5 Horrific Murders (and the TV Movies made from them)

The enthusiastic response to last week's Movie of the Week column inspired me to plant myself in front of the Lifetime Movie Network for a few days armed with a bowl of popcorn and a pen poised over a notebook. (The never-ending rigors of this job boggle the mind.) My favorite made-for-TVers are those based on true stories, especially true stories involving jealous friends or spouses who go on sleazy killing rampages. Here are 5 classics, along with the real stories behind the films:

1. Death of a Cheerleader

Picture 32.pngTHE STORY: Tori Spelling stars as Stacey Lockwood, the "It" girl of Santa Mira high school. Stacey has everything: looks, personality, wealthy parents, and a pack of snooty, sycophantic friends at school. Kellie Martin is Angela, who just transferred To Santa Mira from a nearby Catholic school and longs to be part of Stacey's "in" crowd. However, although she is certainly intelligent and studious, Angela is awkward in all her attempts to befriend Stacey, who enjoys making scathing remarks about Angela's thrift shop wardrobe and rusted-out Pinto. One night while hanging out with Stacey, Angie makes an embarrassing plea for friendship. Stacey cuts her down viciously with the ultimate high school threat: "I'm going to tell everyone at school that you're weird!" Angie whips out a butcher knife in a panic and stabs Stacey to death.

Picture 43.pngTHE TRUTH: The movie remained pretty true to the details of the actual case, only the names were changed to protect"¦someone, I suppose. Kirsten Costas was the cheerleader in question; she was also a star on the varsity swim team at Miramonte High School in Orinda, California. Her attacker was Bernadette Protti; both girls were 15 years old when the murder took place in 1984. It took police six months to determine that Protti was the killer, and one of her first questions after confessing was "Do I have to go back to Miramonte? I can't live if it is known. I would rather die." Bernadette was convicted of second degree murder and sentenced as a juvenile. She was released from prison in 1992 at the age of 23, when she promptly changed her name and left California.

2. 83 Hours Till Dawn

Picture 9.pngTHE STORY: Robert Urich portrays wealthy land developer Bradley Burdock, whose idyllic life is turned upside down when his college coed daughter, Julie, is abducted and held for ransom. Not only has she been kidnapped; she is being held in an underground capsule with a limited amount of battery power to provide her air and light. Kidnapper Peter Strauss is very proud of his carefully constructed Fiberglas and plywood tomb, which is equipped with every conceivable necessity: food, water, bed pan and feminine hygiene products. His ransom demand of $500,000 is ultimately met after a series of mishaps, and he phones the FBI to alert them of Julie's location while he attempts to leave the U.S. via motorboat. When Julie is rescued, she is dehydrated and 10 pounds lighter after spending four days underground. Several days later, her kidnapper is arrested and brought to justice.

Picture 52.pngTHE TRUTH: This movie was based on a book of the same name which was written by the kidnapping victim herself, Barbara Jane Mackle. Her abductor was Gary Steven Krist, who was assisted by his girlfriend, Ruth Eisemann-Schier. Barbara passed the interminable hours underground by alternately singing aloud and praying. When she was finally rescued from her coffin-like prison by the FBI, her first words were "How are my parents?" Ruth Eisemann-Shier served five years in prison and then was deported to her native Honduras. Gary Steven Krist escaped the death penalty when Barbara testified on the stand that she was grateful to him for telling the FBI how to locate her. He was sentenced to life in prison, which at that time (1968) meant he would be eligible for parole after seven years. Krist served 10 years, then fled to Haiti, where he eventually earned a medical degree at a Caribbean university. He worked as a physician in rural Indiana until his license was revoked. In 2007 he was arrested and sentenced to five years in prison for trafficking cocaine. As for Barbara, she married her college sweetheart, had two children, and prefers not to dwell on the whole kidnapping "thing."

