It is a widely known fact that truth is often stranger than fiction. So much so that, in several instances, historical facts in books and movies will be adjusted to help readers better accept the events taking place.
It is therefore extremely amusing – and ironic – when authors themselves get involved in plots that seem too wild not to be merely the fruit of imagination. Even more so when reality ends up mirroring fiction.
Perhaps one of the most famous instances of life copying fiction is the still unsolved disappearance of mystery writer Agatha Christie in 1926.
To this day there is still no concrete information regarding Christie’s whereabouts December 3–14 of that year. There are several articles speculating what might have happened during those 11 days, and even a Book Riot Podcast and Doctor Who episode about it, but the truth is that no one knows the whole truth surrounding this episode.
Yet another interesting detail about her disappearance was the involvement of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and how he tried to use paranormal powers to find Christie. This goes to show that sometimes reality does not follow fiction at all, because Doyle’s efforts in finding Christie could not be further from the tactics his well-know sleuth, Sherlock Holmes, would have applied.
Across the years there have been several fantastic stories involving writers, some well know to the public, others not so much, and the more you dig, the wilder the stories get.
The ones I present to you next are a few examples of the more recent ones involving the literary world, and they’re truly something else. So buckle up tightly, and enjoy this stranger-than-fiction ride.
The Case Of The Writer Who Wrote About How To Kill A Husband… And Then Killed Her Husband
Okay but are we surprised?
I know, I know. When it comes to writers, you can’t really go around making assumptions based on the subjects they decide to write about, because they will write about anything. I wouldn’t even advise looking at the internet history of a writer since you’re bound to find the weirdest searches.
But Nancy Crampton-Brophy, who is at the moment awaiting trial in jail, seemed to have a bit of an unhealthy obsession around the idea of killing husbands. Hypothetically, of course. Or rather, hypothetically at first.
And let’s face it, in a world which, unfortunately, very often regards hating your partner as a “normal” part of marriage – at least within heterosexual relationships – it is not a surprise people saw Brophy’s jokes as nothing more than that: jokes. It turns out, though, that there was a little bit more autofiction in her writing than everyone expected.
The murder took place in 2018. The husband in question – Daniel Brophy, who was a chef at a culinary institute in Portland – was found dead by a gunshot wound inside his workplace on the morning of June 2.
Years before, in 2011, Brophy wrote an essay for the blog See Jane Publish titled “How To Murder Your Husband“, where she speculated about the best ways to kill a husband. The essay has been archived after the incident, but it can still be found online.
In it, Brophy talks about motives for murder, and the best weapons to go through with it, ending it with small personal remarks, such as “I find it is easier to wish people dead than to actually kill them. I don’t want to worry about blood and brains splattered on my walls. And really, I’m not good at remembering lies. But the thing I know about murder is that every one of us have it in him/her when pushed far enough.”
Okay, Nancy. I think most people don’t have it in them to actually want to kill someone, but you do you. Well, you did.
“How To Kill Your Husband” would have been enough to make this whole business sound weird, but the husband-killing stories do not end here, since Brophy’s books focus a lot on complicated relationships between women and men. In The Wrong Cop, the main character is a woman who fantasises about – you’ve guessed it – killing her husband, so the theme is not a one-off occurrence.
The weirdest thing of all is, perhaps, the fact that Brophy’s website is still up and running and, in hindsight, there are a lot of wild sentences in the bio.
I quote: “Writers are liars. I don’t remember who said that but it’s not true. In writing fiction, you dig deep and unearth portions of your own life (…)”. And she goes on to talk about her husband: “I can’t tell you when I fell in love with my husband, but I relate the moment I decided to marry him. I was in the bath. It was a big tub. I expected him to join me and when he was delayed, I called out, “Are you coming?” His answer convinced me he was Mr. Right. “Yes, but I’m making hors d’oeuvres.” Can you imagine spending the rest of your life without a man like that?”
I guess she did, in fact, imagine exactly that.
The bio on Brophy’s website has obviously not been updated since 2018, which gives this whole case an even eerier look.
The Ya Author Who Played A Killer… And Then Became A Killer
This story reminded me of several detective series where, on the screen, real-life resembles fiction. I’m thinking specifically about Castle, in which the murderer in the first episode takes inspiration for his murders from the books written by Richard Castle (Nathan Fillion).
This specific case involves author Tucker Reed, who wrote the YA novel Amber House, and its sequel Neverwas.
The whole trouble started with family disputes, and it seems that the family’s interest for crime goes back at least one generation, since Reed’s mother actually wrote a book about serial killer Genene Jones.
