Jerry Oppenheimer is a bestselling author and biographer and a frequent contributor to DailyMail.com
Major book publishers and Hollywood producers are already ‘chomping at the bit’ to obtain the inside story of the gruesome Idaho college student murders, with some gearing up to pay tens of millions of dollars, DailyMail.com can reveal.
True crime authors eager to make a splash with the biggest murder story to captivate the nation in years are already bombarding publishing houses with their proposals for a blockbuster on the quadruple killings.
And they, in turn, are looking at ways to parlay the book into films to rake in even more dollars.
Charles Spicer, vice president and executive editor of St. Martin’s Press, told DailyMail.com he has already been deluged with potential bestseller pitches.
‘It could be a big book,’ said Spicer, who has been described as ‘having spent more time contemplating murder than anyone this side of a professional hit man.’
DailyMail.com can reveal book publishers and Hollywood producers are already gearing up to bid tens of millions of dollars to secure the rights to the Idaho college student murders story in the wake of suspect Bryan Kohberger’s long-awaited arrest
‘The case has riveted Americans,’ he added. ‘But a determining factor for the success will be the writer’s access to the main players, his or her [social media] platform – having a podcast, etc – and also the quality of the writing itself.’
Over the years, Spicer has acquired and edited dozens of true crime books – cases that have made national headlines – and turned the manuscripts into virtually instant books and bestsellers. His successes include Garden of Graves: The Shocking True Story of Long Island Serial Killer Joel Rifkin, and Lethal Lolita, about Amy Fisher, the 17-year-old who shot and seriously wounded the wife of her much older lover, Joey Buttafuoco.
The Idaho case has riveted Americans for two months, and any potential book about it is already being compared to one of the best-selling true crime books in history, with all the elements of a ‘blockbuster seller,’ according to industry sources.
‘It’s the most fascinating true-crime story since Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood and we’d pay top dollar – I’m talking very high seven figures, at least $25million – for just the book rights,’ one top editor who has acquired a slew of bestsellers at one of America’s biggest publishing houses,’ told DailyMail.com.
Industry sources told DailyMail.com the chilling quadruple murder case has all the elements of a ‘blockbuster seller,’ and could be the most fascinating true crime story since Truman Capote’s ‘In Cold Blood’
‘Plus there would be millions more for film and TV rights.
‘And with the arrest of that eerie and strange suspect – a truly frightening and bizarre odd duck who studied crime like an academic and then allegedly killed – it has added even more intrigue, fascination, and immense value to the story,’ the editor added.
‘This murder case has all the elements for a blockbuster bestseller.’
The murder weapon has not been found. However, authorities revealed a tan, leather knife sheath with a button snap and ‘KA-BAR’ and USMC’ insignias was found at the scene containing Kohberger’s DN
But everyone agrees it is the quality of the writing that will matter.
‘Truman Capote set a very high bar,’ Spicer pointed out.
The brutal knife killings of Xana Kernodle, her boyfriend, Ethan Chapin, both 20, along with Kaylee Goncalves and Maddie Mogen, both 21, in their rented house in the college town of Moscow, Idaho, on November 13, struck fear in the small community and enthralled the country, with social media sleuths looking for suspects and motives.
The suspect, Bryan Kohberger, 28, a Ph.D. student at Washington State University – less than 10 miles from the murder scene – was studying criminology and appeared obsessed with the criminal mind.
He has been extradited to Idaho to face the charges following his arrest at his parents’ home in Pennsylvania on December 30, after a cross-country surveillance by law enforcement.
Adding to the intrigue is the arrest of the ‘eerie and strange suspect’ who one editor described as a ‘bizarre odd duck who studied crime like an academic’ and then carried out his own
What’s more is that investigators are still trying to determine the killer’s motive and his connection to the four friends (pictured: roommates Madison and Kaylee)
Kohberger allegedly killed couple Ethan Chapin and Xana Kernodle before fatally attacking the other two friends
A Hollywood producer who specializes in real-life stories ‘ripped from the headlines’ told DailyMail.com: ‘We’re chomping at the bit to make this film, and to get the blockbuster inside story.
‘Everyone in America, it seems, has avidly followed this story. I don’t want to sound cold-blooded, but the book and the movie based on this gruesome crime could be the biggest box office success in decades.
‘Our budget would be astronomical, probably the highest ever paid for such a story-to-film – tens of millions of dollars, conceivably much, much more if you consider world rights.
‘And what makes this project even more exciting is the murder suspect. I look at his photo and I get goose bumps, and what comes to my mind is that frightening character in The Silence of the Lambs – Dr. Hannibal Lecter,’ he said, referring to the fictitious serial killer, played on screen by Anthony Hopkins.
‘We are already planning to send a couple of veteran production scouts to Idaho to make contacts, and after the suspect was arrested, we’ve had a couple of top-level meetings to start mapping out the project. It’s still early.
‘For just the insider rights, we’re talking a payout of at least $25million, probably more. And we foresee a huge box office once the film’s in theaters, and streaming.
‘This would be the biggest and most fascinating true-crime film in decades, and in many ways the story’s a lot like In Cold Blood, when four members of a Kansas family were slaughtered in their home. The book and the movie were huge.’
The manner in which the killer navigated the three-story home to kill the four students – who were sleeping in separate rooms and floors – in the early hours of November 13 has raised questions about his motives
‘But this story will be even bigger on screen.’
Meanwhile, a veteran literary agent told DailyMail.com that the most interesting character at this point in the case is the murder suspect.
‘But if he’s convicted,’ the agent added, ‘he would not be able to receive any book or film compensation under Son of Sam laws that prohibit criminals from profiting from shows or writings about their crimes. But, there have been cases in which courts have ruled against the laws based on the First Amendment.