3. A Killer Among Friends

tiffany-300.jpgTHE STORY: Tiffani-Amber Thiessen portrayed Jenny Monroe, the beautiful, perky and perfect daughter of Jean, played by TV movie über-mom Patty Duke. Jenny went off with her best friend Ellen one afternoon and never came home. Her body was found three days later in a creek, face down with a 100 lb. log across her back. Ellen was as heartbroken and enraged as Jean over Jenny's death, and proceeded to not only personally try to track down the killer, but also move into Jenny's old bedroom and wear her clothes and try to take her place (only to make Jean feel better, of course). Three years later, another girl with a heavy conscience contacted the police; she'd been in the woods with Ellen and Jenny and another girl named Carla that day, and the two brutalized Jenny, slapped her, chopped off pieces of her hair and finally drowned her. Their justification was that Jenny had slept with their boyfriends, but it later came out at trial that the overweight and somewhat plain Ellen had long been jealous of Jenny's beauty and popularity and longed to "be" her. Ellen and Carla were convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to 15 years to life in prison.

Picture 61.pngTHE TRUTH: The movie is based on the 1985 murder of Michele "Missy" Avila of Arleta, California, who drove off with her best friend, Karen Severson, and another friend, Laura Doyle, and never returned. Karen had always been overweight, shy and awkward, whereas Missy was petite and outgoing; when the two first met at age eight, they clicked because Karen was lonely and Missy was the only girl in her family and longed for a sister. Over the years, it became obvious to many observers that Karen was deeply jealous of Missy's looks and popularity. No one knew exactly how deep her envy festered, though, until her arrest in 1989. Both Karen and Laura are still in prison as of this writing; Karen Severson was recently diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis and is hoping to get a compassionate release in the near future.

4. When He Didn't Come Home

Picture 111.pngTHE STORY: Patty Duke is once again a concerned mother ("Faye Dolan") who hasn't heard from her 20-something son, Timmy, for several weeks. He worked as an independent contractor and was on the road a lot, but he usually called his mom once a week. She was particularly worried because Tim had recently become engaged to an up-and-coming Yuppie real estate developer ("Carolyn," played by The O.C.'s Kelly Rowan) who had a violent temper. Faye had seen Carolyn punch and slap Timmy during a visit to their apartment. Of course, since Tim was an adult, it took forever for the police to consider him a missing person. Eventually, via a sting operation, Carolyn confessed to a friend that she'd stabbed Tim during an argument. She then hysterically ran to her parents' home and cried for help. Her dad and brother returned to her apartment and found Timmy still breathing. They smothered him, then rolled him in a carpet and carted his body out onto Lake Michigan and threw it overboard.

Picture 71.pngTHE TRUTH: David Richmond of Oviedo, Florida, was the real body rolled in that carpet back in 1992. The TV movie was correct on some facts, and way off base on others. Michele Roger was the object of David's affection, and while the pair lived together, they were never formally engaged. Michele was not a Yuppie entrepreneur; she worked as a topless dancer, which was a bone of contention between her and David. There is no question that Michele used to slap David around (many of his co-workers testified about his black eyes and broken ribs), but Michele's attorney stated that she only struck out in self-defense. Her family did assist in disposing of David's body (in a far more gruesome way than alluded to in the film), and Michele was ultimately found guilty of second degree murder and was sentenced to 17 years in prison. She was granted clemency in 1999 by an outgoing governor on the grounds that she had been a battered woman.

5. Love's Deadly Triangle: The Texas Cadet Murder

Picture 121.pngTHE STORY: Diane Zamora and David Graham (played by Holly Marie Combs and David Lipper) started dating as high school seniors in 1995 and became engaged to get married shortly afterward. The pair were unusually serious and focused for their age; both were in the National Honor Society as well as the Civil Air Patrol, and had military careers mapped out for themselves. Zamora had been accepted into the Naval Academy, while Graham was headed for the Air Force Academy at Colorado Springs after graduation. One evening, after a track meet, David gave his teammate Adrianne Jones a ride home. The two allegedly stopped along the way for a "quickie," and Graham, wracked with guilt afterward, confessed his transgression to Zamora. She insisted that the only way to keep their love "pure" was to kill Adrianne. They made a pact, lured Jones out of her house late at night, and first bludgeoned her then shot her twice in the head. The crime may well have remained unsolved had Zamora not gotten chatty during a dorm room bull session at Annapolis. She bragged to her roommates that her boyfriend had killed for her to prove his love. The roommates, bound by the school's Honor Code, later reported the conversation to the Navy Chaplain, and Zamora and Graham were ultimately arrested.

