's Disappearance?

The Sheriff of Hillsborough County, Florida has indicated that he may reopen the investigation highlighted in Tiger King.

If you talk to someone who has just finished Netflix's Tiger King, the second topic they're likely to bring up—after the fact that it's all so crazy—is Carole Baskin.

Despite the fact that all the major players are variously involved in patently criminal activity—including a former drug kingpin who has admitted involvement in the dismemberment of a federal agent in 1980—Carole Baskin is the figure who has drawn the most ire.

At first blush this seems absurd. Why, when Bhagavan "Doc" Antle is (seemingly) running a polygamist cult that preys on young women, is everyone so upset at the weird cat lady who fights for animal rights and wears flower crowns? No doubt a certain sense of hypocrisy is part of the issue. While Joe and Doc may have dubiously purported to be animal lovers, they never tried to market their businesses as something other than entertainment. Carole Baskin, on the other hand, runs Big Cat Rescue, a "sanctuary" (read: zoo) that shares a lot in common with the businesses she vilifies, all while portraying herself as an animal rights hero.

Carole Baskin Netflix

But these issues are obviously complicated—what else are you supposed to do with giant animals that can't be returned to the wild? At least she isn't breeding her big cats, or euthanizing them, or making them perform. She probably deserves some benefit of the doubt, and people might be more willing to give that to her if it wasn't for the mysterious disappearance of her wealthy first husband, Don Lewis—and the open question of Carole Baskin's involvement.

To many fans of the insanity that is Tiger King, that's not really a question at all. They are as convinced as Joe Exotic himself is that Carole Baskin is directly responsible for the death of Don Lewis—even Kim Kardashian has weighed in. The documentary definitely makes a compelling case that she had the means, motive, and opportunity to kill her husband, claim his fortune for herself, and cover up the crime. Don Lewis' own daughters and ex-wife all seem to be convinced that Carole did exactly that, and yet she was never treated as a real suspect by law enforcement. With the growing attention that Tiger King has gotten, that may finally change.

On Monday morning, Chad Chronister, the sheriff of Hillsborough County in Florida, sent out a tweet asking the public for new leads into Don Lewis' disappearance. Among the hashtags Chronister included #CaroleBaskin and #BigCatRescue. The tweet has received thousands of likes and retweets, and around 500 comments—many of which simply point to Carole Baskin as the culprit. For those who haven't yet seen Tiger King, or want a refresher on the issue, here are the "leads" that the documentary lays out:

Don Lewis was a notorious philanderer who was more than 20 years Carole Baskin's senior, and some have speculated that Baskin—previously his mistress—would not accept Lewis being unfaithful to her. Several people close to him report that, prior to Lewis' disappearance, he had grown to hate Baskin and decided to leave her. At least one individual claims that Baskin kept a pistol on hand, while having confiscated Lewis' own gun. Lewis' van was left at a local airport and was returned to Carole Baskin several days before any police inspection of the vehicle was made. While Lewis had been in the process of moving to Costa Rica, it is not believed that any of the planes that he was known to fly could have gotten him there, and his plans for moving were far from complete.

Don Lewis' daughters and ex-wife Netflix

After his disappearance, Carole Baskin broke into Lewis' office to retrieve paperwork that gave her power over his estate. People close to the situation suspect that the paperwork was altered to include prominent provisions about the possibility of his disappearance—essentially unheard of in this type of document. People have argued that Baskin's access to tigers, a large meat grinder, and a septic tank would have made for easy disposal of Lewis' body.

Five years after Lewis was last seen—the minimum period of time required by law—Baskin had him declared dead and inherited his wealth as per his will—which was also among the paperwork that Baskin retrieved and (possibly) altered. Early on, his daughters and ex-wife gave interviews talking about their belief that Baskin was responsible. They claim that Baskin then threatened them into silence.

While this evidence paints a vivid picture of a potential confrontation, murder, and cover up, Baskin has her own story that is likewise compelling. According to Baskin, Lewis was not licensed to fly his planes, but he did so anyway, flying at unsafe altitudes over the Gulf of Mexico in order to avoid radar detection. She also claims that Lewis was showing early signs of senility, and would often become confused and disoriented—though others dispute this. She says that Don Lewis had disowned his daughters nearly a year before his disappearance—which explains why they weren't in his will—and that they've been predisposed to see her as the villain ever since she was "the other woman."

people with honk signs about Carole Baskin Pictured: The court of public opinionReddit

It seems unlikely that a cold case from more than 20 years ago will suddenly be cracked wide open thanks to an over-the-top Netflix documentary. More than likely, the "leads" the sheriff receives won't amount to enough to reopen the investigation in any serious way. But the court of public opinion is another matter. Tiger King is already causing Carole Baskin to receive a lot of scrutiny and harassment. In the aftermath, she has sought to refute much of the documentary's portrayal of her, while figures from her past have come forward to cast further doubt on her version of the story.