‘The book would need a really great writer, someone like the late, great Truman Capote.
‘Exclusive deals could be made with whoever’s the top investigator who got on to the suspect, with family members of the victims and with anyone who was closest to the suspect.
Charles Spicer, vice president and executive editor of St. Martin’s Press, told DailyMail.com the murder story could be a highly successful book
‘It’s his mind – the mind of the killer who committed these murders and who almost got away – who appears at this point to be the most fascinating part of the story. But whether he’d cooperate is another story. But it will be a big, big book and movie, that’s for certain.’
Capote’s In Cold Blood was first published in the fall of 1965, in four installments in The New Yorker magazine, and became a huge bestseller when published as a book in 1966, followed by the blockbuster 1967 film that was based on the book.
Our sources pointed out that there are a number of ‘striking similarities’ to the recent murders in Idaho and the killings decades ago of the Clutter family in Kansas – father, mother, teenaged son and daughter, who were brutally slashed, or died from shotgun blasts.
Both cases took place in the victims’ homes in small towns, the Clutter family in the quiet farming community of Holcomb, Kansas, and both occurred just days before Thanksgiving, the Clutters on November 15, in 1959, the college students 63 years later on November 13.
To some, the case is reminiscent of Truman Capote’s non-fiction crime novel In Cold Blood, based on the grisly 1959 murders of the Clutter family – pictured from left to right: Kenyon, Nancy, Eveanna, father Herbert, mother Bonnie Mae, and Beverly – in Holcomb, Kansas
The Clutter family farmhouse in Holcomb, Kansas, was the site of one of the most infamous murders in the US
Perry Smith and Richard Hickock were executed at the Kansas State Penitentiary near Lansing more than five years after the Clutter family murders
And, like the Idaho case, there was no immediate motive, no useable clues, and no suspects when the Clutter murder investigation began.
The father, Herbert Clutter, had his throat slashed and his body was found in the basement.
His wife Bonnie and their teenaged children, Kenyon and Nancy, died from shotgun blasts to their faces. Mother and daughter were slain in their bedrooms, Kenyon was found on a downstairs sofa.
Truman Capote ‘set a very high bar’ when it came to writing true crime stories, publishing insiders agree
Arrested weeks after the murders, on December 30, 1959, in Las Vegas during a routine traffic stop while driving a stolen car, were Richard Hickock and Perry Smith who did not know the Clutter family members when they killed and robbed them.
On April 14, 1965, the pair were executed at the Kansas State Penitentiary near Lansing.
The New York Times called Capote’s book a ‘superbly written true account’ that included interviews with everyone from friends and neighbors to police and the killers in their prison cells, where Perry Smith apologized for participating in the murders.
Capote was even present as a witness at the hangings, after a three-month trial.
In the movie version, Smith was played by the actor Robert Blake – a role that made him a star.
Years later he, too, would be charged with murder for the killing of his wife, Bonny Lee Bakley, but after a three-month trial was acquitted.
HOW TRUE CRIME HAS BECOME A PUBLISHING CASH COW
True crime books – and the films made from them – are among publishing’s top-selling genres because they ‘put us right in the middle of good vs. evil and give us the thrill of doing detective work and bringing the bad guys to justice,’ asserts Keith Wallman, the editor-in-chief of the publisher Diversion Books.
According to the book trade publication, Publisher’s Weekly, the true crime genre has always been booming.
And true crime stories have scored big audiences in series on Netflix, among them The People vs. O.J. Simpson, and The Assassination of Gianni Versace on American Crime Story, among others.
Along with In Cold Blood, some of the biggest true crime bestsellers of all time include:
The Stranger Beside Me, by Ann Rule, who wrote about her friend and one-time co-worker Ted Bundy, who became one of America’s most infamous serial killers. Bundy kidnapped, raped and murdered women, and was executed in 1989. Rule’s 1980 memoir/biography became a 1995 made-for-television movie. Before her death in 2015, she had published some 35 true crime books that sold more than 50million copies in 16 languages.
Helter Skelter: The True Story of the Manson Murders, by prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi, tells the story of the 1969 Los Angeles murders of the pregnant actress Sharon Tate and six other victims by Charles Manson and his cult ‘family’ members. Some 7million copies have been sold. The book, published in 1974, was adapted for a 2004 TV movie.
The Executioner’s Song, by Norman Mailer, was a 1979 Pulitzer Prize-winning true-crime novel about the events surrounding the real-life execution in Utah of murderer and armed robber Gary Gilmore, who gained international headlines because he demanded to be executed. The book became a highly rated made-for-television crime drama, with Gilmore played by Tommy Lee Jones.
Zodiac, by Robert Graysmith, a journalist, tells the story of the unsolved serial killings in San Francisco beginning in the late 1960s by the so-called ‘Zodiac Killer.’ Published in 1986, Zodiac sold some 4million copies and became a New York Times bestseller. It became a mystery thriller feature film in 2007 starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Robert Downey Jr., and Chloe Sevigny, and earned more than $84million at the box office.
Devil in the White City, by Erik Larson, the true story of a serial killer who lured his victims during the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago, was published in 2003. As of last September, it had been on the New York Times bestseller list a mindboggling 374 weeks, won the 2004 Edgar Award for best true crime, and was a 2003 National Book Award nonfiction finalist. A miniseries based on the book is reportedly being produced by Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio.
Bad Blood, by John Carreyrou, a Wall Street Journal reporter, became a huge national bestseller in 2018, probing Elizabeth Holmes and her Silicone Valley company, Theranos – considered one of the largest corporate frauds in history. She was sentenced in November to 11 years in prison, convicted on four counts of criminal fraud in the wake of her blood-testing company being a virtual scam. There are plans to turn the book into a film, but Jennifer Lawrence, who was to play Holmes, dropped out last month.