Bob Fratta, a kinkster Guido especially for whom the legendary Sopranos phrase “Manson lamps” seems to have been coined, decided to have his estranged wife Farah murdered. Fratta (whose name looks like it’s pronounced “frat-uh” — heh — but is actually rendered as “frotta,” like “frottage,” and I do not mention this for no reason) alibi’d himself in sub-zeroically cynical fashion with his kids’ catechism class, then brought them back to the house to find their mother’s dead body.
Despite having asked fully half the dudes at his gym where he might find a suitable hit man, sans hinting or code words, and leaving a thousand dollars cash in his glovebox for detectives to find, Fratta almost got by with it. Enter the Prestone-blooded Mary Gipp, girlfriend of a suspected co-conspirator, who could have prevented the murder, but didn’t — and wouldn’t even give police basic information until they threatened to drag her in front of a grand jury. But give it she did, convicting Bob Fratta in the process.
Gipp also gives viewers the creeps. Shown in B-roll footage just strolling through her life in a cheap suit, carrying a cheap purse, her shrugged “I just didn’t want to deal with it” is bone-chilling.
Gipp’s inability to control her affect is just one of the fascinating aspects of this episode of 48 Hours Mystery, whose quotidian episode title belies all manner of curiosities — starting with why Fratta didn’t just carry on with his divorce like a normal person. True-crime enthusiasts find themselves asking that a lot, and as usual, the answer here is largely “because he’s a psycho.”
But there’s also a twist. Evidently, Fratta felt that certain information included in the divorce petition, specifically regarding his sexual proclivities, would preclude any significant custodial rights to his three children, all aged seven or younger at the time of the murder. 48 Hours airs in primetime, which forced the program’s producers to remain rather vague in their allusions: “Farah told [former co-worker Kitty Waters] Sneed her husband wanted her to do things to him sexually that not only embarrassed her, they sickened her.” This of course forced in turn a side bet between me and my viewing partner on what, exactly, Fratta was into — and a mad dash to Google to settle it when Sneed went on, “She showed me some stains in the closet where some things went on.”
In the…closet? If our guess that Fratta wanted his wife to defecate on him was correct (spoiler: it was), how was that supposed to work? We spent a good ten minutes trying to formulate a realistic mental image of the couple crammed into your average sliding-doors closet, the late Farah crouched grudgingly over her bonko husband while the occasional ice skate or sleeping bag is sailing down from the top shelf…isn’t the bathroom a better place for that sort of thing? And if it takes that much convincing to get the wife to join you over the chocolate rainbow in the first place, wouldn’t you maybe plan ahead with a rubber sheet or some Hefty bags? Or is fubaring the carpet part of the thrill? People can’t help their turn-ons, and I don’t judge, as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone, but 1) it did, big-time and 2) it’s called “a wet-vac,” Bob, jeez.
And it gets better. According to the cops, Fratta blabbed to “15 to 17″ fellow gym rats about his nefarious plan, and that fact alone is an amazing entry for the Sometimes They Catch Themselves file — but it’s the footage of Mike Edens that makes it art. Crime shows have created an entire sub-industry from make-work B-roll, i.e., when the narrator notes that “Joey Baggadonuts worked alongside Killy McKnifepants at Their Occupation, Inc.,” Joey is then shown industriously…doing This Occupation. The B-roll of Edens is an all-time classic; Edens is one of the jillion people Fratta asked for help offing his wife, and as he’s introduced in VO, he’s standing in front of a weight-room mirror in pleated khakis and a profoundly erroneous polo shirt with palm trees on it, doing delt lifts. Very diligent, intense delt lifts. What the hell? Stock footage of weight plates sliding onto a bar is the standard here, but I love 48 Hours for not settling.
I also love Detective Davis, who has always been and resolutely remains impatiently disgusted by Bob Fratta. Every comment he passes about Fratta’s bland arrogance prior to his arrest — “He’s cheesin’ to the camera” is my favorite — is followed by a silent “…dickhead.” And when Fratta finally does get the bracelets, he’s wearing a too-small blank tank top and shorts nearly as voluminous as his mullet. My viewing companion, for whom a blank tank top is something of a trademark: “Oh well that’s just great.”
It’s not just a face-palm special, though; the Fratta children, raised by their maternal grandparents, have since changed their last names to Farah’s maiden name, and all of them participated in the episode. All three seem smart, friendly, and well-adjusted, but issues linger, as of course they must, and listening to each child describe the way they came home from church school to find the ground beneath them missing all those years ago is affecting.
“Thou Shalt Not Kill” is equal parts icky, scary, bittersweet, and outright funny; it’s respectful of Farah and the survivors, but snarky about everyone else. I’ve described much of it here, but the last ten minutes take an interesting turn; it’s a worthwhile hour (or you can read a reliable transcription at one of the links herein).