A Live PD Bingo Game For Your Quarantine Fun (Some True Crime Fun!)

Being a true crime author I am a huge fan of A&E’s LivePD  Things I learned watching Live PD  I figured since everyone is forced to sit and watch TV this weekend, I would provide you a fun little game to add to your viewing pleasure.

Just like regular Bingo, you want to get five across.  The first one that does, wins.  I’m providing four game boards, but you can easily make your own.  You can come up with your own prizes, be it shots or cookies — whatever floats your boat.  Simply print and cut these out, use pennies, beans, pickles, or whatever to mark your progress.  Good luck!

Feel free to share this and have some fun watching Live PD while stuck in your house!

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True Crime Series Review – HBO’s McMillion$

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Dipped in awesome sauce!

Okay, this isn’t your typical true crime series – there is only one dead body.  This is about the greatest scam in modern times.  It covers the crimes tied to McDonalds’ Monopoly game and that for years, the game was 100% rigged.

You didn’t know?  I remember bits and pieces of this story, but I never knew the entire story.  A friend turned me onto this HBO series and my wife and I got hooked.  The FBI agent who started the ball rolling made it for me.  I wish everyone in the FBI was a gung ho as this guy.  The undercover sting videos were wonderful!

The series begins with a simple tip – that the McDonald’s games are all rigged by someone called “Uncle Jerry.”  It turns out to be much bigger than that.  The mob is involved, as well as multiple Jerry’s.  There’s a questionable death, shady characters, and some remarkably bizarre twists. The spider web of winners and middlemen in all of this is incredible.

You are left, until the last episode, not knowing just how the pieces got stolen and switched out – or who the informant was.  We were shocked on the last episode, which means the producers did it right.

Some of the winners try desperately to paint themselves as victims which I disliked.  All but one, in my opinion, knew exactly what they were doing as part of this criminal conspiracy.  They paid money to middlemen for the winning tickets.  They knew the game was rigged and were cheating not just McDonalds but everyone who played and thought they had a chance of winning.

We were riveted to each episode, so the pacing is good.  I think if you tune into this you will not be disappointed.  It is a top-notch true crime production.  You’re stuck in the house anyway, so use your social distancing time appropriately and watch this series.

Review of Netflix’s: The Confession Killer

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Liar, liar, pants on fire…

This is one of those stories that resonated with me as a true crime writer because I’ve seen it with my own eyes on a case.  More on that later.

The Confession Killer is the story of Henry Lee Lucas, a man that confessed to upwards of 300 (or more) murders in the 1980’s.  He was a killer.  He had murdered his mother and spent time in prison for that crime. Early on in his confessions, he led authorities to the remains of two victims…only their killer could have done that.

The local sheriff and the Texas Rangers had a person in Lucas who was willing to confess to countless crimes, all for a strawberry shake and some cigarettes.  He provided details that only the killers could know, or so it seemed.  Police from all over the country lined up for 20 minute sessions with Lucas where he would confess to crimes in their jurisdictions and allow them to close the cases.  It gave dozens of families closure finally.

Lucas loved the attention and the limelight.  He basked in it. For one time in his life, he had importance.

Then a dogged reporter started actually digging into Lucas and discovered proof that with many of his confessions, Lucas was not able to have committed the crimes – he was in other parts of the country.  The local sheriff and the Rangers ignored the evidence.  I have to say, at first, I thought that the reporter was the real hero of this true crime saga.

If this had been the crux of the story, it would have been a very good documentary.  But wait, there’s more!

A young and determined Waco prosecutor spotted the same errors and opened a grand jury investigation into the Lucas task force.  The Rangers, the FBI, and the IRS were brought to bear on him, framing him for bribery.  Lucas’s information disappeared from law enforcement computers.  A massive cover-up was eventually exposed, complete with law enforcement manipulating the media to go after the prosecutor.

So how did he do it?  Officers fed him information, led him to crime scenes, gave him photographs of crime scenes and pictures of the victims.  Lucas had an uncanny ability to read his audience and give them what they wanted, confessions.  They were able to overlook errors he made, or they even corrected him when he made mistakes.

Henry Lee Lucas played them like a cheap fiddle.

