Title: This Is a Robbery: The World’s Biggest Art Heist
Release Date: April 7, 2021
Creator : Colin Barnicle and Nick Barnicle
Director: Colin Barnicle
Production Company: TriBeCa Productions
I generally avoid True Crime media, but I am borderline obsessed with the theft of 13 works of art from Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in 1990. I’ve read a book about it and listened to a podcast, and now I’ve watched this 4-part Netflix documentary. The documentary does a good job of reiterating the main points of what is known about the crime. It’s good get the visuals to go with the story, such as diagrams of the museum that show where the thieves operated. And then there’s a mix of archival news footage with present-day interviews with many key figures, from museum guards to the museums director.
While being a very entertaining documentary it’s also highly sensationalist (which naturally adds to the entertainment value). There’s a lot of building up of potential suspects before revealing that they couldn’t possibly have commited the crime. The same footage is played over and over again, most hilariously a “dramatic reenactment” of a couple of high school students walking piggy back down Palace Road before the crime. The creators of the film are happy to rely on the false Hollywood image of Boston as a mobster-infested playground of vice. A lot of people commenting on the documentary are loving the Boston accents and characters which really don’t exist in present day Boston. In short, it’s a fun way to spend a couple of hours, but take it with a grain of salt.
My main takeaway from this series is that it is been way too long since I’ve been inside the glorious interiors of the Gardner Museum. I will prioritize visiting there post-pandemic. The series also gave us this tweet, which is a work of art of its own:
Hub History :: The Dread Pirate Rachel
The story of the last woman executed in Massachusetts is shrouded in a myth of her being a seductive pirate, but her real story is even more interesting.
Throughline :: Strange Fruit
The true history of Billie Holiday, a Civil Rights anthem, and the origins of the War on Drugs.
Running tally of 2019 Podcast of the Week appearances:
Author: Roseanne Montillo
Title: The Wilderness of Ruin: A Tale of Madness, Fire, and the Hunt for America’s Youngest Serial Killer
Narrator: Emily Woo Zeller
Publication Info: Tantor Audio (2015)
This book appeared to follow the formula of The Devil in the White City, focusing on a city in 19th century through the lens of major events and a mass murderer operating in that city. In this case the city is Boston, the murderer is Jesse Pomeroy, and the event is the Great Fire of 1872. Except, that the book isn’t really structured this way.
It is in fact more of a straightforward biography of Pomeroy, a teenage boy in Charlestown and then South Boston who tortured smaller children, and eventually began murdering them in the 1870s. He is sometimes called “America’s First Serial Killer,” although that is not factually true, but his crimes occurred in a period of growing moral panic about children’s behavior (also not for the first or last time). Montillo documents Pomeroy’s abusive family life, his gruesome crimes, his trial and public denunciation, and his long life in prison where he spent decades in solitary and made several escape attempts.
I’m not a fan of the true crime genre, so with the book so focused on Pomeroy it doesn’t appeal to me as much as a general history of Boston at the time of Pomeroy’s murders would. Montillo’s attempts to link in other events are few and feel a bit forced and unrelated to the lifelong biography of the murderer. She does also focus greatly on the life and work of Herman Melville, who has a connection to Boston but had moved to New York prior to the Pomeroy murders. Montillo draws on themes of family dysfunction, mental illness, and monomania to draw Pomeroy and Melville together, but again the links feel strained rather than illuminating.
Recommended books: The Night Inspector by Frederick Busch, The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson, and A City So Grand by Stephen Puleo
Author :Truman Capote
Title: In Cold Blood
Narrator: Scott Brick
Publication Info: New York, NY : Random House Audio, p2006.
Previously Read by the Same Author:
This is one of those books that’s long been on the list of “Why haven’t I read this yet?” In Cold Blood is known for being the prototypical non-fiction work written in the novelistic style and a forerunner of the true crime genre. Through Capote’s extensive research he is able to recreate before, during, and after of a brutal quadruple murder in Holcomb, Kansas from the points of view of the victims, perpetrators, investigators, and variety of friends, neighbors, and townsfolk. Capote’s writing style is impeccable and the story is griping. Yet there’s a nagging doubt in my mind of just how much of this is true to life and how much was designed to make a good story. Despite being a well-written story, there’s also is a gratuitousness to it that left me feeling a bit dirty afterwards.
Recommended books: Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt and Zeitoun by Dave Eggers.