This Lawsuit Goes to 11

This Is Spinal Tap is a comedy classic, but its creators made practically no money from it. Robert Kolker looks at the legal battle over what Hollywood owes Harry Shearer, Rob Reiner, Michael McKean, and Christopher Guest.

Published: Apr 22, 2017
Length: 13 minutes (3,428 words)


A clerical error freed a man from prison 88 years early—and then sent him back five years and eight months later after he found a stable job and started a family. This story was co-produced by Matter.

Published: Apr 7, 2015
Length: 22 minutes (5,603 words)

The Boy Who Ran: The Life and Death of Avonte Oquendo

Last October a 14-year-old autistic boy went missing after running out of his school and disappearing. His body was found months later:

NBC and ABC sent reporters right away. They searched the neighborhood all night, along the waterfront, in garbage cans, in parks, under cars, and found nothing. The family kept searching. Avonte’s father came up from Florida to help, bringing Avonte’s half-brother, Daniel Oquendo Jr., with him. Good Samaritans set up tents outside the school to serve as the command station for a search. They handed out leaflets and organized volunteers. When it got colder, a New Jersey man donated a trailer that was kept parked nearby. Donations raised the award for Avonte’s discovery to $89,500. A growing number of volunteers offered to help. The police kept them at a distance, especially when some of their theories on the case started trickling into the news coverage.

Published: Mar 30, 2014
Length: 17 minutes (4,399 words)

A Dangerous Mind

Examining the case and trial of Gilberto Valle, AKA the “cannibal cop,” a New York police officer who fantasized about kidnapping, killing, and eating women he knew with strangers, but who never acted on any of his plans:

On August 24, they discussed ways that Valle might kidnap another woman, Kristen Ponticelli, a recent graduate of Valle’s old high school whom he never met personally (Valle’s lawyers assume he just noticed her photo on Facebook). The next day, they moved on to Andria Noble. “If Andria lived near me, she would be gone by now,” Valle wrote. “Even if I get caught, she would be worth it.”

But there was no physical evidence from Valle’s home suggesting he was getting ready to kidnap or cook anyone—no oven large enough for a human, no cleaver, no homemade chloroform. Prosecutors had no proof he had a place in the mountains. They had no proof that Valle knew the identities of the three people he was chatting with. Valle never divulged the last names of any of the people whose photos he passed along (not even his wife’s) and never gave out any of their addresses, even after Moody Blues ­specifically requested one, and he haphazardly switched up details about their life stories and college educations.

Published: Jan 12, 2014
Length: 19 minutes (4,858 words)

The Opt-Outers

Parents in New York are joining a growing movement to opt out of high-stakes testing for their children:

In response to the growing criticism, Arne Duncan, the White House’s Education secretary, this month said it was “fascinating” that some of the Common Core’s detractors are “white suburban moms who—all of a sudden—their child isn’t as brilliant as they thought they were, and their school isn’t quite as good as they thought they were.” There was an uproar among parents and administrators. “Did he really say that?” wrote Long Island superintendent Joseph Rella in an open letter. Duncan later “regretted” his phrasing, but what was most telling about his comment was that it seemed to acknowledge that support for the Common Core is being derailed in part by how it plays into the culture of anxiety often associated with high-stakes testing.

Published: Nov 25, 2013
Length: 17 minutes (4,377 words)

A Daughter’s Revenge

[Not single-page] Brigitte Harris was sexually abused by her father for years, before she decided to stop him from ever doing it to anyone again. She’s now in prison for second degree manslaughter, with a parole hearing this week:

“The first thing she learned was that it could be done. ‘Everyone always focuses on Lorena Bobbitt because it’s the most popular. But each and every case I researched, no one died.’ She read about cases in China and in Europe. ‘And I start seeing how to do it without actually killing him.’ On June 26, she bought a package of 50 scalpels on eBay for $6.83, including shipping.

“On July 25, Harris had her final argument with Carleen. On her home video, titled ‘My Reasons,’ she mentions Carleen’s children explicitly. ‘We both know what he wants to do with them.’ She talks about what she’s about to do. ‘Somebody’s got to do something,’ she says on the video.”

Published: Apr 2, 2012
Length: 14 minutes (3,692 words)

A Serial Killer in Common

On Monday, May 2, a year and a day after Shannan disappeared, Mari Gilbert and four other women came together in Manhattan to meet, at my invitation. Until that day, the five women had been in touch only through Facebook or by phone; just two of the five had seen one another in person. In addition to Mari, there was Megan Waterman’s mother, Lorraine Ela; Amber Costello’s sister, Kimberly Overstreet; Melissa Barthelemy’s mother, Lynn; and Maureen Brainard-Barnes’s sister, Melissa Cann. The group makes up a kind of grim sorority: They are the sisters and mothers of those who appear to have been the victims of the most skillful and accomplished serial killer in New York since Joel Rifkin or David Berkowitz, the “Son of Sam.”

Published: May 30, 2011
Length: 26 minutes (6,513 words)

Letterman and Me

One of the few women ever to write for Late Night with David Letterman, the author (a longtime V.F. contributor) remembers a hostile, sexually charged atmosphere. What’s to be done? Start by breaking late night’s all-male gag order.

Source: Vanity Fair
Published: Oct 27, 2009
Length: 35 minutes (8,754 words)