Documentary, True Crime

#Netflix: “The Staircase” & the Peterson Name

With a variety of different spellings, a number of Petersons (all unrelated to one another) have been in the news for murder charges. Some people think the sketchiest Peterson (my opinion), Scott, is innocent or not guilty of killing his pregnant wife Laci and have posed alternate theories. There may be some reasonable doubt in that case, but because of all the lies Scott told, I have a problem believing him when he says he’s innocent. My friend Jennifer Lewin Yates was consulted for her psychic prowess on the Reality Life with Kate Casey podcast and she feels strongly that Scott should be absolved of the murder, that Lacy met her fate independently of him.

There’s been little to no question about Drew and the evil attached to his name. He married several much younger women and when his fourth wife Stacy mysteriously disappeared and was never found, it was after his third wife had met a sinister demise. There’s nothing “sketchy” about him – it’s blatant. He went on to be charged with soliciting a hit man in an attempted murder-for-hire of Will County State’s Attorney James Glasgow.

The one Peterson who is not in prison now is featured on the very popular series The Staircase, now available on Netflix. He is American Novelist Michael Peterson who discovered his wife Kathleen at the bottom of their staircase bloody, after a fatal fall. However, there might have been more than simply a fall as her injuries included a “fracture of the thyroid neck cartilage and seven lacerations to the top and back of her head.” (Wikipedia)

As with Scott Peterson, so much was made about Michael Peterson’s double life, specifically the fact that he was bisexual and emails discovered on his computer that were written to a male escort. Michael claimed that Kathleen knew he was bisexual, that they loved each other and had an idyllic marriage despite that, and only discussed his sexual proclivities “obliquely” and infrequently.

Friends who were interviewed described their marriage as appearing to be the perfect one, that they never fought (a claim that would arouse my own suspicions. Arguing – here and there – with one’s spouse has always been the norm to me) and seemed like the couple every other couple wanted to be. The “secret” of Michael’s bisexuality was as much on trial as the man himself. Kathleen’s sisters and daughter from her first marriage turned on the once beloved Michael. I should refrain from spoiling every last detail of the documentary, but let’s just say I began to have my doubts about whether Michael was guilty or not. He’s a very charming, seemingly benign older man (74 today) whose children, save for that one stepdaughter, adore him. There’s something endearing about this intellectual, who I think some viewers will deem cocky, and after serving eight years in prison that severely aged him, I don’t personally see him as a danger to society.

Kathleen’s sisters and daughter are understandably livid that an initial “life in prison” sentence didn’t stick. However, after hearing about evidence tampering and incorrect statements regarding the alleged murder weapon (a blow poke to the head), I am left with reasonable doubt.

There is so much detail to this case and generally, a ton more involved than I described above. It is very likely that the producers of this film manipulated viewers by showing Michael with his children and grandchildren as the doting, elder, grieving family man. And then later: the doting, elder, grieving family man severely broken down by his eight year prison stint. Because of how the prosecution and it’s witnesses botched the presentation of evidence, it’s hard to argue against reasonable doubt and whether Michael is or isn’t where he should be now.

This is the type of post in which I’d love to see readers weigh in. If you’ve seen The Staircase or are all caught up on the Michael Peterson case, please share your thoughts in the comments.

I’m also curious to know if there’s any other surname in history that has sparked as much attention as the Peterson name has within the arena of True Crime.

(Photo credit: Netflix)

Moms, Television

#Netflix: Grace & Frankie’s June Diane Raphael Is Just As Amazing Off-Screen: An Interview

(I originally wrote this article for Huffington Post.)

I recently interviewed Peter Cambor of Showtime’s Roadies who also plays Barry, boyfriend of Brianna on Netflix’s hit series Grace & Frankie. While chatting with Cambor’s publicist, I casually mentioned that I am also a big fan of June Diane Raphael who plays Brianna on G&F.

At the time, I considered my admission terribly geeky and was not expecting what I heard in response: “Would you like to interview her?” Uh, hells yeah!

The hilarious Raphael is not only on my radar screen for Grace & Frankie where she shines alongside Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, Martin Sheen and Sam Waterston, but since I began my foray into the wonderful world of podcasts, I have listened to her as a guest (Bitch Sesh and Ronna & Beverly) and a co-host with her husband, comedian Paul Scheer (How Did this Get Made?). I have also seen her play a realtor on Netflix’s quirky comedy series Lady Dynamite and have caught up retroactively on earlier work she produced with co-writer and best friend, comedian Casey Wilson (the movie Ass Backwards).

