Cable News Network’s new “Crimes of the Century” program on Sunday nights is off to a strong start. Last night’s show on the December 1980 murder of John Lennon was excellent, providing information beyond that of just rehashing news reports that immediately followed the event.
The same could be said for the first episode, based on the Beltway sniper shootings that terrorized the D.C. area in 2002. It debuted June 23 and was re-run after the Lennon episode last evening.
In both reports I learned things I had not heard before. That doesn’t necessarily mean it had not been reported, but it was fresh information for me as I watched.
Granted, a program put together years later has the advantage of having the perspective of gathering the best information of all that was reported at the time the event occurred, but so far the network has done a nice job.
In the case of Mark David Chapman’s slaying of the Beatles co-founder, the videotape of the 1980 interview of WABC-TV news producer Alan J. Weiss, who was in the Roosevelt Hospital emergency room waiting to be treated for injuries from a motorcycle accident when Lennon was brought in, was interesting enough. But mixing it in with a fresh interview with the same man, 33 years later, is compelling television.
I was among the millions of Americans who learned of Lennon’s death when ABC sports commentator Howard Cosell interrupted the network’s halftime coverage of the Monday Night Football broadcast that night. But I didn’t know until Sunday night that it was Weiss, that WABC-TV producer, who had tipped off his station. Personnel there, in turn, had passed it on to the national network, which broke it via Cosell’s chilling announcement.
The Beltway niper case is only 11 years old, so I still recall the terror that people in the Washington area were experiencing as the number of shootings southern Maryland-northern Virginia grew. I have good friends who then lived in Fredericksburg, Va., (where one of the shootings occurred), and one of them told me that the fear at the time was palpable.
If I knew then that John Allen Muhammad, the mastermind in the shootings, had been interviewed as a witness at the scene of the sixth shooting, I had forgotten it. And the fact he and accomplice Lee Boyd Malvo had passed through an area police roadblock in the specially-fitted 1979 Chevrolet Caprice that they used as their shooting site was fresh to me, too. Yes, it may have been common knowledge at one time, but if so, it had slipped my mind.
The next episode is scheduled for July 14. It’s a look at Andrea Yates’ 2001 bathtub drownings of her five children near Houston. Yates was convicted of the murders in 2002 and sentenced to life imprisonment with possibility of parole, but that verdict was overturned in 2005. The nxt year, she was found not guilty by reason of insanity and committed to the North Texas State Hospital-Vernon Campus. In 2007, she was moved to a state mental hospital in Kerrville, Texas, that has a lower level of security.