The Top 5 Longreads of the Week

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Below, our favorite stories of the week. Kindle users, you can also get them as a Readlist.

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1. The Truth About Chicago’s Crime Rates

David Bernstein, Noah Isackson | Chicago Magazine | April 7, 2014 | 27 minutes (6,980 words)

The city’s drop in crime has been nothing short of miraculous. Here’s what’s behind the unbelievable numbers:

Unfortunately for all concerned, January 2013 could not have started out worse. Five people were murdered in Chicago on New Year’s Day. The number hit 17 by the end of the first full week. “This is too much,” Al Wysinger, the police department’s first deputy superintendent, told the crowd in the January 17 CompStat meeting, according to a memo summarizing it. “Last October and November, I kept saying we have to start 2013 off on the right foot. Wrong foot! We can’t reiterate this much clearer.”

See also: “What’s Eating the NYPD?” (New York Magazine, April 2012)

 

2. Meet the Bagman

Steven Godfrey | SB Nation | April 10, 2014 | 22 minutes (5,602 words)

How to buy college football players, in the words of a man who delivers the money:

The Bag Man excuses himself to make a call outside, on his “other phone,” to arrange delivery of $500 in cash to a visiting recruit. The player is rated No. 1 at his position nationally and on his way into town. We’re sitting in a popular restaurant near campus almost a week before National Signing Day, talking about how to arrange cash payments for amateur athletes.

“Nah, there’s no way we’re landing him, but you still have to do it,” he says. “It looks good. It’s good for down the road. Same reason my wife reads Yelp. These kids talk to each other. It’s a waste of money, but they’re doing the same thing to our guys right now in [rival school's town]. Cost of business.”

Read more: Stories about football.

 

3. Looking For Tom Lehrer, Comedy’s Mysterious Genius

Ben Smith, Anita Badejo | Buzzfeed | April 9, 2014 | 22 minutes (5,533 words)

On Tom Lehrer, an influential figure comedy who abruptly stepped away from the spotlight during the height of his career:

He began performing internationally in 1959, when the Palace Theatre in London asked him to perform the first two Sundays in May. “In England in 1959, you couldn’t put on a play, [on Sunday] so the theaters were closed,” Robinson recalled. “But you could put on a concert.”

Lehrer filled the 1,400-seat theater both weekends and was a big enough hit that they kept him on through the end of May, after which he booked several more performances throughout England in June and early July.

Yet despite his enormous success, global popularity, and the release of his second album, More Songs by Tom Lehrer that year, it was exactly at this time that Lehrer first told Robinson he wanted to stop performing. Lehrer has told friends and various interviewers that he didn’t enjoy “anonymous affection.” And while his work was widely enjoyed at the time, it was also something of a scandal — the clever songs about math and language were for everyone, but Lehrer’s clear-eyed contemplation of nuclear apocalypse was straightforwardly disturbing.

See also: “The Broken-down Grace of Bill Murray” (The Dissolve, Feb. 2014)

 

4. Shadows by the Sea

Adam Rhew | Charlotte Magazine | April 1, 2014 | 35 minutes (8,857 words)

Fifteen years ago, a Charlotte woman was found shot to death on Bald Head Island. Her case has been reopened, but the mystery remains: Did Davina Buff Jones kill herself, or did someone else kill Davina Buff Jones?

The .40 caliber slug tears through the officer’s skull at nearly 700 miles per hour, shattering bone and ripping gullies into tissue.
It’s minutes before midnight, nine days before Halloween, 1999. Here, beneath the turret of North Carolina’s oldest standing lighthouse, 218 miles from her hometown of Charlotte, the officer takes her final breath.

When someone pulls the trigger on a handgun, it causes a small explosion inside the weapon. The explosion moves a piston that slams a tiny piece of metal, the firing pin, into a bullet. The force of the combustion creates pressure, sending a round hurtling through the barrel of the gun. The entire process takes just a fraction of a second.

How a pistol works is a matter of science and mechanics. It is established fact.

And it is one of the few details of Davina Buff Jones’s death that isn’t still a mystery.

See also: “What Happened To Mitrice Richardson?” (Los Angeles Magazine, Sept. 2011)

 

5. ‘Heathers': An Oral History

Adam Markovitz | Entertainment Weekly | April 5, 2014 | 15 minutes (3,953 words)

Looking back at the classic 1989 dark comedy. Featuring Winona Ryder, Christian Slater, and many questions about why everyone seemed to have a problem with Shannen Doherty:

RYDER Shannen had problems with the swearing. There’s a moment when we’re in the hallway and she’s just shown me the petition, and then she walks away and you can notice that I put my hand through my hair but I stop and look at her. She was supposed to say, “F— me gently with a chain saw.” But she refused to say it.

DOHERTY It could’ve been any of the lines. “Why are you pulling my [pauses] d - - -?” I still have a hard time saying that!

RYDER In her defense, she had come off of, like, Little House on the Prairie. That was how she was raised.

See more: Oral histories in the Longreads archive.

 

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Mike is the managing editor at Longreads, on the editorial team at WordPress.com, and is the editor of The Billfold. He has written for Bloomberg Businessweek, Pacific Standard, the Chicago Tribune, and other publications.
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