Picture 131.pngTHE TRUTH: This movie was based on David Graham's typed confession and was filmed before the couple went to trial. Not surprisingly, in the months leading up to their trial, the love bond between them vanished and each blamed the other for both the planning and the execution of the crime. Adrianne Jones' mother asked the prosecution not to pursue the death penalty, as she didn't want two other mothers to lose their children. It was revealed during the trial that David had never had sex with Adrianne; he'd made up the story to make Diane jealous. The two were sentenced to life in prison and each will be eligible for parole in 2036. In 2003 Zamora married (by proxy) a fellow Texas inmate named Steven Mora, whom she'd never met but knew via correspondence. They have since divorced.

So, while I'm in an investigative mood, are there any TV movies you've wondered about in terms of the real-life outcome? Suggestions are welcome "“ you may get your questions answered in a future column!
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John Gooch/Keystone/Getty Images
The Time Douglas Adams Met Jim Henson
John Gooch/Keystone/Getty Images
John Gooch/Keystone/Getty Images

On September 13, 1983, Jim Henson and The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy author Douglas Adams had dinner for the first time. Henson, who was born on this day in 1936, noted the event in his "Red Book" journal, in characteristic short-form style: "Dinner with Douglas Adams – 1st met." Over the next few years the men discussed how they might work together—they shared interests in technology, entertainment, and education, and ended up collaborating on several projects (including a Labyrinth video game). They also came up with the idea for a "Muppet Institute of Technology" project, a computer literacy TV special that was never produced. Henson historians described the project as follows:

Adams had been working with the Henson team that year on the Muppet Institute of Technology project. Collaborating with Digital Productions (the computer animation people), Chris Cerf, Jon Stone, Joe Bailey, Mark Salzman and Douglas Adams, Jim’s goal was to raise awareness about the potential for personal computer use and dispel fears about their complexity. In a one-hour television special, the familiar Muppets would (according to the pitch material), “spark the public’s interest in computing,” in an entertaining fashion, highlighting all sorts of hardware and software being used in special effects, digital animation, and robotics. Viewers would get a tour of the fictional institute – a series of computer-generated rooms manipulated by the dean, Dr. Bunsen Honeydew, and stumble on various characters taking advantage of computers’ capabilities. Fozzie, for example, would be hard at work in the “Department of Artificial Stupidity,” proving that computers are only as funny as the bears that program them. Hinting at what would come in The Jim Henson Hour, viewers, “…might even see Jim Henson himself using an input device called a ‘Waldo’ to manipulate a digitally-controlled puppet.”

While the show was never produced, the development process gave Jim and Douglas Adams a chance to get to know each other and explore a shared passion. It seems fitting that when production started on the 2005 film of Adams’s classic Hitchhiker’s Guide, Jim Henson’s Creature Shop would create animatronic creatures like the slovenly Vogons, the Babel Fish, and Marvin the robot, perhaps a relative of the robot designed by Michael Frith for the MIT project.

You can read a bit on the project more from Muppet Wiki, largely based on the same article.

How Apple's '1984' Super Bowl Ad Was Almost Canceled

More than 30 years ago, Apple defined the Super Bowl commercial as a cultural phenomenon. Prior to Super Bowl XVIII, nobody watched the game "just for the commercials"—but one epic TV spot, directed by sci-fi legend Ridley Scott, changed all that. Read on for the inside story of the commercial that rocked the world of advertising, even though Apple's Board of Directors didn't want to run it at all.


If you haven't seen it, here's a fuzzy YouTube version:

"WHY 1984 WON'T BE LIKE 1984"

The tagline "Why 1984 Won't Be Like '1984'" references George Orwell's 1949 novel 1984, which envisioned a dystopian future, controlled by a televised "Big Brother." The tagline was written by Brent Thomas and Steve Hayden of the ad firm Chiat\Day in 1982, and the pair tried to sell it to various companies (including Apple, for the Apple II computer) but were turned down repeatedly. When Steve Jobs heard the pitch in 1983, he was sold—he saw the Macintosh as a "revolutionary" product, and wanted advertising to match. Jobs saw IBM as Big Brother, and wanted to position Apple as the world's last chance to escape IBM's domination of the personal computer industry. The Mac was scheduled to launch in late January of 1984, a week after the Super Bowl. IBM already held the nickname "Big Blue," so the parallels, at least to Jobs, were too delicious to miss.

