'48 Hours' showcases true crime stories
|In a happier time, Garrett Wilson held his son Garrett Michael, who later died. The child's mother suspected Wilson of killing the boy to collect insurance money.
'48 Hours: Murder They Wrote'
9 p.m. Fridays, CBS, for the next six weeks
The network that broadcast Angela Lansbury's "Murder, She Wrote" will offer "Murder They Wrote," six consecutive episodes of "48 Hours," each inspired by a different true-crime book.
The first show airs Friday, marking the launch of the newsmagazine in its new time period. It focuses on Garrett Wilson, who is either a loving father and husband or a greedy monster who killed two of his infant children to collect the insurance.
When Adrian Havill wrote "While Innocents Slept," the story was spread over 272 pages. The television version covers much of the same ground. The central character, aside from Wilson, is Wilson's third wife, Missy Anastasi, who gradually becomes convinced that her baby boy did not die of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome but at the hands of his father.
Anastasi is interviewed, as is Wilson's fourth wife (and fiercest defender), Vicky. Home videos show a doting Wilson playing with his 7-year-old daughter; others show him holding Garrett Michael, the smiling baby who died suddenly in 1987 when he was 5 months old.
Interspersed are re-creations of the crime scene moody, blurry and more than a little over the top and repeated images of a baby's hand, fading from color to black and white.
Havill also appears, as a sort of guide to the evil at work. He has written eight books, half of them in the true-crime genre a genre he says has been unjustly tarred by a rising tide of instant books in the 1980s and early '90s.
There were books about the "Long Island Lolita" Amy Fisher and about Joel Steinberg, the Manhattan lawyer convicted of beating his 6-year-old daughter, Lisa, to death.
"They were a bunch of clip jobs," Havill says. "They weren't really thoroughly researched and they were kind of shoddy. I think they left a bad taste in a lot of people's mouths."
The better true-crime books, he says, dwell on the criminals and their motivations. "That's why I'm opposed to capital punishment. I would love to see them all put in a prison so they can be studied. What you really want to know is why they do it."
Ann Rule has written 20 true-crime books ("Eighteen New York Times best sellers," she says proudly). She too draws a distinction between her work and other, more exploitative books: "I like to think that I'm explaining the psychopathology behind the particular crime."
Her book "The End of the Dream" inspired the "48 Hours" show scheduled for July 27. It details the criminal career of Scott Scurlock, a charismatic thief who lived in a three-story treehouse in Olympia, Wash., and robbed 18 banks of more than $2 million.
Scurlock's story needs no re-enactments we see the heists, courtesy of bank cameras. We also see videos of Scurlock at home; apparently, the handsome robber often walked around naked.
This is not the reason why Rule says 75 percent of her readers are women. "Women probably are more curious about human behavior, about why people do the things they do," she says.
Her books often concern the horrible results of love gone wrong. There are anti-social personalities, and lessons in abnormal psychology. She could make it all up, but she'd rather stick with real life, and she thinks her readers agree.
"Some of us ... want to know that this is nonfiction, that it isn't a figment of someone's imagination," she says.
Her next book, "Every Breath You Take," will be published Oct. 14. It follows the case of Sheila Bellush, the Florida mother of toddler quintuplets whose murder was arranged by her ex-husband, Allen Blackthorne. Rule might not have taken on this story she prefers cases with lower profiles but for a request Bellush made before her death.
In the event of her murder, Bellush asked her sister, do everything you can to make sure than Blackthorne is investigated.
And one more thing: Find Ann Rule and ask her to write the story.
And so, she wrote.