By: Kayla Caldwell
THE FATAL ATTRACTION MURDER, from Oxygen, is a study in the way the American media and justice system treat women, especially pretty ones. The entire time I was watching this, Amanda Knox was in the back of my mind. It seems Carolyn Warmus was the OG “Foxy Knoxy,” back in 1989. And heading into the Nineties, a tabloid decade, Warmus, the good-looking, blonde daughter of a multi-millionaire, did not stand a chance.
Once suspicion fell on the then-25-year-old, the press dubbed her “The Fatal Attraction killer,” and her fate was decided. As was the case with Knox, it seemed then that rather than the police conducting an investigation that leads to Warmus, it was more the police deciding it was Warmus, and looking for evidence that supported that theory. The case became about Warmus’ past lovers, and the way she dressed, rather than actual forensic evidence - of which there was none.
During the trial, Warmus didn’t even speak on the stand, because her counsel advised her not to. Why? Because she would get hammered with questions about her sex life, and, as we all know, women having autonomy over their own sexuality really freaks out the patriarchy. Meanwhile, once Warmus became the main suspect, no one seemed to care about Betty Jean Solomon’s husband, even though as we say in the true crime community, “It’s always the husband.” Because Warmus was wealthy, pretty, and blonde, it was easy for the press to paint her as a bunny-boiling psycho, even though they probably should have spent more time examining the married letch who, at 40 years old, started a relationship with a 23-year-old new teacher he was assigned to mentor. Because yes, that is how the two lovers met.
THE FATAL ATTRACTION MURDER, from Oxygen, takes another look at that case, and how it was handled, 33 years later. And this time, Warmus gets to tell her side of the story. Now, I don’t want to mislead you - this is not a redemption story. By the end of the three-part series, there are no dramatic reversals of conviction. No new arrest is made. No names are cleared. However, at least this time Warmus gets to tell her story, and it’s up to viewers to decide if she was wrongfully convicted, or if she is the femme fatale the media portrayed her to be.
THE FATAL ATTRACTION MURDER rehashes the details of the case, while also featuring interviews of cops who worked on the case, like Detective Richard Constantino, psychologists, members of the jury, Warmus’ family, and more. This case was really botched by the officers - like, JonBenét Ramsey bad. Betty Jean was shot nine times. Her husband, Paul Solomon, was the one who found her. So, naturally, they tested his hands for gunshot residue to see if he had recently shot a gun, right? That’s standard protocol, and a pretty obviously necessary step. But you’d be wrong, because, since Paul had blood on him, the officers who arrived LET HIM WASH HIS HANDS, therefore eradicating any possible evidence on the main suspect (at that time).
One of the biggest items in contention was a single, black glove found way too close to the body of the late Betty Jean to not have considered it evidence. However, the officers never collected it as evidence, and it went missing for about three years. Reportedly, Paul found it in his house years later, but in my opinion, it was far too late to even count as forensic evidence. Even Detective Constantino admits that was a major oversight.
The further into the documentary series we go, the more confusing and bizarre the revelations. Either Warmus is a pathological liar, or someone went to great lengths to set her up. For example, did Paul invite Warmus on a spontaneous trip to Puerto Rico - or did Warmus find out where he had traveled with his new girlfriend, so she could show up, uninvited? She maintains he left her a voicemail, and that's why she joined him. It seems questionable to buy a plane ticket without actually hopping on a call, but hey, it was a different time. Paul, however, denies any such voicemail. At the time, he told everyone he was scared for his life.
There are moments when Warmus is really convincing, and moments she loses her temper. Is she frustrated at having to defend herself for over 30 years - or is she mad when the producers poke holes in her story? “You got your gotcha moment,” Warmus seethes at one point.
There is no smoking gun in this case. All of the evidence is circumstantial. If, in theory, the jurors were deciding if Warmus was guilty of second-degree murder, beyond a reasonable doubt, then I’m shocked she was convicted at all. (Here I’d like to point out that she had two trials, because the first one ended in a mistrial.) In the spirit of other famous confounding cases, like that of Adnan Syed, I don’t think it really matters if I think Warmus is guilty or not - and I’m not certain of either, by the way. What’s important here is that I do not think Warmus got a fair trial, as she was prosecuted in the press long before she saw her day in court. Additionally, while I do believe circumstantial evidence is evidence, it’s jarring to see a case with so little actual forensic evidence end in a 27-year conviction.
THE FATAL ATTRACTION MURDER was brutal, and truly sad, for the loss of a dedicated, young mother. However, the reason that we are still talking about it today is clearly its comparison to Fatal Attraction, and Warmus’ to Glenn Close’s Alex Forrest. This Oxygen special has everything; a philandering husband, his much younger lover, secret love notes, a show-stopping photo of the suspect looking like a guilty Princess Diana, and a battle of the phone bills (in which either the defendant's or prosecution's is forged).
True crime fans will love THE FATAL ATTRACTION MURDER, as it's the kind of case you can continue to debate with your friends. There are a lot of politics in this documentary, from class issues to the sexism inherent in the judicial system. It will make you think far beyond the catchy headlines.
Check out Warmus' story for yourself with the Oxygen two-night special event of THE FATAL ATTRACTION MURDER, premiering back-to-back nights. The special begins on Saturday, March 26 at 8PM ET/PT, with the second episode debuting the following night, on Sunday, March 27, also at 8PM ET/PT.