Thomas and Hayden wrote up the story of the ad: we see a world of mind-controlled, shuffling men all in gray, staring at a video screen showing the face of Big Brother droning on about "information purification directives." A lone woman clad in vibrant red shorts and a white tank-top (bearing a Mac logo) runs from riot police, dashing up an aisle towards Big Brother. Just before being snatched by the police, she flings a sledgehammer at Big Brother's screen, smashing him just after he intones "We shall prevail!" Big Brother's destruction frees the minds of the throng, who quite literally see the light, flooding their faces now that the screen is gone. A mere eight seconds before the one-minute ad concludes, a narrator briefly mentions the word "Macintosh," in a restatement of that original tagline: "On January 24th, Apple Computer will introduce Macintosh. And you'll see why 1984 won't be like '1984.'" An Apple logo is shown, and then we're out—back to the game.

In 1983, in a presentation about the Mac, Jobs introduced the ad to a cheering audience of Apple employees:

"... It is now 1984. It appears IBM wants it all. Apple is perceived to be the only hope to offer IBM a run for its money. Dealers, initially welcoming IBM with open arms, now fear an IBM-dominated and -controlled future. They are increasingly turning back to Apple as the only force that can ensure their future freedom. IBM wants it all and is aiming its guns on its last obstacle to industry control: Apple. Will Big Blue dominate the entire computer industry? The entire information age? Was George Orwell right about 1984?"

After seeing the ad for the first time, the Apple audience totally freaked out (jump to about the 5-minute mark to witness the riotous cheering).


Chiat\Day hired Ridley Scott, whose 1982 sci-fi film Blade Runner had the dystopian tone they were looking for (and Alien wasn't so bad either). Scott filmed the ad in London, using actual skinheads playing the mute bald men—they were paid $125 a day to sit and stare at Big Brother; those who still had hair were paid to shave their heads for the shoot. Anya Major, a discus thrower and actress, was cast as the woman with the sledgehammer largely because she was actually capable of wielding the thing.

Mac programmer Andy Hertzfeld wrote an Apple II program "to flash impressive looking numbers and graphs on [Big Brother's] screen," but it's unclear whether his program was used for the final film. The ad cost a shocking $900,000 to film, plus Apple booked two premium slots during the Super Bowl to air it—carrying an airtime cost of more than $1 million.


Although Jobs and his marketing team (plus the assembled throng at his 1983 internal presentation) loved the ad, Apple's Board of Directors hated it. After seeing the ad for the first time, board member Mike Markkula suggested that Chiat\Day be fired, and the remainder of the board were similarly unimpressed. Then-CEO John Sculley recalled the reaction after the ad was screened for the group: "The others just looked at each other, dazed expressions on their faces ... Most of them felt it was the worst commercial they had ever seen. Not a single outside board member liked it." Sculley instructed Chiat\Day to sell off the Super Bowl airtime they had purchased, but Chiat\Day principal Jay Chiat quietly resisted. Chiat had purchased two slots—a 60-second slot in the third quarter to show the full ad, plus a 30-second slot later on to repeat an edited-down version. Chiat sold only the 30-second slot and claimed it was too late to sell the longer one. By disobeying his client's instructions, Chiat cemented Apple's place in advertising history.

When Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak heard that the ad was in trouble, he offered to pony up half the airtime costs himself, saying, "I asked how much it was going to cost, and [Steve Jobs] told me $800,000. I said, 'Well, I'll pay half of it if you will.' I figured it was a problem with the company justifying the expenditure. I thought an ad that was so great a piece of science fiction should have its chance to be seen."

But Woz didn't have to shell out the money; the executive team finally decided to run a 100-day advertising extravaganza for the Mac's launch, starting with the Super Bowl ad—after all, they had already paid to shoot it and were stuck with the airtime.

