I previously wrote Twelve Real Stories Begging for Movie Treatment. One of those stories, the Essex disaster, came to the big screen as In the Heart of the Sea, and another, the story of Richard Jewell, is still in development with Jonah Hill, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Clint Eastwood reportedly attached.
The old saying goes, “Truth is stranger than fiction,” and I think that is almost always the case. So here’s another list of 9 more true stories that should be movies.
The Jacob Wetterling Abduction
If you’re not from the upper-midwest, you may not be familiar with Jacob Wetterling. Jacob was abducted by a stranger on October 22nd, 1989 while riding bike with friends near his home in St. Joseph, Minnesota. Only eleven years old, Jacob has never been seen since. The case has been the subject of an ongoing investigation ever since, and despite years of little progress, Jacob’s disappearance is again in the news due to a series of developments.
A Minnesota blogger raised awareness about a series of sexual assaults on young boys in the nearby town of Paynesville, Minnesota. A victim of another sexual assault, perpetrated in similar manner, has come forward to tell his story. DNA recovered from that victim’s clothing matched the genetic profile of a predator who just so happened to live in Paynesville at the time of the other sexual assaults. Police used the DNA to execute a search warrant on the predator’s home and found an extensive collection of child porn and surreptitiously taped videos of young boys doing everyday activities. One videotape contained a news report about the disappearance of Jacob Wetterling. The suspect, Danny Heinrich, is behind bars at the moment, and the police have named him as a person of interest but have yet to connect him to the Wetterling abduction with concrete evidence. Perhaps the only thing keeping this story from motion picture treatment is a conclusive ending.
Update: The Jacob Wetterling disappearance met resolution with Danny Heinrich’s confession in 2016.
Philip Taylor Kramer
Philip Kramer’s preferred nickname was “Taylor.” He was a rock musician, a replacement bassist, who joined original Iron Butterfly members Ron Bushy and Erik Brann in a reformed version of the group in 1974. But he was also a genius.
After the rock lifestyle had faded, Kramer got a degree in aerospace engineering and worked on advanced projects including the MX missile guidance system for the Department of Defense, fractal compression, and facial recognition. He founded his own video compression company, and in the years before his death, claimed to be on the verge of developing a method of superluminal transmission–the ability to transmit data faster than the speed of light.
On February 12th, 1995, Kramer disappeared. He drove to LAX to pick up an investor, spent 45 minutes at the airport, but never met the investor. Instead, he left, made a series of ominous phone calls, and disappeared. Kramer’s behavior had been increasingly erratic in the months and years leading up to his disappearance, and there were those who thought he was mentally ill. His family reported he had been working around the clock and hadn’t slept in nearly two weeks at the time of his disappearance.
For four years, theories ran wild about the whereabouts of Kramer. Some thought he had been abducted by foreign agents who wanted access to his technological knowledge and others thought he had been silenced by the US Government, but on May 29th, 1999, Kramer’s skeletal remains were found, still in his Ford Aerostar minivan, at the bottom Decker Canyon in Los Angeles. Police believe he committed suicide.
A fictionalized thriller of conspiratorial intrigue, or a drama about the tragedy of mental illness? Either way, Taylor’s life story spans the colorful world of rock music and high technology and would make a good motion picture.
It was the most apocalyptic disaster of modern times–a triple catastrophe. In 2011, one of the most powerful earthquakes ever recorded spawned the largest tsunami ever caught on film which washed ashore in Japan and killed twenty thousand people and caused three partial nuclear meltdowns. The disaster wiped entire towns off the map and left behind a nuclear exclusion zone forty kilometers across.
The potential for movie drama is plentiful, not only due to the human cost of the tragedy. Japanese politicians were toppled for their failure to heed the warnings of those who said there was a danger from earthquake and tsunami at the nuclear plant, and even after the disaster, energy industry apologists tried to minimize the impact. The health effects on volunteers who fought to cool the melting reactors in the days after the disaster are still not widely known. If there isn’t already a Fukushima movie in the making, it’s time.
War of the Currents
The story of an alliance-turned-acrimony between Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison has been told in short by a number of projects, including the History Channel miniseries “The Men Who Built America.” Tesla’s concept for alternating current at the dawn of the electrical age was far superior to Edison’s desire for a DC electrical grid. The only problem–Edison was Tesla’s boss. After a falling-out in which Edison refused to pay Tesla for his work, the Austrian inventor formed an alliance with an Edison rival, Westinghouse Corporation, and the War of the Currents began. Edison even went so far as to electrocute an elephant with AC in an effort to scare people away from Tesla’s alternating current system.
Thomas Edison is remembered today as one of the greatest American inventors while Nikola Tesla died alone in a hotel room, impoverished and in debt, in 1943. Two days after his death, in the heat of WWII hysteria, the FBI ordered the Alien Property Custodian to seize Tesla’s belongings despite his status as an American citizen. On January 12th, 1943, two thousand people showed their respect for Tesla at a state funeral held at the Cathedral for Saint John the Divine.
A major motion picture about the War of the Currents, set against the backdrop of a moment in history when we evolved from a civilization of lamps and candles to a society of electric light (perhaps featuring the moment when they first flipped the switch and illuminated the Chicago World’s Fair), would be incredible.
Carroll Mooneyhan’s 9/11 Conspiracy
You’ve heard the stories and conspiracy theories about 9/11 — the Let’s Roll story, miraculous escapes from the towers, and a multitude of stories about thermite in the WTC and cruise missiles at the Pentagon, but have you heard the story about an alleged assassination attempt on President George W. Bush that morning, a story spawned by a claim from one Florida resident named Carroll Mooneyhan?
