All true-crime docuseries strive for total bingeable intrigue, but when amateur-sleuth blogger Craig Brownstein states that Who Killed Robert Wone? is “the craziest fucking story and will absolutely curl your hair,” he’s not overstating things. Director Jared P. Scott’s two-part Peacock affair (available now) is a non-fiction inquiry whose every new twist contradicts, if not outright negates, those that preceded it. The result is the rare whodunit in which the answer seems relatively clear, albeit in the absence of bedrock evidence to support it.
Who Killed Robert Wone? concerns the August 2, 2006, murder of Robert Wone, a Washington, D.C. lawyer who worked as the general counsel for Radio Free Asia. On the night in question, the straight and happily married Wone, having stayed late at the office, chose to crash at the Dupont Circle home of his college buddy—and prominent gay rights advocacy lawyer—Joe Price at 1509 Swann Street, which Price shared with his partner Victor Zaborsky and Dylan Ward, the third member of their polyamorous relationship. Wone arrived at the home at approximately 10:30 p.m., and 79 minutes later, at 11:49 p.m., Zaborsky made a tearful 911 call in which he stated that Wone had been stabbed by an intruder. Then, weirdly, he asked the operator what time it was, and announced that the perpetrator might still be in the house with a knife—even though, as investigators subsequently learned, Zaborsky knew the murder weapon’s location.
Jeff Baker was the responding EMT, and in Who Killed Robert Wone?, he reports that the scene he encountered was a bizarre one—something echoed by lead detective Bryan Waid. Price, Zaborsky, and Ward greeted authorities in terrycloth robes and towels, as if they’d just finished showering. Wone was lying in a guest room bed with three stab wounds to the chest, surrounded by a shockingly small amount of blood; the knife that had ostensibly ended his life lay on the bedside table beside him. Baker says that Wone’s body looked like it had been washed and wiped clean, but Price, Zaborsky, and Ward posited a wholly different scenario: that an intruder had accessed the house via an unlocked back door (after hopping a rear property fence) and killed Wone with one of their kitchen knives. This fiend had then escaped the same way that he entered, all without attracting their attention; they only learned of Wone’s demise after hearing some strange grunts coming from his room.
Waid and federal prosecutor Glenn Kirschner reveal in Who Killed Robert Wone? that no signs of an intruder were found, either inside or outside 1509 Swann Street. What they did discover, however, was a treasure trove of BDSM paraphernalia. This, along with Price, Zaborsky, and Ward’s gay lifestyle, prompted some cops—as seen in archival interrogation room videos—to homophobically imply that the trio’s sexual proclivities had something to do with Wone’s murder. Director Scott’s decision to repeatedly present images of said items can seem borderline gratuitous (and even intolerant, as writer Ashley Ray alleged in a recent Twitter thread). That said, there was a logical reason for detectives to examine this facet of the trio’s private lives, given that Wone’s fatal incisions were precise, clean, and identical, and he boasted no defensive wounds—meaning he only could have been killed while restrained or incapacitated. Moreover, his own semen was found on his crotch and inside his rectum (a bombshell that’s simply baffling).
With no ligature marks to intimate that Wone had been tied down, and no indications of sexual intercourse or violation, cops were at a loss to explain the method or context of his murder. Further complicating matters were numerous needle marks on multiple parts of Wone’s body that afforded another theory—that he’d been knocked out via drugging—which was seemingly shot down by an ensuing toxicology report (although it didn’t include a test for common paralytics).
Employing interviews with many of this saga’s key players, as well as a solid array of archival material, Who Killed Robert Wone? confounds at every turn, with Kirschner and Waid building a circumstantial case in which Price, Zaborsky, and Ward were the sole logical culprits, and defense lawyer Bernie Grimm shooting down various aspects of Kirschner’s theory as lacking a factual basis.
The impression one gets from Who Killed Robert Wone? is that both Grimm and Kirschner appear to be correct, in a sense. There’s no smoking gun to decisively pin Wone’s death on Price, Zaborsky, and Ward, who maintained their innocence from the start. Nor, however, is there any alternative explanation for how Wone met his fate, since the unknown-intruder narrative comes across as the height of inanity (or, as Waid puts it, “100 percent bullshit”). With no means of bringing homicide charges against the trio, Kirschner took his only available route, indicting them for covering up the crime—a daring gambit considering that he couldn’t conclusively point the finger at any (or all) of them as the murderer.
That trial was big-time news in 2010, and ended with Price, Zaborsky, and Ward’s acquittals. Yet in her decision, the presiding judge went out of her way to draw a distinction between moral and evidentiary certainty, thereby making plain that even she thought the trio were definitely (if not demonstrably) guilty. In light of the details at hand, it’s easy to agree with her assessment, and Grimm’s own closing admission—that if he had a gun to his head, he’d say that Ward was the likely perpetrator—only seals the deal. Except, of course, that Price, Zaborsky, and Ward remain free to this day, and Wone’s wife Kathy as well as his close friends (including Jason Torchinsky and Darcey and Jonas Geissler, who speak on camera) have yet to receive the justice they, and Wone, deserve.
Who Killed Robert Wone? is a mystery without a proper ending, a snapshot of law enforcement prejudice and mistakes (most notably, a costly screw-up regarding the use of a blood-detection chemical agent), and a study of a possible, expertly orchestrated cover-up. As such, it’s a reminder that believing you know who did something is only half the battle; the real trick is being able to prove it beyond a reasonable doubt.