The producers of a Montreal-based real crime TV show sent me a wee present in advance of coming to The Signal to interview me.
For the non-Canadians among us, a toque is a winter hat you pull over your head.
For the Canadians in the Santa Clarita Valley it’s the item Bob and Doug McKenzie sing about in their 12 Days of Christmas, right before four pounds of back bacon, three French toast, two turtlenecks and a beer.
Why they sent it, I have no idea. Perhaps it was to remind me of my roots. We’re Canadian.
So when the producer and his crew showed up at the newsroom last week, I was prepped. I had my toque.
We immediately updated all our common points of interest involving Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto, which means updates on the Habs (hockey team), the Sens (hockey team) and the Leafs (hockey team) – then it was down to business.
What they really came for, however, was neither exclusively American, nor Canadian. It was universal.
And, as was probably the hope of the show’s producers, to emerge from the experience with a real crime show promising lucrative worldwide TV syndication prospects, something with universal appeal, reaching far beyond the bounds of the Investigation Discovery channel audience for which the show is intended.
They were drawn by that universal appeal – murder.
Specifically, they came to hear about a murder-for-hire story. And, even more specifically, murder for hire among the rich and beautiful.
Murder among the rich
They came to hear details about Santa Clarita Valley businessman Dino Gugliemelli convicted in 2014 of attempted murder, having been caught on tape arranging for a man to kill his wife.
Gugliemelli was sentenced to nine years in prison and is currently on year three at Avenal state prison in California.
Murder is so universally appealing, the producers that came to hear about Gugliemelli don’t even have a nailed-down title for their own show.
Considered show titles include: Rich and Deadly; Young, Rich & Deadly; Young, Rich, Beautiful and Deadly. You get the idea. Deadly is in there somewhere.
My first task during the interview was to sit in the chair at my desk while they adjust light and sound.
Problem. My desk chair was still in pieces, as yet unpacked inside a box in our new office.
The TV crew opened the box and assembled my chair. Problem solved. They’re Canadian.
And, as I sit, twisting slowly on my brand new swivel chair, letting them hold devices near my chin, take photos of what seemed to be one of my eyebrows, swapping light filters above my head, I have to time to ponder the universal appeal of murder.
The draw of such an appeal is enough to prompt the creation of a TV channel devoted entirely to real crime news, enough to justify getting on a plane, spending thousands of dollars just to stand in front of me and hear about murder.
In this case, it was to hear about a man asking another man to kill his wife.
No one was ever physically hurt – but, yet, it’s enough to elicit a production crew now buzzing around me waiting for the sweetness of those details.
The sound guy – his head clamped with industrial-sized headphones – cannot speak or hear apparently and pushes a black cord at my belly button. He jabs me with it. It doesn’t hurt. He’s communicating with his hands – and the wire.
Oh. I get it.
I take the cord and stuff it inside my shirt. It’s cold. It came from Canada.
I manipulate the wire up towards my neck, pull it out of my collar and before I can motion that my second task has now been accomplished, the sound guy grabs it, peels off a bit of adhesive and sticks it to the inside of my shirt. Yes, it’s a microphone.
My next task is to wait while the crew discusses the sound and light adjustments.
More time to ponder the universal appeal of murder and time to reflect on a theory the dizzying hunger people have for the most disgusting sordid details of murder.
How big was the knife? was it serrated? how deep it go? Did it nick her spleen?
See. you already want to know more about the case I’m referring to. That story occurred in Canada, a long time ago.
But, whether the interested party is Canadian, American, French – as witnessed by the arrival today in Santa Clarita of a Paris-based documentary team – the thirst for grisly details is a thirst shared by all.
If I say in my story “partially clothed” I know I’ll get emails asked ‘how clothed?’ or ‘almost naked?’ or ‘sort of naked’ or ‘semi-nude?’ And the questions keep on coming.
Until, the next thing I know, I have a cold wire on my stomach and hot lights on face with the lens of a wide-mouthed camera spiraling out towards me for a close up. “What was she wearing, Jim – exactly?”
Details about the Gugliemelli case, however, have nothing to do about partially-clad. Hold it. Hold it, just a second.
Gugliemelli’s wife, Monica, was a beautiful model and aspiring actress who, according to my research, modeled lingerie and appeared in the hot tub of the movie, “The Hot Chick.” So, yes, partially clad.
They’re about ready to start recording. More discussion.
So, my theory.
It wasn’t hatched overnight. It’s a theory that’s been percolating slowly since I got my first press pass back in 1976, signed by Ottawa’s Chief Constable. That would be the police chief for Americans.
No one ever asks, so I keep it to myself, allowing the theory to continue steeping and intensifying with each shooting, each murder, stabbing, poisoning with strychnine as was the case with one murder I covered in Canada.
So, as the Montreal TV production crew checked all their levels for sound and light, I felt the theory bubbling up once again inside my throat. If they ask, I’ll tell them.
The reason we want to know all the grisly details, slow down on the road to see the blood, press on and plunge for the depth of depravity. How evil was he? How bad did it get?
And, by the way, they always ask with a slight wince, fearing – hoping – the details are going to make them squirm.
The reason they ask, I believe, is to gauge the jungle – how bad is the jungle I live in? Tell me about the jungle’s most dangerous animals so that I can adjust my life accordingly, set rules for my kids, buy a lock.
It’s like testing the water, I’ve always thought – how cold? how deep? how dark? are there sharks?
And, my crime stories all say the same thing.
“C’mon in, the water’s wonderful.”
We’re ready. The producer asks: Jim, describe Guigliemelli and his wife.
“He was handsome, she was beautiful ….”
And, we’re off.
on Twitter @jamesarthurholt