While the facts of what happened between Carole Baskin and Don Lewis in August of 1997 are likely to remain obscure, we are all entitled to an opinion—like, just for example, that she definitely, definitely did it.

Film Reviews

The Real Villain in "The Trials of Gabriel Fernandez" Is Complacency

On a wider scale, the docuseries is an exploration of the complex layers of child abuse and its aftermath.

"Horrendous, inhumane and nothing short of evil," Judge George Lomeli described the crimes of Pearl Fernandez and her boyfriend, Isauro Aguirre.

In 2018, the couple was found guilty of first-degree murder in the 2013 death of Fernandez's 8-year-old son, Gabriel. What was uncovered in the five years leading up to the trial revealed the worst case of neglect and child abuse that many officials had ever seen.

In Netflix's latest devastating docuseries, The Trials of Gabriel Fernandez, award-winning documentarian Brian Knappenberger traces the institutional failures and inhumane child abuse that caused the death of Gabriel Fernandez. Rated M for graphic descriptions of violence against a child, the six-part series follows lead prosecutor Jon Hatami as he asks for the death penalty against Fernandez and Aguirre. Knappenberger allows the docuseries to be a difficult viewing experience, recreating the brutal existence of Gabriel with brief dramatic reenactments, crime scene photos, and quick cuts to the autopsy photos, which revealed the extent of the abuse.

"The documentary is a really difficult watch but it's an important one," Knappenberger told EW. "We made the decision that Gabriel's voice needed to be heard, and in order to tell that story we had to be as honest and as straightforward as we possibly could. I think that in the end, this is a story of a kind of redemption, or a questioning of how things can be better in this system and that has motivated us to tell the story." Prior to his death, Gabriel was forced to sleep in a cupboard at the end of his mother's and Aguirre's bed, often bound and gagged; he was severely beaten by Aguirre, who believed the 8-year-old was gay and only gave the boy two dresses to wear; investigators found that the boy was forced to eat cat litter more than once.

The scope of the trial also involved the criminal negligence of four social workers who failed to remove Gabriel from his mother's custody despite at least 13 reports of suspected child abuse being filed with family services. "Nobody listened to Gabriel when he was alive," Knappenberger told TIME. "A lot of people failed him, and there's a lot of reasons that this happened. But when you get to the end, it's about: how do you want to treat kids?"

On a wider scale, the docuseries is an exploration of the complex layers of child abuse and its aftermath. As the episodes trace the development of the trial, Knappenberger also turns our attention to the far-reaching effects of child abuse, from Gabriel's siblings who witnessed the abuse to the security guard who tried to get local authorities to intervene to his teacher, whom Gabriel confided in about the abuse. In a revealing interview, the lead prosecutor even reflects on his own experience with child abuse. While Hatami says he would never compare his experiences to those of his clients, it does inform his goals in court: "That's the real thing people need to understand: the stress of being beaten everyday, the stress of not having any toys, the stress of being ashamed of who you are, the stress of feeling that it's your fault; being scared every day."

In a sense, this humanizing lens doesn't completely forsake Pearl Fernandez, either. "The answers aren't as easy as you think they are in the beginning," Knappenberger noted, "It's easy to demonize both of them, and they deserve it. There are plenty of people who have been abused that didn't turn out this way. I think the more you learn about Pearl and Isauro, you'll understand where they came from—particularly Pearl." During her trial, she was evaluated by clinical psychologist Deborah S. Miora and found to have a severely limited intellectual capacity that rendered her "virtually unable to use thought to guide her behavior and moderate her emotional reactions." She was further diagnosed with a depressive disorder, developmental disability, a possible overall personality disorder, and PTSD from her own childhood with an abusive mother. "Like her son, she probably had no one to turn to," says Wendy Smith, a Distinguished Scholar at USC's School of Social Work.

While trauma survivors like Jon Hatami drew from their experiences to protect others, Pearl became the embodiment of a broken system. Absence of care and oversight became repeated patterns of abuse and dehumanization, resulting in the death of a child. Knappenbrerger said, "The word evil was thrown around the courtroom a lot, which surprised me a little bit. There's no question that these acts were evil but there's also a broken system that allows this to happen. Which is more evil? Which causes more pain? There's no excuse for Pearl or Isauro and I want that to be clear. But they are humans who were a product of their own upbringing, and that's a big part of the story, too."

