On a sunny Monday last June, when Timothy Mucciante, who had been attempting still another re-invention of his already varied and complicated 61-year-old life, this go-around as a film producer, received a crisp e-mail announcing he’d been fired, he was not surprised.
In a fit of pique, he’d “turned off the spigot of money” funding the pre-production expenses of Lucky, a film based on Alice Sebold’s 1999 memoir, a piercing nonfiction account of her vicious rape as a college freshman and the subsequent trial of her assailant, which had sold more than a million copies.
Mucciante wasn’t particularly upset about having to walk away just weeks before shooting was to start from his first feature credit as an executive producer. He was more concerned about his lawyers’ working out compensation for the funds he’d invested.
But what did catch Mucciante off guard in the introspective days that followed was his realization that he now had to make a decision. It came down to this, he’d say: either he could put aside all his mounting suspicions about the book, and about the veracity of Sebold’s story, and move on to the next chapter of his tumultuous life, or he could turn rogue and head off on what could be a futile crusade to get to the bottom of things.
In time Mucciante’s decision would set in motion a widely reported string of then unimaginable events. Anthony Broadwater, now a well-worn 61-year-old who had spent more than 16 years in jail for the 1981 rape and assault of Alice Sebold, would be fully exonerated.
Sebold, whose reputation as a writer had only grown since the release of her imaginative and lyrical 2002 novel, The Lovely Bones—a No. 1 New York Times best-seller and the basis of an Oscar-nominated film starring Saoirse Ronan—would offer a poignant apology for her now tainted role in the conviction. Her publisher, Scribner, would announce that it was halting distribution of Lucky until, at a still unspecified future date, a new, more accurate version could be issued.
The feature-film version of Lucky would be scrapped, and a documentary, on which Mucciante would also serve as an executive producer, telling a dramatically different—and truer—story would be in the works. And Mucciante would begin to feel that perhaps he’d finally moved on from “the low place”—to use the wounded phrase in Sebold’s memoir—where a succession of harrowing events had discarded him.
But that June day when Mucciante at last decided to charge forward, he was energized by only a single, fundamental belief: “It takes a con,” he told himself, “to know a con.” And all his well-honed instincts were telegraphing that Alice Sebold’s “true story” was very, very fishy.
A Bigger Canvas
Mucciante measured out his life in deceptions. A trail of white-collar criminal deceits had earned him, in total, three convictions, more than a decade of jail time in federal prisons, a disbarment, more than $1 million in fines and restitution, a polygamy conviction, and a bankruptcy judgment that was still meandering through the courts.
Yet it would be churlish not to add that at times his schemes were audacious, even inspired. There was, for one inventive example, his producing fake Australian-government bonds on his computer, fixing a bit of ribbon on the sheets for colorful authority, and then selling his creations for $1.6 million. And there was his “picaresque” (the federal-court judge’s adjective) scam to barter two million British condoms plus two million latex gloves for Russian chickens which would then be sold to Saudi Arabia.
And then there was the time in 2006, after telling the court that he was now walking a straight and narrow path toward rehabilitation, hoping to get his law license restored, that he was working in the office of a retired judge who was practicing as a trust attorney—only to wind up pleading guilty to embezzling funds from a client’s account. And the chagrined retired judge, his erstwhile sponsor and champion, also decided to plead no contest for his own role in the theft. (“I trusted him and he turned it all around on me,” the man moaned.)
By 2020, Mucciante, always resourceful, had moved on to publishing 10 regional news magazines in the United Kingdom, and while the venture was, he claimed, profitable, he’d begun looking for something more suited to his large ambitions. And so despite his admittedly “knowing nothing about the movie business,” Mucciante boldly decided it would be his future.
Sebold would offer a poignant apology for her now tainted role in the conviction. Her publisher would announce that it was halting distribution of Lucky.
He hired Victoria Romley, a business executive who had previously worked at Lionsgate Entertainment, to be his guide. (“And I paid her more than they did,” he bragged.) Together they produced a few comedic animated political shorts; one even has a cryptic (at least to the uninitiated) reference to bartering condoms for chickens. (Romley declined to comment for this story, other than to say she was no longer “working with Timothy or affiliated with Lucky.”)
But Mucciante wanted a bigger canvas for his talents, and, as he tells it, Romley found him the opportunity he was craving: the chance to work on the film that was being developed from Lucky. In return for his making an investment (Mucciante is reticent to reveal the amount; all he’ll say is that the film “was being made on spec” and “the report that Netflix was involved was just wishful thinking”), he’d be named as an executive producer. Karen Moncrieff (13 Reasons Why) was set to write and direct.
