The lingering secrets of Hollywood have remain buried for decades, and yet multi-hyphenate crime novelist Michael Connelly has spent his career redefining Southern Californian legal thrillers. For his latest project, podcast “The Wonderland Murders & The Secret History of Hollywood,” Connelly opts to investigate some very real horror stories.
Writer-creator Connelly has worked in all forms of media, including film (The Lincoln Lawyer, Blood Work), TV (Bosch), books (The Poet, The Law of Innocence), and podcasts (Murder Book). From executive producing documentary films like Sound of Redemption: The Frank Morgan Story and Tales of the American, to working with famed show-runner David E. Kelley to adapt The Lincoln Lawyer for a Netflix series, Connelly somehow found the time to return to his roots as a crime reporter to do a deep dive into the haunting Wonderland Murders that plagued the Los Angeles neighborhood of Laurel Canyon exactly 40 years ago.
During the Audible podcast, which premiered exclusively on the platform on July 1, Connelly interviews LAPD lead detectives Tom Lange and Bob Souza, as well as the “missing” witness Scott Thorson a.k.a Jess Marlow who is also the author of Behind the Candelabra detailing his affair with Liberace. The Secret History of Hollywood moves beyond the Wonderland Murders to expertly capture a forgotten yet no-so-long ago era that was rife with mafia ties, drug busts, sex crimes, and of course, homicide.
Below, Connelly opened up about what inspired him to go back in time to 1981 to uncover never-before-heard details about the Wonderland Murders.
The Knockturnal: Your extensive career from journalist to novelist to podcast creator has been amazing to enjoy as a fan. What led you to now take on The Wonderland Murders on its 40th anniversary, and why partner with Audible for this podcast?
Michael Connelly: I’ve always been interested in the case because I moved to Los Angeles in 1987, and a year later, one of the major trials from the case began. I was a crime reporter and was writing about cases that had a tangential connection. So my interest goes back that far, but on a more recent level, I had the opportunity through a detective to talk to Scott Thorson about his role in the case, and he was such an interesting and bizarre character I started thinking a podcast would be perfect because the story could be told in his voice. Then I wanted a platform where the story would not be interrupted by commercials and that made Audible the perfect platform.
The Knockturnal: The detectives’ recollection of events is especially haunting to listen to. What was it like returning to your roots as an interviewer and discussing such sensitive topics?
Michael Connelly: It was a nice return to my roots. The subject matter wasn’t nice but I liked the reporting aspect of it again. I also am inspired by relentless, undaunted people, and I seem to find this quality frequently in detectives and that is what I found in this story.
The Knockturnal: Former homicide detective Rick Jackson is also listed as an executive producer. How was working with him both behind and in front of the microphone, in a sense?
Michael Connelly: I already knew he was a legendary detective but now I know he’s a great producer too. He put his investigative skills to work and found many of the people we interviewed, some who dropped from sight 40 years ago, some who never told their stories before. He was a tremendous help on both sides of the microphone.
The Knockturnal: How did you secure the famed “missing” witness Scott Thorson to exclusively open up for the first time on your podcast?
Michael Connelly: I think that is a bit exaggerated. Thorson has given many interviews over the years but he has never been interviewed so extensively and pinned down the way we do it. Additionally, we did talk to a lot of detectives who have never spoken to the media about the case and we have their stories and angles on the case for the first time. We also secured many documents from the investigation that have never surfaced before. And as a former reporter, I know that documents are like the Holy Grail.
The Knockturnal: The Wonderland Murders truly is a cinematic story with sex, drugs, the mafia, and religion. Would you be open to adapting this podcast for the screen, similar to Netflix’s The Lincoln Lawyer series?
Michael Connelly: Well, I guess I could act humble here but, hey, I’m a writer and all writers have at least enough of an ego to think their stories should be published, filmed, listened to, seen, etc., etc. So the short answer to that is yes. The long answer it that I think you have just listed many aspects of this story that I think make it very filmable. It’s a great story about character and desire and falling from grace.
“The Wonderland Murders & The Secret History of Hollywood” is available on Audible.