cold case

True Crime and I, Pt. 2: Shortbread Cookies and “Cold Case Files”

My paternal grandmother was born on Christmas Eve 1929 and, as such, always insisted on celebrating it as absolutely distinct from Christmas. She was always mindful of birthdays; gifts for the birthday girl were usually accompanied by something small for the other sister.

She loved flowers and cats and painting. All of her children grew up to be cat people, as have all of her six grandchildren. Baking was a passion of hers; cherry pies and shortbread were specialties. Christmas was incomplete without a tin or two of Grandma’s shortbread, sent through the mail from Kentucky.

After a long and often difficult illness, she passed away in early September. While sudden, it was not unexpected. Luckily, Parkinson’s had left her wits mostly intact to the end, so that she could appreciate what would turn out to be final visits with family in August.

On this, what would have been her eighty-eighth birthday, I would like to share with you to inadvertent and formative role my Grandma had on my interest in true crime.

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I have written previously on how my childhood interest in Ancient Egypt, encouraged by my parents, likely sparked my early fascination with the morbid and macabre.

Completely unknown to my parents, I fanned this fascination by watching forbidden TV as soon as their backs were turned.

There was Discovery Channel’s “A Haunting in Connecticut,” which I watched while my mom was out shopping. I was nine. I didn’t sleep for days.

Of course, I went on to watch all of Discovery’s “A Haunting” series in secret.

There was the time I watched Stephen King’s “Rose Red” on-and-off for an afternoon at my dad’s house. Big mistake.

Best of all were those chances I had to watch Discovery’s “FBI Files.” Rediscovering the series as an adult, I laughed at how plastic science class skeletons had scared the ever-living **** out of me as a nine-year-old.

Then, there was that fateful trip to Grandma’s.

The moral of this story: if you really want to know what your kids are watching, make sure you can walk faster than they can change the channel.

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I don’t think it was that long summer we spent with Grandma after my parents divorced. I think it was an earlier trip, maybe earlier that same year. I was about eleven.

As my younger sister had taken the big-screen TV downstairs, and I did not want to watch Disney with her, my Grandma offered me the little box TV on her vanity. She left to do laundry or read.

I turned it on to find it was on A&E, which was running a weekend marathon of Cold Case Files. 

The original Cold Case Files, which ran through the mid-2000s, featured Bill Kurtis’s chilling narration. It also featured plenty of gruesome postmortem photos. I couldn’t turn away, mostly out of horror. This was beyond anything I’d seen before. I couldn’t process. God knows I still can’t watch it before bed. Speaking of which…

At Grandma’s, I slept on a cot below a large first-floor window. Unfortunately for me, I had just learned who the LA Nightstalker was. The bug-eyed, hollow-cheeked composite sketch appeared every time I closed my eyes.

All the lights were on that night. All of them. 

*  *  *

I was hooked.  On a visit to my other set of grandparents, around the same time, I watched Dateline for the first time, again, surreptitiously. I still remember my first Dateline episode, on the murder of Molly Bish. Years later, moving to Boston, the details of the case would return to me. It haunts me–as a child, Molly had seemed like a grown-up. Barely an adult myself, looking at a picture of her now, I see a child, her life cut away from in front of her.

*  *  *

I flipped over the A&E website, where you can watch Cold Case Files episodes in whole with just a little advertising. I see now they have rebooted the series, beginning earlier this year, but without Bill Kurtis’s voice. Darn.

* * *

I asked my cousin, “Do you think Grandma knew I watched sixteen hours of Cold Case Files on her TV that time?”

My cousin thought. “I feel like she knew, and she couldn’t have approved, but she wasn’t going to really object to it.”

So, Grandma, thank you for spoiling your grandchildren, even if it was with questionable TV choices.

Happy birthday. I miss you. I love you.


LordanARTS: A Favorite Part of My Day

Channel on YouTube
Hosted, Filmed, & Edited by John Lordan
Associate Producer & Researcher: Christy Stracener

In April of this year, I discovered the LordanARTS channel while watching videos on the Asha Degree case. I was a bit skeptical at first; after watching the glossy productions of Cayleigh Elise (who deserves a review of her own), how could I enjoy a man in a baseball cap talking to a camera for forty-five minutes at a time?

But I couldn’t stop watching. Almost every night when I get home from work, the first thing I turn on is that day’s new LordanARTS video.

Sassy usually joins me, perched on my shoulder on the couch, intently watching the screen. I think she wants to pounce at the bouncing logo, or that the spooky, electronic intro music enchants her.

LordanARTS is a mostly-one-man show hosted by John Lordan. Part of Mr. Lordan’s charm is that he never fails to thank the people who make his show possible, whether that be his associate producer (Ms. Stracener), his wife, or his Patreon supporters.



While researching this review: John Lordan followed me back on Twitter and this is one of the proudest days of my life.

Mr. Lordan puts out new content every day Monday through Friday, a rate which easily puts me to shame. Mondays feature “Johnny Vlogs,” usually his reflections on the world. Once-a-week he posts an “Itchy Mystery” review, in the line of what I do here, but featuring more of a supernatural element than I typically include.

The bread-and-butter of his channel, the two features that bring me back time and time again, are “BrainScratch” and “BrainScratch: Search Light.” The former features either cold cases or more recent cases with puzzling public details; the latter profiles missing persons cases in which hope still exists for the missing’s safe return. Family members have often reached out to Mr. Lordan either to thank him for, supplement, or request videos on their missing or victimized loved ones.

The research that goes into these true crime segments is thorough, gathered by Mr. Lordan, Ms. Stracener, and fans of the show. Each segment features Mr. Lordan going through all the known information in his calm, oddly soothing (given the content) voice before offering interpretations of those facts.

Mr. Lordan is a skeptic in the best way possible; in a world where most choose between the most appealing of “alternative” facts, he allows his views to be altered by the facts. He admits to having been a bit of a conspiracy theorist in the past, seriously entertaining the notion of false-flag operations. He has since publicly announced his move away from those lines of thinking, which demonstrates real intellectual engagement and courage. His given reason for this shift was seeing the pain of mass shooting victims’ families when (usually right-wing) conspiracy theorists claimed the victims had never existed and that the grieving families were government-paid actors.

I think that degree of empathy and concern, above all the many virtues of the programming, is what brings me back to LordanARTS again and again.

5/5 stars: the facts, presented with humor and empathy
1/5 ‘fraidy cats: Mr. Lordan humanizes crime, not sensationalizes
1/5 ick-factor: No post-mortem or crime scene photos, as a matter of principle