‘Real Housewives Of Salt Lake City’ Premiere Propels Bravo’s True Crime Trend

‘Real Housewives Of Salt Lake City’ Premiere Propels Bravo’s True Crime Trend

The long-awaited return of Bravo’s “Real Housewives of Salt Lake City” underscores the creeping true-crimeification of the network’s popular reality fare. Like this fan-favorite season of the Beverly Hills housewives, RHOSLC promises to document in painful detail the legal drama surrounding one of its stars. It’s great television.

The trend also emphasizes the salience of a major question dogging our pop culture: What is it with women and true crime?

One of the biggest problems with “Only Murders in the Building” is that two of its three main characters are men. In a Spotify article probing “why women are so obsessed with True Crime,” social psychologist Amanda Vicary said, “My research suggests that women are drawn to true crime because of the information they can learn from it, even if they aren’t aware that that may be the reason they are listening!” A Mother Jones article last year noted, “The podcast Wine and Crime reports that women make up 85 percent of its audience, which lines up with a 2018 study that found that 73 percent of true crime podcast listeners are women.”

The conflicts on Bravo are often centered around mysteries: Does Brooks actually have cancer? Did Lisa plant the story? What did Teresa know? Is Aviva really asthmatic? But Jen Shah, Mary Cosby, and Erika Girardi find themselves in the middle of allegations they committed serious crimes, allegations that played out as cameras were rolling. (Erika claims, often convincingly, to have had no knowledge of her husband’s alleged financial crimes.)

In the case of Shah, RHOSLC’s second season premiere starts out with a flash-forward to the day of her arrest, promising a season thick with drama and intrigue. The episode then allows Shah to display her riches, seemingly unaware or unconcerned with the optics and legal implications. For viewers, most of whom are likely female, the unsolved mysteries gives each episode an added layer of immediacy and a sense of higher stakes as they scan cast members’ behavior for clues and evidence.

Shah, according to the indictment against her and her assistant, “allegedly generated and sold ‘lead lists’ of innocent individuals for other members of their scheme to repeatedly scam.” None of her aggressively luxurious lifestyle adds up, something the producers subtly emphasize throughout the premiere episode. Even subtly, she’s an incredible character.

The allegations against Cosby, stemming from former members of the church she oversees, are equally if not more compelling. “All the rumors are that Mary is a cult leader,” says one of the women.

I always think of the “Housewives” as docuseries as much as reality series (the good franchises, at least). They’re incredible commentaries on American decadence, and incredibly funny too. True crime, then, makes for a seamless genre merger.

It should also be a wake-up call to the network and its super fans that reality television is about antiheroes. Viewers don’t need them to be protagonists and social justice activists; they need them to be authentic and interesting and that’s just fine. By bringing Shah and Cosby back to the series, Bravo seems to concede this — at least when the crime isn’t political incorrectness. It’s also always worth reiterating that it’s fine for TV stars to be bad people so long as their platforms serve as commentaries on their immorality, which is exactly what Bravo does.

This season of “Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” is riveting wherever you stand on Girardi’s innocence. With two accused criminals, one currently battling charges, RHOSLC is off to an enormously promising start. We’re all wondering exactly how guilty Shah is, but another question to ponder is why are women currently so hooked on true crime? Bravo is bringing us closer to an answer.


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The Terrifying True Story Behind One Of The FBI’s Biggest Kidnapping Cases

The Terrifying True Story Behind One Of The FBI’s Biggest Kidnapping Cases

Stopping his car to pick up the newspaper at the bottom of his driveway, as he did every morning, Sidney J. Reso could not have known that within seconds he would be kidnapped and shot.

On that April morning in 1992, Reso was the chief executive officer of Exxon International, then based in Florham Park, New Jersey. His kidnapping is the subject of Philip Jett’s emotionally gripping Taking Mr. Exxon. The author’s extensive research has yielded a true crime tale with an abundance of attention- holding details. Even if you know the outcome, this book is still a page-turner.

A man and a woman tried to force Reso into a van as he was bent over to pick up the newspaper, but he resisted. In the ensuing struggle, he was shot. The bullet entered his wrist and ripped through the entire length of his forearm before exiting. The kidnappers tied him up, gagged him, and forced him into a coffin-like wooden box, which they locked away in a rental storage unit.

Claiming to be environmental activists, and styling themselves “The Rainbow Warriors,” the criminals contacted Exxon and Reso’s wife, Pat, to demand a ransom of $18.5 million. The kidnappers’ pseudonym mimicked the name of the Greenpeace flagship, Rainbow Warrior, which had been sunk about seven years earlier. It had been only three years since the catastrophic Exxon Valdez oil spill. So, in the spring of 1992, eco-terrorism was an explanation authorities initially took seriously.

The actual kidnappers were a suburban couple, Art and Jackie Seale. They had been married for 25 years and had two teenage children. He had been a police officer and then a security advisor for Exxon. She was an attractive, athletic blonde who enjoyed jogging and keeping up her tan. They had tried their hand at a number of business ventures and enjoyed the good life, driving matching white Mercedes convertibles. But business failures lead them into bankruptcy. Then they decided to turn to crime.

