Stream It Or Skip It?
Web Of Death is an ABC News docuseries that takes a look at different murder cases that were solved with the help of online sleuths. Whether the cases are current, or they’re cold cases, the docuseries talks to people who used crowdsourcing, online DNA databases, and other methods to gather the evidence needed to solve some pretty heinous crimes.
Opening Shot: Tricia Griffith, owner of the true crime message board Websleuths, drives around the Dallas area.
The Gist: The first episode features Griffith and the users of Websleuths, who took interest in the disappearance of Abraham Shakespeare, a Florida man who won a $30 million state lottery jackpot in 2006, and was reported missing in November, 2009. Shakespeare, like many people in the Lakeland, Florida area, barely scraped by, not helped by the fact that he dropped out of school after 6th grade in order to help his family stay afloat.
But he was a good-hearted man, and that was apparent after he won the lottery, with a ticket that he bought with a dollar he borrowed from a co-worker. He helped family members, friends, and others who came to him. But that generosity led to a constant stream of people with their hands out, leaving Shakespeare disillusioned.
After his disappearance, which wasn’t reported until months after his last known contact, the Polk County Sheriff’s Office detectives came to a dead end. But the Websleuths picked things up, digging up documentation that showed Dee Dee Moore, who claimed she was helping Shakespeare with financial planning, had bought Shakespeare’s home and brought other assets of his into her corporation.
As the online detectives press, the Polk County detective who led the case joined the message board, impressed with their progress. Then things just get crazy, but their work eventually led to law enforcement finding Shakespeare’s body and getting Moore convicted for his murder.
What Shows Will It Remind You Of? The anthology format of Web Of Death is like another recent ABC News docuseries, Death In The Dorms.
Our Take: What we were a bit wary of seeing when we sat down to watch Web Of Death was how the producers of the docuseries were going to regard the online sleuths that basically investigate murders in their spare time. Yes, these people are a bit obsessed with true crime, and we see bits here and there at how the people who are doing this online sleuthing sometimes do so at the sacrifice of time with their families.
But the producers of Web Of Death treat these people with some reverence, given the fact that they actually crack cases open. In fact, we were quite impressed with the information that the Websleuths members were able to come up with to tie Dee Dee Moore to Shakespeare’s murder. And as the producers note, Moore was the type of person who had an answer for every question or accusation thrown her way and had a great ability to deflect and redirect. The fact that the Websleuths members stayed on her and were relentless shows how good at this they truly were.
Nothing about the episode stands out style-wise; it’s a pretty straightforward episode of a true crime docuseries, but the theme of this series has the potential to show viewers just what’s possible when people who are determined to get to the truth are able to accomplish things that law enforcement can’t, either because of a lack of manpower, procedural entanglements or both.
Sex and Skin: None.
Parting Shot: Antoinette Andrews, Shakespeare’s former girlfriend and the father of his now-adult son (and a lottery winner herself!) talks about how she still misses the energy Shakespeare brought to their relationship and to his relationship with her son.
Sleeper Star: Griffith has a wicked sense of humor, and a cool part-time gig: She does voice overs for telephone menu systems. She also encountered Ted Bundy in the ’70s in Salt Lake City and somehow managed to live to tell the tale.
Most Pilot-y Line: When Moore herself got on the Websleuths message board to respond to all the speculation about here, Griffith said, “That stirred things up, you might say.” That was probably the biggest understatement of the whole episode.
Our Call: STREAM IT. Web Of Death doesn’t treat the online detectives at the series’ core as anything but the smart, resourceful group they are. That focus makes the series a heck of a lot more interesting to watch.
Joel Keller (@joelkeller) writes about food, entertainment, parenting and tech, but he doesn’t kid himself: he’s a TV junkie. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, Slate, Salon, RollingStone.com, VanityFair.com, Fast Company and elsewhere.
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