During Pearl Fernandez's and Isauro Aguirre's sentencing, Judge George Lomeli said, "I hope you think about the pain you caused this child and that it tortures you. I rarely say that." In The Trials of Gabriel Fernandez, Knappenberger doesn't just examine the fatal abuse that Gabriel experienced but rather the long-term effects that abuse has on society, from immediate family members to teachers, social workers, and first responders who live with regret and confusion. Viewers begin to feel that same sense of regret over how easily systems become broken and how broken systems destroy lives.

Have you ever been reading up about a true crime case, only to discover that something about it seems familiar—and then suddenly you realize that it's because you watched a variant of the case on Criminal Minds?

Or maybe you never knew that Criminal Minds, the iconic crime show that's ending for good on February 19th, bases a lot of its cases on real-life events. That's how the show wants it. "I don't want anyone who was actually involved in it (the crime) to ever know," said executive producer and writer Ed Bernero, explaining why he and his team typically obscure the details of the real crimes that inspire the shows. "So we start out with a kernel of what's a real case, and then we try to make it so different that nobody who was actually involved in it ever would know."

Despite their dedication to glossing over real events, the show's actors, writers, and production team have to sift through a multitude of real materials to create an accurate depiction of the Behavioral Analysis Unit's experiences. "I got bulletproof windows. Hell, yeah, I did," said Paget Brewster, who plays Agent Emily Prentiss on the show. "I started reading those FBI books, and they are rough. We're not at all showing what people are capable of, not on television. You couldn't put it on television, the things that are done to victims and their bodies afterwards. It's appalling and burns into your brain. I had a good couple of weeks where I didn't sleep so well ... And it does affect you. Knowing the inside look that we get, just having access to FBI material is disturbing."

Sometimes, though, the writers use all this research to go further, making explicit plotlines and creating narratives that mirror real (and often very dark) events. Here are 10 episodes of Criminal Minds based on real crimes.

1. The Thirteenth Step

The 13th episode of season 6 finds the BAU venturing out west, hunting a murderous couple named Sydney Manning and Raymond Donovan. The couple was based on real-life lovebirds Charles Starkweather and Caril Anne Fugate, who killed 11 people in 1958 and inspired the infamous films Natural Born Killers and Badlands.

Charles Starkweather was 19 when he and his 14-year-old girlfriend went on the killing spree that made them famous, which began when Starkweather shot and killed Fugate's mother, stepmother and two-year-old sister. Contrary to the romantic narratives in Natural Born Killers and Badlands, Fugate may not have been a loving accomplice; she later told the jury that Starkweather had told her he was holding her family hostage and forced her to help him with his crimes. But she was given a life sentence in prison because of the fact that she had many opportunities to escape and had failed to do so, and she also directly helped Starkwater kill some of his other victims.

2. Our Darkest Hour and the Longest Night

The finale of season 5 and the first episode of season 6 take place during a series of blackouts in Los Angeles, and the primary unsub (unspecified subject in a law enforcement investigation) in the episode—known as "The Prince of Darkness"—has been raping and killing victims during blackouts for 26 years. His activities are based on the career of Richard Ramirez, also known as the "Night Stalker," who raped and killed thirteen victims and tortured a dozen more in the 1980s. The fictional Criminal Minds villain and the real-life Ramirez both tortured and killed adults but did not hurt children, and they both hunted only at night in Los Angeles.

3. To Hell… And Back

Another two-part episode, "To Hell" and "And Back" are two of the more disturbing Criminal Minds episodes of all time, which is saying a lot. The episodes follow the BAU as they investigate a case wherein a serial killer who targets the homeless, prostitutes, and junkies feeds their bodies to pigs on his farm. In the Criminal Minds episode, the killer is actually two people—a mentally disabled killer and his quadriplegic brother who is experimenting on victims' bodies in order to try to find a cure. This fictional case is based on a killer named Robert Pickton, a real-life pig farmer who preyed on vulnerable members of society in the nineties and in some cases, actually fed their bodies to his pigs. Pickton often hosted huge, thousand-person raves in a converted slaughterhouse on his farm, and people who attended these parties would sometimes go missing, though one of his victims had to escape in order for authorities to connect the cases to Pickton. Horrifyingly, Pickton may have mixed human flesh with pork and sold it to local markets. He may have killed somewhere from 26 to 49 women.

