“Once a thing is set to happen, all you can do is hope it won’t. Or will—depending. As long as you live, there’s always something waiting, and even if it’s bad, and you know it’s bad, what can you do? You can’t stop living.”
So said murderer Perry Smith in Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, the pioneering 1966 nonfiction novel chronicling the brutal slaying of four members of the Clutter family in rural Kansas in 1959. Desperate for cash and chasing a rumor about a safe containing $10,000, Smith and his accomplice Richard Hickock broke into the family’s farmhouse in the small town of Holcomb, tying up 48-year-old Herbert Clutter, 45-year-old Bonnie Clutter, 16-year-old Nancy Clutter, and 15-year-old Kenyon Clutter before killing all four with shotgun blasts to their heads. The safe didn’t exist; the pair fled into the night with less than $50.
America was built on violence, and yet the murders still captivated the country in a way that few had before (and many have since). Smith and Hickock were eventually caught in Las Vegas (where else?) after a six-week manhunt, tried and convicted, and executed in 1965. That could’ve been the end of it—but a year later Capote finally published In Cold Blood, and America got its first big taste of reliving a brutal crime through exquisite storytelling, exhaustive reporting and the societal introspection that such a monstrous act can provoke. The question of why In Cold Blood became a classic is pretty easy to answer: There’d never been anything like it before. The question of why, over half a century later, we’re more obsessed with true crime than ever is a much thornier one.
That captivation has been the subject of countless think pieces and a number of academic studies, all of which circle around the same explanations. We’re obsessed with evil because we want to know how to protect ourselves from it. We’re fascinated by how different people’s lives can turn out from our own. We’re processing our own traumas by diving into how bad things happen to others. All true in some form, but I think Smith’s quote up there sums it up, even if he was talking about his own miserable life, and not necessarily how readers and viewers might be pouring over crimes like his in perpetuity. To be alive is to know without a doubt that there are monsters waiting for us along the way. But we can’t stop the ride—so what can we do but equip ourselves to deal with them?
With that, let’s get to the cars. Despite the fact that they’re omnipresent in the modern world, objects of extreme passion and desire and value, cars are often bit players in these stories—see OJ’s Bronco, or Ted Bundy’s Beetle, or Suge Knight’s BMW—vehicles for murder or transit or escape. Outside a few tentpole sagas like the downfall of John Z. DeLorean, there haven’t been nearly as many efforts to interrogate car culture and surface the kinds of automotive crime stories that have become fodder for so many podcasts and Netflix docuseries.
In partnership with our sister site, MEL Magazine, that’s what we’re here to fix. This is Cars & Crime Week, a series of 10 pieces between our two sites that will explore those stories through the lens of cars and show that true crime isn’t all serial killers and senseless murders (mostly). We’ll be diving into the tow truck mafia currently operating in Canadian cities, attacking rival companies and burning trucks in a redux of the Five Families turf wars in 1930s New York. We’ll be exploring just why people believe that Lotus founder Colin Chapman faked his death in 1982 and fled to South America to escape his legal problems. And we’ll be talking to one of the most successful jewel thieves in America about how he picked his getaway cars.
Below you’ll find a full rundown of the week’s stories running each day on both The Drive and MEL, and we’ll fill in the links as they’re published.
Monday, March 21
- Why Some People Think Lotus Founder Colin Chapman Faked His Death (The Drive)
- Truck-Driving Serial Killers and the Deadly Freeways They Hunt (MEL)
Tuesday, March 22
- Larry Lawton is a convicted but now-reformed jewel thief, perhaps one of the most prolific there ever was. He talks us through some of his heists and what he thinks today’s best getaway car is (it’s probably not what you think). (The Drive)
- You all know that vault chase scene from Fast Five. We give you the oral history of it. (MEL)
Wednesday, March 23
- Organized crime doesn’t always concern drugs. Canada’s Ontario province is home to a violent tow-truck mafia scene that’s resulted in unlawful tows, firebombs, and even murders. (The Drive)
- It’s probably crossed everyone’s minds when test driving a car: “What if I just drove off with this right now?” But one thief did just that—and in a Ferrari. (MEL)
Thursday, March 24
- At the 2004 Monaco Grand Prix, the Jaguar Formula 1 team raced with literal diamonds embedded in the nosecones of their cars as a PR stunt. It was all going fine until one of the cars crashed and its diamond was never recovered. (The Drive)
- Activist Judith Clark served as the getaway driver during the Black Liberation Army’s infamous Brinks’ robbery in 1981. She was arrested, charged, and incarcerated. She was released in May of 2019 and because not many people know her story, we’re here to tell it. (MEL)
Friday, March 25
- Professional racecar driver Randy Lanier was arrested and convinced for marijuana smuggling in the ’80s. He was sentenced to life without parole but was released in October 2014. We catch up with Lanier to see what he’s been up to since then and his thoughts about the legalization of weed. (The Drive)
- The mysterious “Route 91 Bandit” has robbed 11 banks in New England since September, and while the FBI continues to look for its suspect, a number of online sleuths are also on the case. (MEL)
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