As a sidebar:  My daughter and I witnessed this ourselves when writing The Murder of Maggie Hume. Michael Ronning had confessed to her murder but it was, most likely a false confession.  We watched videos of them taking Ronning to crime scenes and it was eerily similar to what Lucas did.  When officers took him out to another murder site that he claimed credit for (Patricia Rosansky) along the river, Ronning didn’t point out the area where they should turn off.  One officer we heard on the tape said, “Michael, doesn’t that area over there look familiar to you?” as he pointed to it. Another officer off camera can be heard saying, “Damn it Denny, why don’t you just get out and show him where the body was?”

There are officers that swear to this day that Ronning’s confessions were solid, despite errors that cannot be overlooked.  Why?  Because they want Ronning to be a serial killer, they wanted to be the officers that closed cases involving such a murderer. That notoriety, of being involved with a serial killer is like winning the Super Bowl for law enforcement.

Which is how Henry Lee Lucas played authorities.

I really enjoyed this short series by Netflix.  A solid five out of five stars, perfect for your winter binge watching needs.

Review of The Killer Inside: The Mind of Aaron Hernandez on Netflix

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I know this will stun some folks but I don’t watch football.  It’s just not my thing.  What I knew about this case was limited.  New England Patriot’s player Aaron Hernandez, a man at the top of his game professionally, had been convicted of murder then had hanged himself.  That was what I knew going into this mini-series on Netflix.

The series is very good and well produced.  There’s some hopping around that takes place but they make great use of a timeline to help you keep track of what is happening.  What emerges is a very complex story.  It is a strange cocktail of sorts to watch.  Hernandez apparently, from what was shown, was gay, which may have led to some emotional conflict in his life.  He had a drug problem in that he vigorously chain-smoked marijuana.  Anyone saying that pot smoking is harmless needs to see it in the context of the person doing the smoking – and in this case, Hernandez lived his later years high.  He is portrayed as a young man that had a strained relationship with his mother.  Hernandez surrounded himself with horrible people which led to not just one murder, but several.  His family members covered up for him, which in the end, only made matters worse.

You get a story that is purely American with some almost neo-gothic twists.  The New England Patriots tried to fill a void in his life in terms of discipline, but failed miserably.  They knew he was emotionally immature, but he became immersed in a lifestyle that allowed him whatever he wanted.  There were no boundaries with him, and that led to a spectacular downfall.

Was he the victim of repeated concussions?  Certainly that case is made at the end of the series, but you realize that even with his head trauma, there was something else at play…a lack of moral compass or control. When I was done watching it I felt that his downfall was inevitable and was destined to be spectacular.  Hernandez is an American tragedy and one we have not learned from.  You are left wondering how many others are out there just like him.

It is notable that his wife and family didn’t take part in the series, nor did the Patriots.  So you are left wondering if there was even more to this story that we have yet to see.

Overall, I give this four out of five stars.  Good true crime.  I’m sure football fans will rate it much higher.

 

Review of the Netflix Series – The Disappearance of Madeleine McCann

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A friend of mine recommended I watch this series about the disappearance of this young three-year-old in Portugal in 2007.  I have to admit, I went in with prejudice. Like most of us, I was fed a steady stream of news reports about Madeleine’s disappearance and it felt to me like the parents were somehow involved.

The series reduced that feeling, but there are some things that still don’t add up for me.  The fact that the series made me question my preconceived notion is a good sign.

The series is, well, slow. It is plodding along, without a sense of tempo or care for the audience.  Having said that, I think it does a very good job of layout out the events.  There are a lot of blind allies the producers take you down.  The whole human trafficking angle is intriguing, but at the same time, lacks any substance…at least from what I saw. Theories are thrown at the wall to see what will stick, which is not a good approach to such a series.

Adding to this were the cast of characters that latched onto the case.  Psychics, dog handlers, private investigators…some seeming to insert themselves into the case for the publicity.  It is a cautionary tale for anyone that loses a loved one in the same manner…be wary of the company you keep.

The authorities were in over their heads from the start of the case.  They fingered people, for legitimate reasons in their minds, but mismanaged every aspect of the investigation.  There is a bombshell (of sorts) about the lead investigator that pops in the middle of the series, something that I was surprised about.

Did I soften my feeling about the parents as suspects?  Yes.  But some of their actions still raise big eyebrows for me.  Their attempt to get their dinner guests to align on their stories, for example, made little sense.  As a parent, I wouldn’t have left my kids in that situation – but I am also not from their culture nor was I there.  Seeds of doubt remain with me.