Reed’s mother and uncle could not come to an agreement about some family property and several disputes – both with her mother and Reed herself – ensued. In 2015, after an altercation between the two, the uncle was arrested with suspicion of assault and Reed got a restraining order against him. On July 26, 2016, Shane was shot in the chest by Reed.
To the police, Reed claimed to have found a gun – which she believed belonged to her grandfather – in her grandmother’s house, and she wanted to test out if it was loaded.
So, obviously, what is the best thing to do when you want to check if a gun is loaded? Take it outside and shoot it. I don’t see how this could ever go wrong, just as a starter. But apparently between the gun testing and the time the uncle got shot, Reed seems to have forgotten how to use the gun entirely: “I don’t even remember what happened,” she says, “I thought you had to cock a gun for it to go off and…”.
She then noted she had given the gun to her mother in case her uncle became violent, which he did. Because he ignored the restraining order when he came into the property she was in, she shot him in self-defense. But when the police checked the gun, only one shot had been fired. The killing shot.
New footage of the incident was obtained by the police in 2018, which made the case clear: Reed’s actions were not in self-defense.
But, of course, cases like this are not new, even when they end up with someone dead. The strangest thing of all is that, while on bail in 2018 (so, after the whole incident), Reed took part in the movie From The Dark, in which her character’s storyline shows an uncanny resemblance to what happened in real life: a woman who claims to have acted in self-defense, but did not.
Reed was sentenced to 75 months in prison after pleading guilty to second-degree manslaughter.
The Case Of Where The Crawdads Sing… About A Murder In Africa
I think it’s safe to assume that almost everyone has heard of Where The Crawdads Sing. The book is a bestseller, and it was even picked up by Reese’s Bookclub. As it happens often with books that become popular, it has gathered both amazing and terrible reviews, with some swearing by it, and some really unaffected by its popularity.
Personally, I think the book is very good in parts, and not great in others. While this is not my review of the book, I am glad I have read it because I can now provide some light into the ways it relates to the weird real events involving the author.
As the TV adaptation of Where The Crawdads Sing is about to be released (in which Taylor Swift has just been involved, with one of her songs featuring the movie’s soundtrack) an old story regarding the author Delia Owens and her ex-husband, Mark Owens, has resurfaced. I had to read a ton of articles to get to know the intricacies of this story, and I can tell you right away that it is not easy to understand the whole shenanigans within it, so I will do my best to resume the important parts of it here.
Delia Owens and her husband were graduate students of biology at the University of Georgia in the 1970s. They got into their minds to travel to remote Africa, so they sold what they owned and departed to Johannesburg, South Africa, eventually settling in Deception Valley in Botswana. Their goal was to live as one with nature, to be in places not yet touched by men, to protect it and the animals who inhabited.
And here we must take a pause, because white people going to Africa to play the role of white saviours is nothing new, and even with the best of intentions, it is also not new that they end up meddling in things they should very well have left untouched.
Now, don’t get me wrong; once you start reading the whole story, you may see good in the Owenses’ gestures: after all, all they wanted was to maintain nature untouched, and to protect elephants and other wildlife from poachers. We all want that. But they did seem to believe themselves above the law, ended up kicked out of Botswana by the government itself, and settled in Zambia.
You’d figure that, after being banned from one country, they might have learned a lesson, but in fact things only went down south from here.
When invited to the ABC news show Turning Point, they agreed to take part in a documentary about elephant poaching. The documentary shows a man being killed – supposedly a poacher – by men from Owens’ party. I have no idea why both the Owenses and ABC thought it was a good idea to showcase anyone being killed – reasons for the killing be damned – but I guess we have many more instances of American TV showing extreme violence and calling it “justice”.
Truth is, the documentary brought attention to what the Owenses were actually doing in Zambia, and they were banned from yet another country, the consequences of returning being that they may be called to answer for the crime.
Many claim that it was actually Mark’s son, Christopher Owens, who killed the man, and that Mark has tried to cover the killing by carrying the body in his helicopter and throwing it in the lake. And these are serious allegations.
Now how does this resemble Where The Crawdads Sings? (If you haven’t read the book, there are spoilers ahead.)
The book’s main character is Kya, a young girl whose whole family departs home one by one to escape an abusive father. Eventually, the father disappears as well, and Kya is left alone to fend for herself. Between the descriptions of Kya’s lonely life, the way the whole town mistreats and isolates her, and her close relationship with the nature around her, is a trial: Kya (now an adult) has been accused of killing a man.
