In 1967, Vincent T. Bugliosi was only three years out of UCLA law school and already a hotshot prosecutor in the District Attorney's office in Los Angeles. Then this young man with the 100 percent win record met his match. "A manipulative ladies' man who possibly killed more than two people," Bugliosi says of Alan Palliko. "He was a pretty scary guy."
The case so impressed Bugliosi (pronounced Boog-lee-o-see) that in 1978 he authored a book titled 'Till Death Us Do Part about Palliko. Now it's a TV-movie (airing Monday 9-11 p.m., locally on WFLA-Ch. 8), and Bugliosi still has a shiver in his voice when discussing Palliko.
Not that Bugliosi, 57, hasn't met his share of scary criminals through the years. His most notorious trial was the Charles Manson case, which became the basis of his bestselling book Helter Skelter (a 1976 TV-movie followed).
What makes Palliko so special among murderers? Palliko's victims were his girlfriend's husband and then his second wife (his first wife wisely divorced him after he landed her in the hospital with his blows). His motive was insurance money, and that's fairly regular love triangle fodder for pulp novel writers.
But Bugliosi explains in a recent telephone interview that, "With Manson, you can see him in the morning in prison and he'll say, 'How you doing brother?' and then a few minutes later he'll change and get that mystagogue-like stare on his face. Palliko was always very charming. He was a former L.A. police officer and went to law school. He gave his own summation at his trial and was so convincing that he almost convinced me I was the guilty one."
Bugliosi, who's portrayed by Arliss Howard in 'Till Death Us Do Part, had little involvement in the making of the NBC project. "They sent the script to the house," he comments. Bugliosi says he learned long ago not to be too sensitive to Hollywood's editing of his work. He claims he has seen the four-hour Helter-Skelter only once. "They change things in your story. But as long as the script captures the essence of the case, I'm satisfied. My real interest is in handling cases and writing books."
He cites the 1991 mini-series And the Sea Will Tell, also based on a Bugliosi book, as a good example of why he doesn't "get too excited" when his work moves from detailed account to small screen. "When something is such a condensation, there are bound to be distortions. My summation alone in that case took five hours."
But a lack of Bugliosi's input aside, 'Till Death Us Do Part's star Treat Williams chillingly captures just the kind of charming, cold-hearted killer Bugliosi says the ex-cop was.
'Till Death Do Us Part is a riveting story about this battle of wits and wisdom between the confident Bugliosi, who, it is stated in the TV-movie, used to write his summations before he even selected his jury, and the cocky, handsome Palliko.
Williams delivers an attractive monster. Palliko sucks people into his schemes by laying on the flattery. The people surrounding Palliko go along with his obvious manipulation because he embodies excitement.
For example, when Palliko begins an affair with Sandra Stockton (Rebecca Jenkins) she's a 200-pound housewife. He soon has her enrolled at a spa where she trims down to 125, changes her glasses to contacts and bleaches her hair. Stockton separates from her husband, then reunites with him, even though she describes her mate as dull to friends. Five weeks later, her husband is dead from five bullet wounds, his body found in a house fire while Sandra's out of town visiting a friend.
It sounds like an open and shut case as soon as the police learn of Stockton's romance with Palliko. But Palliko was too clever a killer.
"True, the circumstances were very suspicious," agrees Bugliosi. "But there were no eyewitnesses, no fingerprints, no solid murder evidence. It was a very tough case."
Bugliosi concludes that "most cases are garden variety. Few merit a 400-page book." But the memorable Palliko, sentenced in 1972 to life in prison, had a book done on him even before Bugliosi became famous for winning and writing about more high-profile cases.
'Till Death Us
The TV movie airs Monday 9-11 p.m., WFLA-Ch. 8.