Sometimes when you speak with someone you admire, it’s a let-down – like that certain 90s actor who blew ringlets of smoke in my face and asked me to go on some more about how I liked his work. However, chatting with Raphael was everything I had hoped for and more. She started off our phone conversation by saying she has a “dear friend named Shira Weiss” (sister in law to Casey Wilson who also guested on a Bitch Sesh episode) so it had been funny to see my name in the emails preceding our interview. Instantly, she felt like a “friend in my head” (to quote Wendy Williams) with her endearingly warm tone, humility and the way you could tell she really listens when you talk.

An extremely busy mom to an almost 2 year old with another child on the way, she is currently filming season 3 of Grace & Frankie and spends a lot of time writing comedy when not filming, so we spoke early in the morning for 20 minutes.

SW: I came to know you through Grace & Frankie but as a Bitch Sesh fan, I went & caught up on your prior work, particularly with Casey Wilson. How has being on such a hit show with Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin changed your

day-to-day and your fame?

JDR: There’s a misconception that actors and writers in the alternative comedy scene want to avoid the more mainstream. It’s not true for me. I pursued it, but this is the first thing that I’m in that really became a hit in this way. I have to say it’s nice to alternate between different types of comedy. I’ve always felt so supported by the comedy fan community who has been with me since the early days, really smart people who will follow you to the ends of the earth. They have been amazing with feedback and with recommending my work to others who wouldn’t necessarily find it. People who follow more mainstream comedy will say “Who is she and where did she pop up from?” but I’ve actually been doing this for a while so it’s really nice and flattering to be newly discovered by these people who knew nothing about me. Overall, I don’t feel any different. More opportunities are coming my way. More people have seen G&F who are just now seeking out old work I did. As far as ‘fame,’ I can still walk down the street with a lot of ease and comfort.

My dad watches this show and that has felt like great support. His peer group loves it and he loves it! It’s addressing issues that he and his friends are dealing with. On a very personal level, that validation from a parent has been great. The show means a lot to our parents, addressing some stuff that’s not really talked about. It’s been nice to see that they feel represented, which they should.

SW: From what I read, you just announced that your second child is on the way. What’s it like filming Seasion 3 of G & F during a pregnancy & juggling new motherhood?

JDR: I feel supported with the pregnancy. The struggle I’m having, to be honest, is with really putting my body out there. With Season 1, I had just had a baby and now I’m pregnant. I’m not feeling like myself and how I would present myself given the choice. Some women drop pounds from breastfeeding, but I didn’t start losing weight until I stopped. Suddenly, I was the heaviest I’d ever been now doing a job that was going to reach the most people. The reality is that it’s totally normal to have baby weight and I was where I should be: If it takes a year to put on that weight, it should take a year to lose it. So physically putting myself out there in a very public way and not feeling like myself has been challenging. That said, I always say that I have it easier than so many working mothers, and very often when you’ve worked so very hard, the time when you achieve success coincides with when you start a family. While it can be challenging having a young child to take care of while working, I’m not being filmed every day on the show like Jane and Lily are and I have a certain freedom. Though I will say that when I’m not being filmed, I’m busy with my writing career. With my son who is almost 2, I’m feeling a lot more confident today about how I divide my time. And now of course, I am headed into another transition.

Having a child has probably been one of the best things for me because there’s a certain amount of freedom – a not caring what people think. I have this child and know I don’t want to be gone too much so I’ve achieved a balance. If he’s ok, then I’m ok. I’m feeling a lot more freedom to fail. It can actually free you as an artist because you have a different perspective.

SW: You and Casey Wilson (comedian and Bitch Sesh Co-Host) are writing partners and have a certain style as women who are goofy and don’t worry about being ladylike, kind of like Wedding Crashers humor but with girls acting “ass backwards.” With that preamble, how do you want to go down in history as a comedian?

