True-crime games for Christmas
A little murder fun for the festivities, the hunt for Lincoln's assassin, and an extraordinary tale of survival
Tis the season for a little murder-investigation fun.
We’ve had the podcasts, documentaries and conventions, but now it seems even Christmas is not complete without true crime.
Playing board games, particularly since the Covid-19 lockdowns, has become popular and has always featured at family festive get-togethers.
But now old favourite Cluedo is being challenged by the new generation of games. These feature players teaming up to review evidence and work out who sent the victim to a permanent silent night.
Christmas carols, Elf, drunken relatives – now fun homicide investigations are joining the Yuletide tradition.
I might introduce one of these new games to Christmas myself, in the hope that my young nieces will be banned from playing them. Then I won’t have to compete with them at Uno, at which they’re very sharp.
Here’s a glimpse at Unsolved Case Files…
One of 2024’s most interesting looking dramas is Manhunt, based on the non-fiction book by James L Swanson, Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln’s Killer.
It’s described as ‘a conspiracy thriller about one of the best known but least understood crimes in history’. This, of course, is the assassination President Abraham Lincoln in 1865 by 26-year-old actor John Wilkes Booth.
The seven-part true-crime drama will explore events at this tumultuous moment – the end of the Civil War – and the tracking down by cavalry forces of Booth to a Virginia farm.
English actor Tobias Menzies, who played Prince Philip in The Crown, will star along with Monica Beletsky, who also wrote a couple of episodes.
Anthony Boyle, who was born in Belfast and trained as an actor in Cardiff, Wales, will play the fugitive Booth.
Here’s the New York Times’s review of Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln’s Killer.
Manhunt’s global premiere is slated for Apple TV+ on 15 March 2024.
The woman who survived abduction by a serial killer
Margy Palm’s story is hair-raising and almost defies belief.
Just before Christmas 1981 she suffered the nightmare of being abducted by a serial killer while getting into her SUV in a Kmart parking lot in San Antonio.
Her abductor, Stephen Morin, 30 (same age as Palm), was suspected in 30 cases of murder, torture and sometimes rape of women in nine or 10 states.
When Palm returned to her vehicle with Christmas shopping, he pulled a .38 on her and forced into it. It was the beginning of an unimaginable ordeal.
A Rolex-wearing former cheerleader, Palm was pure anathema to the volatile Morin. She was a woman and she was from a well-off background.
Buzzing on amphetamine, he initially screamed at his hostage in the SUV, threatening to kill her.
And yet despite her dire predicament, Palm, thanks to her religious faith, steady nerve and inner confidence, survived.
Not only did she survive, she befriended her abductor, visiting him in prison some 15 times. ‘I really did become friends with the guy,’ she finally told Vanity Fair last summer.
This was after decades of her resisting approaches from producers, agents and authors to tell her story. It took all this time for her to process the trauma she went through.
Now there are reports that Palm’s story will finally be dramatised on screen. It appears that Amazon may be closing in on a deal to produce a series about her encounter with Morin.
If, as experts such as criminologist Prof David Wilson says, our fascination with crime is partly sprung from some subconscious survival instinct, then interest in Palm’s extraordinary story can’t fail to find a considerable audience.
Voice of a Serial Killer
The True Crime channel in the UK (formerly CBS Reality) is re-showing episodes from a documentary series I appeared on – Voice of a Serial Killer.
This was a challenging but fascinating assignment. The producers provided myself and other contributors with audio recordings of police interviews with suspected serial killers.
We then had to sit at home listening to these encounters with some truly awful men and women, before later appearing on camera to discuss them.
The interviews were nothing like the fictional TV and movie confrontations we see. They were exceedingly long, low-key and mostly uneventful.
But in their mundanity they could be chilling. The challenge was to listen for moments when the suspects gave something away about themselves – their deceitfulness, disdain for the cops, their enjoyment at toying with their interrogators.
The first case featuring on True Crime is that of deadly couple Paul Barnardo and Karla Homolka in Canada. In his police interviews, psychopath and serial rapist Barnardo is cocky and challenges the detectives.
The second case is that of Jennifer Pan, a Vietnamese-Canadian woman accused in 2010 of a kill-for-hire attack on her parents. Her upbringing had been abusive under some very strict ‘tiger-parenting’, and in interviews police found her to have little emotion over the attack on her parents, in which her mother died.
Voice of a Serial Killer strips away misconceptions viewers may have about such perpetrators. The crimes are cruel, the killers not particularly clever.
But they are implacably devious and cold in how they view other people. It’s a sobering series.
True Crime channel: Friday 22 December, 9pm, 10pm