With the rise in popularity of shows such as The Jinx and podcasts such as Serial, one thing is for sure: true crime, for better or for worse, is an opportunity for entertainment. With that in mind, here are six real crimes that could make great movies.
1. The Missing Man
The story: In 2004, Benjaman Kyle was discovered unconscious in Richmond Hill, Georgia. He had little recollection of his life before being found, and even now, Kyle doesn’t know who he is or what happened to him. Kyle is the only American citizen officially listed as missing, despite his whereabouts being known. He has no Social Security number, and he’s spent years living on the streets, as he’s been unable to get a job without a legal identity. Kyle’s story is packed with mystery and drama, and in it’s-just-crazy-enough-to-be-true fashion, it could make a fascinating film (wikipedia).
- Star power: A big star like George Clooney or Colin Firth could sink his teeth into the challenging pivotal role.
- Aspects of drama, mystery, and legal battles: This case could fit into a number of popular film genres.
- There’s no ending: To this day, no one has come forward claiming to have known Kyle in his past life, so this is a story with no current conclusion.
- It might not be true: Many feel that the things Kyle has said don’t add up and that there isn’t any legitimate evidence that points to him truly suffering from amnesia of any kind. When an investigator was reportedly close to finding a DNA match for Kyle, he unexpectedly broke off contact with her and canceled the investigation.
- The Greenbrier Ghost
The story: If there’s a good old-fashioned horror film on this list, this is it. This West Virginia murder trial stands as the only trial in which a ghost’s testimony was allowed as evidence. When a young woman died in 1897, reportedly of natural causes, her spirit appeared to her mother and revealed the true cause of death: murder at the hands of her husband. The deceased woman’s wounds matched up to what the spirit allegedly told her mother, and the cause of death was changed and ruled as a murder (wikipedia).
- An ending: Unlike the Kyle case, this film would have a clear, satisfying ending.
- Female leads: With the two main characters likely being a mother and a daughter, women would lead this film.
- Horror with heart: Aside from being a chilling tale, this story also has heart, as a mother/daughter bond lies at its center.
- There really aren’t any. This story is fascinating.
- The Case of John Wesley Elkins
The story: On July 17th, 1889, residents of Clayton County, Iowa woke up to news that a local Civil War veteran and his wife had been murdered in their bed in a brutal attack. Their two children escaped, but the case was shrouded in mystery. There were no leads in the murders until John Wesley Elkins, the couple’s 11-year-old son, became a suspect and went on to confess to both murders (asphistory.com). There was no established motive, and Elkins was committed to the maximum-security prison in 1890. He spent the next 12 years in prison, working, reading, and by all accounts, being a perfect inmate. After he published an impressive article about why he should be released, he was granted parole and left prison in 1902. He married and became a famer until he died in 1961. There is no evidence that he ever committed another crime.
- This story is weird.: From a child killing his father and step-mother for no clear reason, to that same child ultimately being released back into the public, this case is stranger than fiction.
- Possible redemption: Elkins was released from prison because the public believed he had been reformed and redeemed in prison. The film could try to work this angle for viewers.
- A likability issue: The main character of this film would be a child who murdered his parents in cold blood. That’s not a character anyone’s going to want to root for.
- A slightly anticlimactic ending: In the hands of the right writer/director, this ending could be strong, but it’s going to need to be skillfully handled so not to seem dull and disappointing.
- The Bahama Queen
Gertrude Lythgoe is one of the only women to ever operate an alcohol-bootlegging ring during the male-dominated Prohibition Era. Lythgoe opened up a liquor shop in Nassau and made huge amounts of money. When men were skeptical of her because she was a woman, she threatened them and proved with her business savvy that she should be taken seriously. Lythgoe was eventually arrested in New Orleans and charged with smuggling 1,000 cases of liquor into the city, but the charges were dropped and Lythgoe was never charged with a crime (sallyjling.org).
- Movie star quality: Gertrude was tall, slender, and gorgeous. She was whip-smart and driven. Without bending the truth at all, she is already an interesting character.
- Biopics are hot: With films such as The Imitation Game and Selma drawing critical attention, biopics are in hot demand, and Gertrude Lythgoe would make a fascinating subject.
- A female lead: Again, yay for more leading roles for women!
- Since this isn’t a case with a clear arc, a screenwriter would have the duty of creating a complete story out of this, and that would take talent.
- I just know filmmakers would want to toss a love interest for Lythgoe into this film, and I don’t want that.
- The Villisca Axe Murders
The story: In June of 1912 in Villisca, Iowa, six members of the Moore family and two houseguests were found bludgeoned to death in the Moore home. All eight victims, including six children, had brutal head wounds from an axe. A lengthy investigation yielded several suspects, but the crime was never solved (wikipedia).
- By exploring the several solid leads, the film could take an investigative approach to this case. Much like other unsolved cases that have been made into movies, such as Zodiac, it’s not always necessary to know who ultimately committed the crime.
- Still, it’s harder to make a compelling crime movie when one doesn’t know who did it.
- Matt Stopera and Brother Orange’s Unlikely Friendship
The story: FULL DISCLOSURE: This story is nothing like the ones we’ve already looked at. It’s light and fluffy. In this case, a petty crime led to a beautiful friendship. (Okay, so I’m stretching the rules with this one, but the story is the sweetest and it demands attention.) When Matt Stopera’s iPhone was stolen at a bar in the East Village last year, he got a new phone and went on with his life, assuming that was the end of things. But when he realized that pictures taken with his old phone were still showing up on his photo stream —including, notably, a man in China posing with an orange tree — Stopera reached out to the man and suddenly found himself in a social media whirlwind.
Stopera ended up traveling to China to meet the man who had bought his stolen phone, “Brother Orange,” and became close friends with him. It’s a heartwarming story of friendship and love in spite of language barriers, and damn it, I want to see this in theaters and cry with joy (Buzzfeed).
- THIS STORY IS ADORABLE
- This story might actually be too adorable to make a good movie.