I Got Away With Murder and Hollywood Made a Movie About It!
By Ram Devineni
Unsolved murder cases hold a unique fascination with the public. The more mysterious, bizarre, or brutal the crime, the more drawn to it we are. People have a need to see justice served, or the wrongly accused vindicated. At a more debased level, it’s the car wreck syndrome – we just can’t look away. And if we can’t look away, Hollywood’s comin’ our way. The smell of blood may be confused with that other pungent odor: a movie deal.
KoldCast TV’s murder mystery series VERSE follows a young poet who, like our most beloved silver screen heroes, just doesn’t know when to quit. He discovers a forgotten manuscript that unleashes the underbelly of the New York City literary world. After turning over a few stones, he realizes the manuscript is the key to a 30-year-old unsolved murder case.
VERSE – Chapter 1
VERSE: A Murder Mystery brings viewers into the homes of some of New York City’s most infamous and legendary poets’ and writers’ haunts. VERSE blurs the lines between documentary and fiction by using real poets and writers to play themselves in important literary landmarks – often their own.
Oftentimes, producers rush from murder to movie in hopes of capturing the public’s fleeting attachment to the case. How many of you caught the 1995 made-for-TV tour de force, The OJ Simpson Story? I didn’t think so. When it’s done well though, it’s something you don’t want to miss. Here are four famous murder cases that have become cultural footprints from the various books and movies they spawned.
The Black Dahlia
Elizabeth Short (born July 29, 1924) was a dark-haired 22-year-old beauty, who was gruesomely murdered then sliced in half at her waist. Her mutilated body was found in the Leimert Park district of Los Angeles on January 15, 1947. She was nicknamed “The Black Dahlia” by newspapers, and some writers speculated a connection between her death and the Cleveland Torso Murders from a decade earlier. The LAPD then publicly stated Short’s murder was likely connected with the Chicago Lipstick Murders of 1946, for which convicted serial killer William Heirens served time after dismembering six-year-old Suzanne Degnan.
No one was ever brought to trial for the killing of Elizabeth Short and her death is still an unsolved murder. A plethora of books, articles, TV shows and movies subsequently came out. Most recently, and most successfully, director Brian De Palma adapted the story into the 2006 film The Black Dahlia based on James Ellroy’s neo-noir novel of the same name.
The Zodiac Killer
The Zodiac Killer remains one of the most elusive and diabolical serial killers to date. He terrorized residents of Northern California in the late 1960’s – 1970’s by sending taunting letters and cryptograms to Bay Area newspapers. Although the Zodiac Killer claimed to have murdered 37 people, only seven have been indentified and confirmed.
In 1971, Hollywood came out with the seminal vigilante film Dirty Harry as a reaction to the mounting violent crimes in large cities. The film, directed by Don Siegel and starring Clint Eastwood as Detective Harry Callahan, follows the case of deranged sniper and psychopath “Scorpio,” who was based loosely on the real Zodiac Killer and others like him.
In 2007, the now household name David Fincher directed Zodiac, based on the non-fiction book by Robert Graysmith that delves deeply into the Zodiac Killer’s long investigation. It perpetuated the theory that Arthur Leigh Allen was the Zodiac Killer based on compelling circumstantial evidence. Detectives used advanced forensic tools and handwriting analysis in the film to decipher the killer’s cryptic codes.
Jack The Ripper
The infamous cultural bogeyman and archetype for all modern serial killers, Jack the Ripper is the unidentified killer who preyed on street prostitutes in the Whitechapel district of London in 1888. Jack’s MO was removing the internal organs, suggesting he had surgical expertise.
The killings were deemed “serial” by the media and Scotland Yard, based on the striking similarity of the crimes, along with a letter dubbed “From Hell” signed by the killer. It arrived in a package along with some preserved human kidneys. Thousands of Londoners were interviewed and notable figures such as “Alice in Wonderland” author Lewis Carroll to members of the Royal Family were considered suspects. To this day, however, the crimes remain unsolved.
Although Sir Arthur Conan Doyle never wrote a story where his master sleuth Sherlock Holmes hunted Jack the Ripper, it was too tempting for Hollywood not to make a movie with the iconic figures pitted against one another. Both men hailed at the height of the Victorian Age, so it kind of fits. Holmes and Watson join the search for the notorious serial killer in the 1965 film A Study in Terror and 1979’s Murder By Decree. The latter, directed by Bob Clark, explores a conspiracy involving the British government leading to the heart of the English monarchy. The movie was made a few years after the Watergate scandal, and hit the zeitgeist point blank.
In 2001 the Hughes brothers, fresh off their rather educational documentary Street Pimps, made From Hell, starring Johnny Depp as the drug-addicted and visionary Inspector Frederick Abberline leading the search for Jack the Ripper. The film does justice to Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell’s graphic novel series on which it’s based. It becomes as horrific and intricate as possible while staying true to its pulp origins.
William S. Buroughs
Although not as famous as the previous cases, legendary Beat writer and life-long drug abuser William S. Burroughs shot and killed his wife, Joan Vollmer, while playing a drunken game of “William Tell” at a party in Mexico City in 1951. Burroughs spent 13 days in jail before his brother was able to bribe Mexican officials to release him on bail. The killing was ruled a culpable homicide, but Burroughs skipped bail to seek refuge in the United States. He was convicted in absentia and sentenced to two years in prison, a sentence that was later suspended.
Visionary filmmaker director David Cronenberg adapted Burrough’s famous book, “Naked Lunch”, into a feature film and depicted the killing in a mythical Middle Eastern city. Burroughs reappears in the series VERSE, this time befriending a local poet whom he later finds hanging from a steam pipe in his basement. He’s just one of many colorful literary figures to appear in this unique murder mystery series that pays homage to a dying animal, the written word.
Click To Watch Episode 5 of VERSE: A Murder Mystery
Ram Devineni is the founder of Rattapallax Films. Recently, he made a feature documentary titled The Human Tower and a three-part travel documentary TV series called On The Road with Bob Holeman about endangered languages shot in West Africa, Asia, and the Middle East, currently airing on Link TV. He is the creator of Verse: A Murder Mystery, exclusively on KoldCast TV. Devineni is one of the founding partners of Academia Internacional de Cinema, the first independent film school in Brazil.