JDR: Well, the movie Ass Backwards we co-wrote (and acted in) and is about the two of us in New York based on our real experiences there and the delusions and dysfunctions of that time period. Of course, we did this with heightened characters. I have such a love of physical comedy and think things can be as broad as possible as long as they’re rooted in some sort of reality. I’m not really as interested in that sort of Indian Sundance comedy…. I enjoy comedies that are going for hard jokes. That said, some of the stuff we’re writing is so different because we’re different. We’’re very curious about female friendships and what goes on, which is Bravo’s ‘Real Housewives’ is so interesting, how they are so aware of themselves being seen on TV as the seasons go on, and it’s actually so funny to get a look into this world. I am absolutely fascinated by female interactions and that will be the crux of my work. The humor in Casey and my work is different because we’re different and want to showcase those type of female friendships. We really do have so much fun together.

SW: You’re married to comedian Paul Scheer. How did you guys meet?

JDR: Paul and I met at the Upright Citizens Brigade in New York. Paul came to see Casey and my performance since he was one of the mainstays of the theater – He was called on to give us feedback on our performance.

SW: How did the opportunity for Grace & Frankie arise?

JDR: Grace & Frankie came along when I was postpartum lying on the couch. It t was the one script I read and I decided I had to go in and audition for.

SW: I think I’m funny, but one of my son’s cringes with embarrassment sometimes. I’m sure that has to be a little different when both parents are professional comics. How do you envision your kids reacting to their parents’ humor as they get older?

JDR: I grew up in a family where my parents were not comedians. My mom worked as a teacher and my dad was in construction. They weren’t into comedy necessarily but were the funniest people I knew. There was such a premium put on making each other laugh at the dinner table. I don’t really care if my kids see my work – I actually hope that they don’t see a lot of it (laughs) – but I hope for a family dynamic that includes

sharing a lot of laughter.

SW: Some quick words on the podcast “Ronna & Beverly” where 2 comedians are in character as older Jewish women with thick Boston accents. They are hilarious and I know you were a guest. I want to turn my friends on to listening to this absolutely brilliant show— What can you say about these fellow comedians as if you were promoting them? What would your advice be so I can get my friends to listen?

JDR: They do have a really committed fan base which you see at their crowded live shows, but their podcast is not as well-known as it should be. All of us in this group of female comedians based in LA have been on each other’s podcast and are friends (this network includes and is not limited to: Jamie Denbo and Jessica Chaffin who play Beverly and Ronna respectively, as well as comedians Jessica St. Claire and Melissa Rauch.) I’m really proud of that and it’s pretty special how everyone is there for one another.

SW: I wish I were funny enough because I’d love to somehow break into that group!

JDR: (laughs) It’s a pretty elite group. Everyone is so super talented that I’m so happy that I, myself can actually be a part of it. But most importantly, it’s so incredible how everyone in this group of women is so supportive of one another!

You can listen to June Diane Raphael on the podcast How Did this Get Made? & if you haven’t seen it, now’s the time to binge watch Seasons of Grace & Frankie on Netflix.


The Keepers, The Cosby Victims: Repressed Memories Versus the Courts

Netflix’s True Crime binge The Keepers has us captivated from episode 2 through its finale in episode 7. I leave out the first episode only because we don’t see the whole terrifying picture initially. We hear in episode 1 that a nun was murdered – suddenly, brutally and seemingly without context – and that’s not something to take lightly at all. However, we’re given an even weightier context in episode 2, the equation of murder plus molestation. Around the same time Sister Cathy Cesnik was abducted (and later found lifeless in the woods), a local girl suffered the same fate.
In episode 2 we learn that the young nun had been a protector of students in a girls’ Catholic school who were being molested and raped by the head priest in charge. We soon discover that the story is more intricate than we ever could have imagined. The nun very likely may have been killed because she was about to report the crimes to the police and had just let the main perpetrator, Father Joseph Maskell, know that she was on to him.The Keepers becomes focused on the acts of molestation that occurred in the school and how it seemed impossible they were not linked to the murders. The documentary arose after a Facebook group of former students (now in their 60s) formed with the objective of solving the crime, supporting each other as fellow victims, and ultimately, bringing justice for their beloved teacher’s murder and to Sister Cathy’s living family members.


We often hear of molesters grooming their victims, but we don’t hear as much about them enlisting other perpetrators to join them in their crimes. In the Keepers, some young students in the 1970s were sought out by these molesters because they seemed easy to take advantage of. Father Maskell is the first who then encourages another priest and a Baltimore police officer to have their turns with the minors. It is horrifying to hear and these minors are now mothers and grandmothers, women trying to remember the terribly shameful abuse that their minds have done everything possible to block out. Some of the victims have NOT repressed the memories and when they finally came forward, thanks to Facebook, their accounts lend credence to the case for Jeane, a woman who struggled with the memories.

