7 months ago
When I started writing about crime, some people still had a notably negative view of the subject. If they didn’t find you kind of scary, they at least thought it was weird you were into reading about murder and mayhem.
Now true crime is a thing. The genre has exploded in a way no one writing a true crime blog in 2005 could’ve anticipated. I even recall a conversation with a reasonably successful true crime author around 2009-2010 in which he expressed concern that it might be a dying genre.
One big reason why the genre came roaring back from near-death and surpassed its previous popularity: Netflix. Specifically, well-made and engaging docuseries and documentaries like Making a Murderer, The Staircase, and The Keepers, just to name a few. Viewers and binge-watchers have been captured by in-depth, complex narrative styles and sophisticated production values.
If you are into true crime, you know that Netflix has only scratched the surface of great stories, nonfiction tales that would make for riveting, often chilling, binge-worthy viewing. The following true crime stories and subjects may have been staples of series like Forensic Files, and Cold Case Files, or even the subjects of other documentaries. However, none have received the Netflix treatment—and all would make for utterly engrossing, up all night viewing.
The story of true femme fatale Sharon Kinne has been told in segments of various true crime shows and was the subject of an excellent episode of ID’s A Crime to Remember. But no 15-minute segment of Unsolved Mysteries or even an hour-long treatment does justice to Kinne’s story. When she was 20, she shot her husband in the back of the head and blamed his death on their two-year-old daughter. Charming and attractive, Kinne initially managed to evade the law and collect a life insurance windfall. Then she set her sights on a car salesman and killed his wife, Patricia Jones, to get her out of the way.
Police weren’t so charmed then and she was put on trial, first for Jones’s murder. Kinne was so magnetic and attractive she charmed the entire courtroom and all-male jury, who found her not guilty. She was found guilty of killing her husband. Legal mishaps briefly freed her after that, and she jumped bail and headed to Mexico—where she killed another man. She was convicted of that murder and sent to prison—and she escaped. She was never recaptured. There’s a dark true crime epic lurking in the story of Sharon Kinne. It’s hard to think of many stories that equal hers for twists, turns, and intrigue all with a singularly charismatic and enigmatic killer at the center of the drama.
William Bradford Bishop, Jr.
William Bradford Bishop, Jr. has been covered by numerous true crime shows as well as major publications like the Washington Post. Bishop is a “family annihilator” like John List. The label means exactly what it sounds like—a parent and spouse who chooses to kill his or her (it’s usually his) entire family. In 1976 Bishop allegedly murdered his wife, three sons, and his mother with a hammer. He then drove their bodies to North Carolina where he attempted to burn them in a pit. He was later seen—with a woman around his age and the family dog—in a nearby town, then never seen again. At least not for certain.
Former co-worker Roy Harrell was sure he saw a bearded, disheveled Bishop in Italy later, and that wouldn’t have been a reach. Bishop’s unique talents were ideal for evading investigators in the late 1970s. A linguist, the former Army Intelligence officer was fluent in several languages, a seasoned outdoorsman, and a licensed bush pilot. He’s on the FBI’s Top Ten Most Wanted fugitive list today and there’s a $100,000 reward for information leading to his arrest. It’s shocking that no one has made a full (or at least limited) series about Bishop, his crime, and his escape. There are layers and layers of intrigue and it’s likely many who knew him are still alive. After all, how does a man with Bishop’s accomplishments—a Yale graduate, State Department employee who’d worked assignments all over the world—commit such a stunning act of violence then vanish, apparently never murdering again? That’s a question worth serious exploration.
The “Gone Girl” Abduction of Denise Huskins
In 2015, a physical therapist named Denise Huskins was kidnapped from her Vallejo, California home and her boyfriend Aaron Quinn left behind tied to a chair. Her kidnapper demanded a $110,000 ransom for her return. Two days later she was released, and after 48 terrifying hours—which included being raped twice by her captor—she discovered no one believed her, not even the police. No one believed Aaron Quinn’s report of the kidnapping, assuming he’d killed her. These improbabilities left the couple stuck in a kind of legal limbo and accused of trying to pull a scam. They were victims of an almost universal doubt—until someone attempted an identical crime. A Harvard-educated attorney named Michael Muller was convicted of the kidnapping and assault and sentenced to 40 years in prison.
