It was a crime scene so bloody that the New Jersey police slid across the red-pooled floor of the bar. That was one of the many insistent details in a new podcast about a triple homicide in 1966 for which the middleweight boxer Rubin Carter was tried, convicted, and released twice – eventually freed after near-20 years behind bars. “The full story has never been told – until now!” goes the long drum roll in episode one (in that helplessly preening way of Real Life Investigation podcasts), after which we are promised excerpts from “40 hours of unheard” tape recordings involving the police detective, Vincent DeSimone, who headed up the case.
So catastrophic were Vincent’s injuries in the Second World War that his face was a chaos of scars and wounds, which caused him to slobber whenever he spoke – another burning detail. As is the story that Rubin Carter ran 100km in just 48 hours (that’s more than two marathons) to escape from a boys’ reformatory established during the civil war, full of “15-year-old rapists and killers”, where he’d suffered since he was eight years old. (I’ve found myself thinking miserably on that several times.)
Might these tapes secure at last the truth about the murders? My guess is not; but I’ll be tuning in. The case famously inspired Bob Dylan’s 1975 song “Hurricane”, protesting Carter’s innocence. It was the singer’s one other “We Are the World” moment, so temperamentally allergic to joining in with causes had he been until that point. Carter was for a time the quintessential cause célèbre. (“The trial was a pig-circus/he never had a chance.”) But it’s not just the murders and mistrials, the racism and legacy of abuse, that truly powers this story. There is something to boxing itself that people cannot resist. Dylan, Hemingway, Mailer, Joyce Carol Oates… boxing just IS interesting. Even hearing Deontay Wilder and Tyson Fury giving into all that outside-the-ring trash talk in December, like a proper pair of bums, and then watching the fight itself – basically two people rolling around on the floor – there was still a… tiny nugget of purity. Like with chess: a heart and soul feels profoundly, somehow, on the line. I predict a smash.
The Hurricane Tapes
This article appears in the 02 Jan 2019 issue of the New Statesman, 2019: The big questions