4. The Tribe


The sixteenth episode of season 1 finds the BAU seeking out a pack of killers as they try to frame a group of Native American tribes for murder. Eventually, the BAU figures out that the actual tribe is a group of white killers who are attempting to create racial hatred against Native Americans. This is based on the actions of none other than Charles Manson, whose murderous "Family" was inspired by his desire to begin a race war between whites and blacks (which Manson referred to as "Helter Skelter").

5. Minimal Loss


In episode 3 of season 4, the team goes undercover to examine allegations of child abuse at a cult compound. They discover a cult leader named Benjamin Cyrus, who has named himself the Messiah and married a teenage girl. When police raid the compound, Cyrus blows up a rig of dynamite, killing law enforcement officials and cult members alike.

This case (and its brutal end) is based on the real-life story of David Koresh, the leader of the Branch Davidians, a cult based out of Waco, Texas. The Davidians had already been kicked out of Shepherd's Rod, a sect that in turn had been kicked out of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church. During his time as leader, Koresh abused children and kept his cult members trapped. At one point, an FBI raid of the compound ended in a massive fire (though it's unclear as to what actually started the fire), and Koresh was found inside, having been shot by his second-in-command.

6. Alpha Male


Many of the killers on Criminal Minds are motivated by deep insecurities about their masculinity, and this episode's perpetrator is no different. The episode follows a murderous, misogynistic man who takes out his anger at not being in a relationship by spraying women with battery acid. It was based on a real-life killer named Eliot Roger, who murdered six people in a spree in Isla Vista, California as part of a "day of retribution" meant to punish women who had previously rejected his advances.

7. Ashes & Dust

Season 2's nineteenth episode follows an arsonist as he sets a series of deadly fires. The unsub turns out to be Vincent Stiles, who has been killing the families of wealthy corporate developers building on the same contaminated land. In the show, his actions are linked to Earth Defense Front, which is likely based on the Earth Liberation Front, an environmental organization active in the 1970s that set fire to places like ski lodges to draw attention to the urgency of global action on environmental issues. However, in the episode, the killer winds up murdering several people, whereas in real life the Earth Liberation Front's efforts never had any human casualties.

Stiles was inspired by real-life killer Paul Kenneth Keller, an arsonist whose crimes were also likely spurred on by his divorce. Keller was convicted of setting over 107 fires in the 1970s, which resulted in the deaths of three people, though he was not connected to the Earth Liberation Front or the environmental movement in any form.

8. Natural Born Killer

Season 1's eighth episode follows a mob hitman who turns out to be a serial killer. The unsub, Vincent Perotta, is an extremely sadistic psychopath who kills over 100 people in horrifying manners and at one point feeds a body to flesh-eating rats. In the episode, he holds an undercover cop hostage, sending the BAU on the trail.

Perotta is based on the serial killer Richard Kuklinski, a mafia hitman active in the 1980s who ultimately took credit for hundreds of murders, though he may have embellished the details of many of them. (Like his fictional counterpart, Kuklinski claimed he fed bodies to flesh-eating rats, though there's doubt as to whether these sorts of rats actually exist). Kuklinski was nicknamed "The Iceman" by law enforcement, was known as "the devil himself" among his fellow hitmen, and was notorious for the graphically violent nature of his murders, which holds true for the Criminal Minds killer.

9. 25 to Life


The eleventh episode in season 6 tells the story of Dr. Don Sanderman, who is 25 years into serving a life sentence for a crime he insists that he didn't commit. Sanderson is set to be released, but he's then arrested for murder. The BAU's investigation reveals that Sanderman was being framed by a trio who actually killed his family, one of whom has killed the other two members of the trio in order to keep them quiet.

The actual story that inspired this tale is a little bit different—the opposite, you might say. In 1970, an army surgeon named Jeffrey MacDonald was convicted of killing his two daughters and pregnant wife. However, he told the police that his family was killed by a group of hippies chanting "Acid is groovy, kill the pigs." The hippies were most likely taking acid and chanting about peace and love, though, for forensic evidence on the scene proved that MacDonald had indeed murdered his family and staged an invasion.

10. The Big Wheel

NBC Chicago

The 22nd episode of the 4th season tells the story of a suspect named Vincent Rowlings, who scrawls "help me" in red lipstick on the walls of his victims' homes.

Rowlings is based off of the "Lipstick Killer," a man named William Heirens. In 1946, the then-18-year-old killer was linked to three murders, and at one murder scene, he wrote, "For heaven's sake catch me before I kill again I cannot control myself" in lipstick on the walls. Heirens died at age 83 in a Chicago prison, and after 65 years behind bars, he was reportedly Chicago's longest-serving prisoner (and he maintained his innocence for all that time).