On September 9th, 2001, two days before the 9/11 attacks in the United States, Al Qaeda assassinated Ahmad Shah Massoud, the leader of the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan. The assassins posed as a TV camera crew and killed Massoud when a bomb hidden in the camera (and another disguised as a battery belt) were detonated. Analysts believe his assassination was a pre-emptive strike on an American ally.
On September 26th, 2001, two weeks after the 9/11 attacks, the Longboat Observer, a small paper out of Longboat Key, Florida, published a story about a strange event on the morning of 9/11. President Bush was in Sarasota that morning, (you’ve likely seen the footage of him reading to school children when he was informed of the attacks) and his accommodations were at the Colony Beach Resort on Longboat Key. The Longboat Observer story, written by a reporter named Shay Sullivan, details the story like this:
At about 6 a.m. Sept. 11, Longboat Key Fire Marshall Carroll Mooneyhan was at the front desk of the Colony Beach & Tennis Resort as Bush prepared for his morning jog. From that vantage point, Mooneyhan overheard a strange exchange between a Colony receptionist and security guard.
A van occupied by men of Middle Eastern descent had pulled up to the Colony stating they had a “poolside” interview with the president, Mooneyhan said. The self-proclaimed reporters then asked for a Secret Service agent by name. Guards from security relayed the request to the receptionist, who had not heard of either the agent or plans for an interview, Mooneyhan said.
The receptionist gave the phone over to a nearby Secret Service agent, who said the same thing — no one knew of an agent by that name or of any poolside interview. The agent told the occupants of the van to contact the president’s public relations office in Washington, D. C., and turned them away from the premises, Mooneyhan said.
In light of the attacks, Mooneyhan wonders if what he witnessed is related to the events of Sept. 11.
If Mooneyhan’s story is true and accurate, it means there may have been an assassination attempt on President George W. Bush on the morning of 9/11, in a manner very similar to that of the Massoud assassination weeks earlier, by conspirators who have never been apprehended. Mooneyhan would later give an unconvincing denial to the St. Petersburgh Times, though, claiming he never told the Longboat Observer what they reported:
Were the men on Longboat Key planning to kill Bush in similar fashion? The problem with this theory is that Mooneyhan denies he ever told the Observer about any men in a van seeking an interview.
“How did they get that information from me if I didn’t know it?” Mooneyhan asks.
Shay Sullivan and the Longboat Observer have steadfastly stood by their story for years. In the era of downright loony conspiracy theories, this one could be good material for motion picture treatment.
The Uranium Thief
David Dale was reportedly an easily annoyed man with a spendthrift girlfriend who liked the high life, a lifestyle he could not afford. In January of 1979, Dale took advantage of his job, working for a subcontractor at the Wilmington, North Carolina General Electric plant, and stole 150 pounds of uranium. Three days later, Dale wrote an extortion letter and sent it to the plant manager. In it, he enclosed a tiny vial of uranium, and threatened to send similar vials to every anti-nuclear activist organization around the country, to arouse the no-nukes movement and have the plant shut down, unless he was paid $100,000. He was captured a few days later, convicted, and sentenced to fifteen years in prison.
It has been suggested the Coen Brothers should make this movie, in the same vein as Fargo–a bumbling first time criminal tries to pull off the perfect crime. Sounds good to me. Judging from the dead-ringer newspaper photo, I’d say this is Brad Pitt’s perfect role, too.
Six Grams or Less
How did Subway, once one of America’s leading fast food chains, fall so far? From a sandwich shop popular with health food junkies to a reviled establishment with questionable cleanliness and marketing practices. The story follows the same arc as their disgraced pitchman, Jared Fogle, who began as a weight loss darling but bottomed-out when he was sentenced in November 2015 to nearly sixteen years in prison for child pornography and sex crimes.
The leader of the Jared Foundation gathered many millions of dollars in donations in a supposed effort to combat childhood obesity, but the Huffington Post reported in 2015 that not a single grant was ever given out. The charity’s director, Russell Taylor, was arrested on charges of child exploitation, possession of child pornography and voyeurism.
It would take a studio with a real set of stones to brave the litigious thunderdome and make a movie out of this.
The Downfall of Picher, Oklahoma
Picher, Oklahoma is a just a few residents away from being a total ghost town. The lead and zinc mining industry left this place as an America exclusion zone, with polluted water, piles of toxic waste the size of mountains, and a city so undermined that the whole area is susceptible to collapse into giant underground caverns. Interestingly, politically motivated naysayers still defend the mining industry’s actions in Picher to this day.
In 2008, a tornado hit the already vanishing town and drove out most of the remaining residents. Just a few stragglers remain living in the Picher area, and the nearby town of Cardin, Oklahoma is just as bad. A movie in the bleak, industrial tone of Norma Rae or North Country is easy to imagine.
The Girl in the Closet
Imagine for a moment that you start to notice food disappearing and items moving around, seemingly on their own, in the home where you live, alone.
That’s exactly what happened to one Japanese man. To investigate, he installed motion-sensing security cameras in his home which would send video to his phone. One day after he left for work, he got an alert and watched on his phone as an emaciated woman prowled around inside his home. Believing he had caught a burglar, he called police, but when they arrived at his house, they were puzzled to find all the doors and windows locked, just as the man had left them when he went to work. Once inside, they found the woman hiding, curled up in a tiny space in the top of his closet. The locked doors and windows were explained when they discovered she had been living in his house for a year and he had been totally unaware.
It’s somewhat surprising that this story hasn’t been incorporated into a modern horror movie yet.
What have I forgotten? Is there a true story you’d like to see made into a major motion picture? Please leave a comment.