Last Thursday, I sent an e-mail to my husband, informing him I was on my way home to watch a couple of episodes of Snapped, the show on the Oxygen channel about women who kill their husbands.
He shot back: “So by the time I get home, you’ll have the knife sharpened and the big plastic bag all ready to dump my body into?”
Ha. Thanks to Snapped, I’d never be dumb enough to use garbage bags!
Here’s why: As I learned later that night, those innocent-seeming, mass-produced garbage bags jammed under the sink are actually full of incriminating detail. Melanie McGuire, a nurse from New Jersey, was put away for life because of her garbage bags. She killed her husband, dismembered him, put the parts in—you got it!—garbage bags, and then into suitcases and threw them into the ocean. They washed up on the shore in Virginia, near the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel. When she went to trial for the murder of her husband, William, the prosecution called a forensics expert who explained that he could tell that the garbage bags containing William’s corpse were from the very same lot as garbage bags detectives found in the McGuire home.
It’s very possible Snapped is one of those shows that flies under your radar. For one, it’s on Oxygen (Is that different from WE? From Lifetime?), which is somewhere in the Middle America of the cable landscape that is so easy to fly over. Although it airs Sundays at 10:30 p.m., it’s a fair bet that many women are watching it during its regular 90 minutes of repeats (three episodes in a row!) between 8 and 9:30 in the morning—just when, across the country, men are heading off to work and kissing their stay-at-home wives goodbye.
One of the show’s fascinations is that many of the murdered husbands don’t fit the abusive, the-bastard-got-what-he-deserved mold. Instead, shopping often seems to be the culprit, so much so that the show’s tag line could almost be, “Shop till he drops.” A stock piece of video footage, showing fancy Madison Avenue-type shoppers with Louis Vuitton and Prada bags slung over their shoulders, makes a regular appearance, to ominous effect. The women’s spending problems sometimes lead to credit card debt, bank fraud and other financial jams that they hide from their husbands. And rather than come clean to their husbands and try to work the issue out with a good financial planner, the women decide for some reason that murdering them is the better, more sensible option. Some claim their partners would’ve beaten them or otherwise abused them if their financial irresponsibility had been revealed, and defend the killing as a sort of last-ditch self-defense maneuver. Others hope to get insurance money to pay their creditors. Or take Melanie McGuire and her telltale garbage bags: She killed her husband in order to avoid a messy divorce and custody battle over her two children. The fact that a murder trial would likely be a bit more inconvenient than a divorce or custody case doesn’t seem to have occurred to her.
Often enough, it’s not fancy clothes but bar tabs and modest home furnishings and a few nice things that get these women in trouble. Their stories are from small towns and suburbs across the Midwest and South and Southwest. The footage of their small depressed towns and strip malls can make a viewer sympathetic to a woman who longs for a new or different life.
If a show like The Wire makes you want to be a detective, catching the bad guys and boozing it up at shabby watering holes, Snapped captures the often slow and frustrating pace of crime-solving, as well as the darker corners of America where local officers are busting their friends and neighbors, not big, bad drug dealers and serial killers. Law and Order, CSI and all the other prime-time crime shows have taught us to think we know what to look for and expect when it comes to catching a killer. But in real life, the blood spatters and bullet trajectories aren’t always the clues that ultimately convict.
Snapped is not a flashy show; to tell its stories of women who kill, the show relies on long exterior shots of police stations and family homes, and many sit-down interviews with law enforcement officers, friends and family members of the victims and perpetrators. And the show absolutely luxuriates in 80’s-style, Unsolved Mysteries-bad-reenactment glory, with liberal use of shadow, slo-mo and, when the situation calls for it, fuzzy embraces between lingerie-clad women and muscled men. What often results is the jarring juxtaposition of a blurred, kitschy reenactment followed by an actual, stomach-turning crime photo of a blood-spattered, gunshot corpse, still wearing pajamas or K-Mart underwear.