Mucciante would have no creative responsibilities. Rather, he’d be involved in the business side of the production: paying bills, supervising the coronavirus protocols, making sure the actors had transportation to the set—nuts-and-bolts stuff. He started work in January 2021.
And that was when, over the course of two rapt nights in his small house in Grand Blanc, Michigan, he read Sebold’s book for the first time. On an icy evening just days after his being hired, he settled into “the big, comfy armchair” in his office, and with the fire blazing, he picked up his Kindle and began to read.
He felt, he’d later acknowledge, an immediate kinship with Sebold’s story. With the raw, horrific sexual assault she described. With her shell-shocked post-traumatic stress and her instinctive fear of Black men in its aftermath. With her running to drugs, as Sebold wrote, to “destroy” the mood that had now overpowered her life. He had been there, too.
Mucciante is reluctant to discuss the details of his own victimization. However, a sentencing memorandum asking for leniency submitted by his attorney in 2007 outlines “the appalling series of tragic events” that he’d lived through: “he was attacked in the bathroom [of a halfway house mandated as part of his release from prison] and forced to perform oral sex on four residents”; “he has been diagnosed as being bi-polar and suffering from PTSD”; “has become extremely fearful of African-American males”; “abusing alcohol and Vicodin.” In his grim way, Mucciante had been a fellow traveler though a similarly hellish world as the brutalized Alice.
Yet there was something, as he would later say, “nagging” him about the story. His most troubled thoughts didn’t center on the graphic description of the rape and its immediate aftermath, as painful as it was to read. It was the second section of the book, the machinations of the lineup and the whirlwind trial that resulted in the conviction of “Gregory Madison” (as the rapist is pseudonymously called in the book), that Mucciante found more disconcerting. “It just didn’t ring true,” he couldn’t help thinking. After all, while he certainly wasn’t a literary critic, he had spent enough time in courtrooms as a defendant to know “when the fix was in.”
Still, Mucciante reined in his misgivings. “I’m not the brightest bulb in the room,” he told himself. “If the publisher had no problem with the book, if all its readers didn’t notice, who am I to raise questions?” And here was his opportunity to produce a movie. Only a fool, he silently remonstrated, would go out of his way to blow it up.
Then, on March 21, 2021, he received the finalized script. And what he read left him reeling. Mucciante understood that although the film would be telling a true story, certain things might need to be reconfigured when they moved from the page to the screen. But as he flew through page after page of the script with a growing disbelief, it became clear that this movie would be “significantly different.”
The scenes where Alice Sebold spots her assailant on the street, where she misidentifies him in the lineup, where the assistant district attorney manipulates the young college student so she can “understand” how she’d been tricked into picking the wrong man—they had all been re-written from the book to now seem more believable. Mucciante, who had made a resourceful career constructing his con man’s schemes, decided there might be only one credible reason for this re-write: perhaps the scenes had not been true in the first place.
And then Karen Moncrieff, the director, announced that she wanted to make one more change to the script: the rapist would be white. Not the Black man Sebold identified in the book. Not the Black man who then went to jail. (Neither Moncrieff nor her representatives responded to requests for comment.)
Which might mean, Mucciante considered in a wild leap of logic, that perhaps the rape had not taken place at all. Quite possibly, he now theorized, Sebold had invented the entire incident.
Yet the production was moving forward. Victoria Pedretti, the young actress who plays the beguiling Love Quinn in the Netflix thriller series You, had signed on to play Sebold. Principal photography was announced in the trades as starting on June 21.
“If the publisher had no problem with the book, if all its readers didn’t notice, who am I to raise questions?”
Only Mucciante was still having his doubts. It was these discomforting speculations that had led him to withdraw from his pre-production responsibilities and that, within months, had culminated in his being fired. Now a solitary crusader, bolstered by his suspicions, he set off on his own to see if the rape had actually happened. To see if “Gregory Madison” existed. It takes a con to know a con, he kept reminding himself.
Using Google, he searched for Madison in Syracuse, the book’s setting. He hunted for him in Texas, having read that Sebold had once lived in the state, figuring that maybe she’d employed artistic license to depict the attack as having occurred during her college days in Syracuse. At the end of his inquiries, Mucciante was no better off than when he’d started: he couldn’t find Gregory Madison. Or, for that matter, definitive proof of the rape.
