As twisted as it sounds, people love murder–and the glut of true-crime stories that have permeated pop culture is evidence enough. The popularity of shows like Making a Murderer, The Jinx, and American Crime Story, as well as podcasts Serial and My Favorite Murder highlight our grim fascination with all things suspicious death.
So if it’s clear there’s high demand for true crime, why are so many stories regurgitated ad nauseam?
This year alone, there’s going to be yet another reboot of The Amityville Horror, bringing the grand total to a mind-numbing 20 films; four depictions of the Mason family murders; a reimagining of the Black Dahlia murder, which already inspired an episode arc on American Horror Story in 2011 and a 2006 feature film; and a documentary and narrative film about Ted Bundy directed by the same person.
It’s a depressing fact, but there’s not a dearth of real-life crimes with hairpin plot twists just waiting to be adapted for the big or small screen. So as long as Hollywood continues to dip its toe in the bloodbath, here’s a fresh crop of cases for them to consider.
Mary Bell: The 11-year-old serial killer
In Britain in 1968, 11-year-old Mary Bell strangled two young boys in the span of two months. Bell came from a broken home with a teenage sex worker for a mother and an active criminal for a father. When she and her accomplice Norma Bell (no relation) were arrested by police not long after the second murder, Mary reportedly replied, “That’s all right by me.” During the trial, Norma appeared distraught. Mary, on the other hand, was said to have been defiant, showing zero remorse. Court psychiatrists described her as “intelligent, manipulative, and dangerous.” Norma was found not guilty, while Mary was found guilty of manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility. She served 12 years–briefly escaping prison at one point–and was granted anonymity and a new name upon her release. She gave birth to a daughter, and it was reported in 2009 that she had become a grandmother.
The murder of Angela Samota
Texas college student Angela Samota was raped and stabbed to death in her apartment in 1984. Her case went cold until her friend and roommate Sheila Wysocki decided that was unacceptable. While watching the O.J. Simpson trial a decade after Samota’s death, talk of using DNA samples caught her attention. Knowing there was blood and semen collected from the Samota crime scene, Wysocki called police incessantly, asking them to take another look at her friend’s case. She got nowhere and decided to get her private investigator license so she could gain access to the samples herself. In 2006, Wysocki finally convinced the police to reopen the case. It took two years to process the DNA, but in the end, it matched with Donald Bess, a convicted rapist who was found guilty and sentenced to death. Wysocki is still working as a private investigator.
The Old Lady Killer
Between 1998 and 2006, professional wrestler Juana Barraza murdered around 48 elderly women in Mexico. She flew under the radar for so long because no one suspected a woman to be the culprit. She pled guilty to one murder and denied the rest. When asked what her motive was, she simply replied, “I got angry.” Barraza grew up in a poverty-stricken village near Mexico City. Her defense lawyer claimed that her alcoholic mother gave her away to a man in exchange for three beers when Barraza was 12. The criminologist assigned to the case asserted that Barraza targeted older women because she identified them with her mother.
The man who almost got away with murdering his family
John List killed his three kids, wife, and mother in 1971 inside their New Jersey mansion. The family was a bit reclusive, and List had skipped town following his crime, so the bodies weren’t discovered until a month later. List disappeared for 18 years and remarried, but was finally captured with the help of an episode of America’s Most Wanted. He claimed that he killed his family because they were under crushing debt from the house and medical expenses. A psychiatrist who testified in the trial said List saw only two choices: Go on welfare or send his family to heaven. It was later discovered that the very house that burdened List had a skylight that was rumored to be an original from Tiffany worth more than enough to make up for any financial strains. It’s unclear if List knew of his near priceless treasure. He died serving five consecutive life sentences without parole in 2008.
The Florida lotto murder of Abraham Shakespeare
In 2006, Abraham Shakespeare bought a lotto ticket in Florida and won the $30 million jackpot. At first, he was very generous with his friends and family, but soon started to feel like he was being used. A woman named DeeDee Moore offered to help him manage his money. She wound up swindling him into giving her control over all of his assets. After a few weeks of not hearing from Shakespeare, his family grew concerned and attempted to reach him. Moore forged a letter to his family reassuring them that he was okay. The problem was, Moore didn’t know that Shakespeare was illiterate. The police were notified and they found Shakespeare’s body buried on Moore’s property.