“Dateline NBC” investigative producer Dan Slepian has seen his fair share of murderers and psychopaths in more than 20 years of being embedded with various law enforcement agencies, from the Las Vegas Homicide Unit to the Bronx Homicide Task Force.
But no one has been as wily and seductive as the subject of his newest documentary-style miniseries: Thomas Randolph, 66, a Las Vegas man accused of the 2008 killing of his sixth wife for insurance money — and the fourth of his wives to die under mysterious circumstances.
“This guy’s like the Joe Exotic of true crime,” said Slepian, who has been documenting the case for more than a decade.
“I’m just focusing my camera and he’ll look in the lens and he’ll say, ‘Am I beautiful? And I say to him, you’re facing the death penalty. And he says, ‘It’s no big deal.’”
More:‘Dateline NBC’ engages ‘The Widower,’ its first multi-part crime drama
The saga unfurls n “The Widower,” a three-part true-crime miniseries on NBC premiering Thursday (10 EST/PST) and continuing Friday and Sunday (9 EST/PST).
When the case finally went to trial in 2017, prosecutors alleged that Randolph had enlisted a friend to kill his wife, Sharon, so he could collect her life insurance. He was convicted of her murder and that of the alleged hitman and sentenced to death.
Slepian thought that was the end of the story. The sentence was reversed last December by the Nevada Supreme Court, which ruled that the jury should not have heard certain evidence.
“It was a jaw-drop moment,” he said. “I was stunned.”
It was not the first time Randolph was escaping death row. In 1986, he stood trial for the death of his second wife, Beckie, but a jury found him not guilty of the murder. In December, the justices argued that prosecutors should not have pointed to similarities between his second and sixth wives’ cases as he had been acquitted in the earlier case.
Randolph will now stand trial again. But when the death row conviction was reversed, Slepian interviewed Randolph again.
“He’s been playing a cat and mouse game with the legal system for three decades, and he’s gotten away with it all,” Slepian said. “And it seems to be one step ahead of authorities every step of the way. I mean, I’ve never heard of anybody who’s faced the death penalty twice, beat it once and might beat it a second time.”
Hooked for a decade
The Randolph story had Slepian hooked for more than a decade, as it took close to nine years for the case to be brought trial. It began when he received a call on May 9, 2008 about a “really strange case,” from a detective with the Las Vegas Homicide Unit.
The night before, a man who claimed an intruder had broken into his home and killed his wife had ended up killing the intruder. Only, the intruder — the police would soon find out — had been his handyman.
“He (the detective) told me, ‘Things don’t seem right. And guess what else we found out, he has six wives and four of those wives are dead’,” recalled Slepian.
Slepian jumped on the story for “Dateline.” He traveled with investigators to Kentucky, North Carolina, Indiana, South Carolina, New Hampshire and Utah, putting together the history of all of Randolph’s wives.
It took the police eight months to build a case and get an arrest warrant.
“I was there when Thomas Randolph was eventually arrested in Utah ; he’s Tased and dragged through the snow in his underwear,” said Slepian, who interviewed Randolph 10 times over the past decade for the series, including in jail with his defense attorneys as they prepared for trial. In 2017, NBC had four cameras in the courtroom, filming the trial gavel to gavel.
Slepian interviewed Randolph’s surviving wives, family members of his alleged victims, his would-be accomplices and the victim’s daughter, just one month after her mother was murdered back in May of 2008.
“She was five months pregnant then, and her daughter’s now 12 and we’ve followed them for the past decade,” he said.
‘TV News Gumshoe’
Paul Ryan, co-executive producer of the series, said “The Widower” offers viewers an intimate look at the case.
“Dan attached himself to the police right at the beginning of the case and he was with them, visiting witnesses on their road trips. It was just him and his camera. And so what you see is the police learning things, in real time when the witness tells them something,” he said. “And, as a viewer, you’re kind of riding along with them.”
Slepian earned the moniker “TV News Gumshoe” from the New York Times after his investigation assisted in the exoneration of David Lemus and Olmedo Hidalgo, two men who were wrongfully convicted of the 1990 murder of a bouncer at the Palladium nightclub in Manhattan.
Their conviction, dropped in 2005, is the subject of Slepian’s 2007 documentary, “In the Shadow of Justice.” He’s since assisted in overturning the wrongful convictions of three other inmates.
The Randolph case offered him a chance to look at the criminal justice system from a different angle.
“It’s interesting, ‘The’Widower’ is the yin to that yang, making a full circle of observing the justice system from every perspective for me, because ‘The Widower’ is not a wrongful conviction story,” he said. “It’s a much different kind of story, but one still rooted in searching for justice.”