There are so many layers to examine in the story of Huskins’ kidnapping—the police skepticism, which led to Huskins and Quinn eventually winning a $2.5 million lawsuit against them, social media attacks on the couple, the comparison with a well-known novel and movie. Not to mention a bizarre, disturbed culprit in Muller, who had planned his crimes in meticulous detail. He pleaded guilty in the end.
The Murder of Taylor Behl
In 2005 a Virginia Commonwealth University freshman named Taylor Behl vanished from the Richmond campus. When she was found in a ravine one month later, police realized a suspected abduction was a murder. Their suspect was a youthful-looking Ben Fawley, 38. Behl knew Fawley, an artist who had kept his goth-skater look from the 1980s, and they’d even hooked up once.
When all was said and done, Fawley was under arrest for her murder and the case was in the national eye and consuming Virginia and DC-area media. Fawley would eventually enter an Alford plea, which allowed him to deny guilt but admit the state had enough evidence to convict him. He was sentenced to 30 years in prison. The Behl case has been covered by national news magazines and subject to sustained reporting in Richmond beyond, and it was one of the first crimes to have a substantial internet component—both evidence- and news-wise. Despite all the crime show segments and news magazine reports on popular shows like 48 Hours, the Behl murder is worth an in-depth, The Staircase-style treatment.
The Oklahoma Girl Scout Murders
The horrific triple homicide of Lori Lee Farmer, 8, Doris Denise Milner, 10, and 9-year-old Michele Guse on June 12, 1977, occurred in one of the most unlikely places: Camp Scott, a long-time Girl Scout getaway. I’ve mentioned this before as an unsolved case that could benefit from combined DNA and forensic genealogy research, but the elements of the story are so complex they could benefit from a more comprehensive look. First, there was the terror caused by the crime: Two of the girls were raped and they were all viciously murdered, bludgeoned and strangled. It changed the region and surely changed every girl there that night.
Then there was the suspect, Native American Gene Leroy Hart. Though Hart was tried and acquitted, racial tensions between white and Native residents rose, on full display in some instances—such as the longstanding belief Hart did it, regardless of the verdict. A deep dive into known details as well as modern efforts to prove or disprove Hart’s guilt would surely be ready-made for the kind of true crime binge now so familiar to Netflix users.
Jenner Beach Murders
On August 14, 2004, someone murdered a young couple sleeping on a remote beach in Jenner, California. Jason Allen, 26, and Lindsay Cutshall, 22 were devoutly religious camp counselors and engaged to be married. Their deaths began a mystery that would confound police and amateur sleuths for the next 13 years. Who would kill a pair like that? No one could think of any reason to target Cutshall and Allen other than random cruelty.
The local investigators never gave up on the case, meticulously gathering even tangentially-related evidence, some of which was strange by any measure—weird drawings, an ornate costume hat. In May 2018, a suspect named Shaun Gallon was finally charged with the crime after he was arrested for killing his brother. Gallon was known for random violence and had knowledge of the scene that police never released to the public. So, even though the case may have been solved, the length of the investigation, its impact on friends and family, and perhaps a look at Gallon, a violent eccentric, would make for thoroughly engrossing TV.
Joseph Edward Duncan III
In July 2005 a man and a little girl entered a Coeur d’Alene Idaho diner. He was tall and thin, and she looked scared as if she didn’t want to be with him. They attracted attention. Someone recognized the girl as a missing child named Shasta Groene, and the man, Joseph Edward Duncan III, was arrested. In the weeks and months to come, Shasta’s ordeal and that of her brother Dylan—Duncan killed him after sexually abusing the boy—was revealed, as was the depths of Duncan’s murderous depravity.
He’d been a level III sex offender trying to get his life back together as a University student in Fargo, North Dakota and keeping a blog about what he viewed as his trials and travails. He was also a serial killer who preferred children, and he’d been killing off and on since at least 1996. Duncan is currently rotting in prison. The nature of his crimes might also make a decent documentary treatment difficult, given the visceral reaction people have to the abuse and murder of children. At the same time, his murders and his outward manner illustrate just how monsters can easily hide in plain sight. One minute a troubled man attempting to turn his life around, the next a murderous pedophile and psychopath. Any account of Duncan’s crimes would be as close as you could get to real life horror. Anyone who takes it on to produce a series or documentary will need all the psychological armor they can muster.