By Lisa Black
This week I saw House of Gucci—really liked it—and started to wonder: What fascinates us about rich people killing each other? Sure, every society is subject to celebrity worship, but why does that interest increase exponentially when the story involves murder?
I have several theories.
If we’re going to hear about a murder—and we never get tired of hearing about murder, from Medea to Hamlet to Henry VIII to the ID Channel—why not have the accoutrements of glossy houses and fast cars and exotic locales? The story of Jane Nobody slicing Joe Nobody’s throat in the kitchen of their cold-water flat in Camden is more sad than intriguing. And as a CSI I can tell you why Sherlock and Colombo and the CSI Miami crew always wound up in mansions rather than hovels—because it’s a lot easier to find that spent bullet casing when the maid just vacuumed that morning than it is in a home that will be featured in next week’s episode of Hoarders.
Is it sort of a reverse snobbery thing? Sort of like nyah nyah, you might be able to buy the entire company I work for but you’re still going to jail, dude. Could’a told you that assuming anyone who has a beer in a bar frequented by bikers will be wiling to commit murder for hire because your closest association with a bar where your shoes stick to the chipped linoleum has been repeat viewings of Dirty Harry—rookie mistake, rich guy. John Howard in Dallas hired such a guy with the $30 million he’d embezzled, and wound up shelling out quite a bit of it on the guy, his girlfriend, the girlfriend’s nephew, and six or so other peripheral characters before they did, unfortunately, try to kill Nancy Howard—and failed. She survived but did lose an eye.
Maybe it’s the same impulse that makes me read Dear Abby every day for the letters that make me shout out loud: “Are you crazy? Who on earth would put up with that?” When prominent attorney Thomas Capano killed his ex, the Delaware governor’s secretary Anne Marie Fahey, it turned out that he also had another mistress—long-suffering, mega-loyal Deborah MacIntyre. For fifteen years she put up with married Capano’s use of her, keeping their relationship secret, putting his convenience ahead of her own feelings, and even buying the murder weapon for him.
Maybe it’s a less harsh reasoning…maybe we like to reassure ourselves that money really doesn’t buy happiness. See, my electric bill payment might be a week late, but at least I haven’t murdered my husband and claimed I thought he was a burglar. Ann Woodward used that defense in 1955 after the former showgirl had married up—William Woodward, the heir to and chairman of the Central Hanover Bank. She went from work as a radio actress to accompanying her husband to a party honoring the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, then, later that night, fired a shotgun twice and killed him. She went free for twenty years until Truman Capote fictionalized the case in Answered Prayers. The book was never published as the excerpts caused enough scandal to drive Ann to suicide. A fictionalized book did eventually hit the stands—Dominick Dunne’s The Two Mrs. Greenvilles.
Or maybe we simply like to know that the very rich aren’t different from you and me. They can have the best schooling, opportunity to travel, cleanest water and healthiest diet and still throw it all away on a boneheaded move. When New Hampshire millionaire John Brooks hired Jack Reid to help move his household and some items went missing, Brooks decided, without supporting evidence, that Reid was the culprit. Instead of calling the cops on this phantom theft, he decided on murder and recruited his son and three other guys to help; all were quickly linked to the crime through surveillance video and cell phone records. Brooks, uber-successful inventor and businessman once considered a potential candidate for governor had hired the muscle that could have allowed him to stay miles away with an iron-clad alibi—but for all his business acumen he didn’t delegate when he should have, and went to jail for the rest of his life.
What do you think? Why are celebrity murders never forgotten?