Susan Tice and Erin Gilmour Cold Case: Asking people to talk

I’ve been thinking about cold cases recently and how they do or don’t get solved. It’s almost always because of a DNA match or because someone finally talks. In the horrible 1983 rape and murder cases of Susan Tice and Erin Gilmour, Toronto police got a DNA match of an unexpected kind. The cases were linked not to a known suspect but to each other, a connection that hadn’t been made before. The two women had been attacked and killed by the same man.

What Police haven’t yet got and keep asking for is someone to talk as this video makes clear :

Here’s some more  background on the case if you’ve never heard of it before.

Friends, paid content and crowdfunding

Back last fall I tried a crowdfunding experiment to see if I had enough interested readers willing to pay to read a series about a sexual assault trial. Sexual assault is a huge topic these days and I had done a previous but very different series in 2015, which was well received. Given that I have a decent mailing list and a small but devoted social media following interested in true crime, I thought I’d give crowdfunding a try to see if it might work for journalism.

Unfortunately, things did not go at all as I had planned. I wanted to find 500 readers willing to pay $10 each but instead, my very generous friends started chipping in $100 here and $50 there. This was vaguely embarrassing as I didn’t want my friends supporting me. I wanted readers to pay a fair amount for a product they valued.

I had also hoped that a legacy publisher might chip in, but the idea of crowdfunding an article wasn’t something accounting departments could wrap their heads around. In the end, the Walrus magazine made a generous offer to buy the new series in the conventional way and I put a halt to the crowdfunding campaign.

Because it was an “all or nothing” campaign — which means no one gets charged unless and until the funding goal is met — my friends didn’t end up paying a cent.

I have now embarked on a new crowdfunding campaign, but with some modifications to avoid past mistakes. I’m out to reach people willing to pay a minimum of $10 to read in-depth coverage of a trial that interests them. So far, I haven’t told any of my friends so unless they read my blog or newsletter they don’t know about this.

This time around, I’m not doing an “all or nothing” campaign because I’m hopeful that once the trial gets going and people see how interesting it is, they will want to pay for coverage. I’m trying to keep my options open.

The  goal for this pre-trial period is to build momentum so that the first two days are funded before the trial begins and I can guarantee at least two days of coverage.

If this model works, I will be thrilled as it will be a win/win situation both for me and interested readers.

Please check out the campaign if you want to read about this trial. If I didn’t think it were going to be very interesting, I wouldn’t be so keen to attend.

Trial Funding – Click Here

Casefile podcast looks at Jennifer Pan case

The Casefile podcast has just done a two-hour-plus episode on the Jennifer Pan case. I listened to it as I usually listen to podcasts — while making dinner or walking the dog — and it was pretty good.

Although I knew the case fairly well — from the Toronto Life article linked above and the book, A Daughter’s Deadly Deception by Jeremy Grimaldi — it was fascinating to hear the audio from her police interviews. Afterwards, a little bit of googling led to the discovery that all 10 hours of the interrogation played at trial is available on Youtube. Here’s part one:

What else can I tell you? Casefile’s a pretty decent podcast with very few bells and whistles. The narrator, an anonymous Aussie, tells the story of various murder investigations. Whoever writes the scripts does a really good job though not at all the type of writing that calls attention to itself. They make telling complicated crime stories look really easy.

The Pan episode was a bit of an exception because there’s often no additional audio at all — just the narrator telling you about various murders, some of them among the world’s most notorious and others far less well known with an emphasis on Australian cases. One of the best episodes was about the Sherri Rasmussen murder, a Los Angeles cold case that I first read about in Vanity Fair a few years back.

 

New series on a sexual assault trial: Beyond a Reasonable Doubt

In 2015, I wrote an eight-part series on a sexual assault trial for the Walrus magazine. It generated so much interest the magazine asked me if I could do another series. I proposed a very different but equally interesting sexual assault case.

The new series, called Beyond a Reasonable Doubt, is now in progress. Here are the links:

Part 1: She says he raped her. He says he never touched her. At least one of them is lying

Part 2: “I was stupid, I was young, I was ignorant—and that’s all I admit”

Part 3: Why can a witness remember many details yet be so vague about the sexual assault itself?

Part 4: The verdict arrives. And so does Marie Henein—best known for representing Jian Ghomeshi

Part 5: Post-verdict

Part 6: The appeal

As of Jan. 27, 2017, I am awaiting a court ruling to see what happens next. Sign up for my newsletter to ensure you don’t miss the appeal decision and the epilogue of Beyond a Reasonable Doubt.

Enter your email to receive my newsletter


I just heard the most awesomely spectacular rumour

In which, I check out a rumour

Earlier today I was checking the referral stats for my website, which, among other things, sometimes tell me the search terms people use to find this blog. Usually, these are predictable and obvious, but the search words that caught my eye today were just the opposite. They were “Wow!”,  “Holy Shit!”, “”Stop the Presses!” search words.

The words formed a full sentence with a subject (a person), a verb and an object (another person). That sentence fell into the outrageous rumour category. (And just for the record, the outrageous rumour in question has nothing whatsoever to do with my book or anyone in it.)

Now, you should know that when it comes to rumours, I almost always err on the “no way” side of things. I am the unfun person in the room who dismisses rumours, who tells the dinner party, “Sorry folks, not true.” And usually, I am right because most rumours — especially rumours like this one — aren’t true. Or only a teeny, tiny uninteresting part of them turns out to be true.

But there are occasions, very rare ones,  when my “no way” stance has led me to be outrageously wrong, when the the crazy rumour turns out to be true. Angelina Jolie, I’m looking at you.

Despite the odds, I felt I should check this rumour out. So I texted a friend who would be in the know about stuff like this. But he hadn’t hear the rumour, which he nevertheless dismissed as impossible. (See text message exchange at the top of this story.)

I told him to google the name of the subject of the rumour and look at Google’s related searches. I wanted to check that he got the same results I did. He did. In its related searches, Google had the name of the subject followed by the name of the object as its top result.

This showed people were googling this rumour. And I am unlikely to be the only media person who has heard it by now.

My friend agreed the google results were weird and then said he had to go. I took the hint.

Now, if I were Buzzfeed, I’d just put this crazy rumour out there and say, “Okay everyone, you decide.” But I’m old school so I’m not saying anything except that if this is true, it’s going to be extremely entertaining. And if it’s not true, well, it amused me for an hour or two and gave me something to blog about.