Unfortunately, Father Maskell passed away and will not be brought to ultimate justice in this life time, although he was brought to court in the 1990s before the notion of “repressed memory” was discredited. Back then, there was no Facebook to bring forth the women (and a man) who so clearly did remember the abuse. Today, there is strength in number for his victims when it comes to recalling past experiences and feeling validated after suffering psychologically for decades.

“Experts in the field of memory and trauma can provide some answers, but clearly more study and research are needed,” states the American Psychological Association website about repressed memory. “Experienced clinical psychologists state that the phenomenon of a recovered memory is rare (e.g., one experienced practitioner reported having a recovered memory arise only once in 20 years of practice). Although laboratory studies have shown that memory is often inaccurate and can be influenced by outside factors, memory research usually takes place either in a laboratory or some everyday setting. For ethical and humanitarian reasons, memory researchers do not subject people to a traumatic event in order to test their memory of it. Because the issue has not been directly studied, we can not know whether a memory of a traumatic event is encoded and stored differently from a memory of a nontraumatic event.

Some clinicians theorize that children understand and respond to trauma differently from adults. Some furthermore believe that childhood trauma may lead to problems in memory storage and retrieval. These clinicians believe that dissociation is a likely explanation for a memory that was forgotten and later recalled. Dissociation means that a memory is not actually lost, but is for some time unavailable for retrieval. That is, it’s in memory storage, but cannot for some period of time actually be recalled. Some clinicians believe that severe forms of child sexual abuse are especially conducive to negative disturbances of memory such as dissociation or delayed memory. Many clinicians who work with trauma victims believe that this dissociation is a person’s way of sheltering himself or herself from the pain of the memory. Many researchers argue, however, that there is little or no empirical support for such a theory.”

When watching The Keepers, one must keep in mind how taboo sexual abuse was for those who attended high school 47 years ago. One must furthermore imagine why such shameful memories from those times could be mentally shunned by an individual (even subconsciously). Jeane recalls attending confession as a student in the catholic school to disclose how her uncle had molested her. The priest then asked to see her face and she felt the shame as he let her know that’s exactly how she should feel – like a damaged slut, a bad girl for having been molested and deserving of further punishment. She was someone he would go on to molest and he would encourage his small circle of trusted friends (including the other priest and the police officer) to do the same. As mentioned above, some of Father Maskell’s victims went public with their accounts of abuse as adults and in 1992, when reports were first made, people questioned the idea of “repressed memories.” The victims’ testimonies were discredited temporarily as those in the psychiatric community suggested that members of their own profession had planted false memories in patients’ minds.

Despite the schism between clinicians and practitioners and the difficulty of quantifying empirical evidence, practitioners who attest to the realness of “repressed memories” explain that victims of abuse mentally shut down in the face of trauma and post traumatic stress. Before The Keepers outlined the efforts of the women to trace Sister Cathy’s murder and tie up loose ends of a mystery, comedian Bill Cosby’s victims began to come forward and that drama played out in the public arena. Drugs were administered by both Father Huxtable and Father Maskell to their victims, to cloud the already murky memories of torturous and incomprehensible situations, crimes committed by publicly respected and trusted paternal figures.
Cosby, The Women – a recent New York Magazine cover

Today, people are commonly taught from a young age: No one should touch you in this way. In the post- Spotlight (the recent blockbuster hit about sexual abuse in the Catholic church) era, there is much discussion and an awareness of the sexual abuse history attached to the Catholic Church. Those who teach in religious schools are more seriously vetted. New, strict rules are in place (i.e. more than one teacher in the classroom) and everything is sized up greatly behind a veil of scrutiny. It cannot be easy to be a priest in 2017. Inappropriate behavior is more likely to be reported, but there are still children in the United States who are vulnerable and don’t have proper and adequate support systems. There are still children who do not have the strength to come forward as compared to their peers. Victims of circumstance, these boys and girls may also lack the mental fortitude to remember.

The Keepers is currently available on Netflix.

(This article originally ran on in my Huffington Post archive in July of 2017.)