Murder

Scott Baio Pens a Touching Note to Former Costar and Ex Erin Moran After Her Death

Actress Erin Moran has died at the age of 56. The star, who was best known for her role as Joanie Cunningham in Happy Days, was found unresponsive at her Indiana home on Saturday, Us Weekly reports. Authorities responded to a 911 call to the home and pronounced her dead at the scene. “An autopsy is pending,” the Harrison County Sheriff’s Department told the Associated Press in a statement.

Erin also appeared on the Happy Days spinoff, Joanie Loves Chachi, with Scott Baio, the ’80s hit series The Love Boat, 1986’s Murder, She Wrote, and 2010’s Not Another B Movie. Ron Howard, who played Erin’s brother on…

Scotland’s Worst: Peter Manuel, “The Beast of Birkenshaw”

Peter Manuel’s ghastly murder spree lasted exactly one day short of two years. His first attack occurred on January 2, 1956, and his final assault took place on January 1, 1958. In those 729 days, the man know as the “Beast of Birkenshaw” committed acts of violence that still haunt the people of Scotland, even now. Like many serial killers, the true number of victims Peter Manuel claimed is unknown, but he is positively credited with 8 murders.

Manuel was born in New York City to Scottish immigrant parents in 1927. The family stayed in the U.S. for a while before they decided to return to their native Scotland when Peter was 5 years 0ld. The family settled in Birkenshaw. Manuel embarked on a life of crime from an early age, and he was well-known to police as a petty thief before he was even a teenager.

At the age of 16, Manuel began committing sexual assaults. He eventually attacked over a dozen women and was sent away to prison for 9 years for his crimes. After his stint behind bars, Manuel returned to Birkenshaw, but crime was never far from his mind. On January 2, 1956, Manuel committed his first murder. That day he stalked, attacked, raped, and murdered 17-year-old Anne Kneilands on a golf course. Manuel was questioned by police in the Kneilands murder, but his father provided him with an alibi, so he was crossed off the list of suspects. His father’s unfortunate lie kept Manuel on the street, where he went on to commit several more heinous acts.

In September 1956, Manuel committed a triple murder, taking the lives of Marion Watt, her sister Margaret Brown, and her 17-year-old daughter,…

Podcast Episode 148: The Perfect Murder

william herbert wallace

Insurance agent William Herbert Wallace had a terrible night in January 1931 — summoned to a nonexistent address in Liverpool, he returned home to find that his wife had been murdered in his absence. An investigation seemed to show a senseless crime with no weapon, no motive, and no likely suspects. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll revisit the slaying of Julia Wallace, which Raymond Chandler called “the impossible murder.”

We’ll also recount some wobbly oaths and puzzle over an eccentric golfer.

Intro:

In the 1960s, Washington state televised the World Octopus Wrestling Championships.

Kansas schoolteacher Samuel Dinsmoor spent two decades fashioning a Garden of Eden out of concrete.

Sources for our feature on William Herbert Wallace:

W.F. Wyndham-Brown, ed., The Trial of William Herbert Wallace, 1933.

Yseult Bridges, Two Studies in Crime, 1959.

Roger Wilkes, Wallace: The Final Verdict, 1984.

Ronald Bartle, The Telephone Murder,…

15 Killer Facts About Zodiac

“This is the Zodiac speaking …”

So began one of the first cryptic letters from one of history’s most notorious murderers, whose identity remains unknown but whose story was brilliantly immortalized onscreen in David Fincher’s 2007 film Zodiac. The unsung masterpiece about a serial killer in 1960s San Francisco who manages to evade police, all while sending taunting letters to the media to further promote his agenda, just celebrated its 10-year anniversary. We’re no closer to solving the mystery of the Zodiac’s identity, but we can solve the mystery of how Fincher and his collaborators—including stars Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo, and Robert Downey Jr.—created one of the greatest procedural thrillers ever made.

Here are 15 facts to help you decode Zodiac.

1. ZODIAC COULD HAVE BEEN A DISNEY MOVIE.

Disney owned the rights to former San Francisco Chronicle cartoonist and author Robert Graysmith’s source material and tried to make the film for over a decade before the rights to the books, 1986’s Zodiac and 2002’s Zodiac Unmasked, lapsed back to Graysmith in the mid-2000s. According to This is the Zodiac Speaking, the feature-length documentary found on the Blu-ray release, that gave screenwriter James Vanderbilt and producer Bradley Fischer the opportunity to approach Graysmith themselves to option the books to potentially make a film without the Mouse House.