I give this about a 3.5 out of 5 stars.  It could have been reduced to three or four episodes easily, and would have been more enjoyable.  The constant drone shots of the beach and the city made this far too many episodes long.

Review of Mindhunter Season Two on Netflix

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One of the cooler scenes this season 

When we left off in season one, Agent Holden was having a panic/anxiety attack.  It was a compelling cliffhanger, that much was for sure.  What we saw was how much the serial killers he was interviewing had managed to get into his head.

Season two picks up soon thereafter.  The cause of Holden’s second anxiety incident is a stunner that made the entire episode for me. Where the first season focused on Holden, this was more about Agent Tench and the issues he is facing. The shift of character was a good one and artfully executed.  Bill has problems, his son becomes entangled in the murder of a young boy, a crime that tears at his family past the point of breaking.

Things have changed for the entire team.  Their boss was fired and replaced with someone that solidly backs the unit and sees the value of it.  Intertwined in this is their ongoing interviews with serial killers, the BTK case, and the case that makes the unit finally accepted – The Atlanta Child Killer.

The beginning of most of the episodes drops little hints of a serial killer, BTK.  The unit is digging into this case but getting nowhere.  That’s okay, we all know it will take years to bring this one to conclusion.

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We haven’t seen the end of this…

The character that is shorted in this is Dr. Wendy Carr.  We explore her lifestyle and the conflicts she has between what people say and what is real.  Unfortunately the way this season is structured, we miss the chemistry of the three main characters throughout.  While Holden and Tench are working the Atlanta Child Killer cases, she is more or less sidelined.

For me, there were two serial killer interviews that popped.  One was with the Son of Sam, the other was with Charles Manson.  I don’t ruin this for you, but they are not only well written, but excellently cast.  The Berkowitz character comes across as so close to reality, you wonder if they are interviewing the real killer.  Manson comes across as very authentic to interviews I’ve seen.  Kudos to the folks in casting.

There was a lot of accuracy to the entire Atlanta Child Killer case which was both disturbing and compelling. It does not portray the Atlanta PD in a positive light.

What makes this series sizzle for me is the settings and props from the early 1980’s.  As someone who lived in that era, it is pretty dead-on accurate.

I enjoyed this season a great deal, but miss the trio of key characters working together.  Now we have to wait for Netflix to get around to working on season three.  A solid five out of five stars.

Review of The Boys on Amazon Prime

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“You are not the hero of this story…” 

I have been collecting and reading comic books for well over four decades. I’m no expert in the genre, I just know what I like, and that changes a lot over time.

When I saw The Boys advertised on Prime I thought I’d give it a shot.  It starts out simple enough.  The world has superheroes.  They are owned/controlled by a corporation.  They are big business – from reality shows to product endorsements.  The best known group, The Seven, seem squeaky clean.

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You should never meet your heroes…especially if it is one of these guys

That was the first ten minutes or so.  After that, you see things take a hard left into the bizarre.

Then you see one of the heroes kill a young girl – picture the Flash running through someone standing still.  Of course the crime is covered up.  Then you learn that there is a group out there that is out to pay back the supers for their heinous and wanton acts of death and destruction.

Bit by bit in the series you learn that nothing is what you thought it was.  The supers origins are not as American as apple pie as everyone is led to believe.  There are drugs that the supers take…and these drugs have a big role in this.

The Seven are not quite what they seem.  The group that is out “spanking” the supers become darker and more twisted.  Starlight, the newest member of the Seven learns not only the truth about the corporation calling the shots, but about her own origin.  You see the rise of super villains whose origins are a bit predictable but still cool.  You find yourself rooting for people that are into some pretty grim shit, but you cannot help it.

I loved it.

Let me say, this is a dark series.  It is a story where the true heroes are blurred and often confused.  There is blood, gore and sex – don’t let little kids watch this.  It is gritty, edgy, and engaging.  It helped fill that gap after Avengers Endgame and left me wanting more.  Sure, it’s another “evil corporation” combining with “corrupt politicians” but the messages here are more on a personal level.  It pushes you into areas of discomfort and does it often in the eight episodes. Karl Urban as Butcher is diabolical and by the end of the season, a sad person that you find yourself pitying. The character of Hughie goes on an amazing journey and development arc.

It’s gross and cool and twisted.

The writing for this series is off the charts.  The writers never get enough praise but the guys that did this.

