Some stories are too far-fetched to be fake, as an author creating true crime out of thin air would add more cash and prizes, more glitz, more glamor. Pete Crooks’ The Setup: A True Story of Dirty Cops, Soccer Moms, and Reality TV is so bizarre at every twist and turn it could only be true. The players’ motives here are petty, the suspects’ behaviors inexplicable, Dr. Phil enters the story twice, becoming first excited, then disappointed. The Setup is, in other words, an incredibly human tale.
The story begins with Pete Crooks, humble entertainment reporter for lifestyle magazine Diablo. As a former East Bay resident myself, I’m familiar with Diablo magazine and its focus on the finer things in life: weddings, wine, local celebrities. When Crooks hears about Chris Butler’s PI firm in Concord, CA, he jumps at the chance to ride along on a case. Butler’s PI firm doesn’t employ the usual muscled ex-cops, but instead turns to an untapped resource in the more suburban cities of the East Bay. He staffs his office with soccer moms.
Gun-toting, cam-wearing soccer moms catching cheating husbands in the act! Getting home in time to make dinner for the kids! The PI moms had appeal, and got a lot of national press, including Dr. Phil, before reaching out to local mag Diablo. But from Crooks’ first meeting with Butler and his bevy of investigating moms, things didn’t feel right. And then, like something out of a crime novel, an anonymous source reached out to Crooks. An e-mail from source Ronald Rutherford (?! You can’t make this stuff up!) insisted Butler and his PI moms weren’t what they appeared–they’d hoodwinked national media, and now they’d taken Crooks for a spin in their fantasy world.
At each step of the way, the issues surrounding Butler, his side-kick Carl Marino, and the moms become more complicated, unusual, and hilarious. Lifetime begins filming a reality show about Butler and the PI Moms. Chris Butler’s BFF also happens to be the head of Contra Costa County’s drug task force, Norman Wielsch. At the center of this storm of trickery, caught in the middle of this web of deceit and jealousy and desire to make primetime television, is one entertainment reporter from a regional magazine.
- The Setup by Peter Crooks (diablomag.com) – The original Diablo Magazine story on Peter Crooks entire ordeal.
447: The Incredible Case of the P.I. Moms (thisamericanlife.org) – Before the book, there was a This American Life episode about the debacle.
- The Ride of His Life (diablomag.com) – Interview with Pete Crooks about the book.