2. IT WAS A FAX THAT GOT PRODUCTION STARTED.

According to the same Blu-ray documentary, Graysmith informed Vanderbilt and Fischer that he was personally taking pitches from a handful of filmmakers now that he owned the rights to his books again, but only via a fax number through a local Kinko’s. The pair built their pitch—which Vanderbilt described as asking, “What if Garry Trudeau woke up one morning and tried to solve the Son of Sam”?—and eventually won the rights to make the film after they successfully sent the fax.

Vanderbilt explained that, “Getting to know Robert during this process was actually invaluable because the script changed as we became friends; and very rarely in order to make him look better. Robert truly invited us into his life warts and all, and that’s how I think we ended up portraying him onscreen.”

3. DAVID FINCHER AGREED TO DIRECT THE FILM BECAUSE OF ANOTHER UNSOLVED MURDER.

After directing the 2002 thriller Panic Room, starring Jodie Foster and Kristen Stewart, Fincher began work on a five-hour, $80 million miniseries adaptation of author James Ellroy’s true crime novel The Black Dahlia. That project, chronicling the infamous unsolved 1947 murder of aspiring actress Elizabeth Short, eventually fell through (it was later made into a 2006 feature film by Brian De Palma). But according to This is the Zodiac Speaking, Fincher’s newly minted freedom led Vanderbilt and Fischer to approach him about directing Zodiac because it dealt with similar, noir-tinged police procedural themes.

4. FINCHER HAD A PERSONAL CONNECTION TO THE ZODIAC STORY.

In addition to having an interest in the Zodiac Killer’s story from a filmmaking perspective, Fincher had a personal connection to the story, too. Though the director was born in Denver in 1962, his family relocated to California when he was two years old—just a few years before the Zodiac committed his first murder. So he grew up fearing the serial killer.

“I grew up in Marin and now I know the geography of where the crimes took place, but when you’re in grade school, children don’t think about that,” Fincher said in the film’s production notes. “They think, ‘He’s going to show up at our school.’”

In an interview with The New York Times, Fincher recalled that what drew him to Zodiac was the same thing that drew him to Se7en: the fear that you never knew what the people around you were capable of. “That’s what Zodiac was for a 7-year-old growing up in San Anselmo,” Fincher said. “He was the ultimate bogeyman.”

5. FINCHER, VANDERBILT, AND FISCHER CONDUCTED THEIR OWN INVESTIGATIONS.

Once Fincher was on board, he, Vanderbilt, and Fischer agreed to develop further drafts of the screenplay to emphasize fact over fiction. They spent months poring over police documents and interviewing witnesses, investigators, and the case’s two surviving victims: Mike Mageau and Bryan Hartnell.

“It was really quite simple,” Fischer said of their approach. “Let’s find everyone we can who was materially involved in the investigation, and let’s sit down across from them, look them in the eye, ask them direct and sometimes difficult questions, and then hear what they have to say … We did our best to get it right.”

“I said, ‘I won’t use anything in this book that we don’t have a police report for,’” Fincher told The New York Times. “There’s an enormous amount of hearsay in any circumstantial case, and I wanted to look some of these people in the eye and see if I believed them.”

6. THE ONSCREEN KILLER IS HORRIFICALLY EXACT.

Fincher wanted absolute verisimilitude in depicting the Zodiac attacks, so the only time the killer appears onscreen is during incidents where there are on-the-record survivors or witnesses to the real-life events. This includes the opening attack on Darlene Ferrin and Mike Mageau at Blue Rock Springs, the attack on Bryan Hartnell and Cecelia Shepherd at Lake Berryessa, and the killing of taxi driver Paul Stine at Washington and Cherry Streets in San Francisco.

Survivors…

Serial Creators Announce Release Date for S-Town, Their New Murder Mystery Podcast

It has been more than two years since the creators of Serial captured listeners’ attention with season one of their investigative podcast. Now USA Today reports that the team behind the true crime sensation is returning this March with a brand-new story.

Titled S-Town, the new podcast from Serial Productions will center around murder rumors that have been percolating in a small Alabama town. It starts when…