At the end of the book, Kya is acquitted and goes on to live the rest of her life a free woman with the man she fell in love with. After her death, the man, while rummaging through her belongings, finds proof that Kya had been, indeed, guilty of the crime she had been accused of.
And to me there’s one single thing Owens is trying to do when you compare the trial in the book with everything that happened in Zambia, as she asks the reader to reconsider this: should someone be guilty of a crime when the reasons for the crime rather justify it?
Of course, everyone reading the book is taken in by Kya’s story, by what she has been put through, and there is no space to feel compassion for the man she has killed, since he was an asshole anyway. Every reader is rooting for Kya, guilty or not.
In light of the whole poachers’ business, I fear Owens’ book is trying to tell the readers more than what we merely see written on the lines. A big part of the plot is an actual attempt at convincing an audience about right and wrong, and the difference between justice (by law) and fairness.
This is, of course, all conjecture, but it is still interesting to consider it.
The Security Library Chef Who Got Arrested… For Stealing The Things He Was Supposed To Protect
Now, when you hire someone to keep things from being stolen, you do not expect that person to be the one doing the stealing, but the Strozier Library, in Florida, has seen this exact thing happen.
Todd Peak had been working as head of security for the library for eight years, and he is thought to have stolen 5.000 comics in 2020, which he proceeded to sell across the following two years.
Now, in this whole story there are a lot of rookie mistakes made by Peak, and I am not sure which one is the worst: that he tried to sell the comics to a local comics store (who would, obviously, eventually come across the news of the stolen items), that he also advertised them on Facebook, or that he actually asked the assistant dean of special collections to help her review the inventory of the collection he stole from, when it was not part of his job description at all.
According to the owners of Wilde Comics – the shop where Peak sold some of the stolen items – Peak claimed he had inherited them from a deceased family member and had no interest in keeping the collection.
At the moment about 2.843 of the stolen comic books have been recovered by the police.
A case of how not to go about thievery 101.
The Author Who Murdered Her Friend’s Mother… And Ended Up Writing Historical Detective Fiction
I wanted to provide a little bit of lightness to this wild story, but it’s too serious to talk about it in a humorous way, so let’s just stick to the facts.
After Juliet Hulme’s mother was caught in an affair, and after her father lost his job, Hulme was about to be sent to South Africa to stay with a relative. Hulme had an extremely close friendship with Pauline Parker – focus on the extreme here – and the two girls saw their world fall to pieces with the news of their impending separation, so they came up with a plan to stay together which included Pauline going to South Africa alongside Juliet. But, of course, Pauline’s mother, Honorah, was not just going to allow her daughter to move from New Zealand all the way to a whole new country.
Pauline’s relationship with her mother was already strained, so the two girls decided to take matters into their own hands – literally. They lured Honorah into a quiet place, came up with a distraction, and then proceeded to hit her in the head with a brick wrapped in a stocking repeatedly, killing her.
Under New Zealand law, the two girls were too young to be put under death sentence, and they ended up spending five years in jail. After leaving jail, Hulme changed her name to Anne Perry and moved to Scotland, where she converted to Mormonism.
Her story came to light after Peter Jackson adapted the case into a movie called Heavenly Creatures, in 1994, starring Kate Winselt and Melanie Lynskey.
BFFs? Hulme and Parker haven’t been in contact since, and it is rumoured that was one of the conditions which allowed for the light prison sentence.
The Female Thriller Author… That Turned Out Being Three Men
Carmen Mola is a crime writer often referred to as the Spanish Elena Ferrante. They certainly have one thing in common: a problem of identity. But while Ferrante’s true face is yet to be know by the public, the actual identity of Carmen Mola came quickly to life when money got involved.
Now, if you sense some contempt in my tone, you are sensing it wrong. It’s not some contempt, it’s a lot of contempt. ‘Cause, you see, I get why many of the “male” authors we used to know turned out to be actually women. I understand that, in a world populated (and made inaccessible to women) by men, women needed to find means to get published, and to get their work recognised. But that three cis white men would pretend to be a woman in the times at hand, and take spaces and awards geared toward recognising women, seems a bit off (and please, do not confuse this rhetoric with the transphobic rhetoric going around: trans women are women and they too belong in women’s spaces. This is not it).
The authors claimed there was no ill intent in this act, and sure, maybe we can accept that. But that they have decided to create this whole identity, just to come out and say “surprise, we’re actually men!” when they were awarded the $1 million Plus Planeta Prize seems a bit… convenient.
