Mysteries on the Small Screen: EVIL GENIUS


Title: Evil Genius

First aired: May 11, 2018

Where you can watch it: Netflix

Although Alice Bolin recently (and perhaps rightfully!) advised women against consuming true crime to benefit our mental health, that hasn’t stopped me from consuming every true crime narrative I can. My latest wallow took place over Memorial Day weekend, when I wolfed down Evil Genius in one wretched gulp. I was hooked from the moment it began with floridly eccentric prison inmate Marjorie Diehl-Armstrong ranting from a Pennsylvania penitentiary, then gasped along with the raw footage of pizza-delivery driver Brian Wells robbing an Erie bank, a bomb strapped to his chest, carrying a gun that resembled a cane. When police caught him shortly thereafter and bade him to kneel on the ground, I had no idea what would happen next. (Hey, I wasn’t watching so much television in 2003.) Was that a real bomb? Had he strapped it to his own chest? Was he lying about someone forcing him to rob the bank? When that bomb went off and killed him, I wrote off the next several hours of my life—and I’m pretty sure I screamed.

Don’t be distracted by Netflix’s history of prestige true crime series like Wormwood and Wild, Wild Country: Evil Genius is like a four-hour long episode of Dateline in the best way possible. In addition to Marjorie, you’ll meet her exes—even some that she killed—including Bill Rothstein, the ne’er-do-well scion of a local manufacturer who may or may not have played a part in Wells’s demise. In fact, you’ll meet all manner of weirdos: prisoners, prostitutes, and an unforgettable drug dealer known as Cocaine Ken. You’ll have no choice but to white-knuckle your way through four addictive hours of creepy people devising half-cocked, diabolical schemes. Evil Genius will leave you with many unanswered questions—most pressingly, how so many extreme hoarders might go about finding one another—but that shouldn’t stop you from wallowing in it.

Once you’ve left Eerie’s underbelly behind, spend some time with the diabolical freaks featured in the following titles, linked to their Booklist reviews when available.


Geek Love, by Katherine Dunn

This modern classic stars a family of actual circus freaks lead to ruin by brother Aqua Boy, so named for his flipper-like appendages.


Ill Will, by Dan Chaon

The unfortunates in this novel are plagued by the specter of a murderin’ Satanist—and it’s not who you think. Freaky!


Manson: The Life and Times of Charles Manson, by Jeff Guinn

Is there anyone freakier than Charles Manson or his murderous followers? That’s a hard no.


The Night Ocean, by Paul La Farge

Horror writer H. P. Lovecraft was a super freak (yeow!), but hardly the most diabolical or quixotic character in this unsettling, ridiculously funny novel.





About the Author:

Eugenia Williamson is the former Associate Editor of Digital Products at Booklist.

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