‘Textbook Perfect Investigation’

The couple they targeted, Sid and Pat Reso, had been married for 36 years. Pat had faithfully accompanied her husband on numerous moves around the United States and globe, as he diligently climbed the corporate ladder at Exxon. The youngest of their five children was now away at school and it was, Pat said, “our time.” Jett leavens his true-crime narrative with human touches that bring readers closer to not only the two victims, but also the investigators and even the kidnappers.

The story’s two central couples were in a sense mirror images of each other. Both were in long-term marriages to their high school sweethearts. Both had grown or nearly grown children. In Jett’s telling, each wife in her own way was devoted to and dependent on her husband. Yet one couple succeeded in life and lived somewhat below their means, while the other overspent, got into debt, and ended up in prison.

The meat of Taking Mr. Exxon is the narrative of the kidnapping investigation. A tape recording of Reso’s voice and a series of ransom notes were received. The first payoff attempt was readied; the kidnappers frustratingly failed to show.

Hundreds of FBI agents were dispatched to New Jersey to aid in the hunt. Eventually, the case surpassed the 1960 kidnapping of Adolph Coors III to become the bureau’s third-largest kidnapping case after the Patty Hearst and Lindberg baby cases.

The Coors kidnapping was the subject of Jett’s earlier, equally well-researched book The Death of an Heir. It too described a high-profile business executive who, after kissing his wife goodbye on a seemingly ordinary morning, was kidnapped and shot. An attorney, the author puts his legal expertise to good use in crafting exciting accounts of stories that ended in tragedy. Jett knows about kidnapping and he knows FBI procedures.

The FBI’s Special Agent in Charge Gary L. Penrith established a close bond with Pat Reso early in the investigation. Jett recounts movingly their meetings and conversations at the Reso home, where the FBI had established a command post. Jett makes Penrith’s emotional commitment to this case palpable. Years earlier, Penrith’s father was killed by criminals at the foot of his own driveway when he resisted a home invasion.

Pat Reso’s ordeal is vividly, but sympathetically, drawn for us. She alternates from being pleased that the FBI have set up camp in her home – they are doing something and they are good company – to resentment that her home has been invaded.

Prayer is her refuge. She was always devout. On the morning of the kidnapping, after their coffee together and kissing Sid goodbye, she began her morning meditation. Pat was already in prayer as Sid was being abducted 200 feet away at the bottom of their driveway. During the stressful days of waiting, she resorted to writing out her prayers, and messages to Sid, in longhand.

Jett paces his narrative well, moving smoothly between the victims, the criminals, the investigators, and back again. Weeks went by without a word from the kidnappers. The investigation continued. For the first time, surveillance teams used technology that enabled the tracking of mobile phones. The FBI’s Behavioral Science Unit, as if looking into a crystal ball, summoned up an eerily accurate vision of the kidnapping couple.

But no one was happy. Penrith was under enormous pressure. Some of it was surely self-imposed, but FBI headquarters wanted results. Attorney General William Barr, then in his first turn at that post, was in close contact with FBI executives.

The Resos, having spent much of their life in Houston, had become friendly with fellow oilman George H.W. Bush, who in 1992 was resident in the White House. Even the president had questions about the case’s progress.

As the case grew more intense, the FBI received several calls. It was time for the drop. Throughout the night of June 18, a wild chase unfolded. The kidnappers used numerous notes and payphones to send agents and police from one location to another. At one point a rental car used by one of the kidnappers was spotted long enough for a license plate to be recorded.

It all finally started to fall apart for the kidnappers. If the fast-moving events of that evening took place in a novel, they would strain belief. The New Jersey U.S. Attorney Michael Chertoff hailed Penrith’s work as a “textbook perfect investigation.”

But even the best investigators in the world can’t rescue someone who is already dead. Reso had been left, gagged, inside the box in the metal storage locker, still dressed in his suit and tie for work. The bullet that shattered his arm had driven fabric into his flesh and fragments of bone out the exit wound.

For each of the first few days, he was given a mere cup of water. The temperature soared to 100 degrees inside that box. In just three or four days, he died in his own waste. After his death, Jackie and Art hid Sidney Reso’s body in a shallow grave in the Pine Barrens of New Jersey.

The investigators had to find the victim’s body. They focused on Jackie as their best hope of finding out what had happened. In recounting her interview with the investigators, Jett provides one of those details that lets us see into someone’s soul. Jackie’s complaint was that “jail was ruining her tan.”

Neither the U.S. attorney, Chertoff, nor the FBI chief, Penrith, were happy with cutting any break for Jackie. But they wanted to find Sid’s body for Pat Reso’s sake. So they made a deal.

‘You Got Away With Murder’

There are at least three intertwined tales in Taking Mr. Exxon. It is a virtual manual on how to run a major investigation, it is a love story between Sid and Pat – and even Art and Jackie – and it is a tale of horror, with the death inside the box.

The author, like the investigators, prosecutor, and judge, clearly became emotionally involved. This is most evident when the tale has moved into the courtroom. There the ghastly details of Reso’s ordeal are revealed.

For her cooperation, Jackie Seale was rewarded with 20 years in federal prison and a concurrent state sentence. She was released after only 17 years of confinement, during which she taught Pilates to keep her shape. She remarried. The sentencing judge was prescient when he told Jackie, “You got away with murder.”

In imposing a 95-year sentence with no possibility of parole, U.S. District Judge Garrett Brown said to Art Seale that the “mercy you will be given is the same you gave your innocent victim — none.”


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