By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
Photo by Micheal Powers
HER GIVEN NAME, WHICH SHE SHARES WITH HER maternal grandmother, has arguably brought her more grief than her gruesome subject matter. "When I first pitched Aphrodite Jones," says editor Paul Dinas, who bought her first book, The FBI Killer, "people thought it was a book about hookers." In his 1997 New Yorker essay on a triple murder in Falls City, Nebraska, John Gregory Dunne stopped just short of depicting her as the Angelyne of true crime: "From the day of her arrival . . . Aphrodite Jones was a high-profile presence. She was the most glamorous thing to hit Falls City in a long time, and she was not unaware of it." Jones' response is, characteristically, equally pungent: "That doesn't surprise me. [Dunne] sat next to me during the trial and tried to crib my notes." Aphie, as everybody who knows her calls her, is both loved and despised; respected not so much for her writing -- which sometimes has the bland, industrial feel of hospital food -- as for her iron-drawered moxie, lavish wardrobe and red-hot jones for self-promotion. She has been derided as "sensationalist," "unprofessional" and "a pain in the ass," and has been the subject of rumors accusing her of everything from stealing material, to procuring alcohol for underage kids in return for information, to sleeping with an entire football team. She is invariably described as "swooping in" to collect on the still-twitching debris of small-town crime: A Florida newspaper caricatured Jones as a carrion bird with money in her beak, which she was offering to the daughter of a murdered couple in exchange for her cooperation.
It was the tragedy in Nebraska -- where a 21-year-old Lincoln girl named Teena trying to pass herself off as a boy named Brandon was murdered along with two friends -- that Jones documented in her 1996 book All She Wanted. The case also inspired Kimberly Peirce's independent film Boys Don't Cry(and much Hollywood interest), as well as a couple of documentaries and a few lawsuits. Jones' suit, which was the last one settled, accused distributor Fox Searchlight of subverting plans to develop All She Wanted with producers Diane Keaton and Bill Robinson and star Drew Barrymore. (ThenÂFox Searchlight president Lindsay Law saw 20 minutes of Boys Don't Cry at 1999's Sundance Film Festival and paid $5 million for the unfinished film -- the same amount he had budgeted for the Jones/Keaton project.) Blue Relief, Keaton's production company, settled almost immediately with Fox without having to file a single document. But Fox, according to Jones' attorney Glen Kulik, "was not willing to deal with Aphrodite." Had studio execs boned up on their Greek mythology, they might have reconsidered: Her namesake, the Goddess of Love, was not only famous for her many love affairs but for her frequent outbursts of anger. It was Jones, says Bill Robinson, who first urged Keaton to take action. "Aphie is an amazing force of nature," he says. "She's relentless -- it's like having a great detective on your side. You can't stop her. She is not afraid, and she doesn't back down."
In person, the 40-year-old Jones looks like a cross between actress Catherine Keener and Shania Twain (i.e., she is stunningly beautiful). Although Fort Lauderdale is her nominal home, she knows that Hollywood is where the real money in true crime is, and where, she says, "I can make my stories larger than life." She's been in L.A. almost a year now, and says she's not going away anytime soon. (Cue evil laugh and organ music.) Her own life would, in fact, be choice fodder for a Scott AlexanderÂLarry Karaszewski (Ed Wood, The People vs. Larry Flynt, Man on the Moon) screenplay: Globetrotting daughter of a WASP Pentagon wonk and a Greek court interpreter profiles Hollywood celebrities before moving on to decapitators, rapists, serial killers, torturers, sadists, blood drinkers and pimps. ("When I first met her, I really didn't think she was a book writer," admits Heather Wendorf, whose parents' murder was profiled by Jones in her 1999 book The Embrace: A True Vampire Story.) Imagine what must cross the mind of a twice-divorced homicide detective, or a victim's friend weaned on the distant cathode glamour of Hollywood, or a convicted killer on death row upon seeing, for the first time, the Versace suits with Ally McBealÂlength skirts, the piercing brown eyes, and the Medusa-mass of dark-brown hair with which Jones constantly, coquettishly toys. Imagine the indignation, too, particularly among local reporters hungry to break out of the daily grind of small-time journalism: Who the hell does this metropolitan chickie think she is, with her book plans, film deals and miniskirts?
The subtext, of course, is that her looks are her key to the kingdom of violent death and shattered lives. But to people like Leslie Tisdel, whose sister Lana was played by Chloe Sevigny in Boys Don't Cry and whose boyfriend, Phillip DeVine, died in the Nebraska farmhouse, Jones didn't rub her the wrong way, as did many of the reporters, book writers, filmmakers and deal makers who showed up on Tisdel's doorstep. "Aphie talked to me as an understanding, caring person," Tisdel says between cigarettes. "She didn't come across as 'Let's talk about Teena Brandon or Brandon Teena,' but 'Let's talk about how you guys feel.' That's why I opened up to her. Nobody else ever asked us that." By climbing into the minds of her subjects, says Louis Flores, Jones' research assistant on her last three books, "Aphie enables them to become the storyteller without them even knowing it. She's someone you confess to. I've been amazed at what I've heard people tell her."
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