But yes, Carmen Mola is indeed three men: Jorge Diaz, Augustin Martinez, and Antonio Merceno, all TV scriptwriters. And, to be fair, the main character of the books is described as “a peculiar and solitary woman who loves grappa, karaoke, classic cars, and sex in SUVs.”
If this description is not a very specific male fantasy, I don’t know what is.
The Best Selling Author Who Lied About Having Cancer… And Still Got A Netflix Movie
In the fashion of his unreliable narrator in the novel The Woman In The Window, Dan Mallory’s stories about his personal life are not to be trusted.
We’re not even talking about one lie here, but of several, in which a diagnosis of cancer has been attributed to himself and several people in his life. Across the years, Mallory – who writes under the name AJ Finn – has lied about his career and claimed to have a doctorate from Oxford University, a brain tumour, a spinal tumour, and to have lost his mother to cancer and his brother to suicide.
The only small truth among the lies is that his mother did indeed have cancer, but she is still alive. And so is his brother.
As if this web of lies was not more than enough, there have been pointed several similarities between his debut novel and the book Saving April, by Sarah A. Denzil, as well as, ironically, from the thriller film Copycat. The author has tried to defend himself by claiming these lies are a result of his bipolar disorder, that he was afraid to speak out about it, so he created a fake diagnosis more prone to find the sympathy of others, a claim that has been disputed by several medical professionals.
This entire array of lies, however, did not stop Mallory from getting a huge deal for a movie with Netflix, featuring Amy Adams, Julianne More, and Gary Oldman. When the movie first came out I saw several accounts on Instagram sharing merch and info, advertising the movie without a peep regarding the controversy, which was already well-know by then.
Perhaps this is truly the biggest mystery – and the weirdest – of this whole affair.
The Case Of The Thief Who Stole Millions Of Manuscripts… And Did Nothing With Them
Listen, I am the first person to recognise the rush you get when you are granted that advanced reading copy you’ve been looking forward to, but even I know this case has gone a step too far.
If you have been following literary news, you might have heard of loads of unpublished manuscripts being stolen under seriously mysterious conditions.
The manuscript’s thief was targeting authors, editors, and agents, and seemed to know very well the world he was moving in, impersonating a bunch of people in the industry convincingly. The weirdest thing of all is that nothing was asked in return.
Turns out the author of these robberies is Fillipo Bernardini, former worker at the foreign’s right department at Simon & Schuster UK. And while it is difficult to explain in simple terms all of the steps Bernardini had to go through to get these manuscripts, it was no small matter, and for apparently no reward.
But I get it: sometimes, the reward of knowing you can is enough. It’s all about power, baby. Now Bernardini can enjoy his power trip with the knowledge that he can face up to 20 years in prison.
Could as well just have signed up for Netgalley, in my opinion.
The Mexican Writer Who Was Working On A Book About A Cannibal… And Turned Out To Be A Cannibal
Again, are we surprised?
Unlike our friend Nancy from the beginning of this article, José Luis Calva was not advertising his cannibalism for all to see, but after having killed and eaten pieces of his own girlfriend— after first seasoning them with lemon—a manuscript called Cannibal Instincts was found in his apartment, the cover a picture of Hannibal Lector which had been edited to look like Calva.
Now, this is a strange case, but perhaps not as strange as my whole journey to find it. Because, you see, a memory of seeing something like this being reported on TV kept coming back to me, but I could not for the life of me find anything relevant or similar when I googled it.
I would swear on anyone’s grave that I saw on the news a few years ago about the case of a Spanish writer who wrote a book about a cannibal and ended up being one.
So, I knew with absolute certainty this story to be truth, but I couldn’t find any evidence of it. I’ve tried various search words, and various approaches, but I came up empty handed each time. There was no story of a Spanish author writing about a cannibal, turned into a cannibal, to be seen. And it occurred to me: what a great way to finish this piece! A mystery of my own!
Then, I made the mistake of mentioning my frustration (and my genius way to deal with it) to my boyfriend who, with a quick Google search, found the story I had been looking for for weeks. It seems that my insistence that the author was Spanish – when he was Mexican – had hindered my searches.
Now, it was all really well that I had this story to report – and that I could, in fact, rely on my memory, kind of – but I had suddenly lost my mystery genius ending. All because of my boyfriend’s searching skills.
Which brings me back… to Nancy Brophy’s story.
Nah, I’m kidding. For real.
If you have enjoyed this post, here are a few more weirds for you.