And, more importantly, it has been renewed for a second season.

Review of Netflix’s Conversations With a Killer – The Ted Bundy Tapes

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It might not surprise you that when I am writing a true crime book, I usually have true crime going on the TV.  I’m usually not watching it, but I like the background noise.  My usual go-to film is to go to the blu ray of Zodiac.  Having recently watched Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile (perhaps the longest title for a series) I was wanting to reacquaint myself with Ted Bundy.  Normally I would have dusted off my copy of A Stranger Beside Me, but I decided to look at the Netflix offering of Conversations With a Killer – The Ted Bundy Tapes.  I fired it up in the background and started to write.

Then I stopped writing to watch – a rarity.  I am pleased to say that this series delivers in new and eerie ways.

This four part series delves into the interviews two authors did with Bundy just prior to his execution.  It is framed against the timeline of his crimes and subsequent trials.  It is well-produced and at times, downright creepy.  In order to get Bundy to talk about his crimes, they convince him to speak in third-person.  So what you get throughout this series is his voice, almost disembodied, talking about what “someone” might have done.  It was brilliant on their part and leaves us with perhaps one of the more disturbing discussions we have been privy to from a notorious serial killer. Bundy’s lack of emotion about anything other than himself does send chills down your spine.

Interlaced throughout this is a lot of footage from TV news about the cases, with the surviving investigators, witnesses and victim weighing in.  It is well edited and the following of the timeline really helps a viewer stay focused and organized during viewing.  I really like watching the period broadcasts…they pull you in.

I was a little surprised that Netflix has hopped onto the Ted Bundy wagon.  Moreover, there are things in this documentary that contradict things in their other series, Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile. That is to be expected, but it does make you scratch your head a bit…almost as if the programming folks at Netflix were not talking to each other.

Conversations With a Killer is a welcome documentary, a secret pleasure for true crime aficionados and newbies to the genre.

Mid-Series Review of HBO’s Chernobyl

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The two plant managers on the right – you learn to hate them right off the bat

When I heard this miniseries was coming from HBO I wondered how they would walk the tightrope between realism/documentary and thriller.  As it turns out, they did it masterfully.  HBO sucks you into this horrible event, taking you on twisty and deadly twists and turns along the way.  In the wastelands of the post-Game of Thrones era, Chernobyl is nail-biting, tense, and sad.

Chernobyl is the story of the most horrific nuclear disaster in mankind’s history.  I’ve read two books on the subject so I wondered how close HBO would stick to the real story. As it turns out, they do adhere to the events…with some added drama.  Some of the characters are quite real, where others are composites. Some of the events, like the helicopter crashing because of the radiation…well, I don’t remember that instance.  It is okay, HBO doesn’t wander far from the grim truth here.  I can suspend reality for an hour dose at a time.

What I like the most is that the series mirrors the real world events.  For months the Soviet Union did not know what had caused the explosion of the reactor.  I am four episodes in and they are only beginning to piece it all together.

You get a feel for the Soviet Union I remember from my younger years.  This was a place where even the KGB head is followed by the KGB – where the phrase, “bullet to your head,” is tossed around like a casual threat. It is easy and comforting to forget how oppressive the Soviet Union was – and how their air of secrecy actually contributes to the disaster.

The series has music that makes you edgy.  The effects of radiation on the victims makes you cringe.  It is strange that all of the cast have accents other than Russian, but oddly, it makes it passable.

Episode Four is hard to watch because it involves shooting pets.  It really was gut-wrenching.

Like Game of Thrones, you shouldn’t expect a good ending to this series either.  The fact that it really happened should resonate even more with people.  If you are not watching Chernobyl, get started now!  You will come away with sleepless nights and an appreciation of disasters caused by man’s folly and arrogance.

