Is 'True Story' Really Based On A True Story?

by Alyse Whitney

Sometimes it's difficult to tell authentic stories apart from Hollywood's usual fictional tales at the movies, and James Franco and Jonah Hill's new film, True Story, seems too crazy to be real. A case of stolen identity is taken to the next level when Christian Longo (Franco) allegedly murders his wife and three kids, then flees and poses as disgraced New York Times Magazine writer Michael Finkel (Hill) until the two men's lives intertwine. With a tale this out there, you have to wonder: Is True Story based on a true story?

Aside from how strange that statement sounds written out, it's a valid question — when the film is called True Story, you have to wonder if it really is... well, a true story. So, dear readers, without further ado, here's the truth about True Story: Yes, it is, actually, a true story. In fact, it's a disturbing and long-running one that still doesn't have an ending. It's all sort of perfect for a movie, which makes the fact that Franco and Hill are starring in one about it even better.

So, that said, obligatory spoiler alert here for some of the plot lines of this real story, so read on with caution if you want to be surprised at the theater.

Who Is Christian Longo?

Longo was born on Jan. 23, 1974 and met his future wife, MaryJane Baker, when he was only 17. They married in 1993 and had three children: Zachery, Sadie, and Madison. According to Crime Library, long before he was accused of murder, he had committed a series of crimes ranging from stealing from employers to forging checks from customers at his business to stealing his father's identity to open a line of credit. Once the law caught up to his family, they moved to Oregon, staying at a motel before moving to an upscale condo complex.

The Case

Before the bodies were discovered, a motel that the Longos stayed at found MaryJane's ID, family photos, and both babies' and women's clothes in their dumpster on Dec. 18, 2001. When confronted, Longo told co-workers that his wife had been having an affair and she went to Michigan with their kids. That same day, a car Longo rented illegally was found at the dealership with a book called Running From the Law, sleeping bags, and diving gear inside.

On Dec. 19, Longo's 4-year-old son Zachery was found first in Lint Slough (a waterway off the Pacific Ocean in Waldport, Oregon), followed by his 3-year-old daughter, Sadie, his wife, MaryJane, and their 2-year-old daughter, Madison nearby. The day the final two bodies were found, Longo flew to Cancun, Mexico, and proceeded to tell people there that he was NYT writer Michael Finkel. The charade lasted about a month before he was recognized by someone and was hauled back to the U.S. by authorities.

In 2003, Longo was found guilty. He said that his wife killed two of their children because she was "crazy," and in his heightened state of emotion, he murdered their third child and MaryJane. He was indicted on seven counts of aggravated murder and sentenced to death by lethal injection, but as of April 2015, