Web site grows out of fascination with Robert Wone killing

By Neely Tucker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, May 17, 2010

Once upon a time, when people became fascinated with criminals or serial killers or sensational murder trials, they hung out at the courthouse all day, then they wrote books about it all.

The Lindbergh kidnapping, "The Crime of the Century," was in 1932, and people are still writing books about it. Truman Capote and "In Cold Blood" in the 1960s. Ann Rule and her tale of Ted Bundy, "The Stranger Beside Me," in the 1980s. Dominick Dunne? Made a career out of this sort of thing with Vanity Fair.

Now it's 2010, and we bring you a Web site called Who Murdered Robert Wone? (http://www.whomurderedrobertwone.com) -- a new-media instant encyclopedia of the ongoing investigation and prosecution (though not on murder charges) of the mysterious slaying of Wone, a Washington lawyer.

It's the slightly obsessive brainchild of Craig Brownstein, 52, vice president for media relations at the Edelman public relations firm; Doug Johnson, 45, a producer at Voice of America; Michael Kremin, 53, a digital-media consultant; and David Greer, 45, a speechwriter at the National Association of Realtors. Struck by the lack of coverage of the case in 2008, they set up the site as a simple blog and watched it balloon into an after-hours project so in-depth they are hiring an intern to help cover the trial.

"Every murder victim should have an indefatigable investigation into their case," Brownstein says. "Some murder cases get a lot of attention, and some don't. This one did not. We understood the magnitude of loss here, a life like Robert's, and were struck by the Rubik's Cube nature of the murder investigation itself. We decided to devote ourselves to bringing as much attention to the case as possible."

Wone, 32, the general counsel for Radio Free Asia, was apparently sexually assaulted and then stabbed to death within 90 minutes of arriving at a gay friend's house in the 1500 block of Swann Street NW near Dupont Circle in 2006. No one has been charged with his murder, but the three housemates who were present that night have been charged with covering up the crime.

With the trial set to begin Monday in D.C. Superior Court, the four friends who run the Web site -- all gay men who happened to live near the crime scene -- are preparing to go gavel-to-gavel with updates and analysis live on the blog and on Twitter, complete with RSS feeds. Posts might include movie scenes that play off a point in the proceedings (previous entries include clips from "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" and "Dr. Strangelove").

This goes on top of the more than 300 blog entries documenting developments in the investigation over the past 17 months, along with biographies of the victim, the defendants and the legal teams and links to nearly all the court documents and other media stories. They've bought ads to promote the site in local newspapers, hung "reward" posters in the neighborhood (urging tipsters to call police) and put up other posters in the U Street corridor with the heading "Trial of a Lifetime."

The site often takes a critical tone -- the defendants, the police and the attorneys are all fair game -- but it strives for journalistic objectivity, never presuming to answer its namesake question. (As with many news sites, the reader comments are a different story.) But it is a jazzy, familiar kind of reportage -- blog entries are often movie titles ("Blood Simple") and other pop-culture references ("Can You Hear Me Now?"). When the trial's start was pushed back by a judge's ruling in December, Brownstein filed an entry titled "Delay of Game," with a secondary headline of "Six Months and Half the Distance to the Goal." The illustration was a picture of a football referee throwing a penalty flag.

The site has drawn nearly a million page views from legal, gay and Capitol Hill sources, the creators say (they don't divulge overall traffic figures), and has hits from around the globe.

It has also drawn mixed reviews.

Brad Weinsheimer, chief of the Superior Court division of the U.S. attorney's office and the man ultimately overseeing the prosecution, likes it. "It's very impressive," he says. "The explanation of court hearings is not just largely accurate, but pretty incisive."

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