At this frustrated point, he considered that it might be best to give up, to simply focus on another film project in which he’d become involved, a family drama set in rural England. It had been vanity for him to think that he alone had perceived what Lucky’s million or so readers had missed. But he could not stem the flow of his suspicions.
On June 29, Mucciante began calling private investigators in the hardscrabble college town of Syracuse in upstate New York. He wanted their help in finding the answers to the questions churning through his mind: Had Alice Sebold been raped in Syracuse? And if so, who was Gregory Madison? Specifically, was he white as in the film, or Black as in the book? (Only months later would Sebold address questions about the book and who committed the rape in a public apology. Neither she nor her representatives would add to this statement.)
The first two private eyes weren’t interested, but on his third call he reached Dan Myers, a retired Onondaga County sheriff who now headed Intrigue Investigations. Myers had never heard of either Alice Sebold or her memoir, but poking into things was how he made his living. And he had a wife, two middle-school-aged daughters, a 26-foot boat called The Family Truckster, and a deep desire to escape from Syracuse’s snow and see a few palm trees next winter. A new case would certainly be a godsend.
Mucciante gave his credit-card number, and after the $750 fee was processed, Dan Myers was officially on board.
A Spontaneous Suggestion
It had been just about a year since Myers had worked for the sheriff’s office, but he still had friends on the job. In his late 40s, yet still tall and lithe like a tight end, with only a little gray in his close-cropped hair, Myers was a gregarious guy with an easy, ingratiating smile, a natural charmer. He never had much trouble finding someone in the county sheriff’s office he could ask when he needed a favor. In fact, it had been his reaching out to a fellow deputy in a desperate moment back in 2013 that had nearly upended his career.
He’d been off duty, at the wheel of his Cadillac, and the woman he’d recently started dating (Myers and his wife had separated before getting back together) was leading the way in her Jeep from the I Love This Bar and Grill at the mall to her house. It was around midnight, and they had both been drinking (although only her blood-alcohol content would later be officially certified as above the legal limit).
The road narrowed, and then the woman’s car suddenly came to a stop. She called Myers on his cell to tell him she’d hit something. He got out to look, but all he could see in the “pitch dark,” he’d claim, was something that “looked like an old tire.” Yet it was not only her Jeep that would later be found to have been at the scene of the accident. According to trial testimony reported in the Syracuse paper, his car was “splattered with small drops of blood.”
When he arrived at her home—“only ten minutes or so later,” Myers would insist—he called a friend on the force. “I need your help,” he told the officer.
No sooner had Myers made his cell-phone call to this friend than a patrol car arrived at the house; it seemed they’d already been dispatched. The Jeep’s blood-stained license plate had been found lying in the road—not far from the crumbled, darkly clothed body of Robert BeVard. The man had been killed on impact with the Jeep.
In the subsequent trial, only the driver of the Jeep was charged. And she was acquitted of both vehicular manslaughter (BeVard apparently had been drunk and walking in the middle of the road) and leaving the scene of a fatal crash without reporting it (the fact that she told Myers about the accident had been considered sufficient by the jury). She was, however, found guilty on two misdemeanor drunken-driving charges.
Myers was never charged with any crime. He did not even testify at the trial. But he couldn’t escape his own department’s wrath: he was charged with bringing “bad attention” to the force and transferred out of the detective bureau to working nights on patrol. Yet Myers hung in there, kept his head down, and after a few more years was able to retire with his pension, if not his reputation, still intact.
And now Myers was calling around, talking to cops he knew had been on the job back in 1981, when, according to the memoir, the Sebold rape had occurred in a tunnel littered with broken beer bottles and dead leaves. As luck would have it, he soon found one of the cops who had worked the case.
“Sure,” the now retired cop told him. “I remember this rape. It was brutal.” So Mucciante had been wrong. It had happened, Myers abruptly realized. “Only the guy charged wasn’t named Madison,” the cop continued. “It was Broadwater. Yeah, that was it, Anthony Broadwater.”
Then, as Myers remembered their conversation, the old cop went quiet, almost pensive for a moment. “There was something about that case that just wasn’t right,” he said when he finally spoke.
Myers shrugged. But later he pulled Anthony Broadwater’s police file. And when he thumbed through the jacket, something struck him as odd: Broadwater had no convictions for violent crimes before his arrest in 1982, and also none since his release from prison in 1999. One thing was certain: Broadwater wasn’t the sort of recidivist thug you usually find in sex-crime assaults.