1984 - Big Brother


When the ad aired, controversy erupted—viewers either loved or hated the ad, and it spurred a wave of media coverage that involved news shows replaying the ad as part of covering it, leading to estimates of an additional $5 million in "free" airtime for the ad. All three national networks, plus countless local markets, ran news stories about the ad. "1984" become a cultural event, and served as a blueprint for future Apple product launches. The marketing logic was brilliantly simple: create an ad campaign that sparked controversy (for example, by insinuating that IBM was like Big Brother), and the media will cover your launch for free, amplifying the message.

The full ad famously ran once during the Super Bowl XVIII (on January 22, 1984), but it also ran the month prior—on December 31, 1983, TV station operator Tom Frank ran the ad on KMVT at the last possible time slot before midnight, in order to qualify for 1983's advertising awards.* (Any awards the ad won would mean more media coverage.) Apple paid to screen the ad in movie theaters before movie trailers, further heightening anticipation for the Mac launch. In addition to all that, the 30-second version was aired across the country after its debut on the Super Bowl.

Chiat\Day adman Steve Hayden recalled: "We ran a 30- second version of '1984' in the top 10 U.S. markets, plus, in an admittedly childish move, in an 11th market—Boca Raton, Florida, headquarters for IBM's PC division." Mac team member Andy Hertzfeld ended his remembrance of the ad by saying:

"A week after the Macintosh launch, Apple held its January board meeting. The Macintosh executive staff was invited to attend, not knowing what to expect. When the Mac people entered the room, everyone on the board rose and gave them a standing ovation, acknowledging that they were wrong about the commercial and congratulating the team for pulling off a fantastic launch.

Chiat\Day wanted the commercial to qualify for upcoming advertising awards, so they ran it once at 1 AM at a small television station in Twin Falls, Idaho, KMVT, on December 15, 1983 [incorrect; see below for an update on this -ed]. And sure enough it won just about every possible award, including best commercial of the decade. Twenty years later it's considered one of the most memorable television commercials ever made."


A year later, Apple again employed Chiat\Day to make a blockbuster ad for their Macintosh Office product line, which was basically a file server, networking gear, and a laser printer. Directed by Ridley Scott's brother Tony, the new ad was called "Lemmings," and featured blindfolded businesspeople whistling an out-of-tune version of Snow White's "Heigh-Ho" as they followed each other off a cliff (referencing the myth of lemming suicide).

Jobs and Sculley didn't like the ad, but Chiat\Day convinced them to run it, pointing out that the board hadn't liked the last ad either. But unlike the rousing, empowering message of the "1984" ad, "Lemmings" directly insulted business customers who had already bought IBM computers. It was also weirdly boring—when it was aired at the Super Bowl (with Jobs and Sculley in attendance), nobody really reacted. The ad was a flop, and Apple even proposed running a printed apology in The Wall Street Journal. Jay Chiat shot back, saying that if Apple apologized, Chiat would buy an ad on the next page, apologizing for the apology. It was a mess:


In 2004, the ad was updated for the launch of the iPod. The only change was that the woman with the hammer was now listening to an iPod, which remained clipped to her belt as she ran. You can watch that version too:


Chiat\Day adman Lee Clow gave an interview about the ad, covering some of this material.

Check out Mac team member Andy Hertzfeld's excellent first-person account of the ad. A similar account (but with more from Jobs's point of view) can found in the Steve Jobs biography, and an even more in-depth account is in The Mac Bathroom Reader. The Mac Bathroom Reader is out of print; you can read an excerpt online, including QuickTime movies of the two versions of the ad, plus a behind-the-scenes video. Finally, you might enjoy this 2004 USA Today article about the ad, pointing out that ads for other computers (including Atari, Radio Shack, and IBM's new PCjr) also ran during that Super Bowl.

* = A Note on the Airing in 1983

Update: Thanks to Tom Frank for writing in to correct my earlier mis-statement about the first air date of this commercial. As you can see in his comment below, Hertzfeld's comments above (and the dates cited in other accounts I've seen) are incorrect. Stay tuned for an upcoming interview with Frank, in which we discuss what it was like running both "1984" and "Lemmings" before they were on the Super Bowl!

Update 2: You can read the story behind this post in Chris's book The Blogger Abides.

This post originally appeared in 2012.


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