Game of Thrones Season 8 Episode 5 – One To Go

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Elephants simply would have burned brighter…

I call this episode, “Well, that went to shit pretty fast.” Danyrs got up without her makeup and a bit of an attitude.  You had Varys running out to meet Jon Snow on the beach:  “Hi, welcome to Dragonstone.  Have you considered betraying the woman you love for the job you don’t want?  I know I look like a creepy pedophile, but give me a chance…”  There were some brilliant moments in this episode, surrounded by countless WTFs?  Here’s my summary:

  • “If you have a secret way into the Red Keep, why don’t you use it to send in a group to secure Cersei and end this without any significant bloodshed whatsoever?”  Tyrion had a map of all of the ways into Kings Landing, why not use those to get the Unsullied in to take out the scorpions?  The show’s writers needed to play this out as if it were a Dungeons and Dragons session and it would have been a lot more entertaining.
  • Jamie is the dumbest Lannister.  I enjoyed this reversal scene from when Tyrion was in chains.
  • “So the scorpions which were so accurate and deadly become worthless?” Yeah, no one even winged the dragon (pun intended).
  • “Watch for the Hun in the sun!”  This is a WWI aviation reference when the Germans would dive with the sun behind them to strike a blinded enemy.  This was the first and only time in this episode where we saw actual battle tactics, diving in on the Iron Fleet.

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  • My “Holy Shitballs!” moment was when the Golden Company deployed, looked formidable and ready for combat, then the gate exploded behind them and they were all fried in a matter of 22 seconds.  Well, I’m glad they didn’t bring the elephants because the PETA people would be outraged.  It was pretty awesome but hit on one flaw I felt with the entire episode. There was no credible threat.  This was the BIG battle we have been waiting for, and it was a lopsided affair, with Dany flying a weapon of mass destruction that was impossible to stop.  Even against the dead, there was a threat of a loss of a dragon.  No one even fired an arrow or spear in her direction.  I’m sure this was deliberate by the show runners, but it took away from the eventual victories.
  • A total waste of Ser Davos in this episode. Not even a quippy one-liner.
  • The Dothraki riding through the streets of King’s Landing – we have waited long to see it.  Unfortunately with the Dragon Queen’s slaughter, they didn’t matter.  Likewise, the attack by Grey Worm on the surrendering troops was made non sequitur by Daenerys laying waste to the civilian population.  Dany just plain ruined the battle for the rest of us.
  • The explosions of the wildfire caches – Dany has become the mad queen. Incredibly good tie back to the mad king.  Even he didn’t go that far.  He’d be so proud of his little girl…  “Look pumpkin, some fleeing civilians.  Burn them all!”
  • The big map was a nice touch.  The images of debris falling on the map of Westros was brilliant symbolism.
  • Euron just happens to show up where Jamie is, and decides to kill him.  Mortally wounding Jamie didn’t add anything to the story at all.  Euron deserved a much more painful death than what he got.  They blew a chance for Jamie to say, “She’s pregnant with my child!”  So many squandered opportunities.
  • “When you kill the big bad guy/gal, you need to do it right.”  After all we have been through, Cersei’s death was boring.  Crying and in Jamie’s arms?  She got what she wanted, to die with him.  After all of the build-up over the years, we got her weeping in a collapsing tomb?  Boo…hiss!  She needed to be bit in half by a dragon – or at least get in that last verbal taunt with Dany before being roasted alive.
  • “Thank you Sandor.”  I don’t get Arya changing her mind about revenge at the last minute, but the line was perfect.  So you live your whole live for vengence but at the last minute, you flip?

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  • CleganeBowl!  The zombie-Mountain vs the Hound!  Here the episode delivers.  I actually cheered, “Dilly Dilly!” when it started.  This was one part of the episode that was exactly what we all expected.  Consider this though.  If you delete this scene from the episode, there is little really enjoyable that is left.
  • White horse arrives unscathed and calm…really? Yes, I get it, “Death rides a pale horse.”  At this point we all expect Arya to go after Daenerys …but the horse showing up was just poor writing.
  • Everyone whines about Dany being alone, but so is Tyrion at this point.

So where does this leave us? It is clear that Jon and Daenerys are going to have to face off.  He told the secret, and that cost Varys his life – and Jon is a serious threat.  I want her to have the dragon breath on Jon and nothing happen to him because his is a Targaryn, but the writers haven’t showed a lot of creativity this season.  We still have a number of characters at Winterfell, and I think we need to see everywhere together one more time.  Maybe Jon will march home and Dany will go after him because he’s a threat.  I’m split between Tyrion being killed by Daenerys or being the last one alive to take the throne.  “You either win or die,”   and Tyrion didn’t live.  Emotionally, I think we all want Jon to get it at this point.  I just don’t see a way for Dany to recover at this point as a character with the whole “fire and blood” thing.

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Basically its like naming your kid Hannibal at this stage

One thing is for sure – it is Game of Thrones – so it is not going to end the way we thought it should.