With Ryan Murphy’s American Crime Story: The People vs. OJ Simpson drawing audience numbers akin to those who watched the low speed Bronco chase of ’94 (read: an awful lot of people), it’s safe to assume that the public’s interest in true crime stories is at an all time high.
News that season two of American Crime Story will focus on Hurricane Katrina has everyone wondering how they’re going to pull it off. However, if the series continues to deliver strong performances and thought provoking writing, Murphy may just have another critical darling of a season on his hands.
The focus of future seasons is anyone’s guess. Some of the most jaw droppingly sensational criminal cases in recent memory are all up for adaptation as we take a look at 10 Famous Court Cases American Crime Story Can Tackle Next.
10. JonBenet Ramsey
One of the most controversial court cases in recent memory, six-year-old beauty queen JonBenet Ramsey was found dead in her parents wine cellar in Boulder, Colorado on December 26, 1996, after being struck on the head and strangled. A highly criticized police investigation, wealthy parents who spent large sums of money on a public relations firm to proclaim their innocence, a strangely specific ransom note and a false confession all were contributing factors into turning this case into a media frenzy.
Several grand jury hearings and defamation lawsuits later, and the case still attracts the interest of the public. Nearly 20 years has passed since the murder, and tabloids still plaster Ramsey’s face on their covers just to sell magazines — proof that an adaptation would make for a popular (if hugely controversial) series.
9. Jodi Arias
In 2008, Travis Alexander was found in his Phoenix, AZ home, having been shot, stabbed thirty times, and with a throat slit from ear to ear. His girlfriend, Jodi Arias, was quickly arrested, and the 2013 trial took the United States by storm. With Arias changing her story numerous times, USA Today called it, “one of the most unusual, lengthy and salacious court proceedings in recent memory.”
The bizarre melodrama and sexually explicit trial that ensued would make perfect fodder for a future season of American Crime Story.
8. Madoff Investment Scandal
Bernard Madoff was the founder of a Wall Street firm that specialized in buying and selling stock on behalf of his clients. He started the firm selling penny stocks in 1960, and subsequently managed to grow it into one of the largest “market makers” at the NASDAQ. But it all came crumbling down in 2008, when the general downturn of the market resulted in dwindling investments. When Madoff could no longer pay out the clients who wished to withdraw their money, it was revealed that the wealth management arm of his firm was, in fact, an elaborate Ponzi scheme. Ultimately, Madoff was responsible for the largest accounting fraud in American history, to the tune of $64.8 billion.
While a two-night miniseries adaptation of the scandal premiered just last month on ABC, we think a full season order would be a better fit, one that could connect with audiences in a major way.
7. West Memphis Three
In 1993, three eight-year-old boys were murdered in West Memphis, Arkansas. The prosecution claimed that the children were killed as part of a Satanic ritual sacrifice, and three teenagers considered outsiders by their community were tried under this theory. Not unlike the runaway success of the Netflix series Making A Murderer, the investigation, trial and conviction of the West Memphis Three was plagued with suspicion. American Crime Story could follow this case from day one to its emotional, yet frustrating, resolution 18 years later.
There have been several adaptations of the story over the last few years — including (a pretty terrible) 2013 film starring Colin Firth and Reese Witherspoon — but, simply put, this story deserves more.
6. The Menendez Brothers
Erik and Lyle Menendez seemingly had it all. Their father was a wealthy businessman and the brothers enjoyed an upper-class upbringing. On August 20, 1989, when the brothers were 18 and 21 years old, their father and mother were shot at point blank range in their Beverly Hills home. Despite the brothers notifying the police and having established alibis, suspicion soon befell them. The death of their father resulted in large inheritances, which they wasted no time in spending.
The brothers’ arrest and subsequent trial saw their defense team allege everything from abuse to gangland mafia ties, which resulted in two hung juries. The grisly murders and the sensational trial that followed would fit nicely into American Crime Story‘s wheelhouse.
5. Ted Bundy
A kidnapper, a rapist, a murderer and a necrophiliac, Ted Bundy was as evil as they come. Bundy used his intelligence and charm to lure unsuspecting females to secluded locations, often pretending to be disabled and in need of assistance. It was then that he would murder his victims, often revisiting the corpse to perform sexual acts upon the body — until decomposition made it impossible.
Bundy was arrested for kidnapping in 1976, and while acting as his own lawyer, he was allowed access to a library and was able to execute a dramatic escape. Upon his eventual recapture, Bundy again represented himself in court and purposefully derailed his defense out of a bizarre need to exert control over the proceedings. Described as “the very definition of heartless evil,” Ted Bundy’s horrible crimes and strange trial would be the perfect spectacle for a future American Crime Story series.
4. The Enron Scandal
The Enron Corporation was an American energy company that, at the peak of its success in 2000, saw its stock price balloon to over $83. This stock price exceeded the business’s earnings approximately 70 fold, which indicated high expectations for their future projects. However, what shareholders and financial analysts didn’t realize is that Enron’s executives were using accounting loopholes, shoddy record keeping and poor financial reporting to artificially inflate the company’s value.
Approximately 1 year later, Enron’s stock plummeted to $1 per share. Within days, investors lost over $60 billion dollars, 4,500 people lost their jobs and pensions, and shock waves engulfed the economic system. An American Crime Story treatment could investigate how the company lied and cheated the public, and explore the aftermath of the scandal, similar to the film The Big Short.
3. The Clinton Impeachment
When Bill Clinton, the 42nd President of the United States, engaged in illicit behavior with White House intern, Monica Lewinsky, the ensuing media circus divided the nation. Lewinsky confided in her friend Linda Tripp, who tape recorded all the dirty details of Lewinsky’s affair with the President. Ken Starr, a prosecutor with a vendetta against Clinton, used this information to compile the Starr Report, a document which alleged the president was guilty of perjury.
This ultimately led to the president’s impeachment, only the second time in United States history such a dramatic decision was reached. The following trial revolved around the definition of “sexual relations,” and set off a media firestorm that would make for excellent small screen adaptation.
2. John Gotti, Jr.
John Gotti, Jr. was an Italian American from the Bronx who, at a young age, was enlisted to sell narcotics for the Gambino crime family. Soon after, Gotti killed Gambino boss Paul Castellano and took over the family. In addition to making hundreds of millions of dollars from hijacking, loan sharking, extortion, gambling and other criminal activities, Gotti was widely known for his outspoken personality, which gained him favor amongst the public and the media. He acquired the nickname “The Teflon Don” after being acquitted in three separate high profile cases… albeit through jury tampering and witness intimidation. Where many of his associates avoided attention, John Gotti embraced it, and looked like he was having fun doing it.
With the right lead actor in the headlining role, this could be the sort of powerhouse character study that Emmy awards were made for.
1. Ted Kaczynski
An academic prodigy, Ted Kaczynski was accepted into Harvard at 16 and was working as a professor by 25. Kaczynski became increasingly detached and withdrawn from society during this time, and, in 1971, he left his life behind and moved to a remote cabin without running water or electricity. It was here that he became a survivalist, convinced that modern technology was the downfall of the human race. Believing that he had to spread his message, Kaczynski started mailing homemade explosive devices to universities and airports. Over the next seventeen years, Kaczynski’s bombs became more complex and deadly, which prompted one of the FBI’s costliest investigations.
Kaczynski’s domestic terrorism held a nation captive for almost two decades, and there is no reason why a TV dramatization of his life and crimes wouldn’t do the same.
Which of these cases do you think would make for an excellent season of television? Did we miss any of your favorite court cases? Be sure to let us know in the comments below.
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