Three seasons in, Fargo has become known for well-orchestrated plots that rely on various events converging and leading people to strange conclusions. It also has a reputation for taking pretty standard plot devices (like, say, brotherly conflict) and throwing in odd details (such as a grudge over a stamp collection). But it's not just onscreen that you can find this kind of material. Here are some true crime stories that are so weird they sound like Fargo plots.
Avril Lavigne made a man murder his mum
For starters, let’s all agree that bludgeoning one’s mother with a cognac bottle is a despicable act – but exactly the kind of grace note in which Fargo revels. Robert Lyons took to his mum with the liquor container (and a stabbing knife) in 2008, after he learnt she hadn’t called her friend to organise him tickets to an Avril Lavigne concert. The pair had had numerous profanity-laden fights before, generally over Lyons’ refusal to do any chores – is that not the perfect vehicle for building up tension over episodes? Does anyone have Avril’s number? She has to have a role, either as herself or a local police officer who smells a rat.
This bank robber has ignoble motives
One of Fargo’s hallmarks is criminals with meticulous plans being thrown off course by the low-stakes chaos of ordinary people doing bad things. Ordinary people like Anthony Miller, who robbed a Pennsylvania bank with a BB gun back in 2007. He asked for money, then told the tellers to call the police, before hanging around to be arrested. It turned out he wanted to leave his wife, but she threatened to end it all if he did. Jail seemed like the next-best option. This story has a happy ending, though – he got three to six in prison and his wife divorced him.
The Tamam Shud case is an Aussie puzzle
In 1948, a dead body washed up on South Australia’s Somerton Beach. In his pocket was a scrap of paper with the word “finished” written on it in Persian (hence the name of the case). The torn paper was tracked back to a copy of Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam found in the rear footwell of a car, and on the inside back cover were handwriting indentations – a phone number, another number and an encrypted message. Intrigued yet? What if we add that all identifying tags were removed from his clothes and a suitcase found at Adelaide train station? The Somerton Man has never been conclusively identified, although there’s a lot of talk about him being a spy, which we haven’t seen in Fargo yet.
It’s not that easy to fake a crime
If you’re going to pretend a “male black adult” has broken into your house, beaten you unconscious, raped you, and stolen some electronic equipment, you’ll need to do a better job than Laurie Martinez. The Sacramento psychologist wanted to move, and this was her way of convincing her husband that the neighbourhood was too dangerous. To make the home invasion seem more realistic, she split her lip with a safety pin, ripped her clothes, sandpapered her knuckles, made her friend punch her in the face and peed her pants. Yeah, The Sopranos did “Unidentified Black Male” in 2004, but Fargo could put a retro spin on the whole sorry story.
A good murder needs some glamour (and plenty of motives)
Let’s take Fargo farther back in time than it’s gone so far – to 1922, when silent-film director William Desmond Taylor was shot in the back. The murder happened in his house, and since the killer didn’t take his cash or diamond ring, it clearly wasn’t a robbery gone wrong. So who wanted the movie man dead? There are plenty of suspects in this still-unsolved case – more than a dozen, with seven options seen as the most credible. These include his former and/or current valet, a cocaine-addicted lover and the neighbours who claimed to have seen an intruder who looked “like my idea of a motion picture burglar”. Writes itself, doesn’t it?
You can watch the third season of Fargo every Wednesday night from 8:30pm on SBS and catch-up on any episodes you've missed via SBS On Demand.