He reported all this to Mucciante. Before hanging up he made a spontaneous suggestion. “How about I try to find Broadwater? Go talk to him?”
“Yes,” Mucciante agreed, “why don’t you?”
It was a warm summer’s afternoon, July 21, 2021, when Myers, accompanied by another private eye in case things for some reason got out of hand, showed up without warning at Anthony Broadwater’s home on Syracuse’s rough-and-tumble South Side. It was a weather-beaten brownish clapboard, windows missing here and there like gaps in a smile, and the porches were wrapped in ugly plastic tarp.
There’s a recording of the encounter—Myers made it without informing Broadwater; later this would be a sore point between the two men—and it is riveting.
“You have any idea why I’m here?” Myers asks early in the conversation in that heavy voice cops use when they’re being cagey, trying to catch you in something. “No, sir,” Broadwater tersely replies.
Yet in those two words his trepidation is palpable. It’s as if he’s anxiously wondering, What do they have in store for me now? And it doesn’t take much to see him at that moment in your mind’s eye: Hunched, leaning on a cane, his steel-gray hair in cornrows, a 61-year-old Black man being confronted by two hulking white former cops. Weary, but still not beaten.
Myers explains that there’s a movie being made of the rape case that involved Broadwater back in 1982, but he doesn’t get too far before he’s interrupted.
“It’s a lie,” Broadwater announces. His tone is flat. There’s no indignation. No bluster. He’s just stating an irreducible fact.
And then Myers, to his credit, largely lets Broadwater keep talking without interruption. And what a story he has to tell.
“There was something about that case that just wasn’t right.”
Broadwater says he sat through the two-day trial never thinking he’d be convicted. He was a 21-year-old kid just discharged from the Marines. He’d come home to visit his mortally sick, cancer-stricken father. And he had never seen Alice Sebold before in his life. Next thing he knew he was up in the state prison in Attica, New York.
He said he had spent 16 and a half years moving through the “New York tour,” as the circuit of upstate prisons is known to inmates. He made three friends, all Black teenagers, when he first went up to Attica. One he watched die in a mess-hall stabbing. Another hanged himself. The third simply disappeared. Broadwater told the men he did “what I had to do to survive.” Only there was one thing he wouldn’t do: admit guilt for a crime he had not committed. The result: he was denied parole five times.
When Broadwater got out, in 1999—the same year Lucky was published—he decided it would be best to work nights. He started out doing the night shift at a Syracuse dishware-manufacturing plant, then moved on to an office-cleaning service, and continued over the years to find a succession of jobs that made sure to keep him working during, as Broadwater put it, “the witching hours.” At night, he suspected the cops might try to pin something on him, and it would be prudent to have an alibi handy.
He met Liz just 11 months after being released, and they’re still together two decades later. On the first night he went to her home, Broadwater insisted she go off to the bedroom to read all the documents he’d compiled on his case, while he slept on the couch. In the morning, she woke him up, eyes brimming with tears, and announced, “You been railroaded.” They decided not to have children. “I couldn’t do that to them, living with that stigma,” he’d often tell friends.
And all the time, all the empty years, he’d been looking for a way to prove his innocence. He’d saved and sent $1,000 as a retainer to Johnnie Cochran, the celebrity attorney from the O. J. Simpson trial. Cochran returned the check. He wrote to the Innocence Project, an organization dedicated to exonerating the wrongfully convicted, but nothing came of it.
He paid a local lawyer $1,400 and gave him his case records, only the lawyer abruptly moved down to New York City and then disappeared, along with all the documents. Broadwater eventually tried to get another Syracuse attorney involved, but after several months this lawyer walked off the case because he couldn’t find the attorney in New York who had the files.
The tape goes on for well over an hour, with Anthony Broadwater holding center stage for most of the time. His voice is steady, never emotional, never hesitant. It’s the perfect calm of resigned anger.
Late that July afternoon, when Myers returned to the downtown Syracuse law firm where he had an office, he went straight to Dave Hammond, the young partner in the firm with whom he often worked. Earlier, before heading off to see Broadwater, he’d filled Hammond in about Mucciante and about the Sebold case; it was always good, he felt, to keep the partners in the loop.
Myers now burst into Hammond’s office without even knocking. “We just talked to Anthony Broadwater,” he blurted out. “He didn’t do it.”
Howard Blum is the author of several books, including Night of the Assassins. His next book, The Spy Who Knew Too Much: Pete Bagley’s Quest Through a Legacy of Betrayal, will be published by HarperCollins in June