'em, 'Law and Order' fans
Two Long Island authors make a case for true stories in their new
tome on the hit TV show
BY AILEEN JACOBSON
December 13, 2006
About two years ago, Juré Fiorillo and Kevin Dwyer, both senior
copywriters at Doubleday Entertainment in Garden City, were having
drinks after work at the local restaurant Leo's. Both are fans of
"Law & Order," Fiorillo for practically its entire
17-year history, Dwyer for the past few years.
"We often talk about the writing" in the show, Fiorillo
said. "This time we were talking about the 'ripped from the
headlines' phrase they use. We wondered how close they were to reality,
and we decided to do some preliminary research" for a possible
It didn't take Fiorillo long to come up with 50 possible stories.
"I'm embarrassed to say I remembered all of them," she
said. After all, she's seen every show more than once, she said.
But unlike most fans, Fiorillo also knew many of the original cases,
because she's also an inveterate reader of true crime stories. "I
never thought all my true crime reading would actually pay off,"
It did: Dwyer and Fiorillo have written " True Stories
of Law & Order: The Real Crimes Behind the Best Episodes of
the Hit TV Show ," published by Berkley Boulevard Books,
a division of Penguin. The publishers liked the idea so much they
signed the duo up to do a sequel on "Law & Order: SVU."
"It was fascinating to do the research," said Dwyer, who
grew up in Huntington and now lives in Farmingdale with his wife.
"As we say in the introduction, you couldn't make this stuff
up. Reality in a lot of ways is more compelling than anything you
could put on TV."
A good example is their first chapter (of 25, winnowed down from
50), which tells the strange story surrounding the death of Kathie
At age 19, McCormack moved from New Hyde Park to Manhattan, where
she married Robert Durst, part of a wealthy real estate family,
in 1972. Ten years later, after Durst reportedly became violent
toward her, she disappeared. Later, a close friend of Durst's was
murdered prior to a police interview about the disappearance.
Later still, Durst was found to be living in Galveston, Texas, in
drag as a woman. There, he was arrested for the murder of a neighbor.
He was acquitted in 2003 (though he admitted accidentally killing
the man and dismembering him in a panic). He has never been charged
in McCormack's death, but remains a suspect.
"It's been really rough on her family," said Fiorillo,
who spoke at length with Jim McCormack, Kathie's brother.
Focus on victims
Though she was tempted to try to contact the killers, she said,
she and Dwyer had decided they would focus on the victims. "In
the show, as in the newspapers, the victim often gets forgotten.
The villain becomes more interesting for the public," said
Dwyer researched the book's "sidebars" on procedures that
often pop up on TV, such as pulling a suspect's LUDS. LUDS, viewers
will be happy to know, stands for "local usage details"
of incoming and outgoing phone calls. Police need a court order
to get them, Dwyer discovered, but they're easy to get. He also
learned that line-ups, rarely challenged in the show, are in reality
often flawed and dismissed, because it's difficult to find people
who look enough like the suspect on short notice.
The authors, on the advice of their publisher, didn't try to get
authorization from the TV show, "so we wouldn't be beholden
to them," said Fiorillo, adding she's a little disappointed
she couldn't meet cast members. "I'm a big Sam Waterston fan."
Among the more famous of the real cases they describe are those
of Kitty Genovese (stabbed to death on a Queens street while no
one called police), Jack Abbott (who killed a man while paroled
from prison after being championed by Norman Mailer) and Robert
Chambers (who strangled Long Island-born Jennifer Levin in what
became known as "the preppy murder").
Fiorillo said she thinks their next book will be even darker. Both
"SVU" and the "Criminal Intent" spinoffs take
more liberties with the true stories, she said. "The original
is still my favorite."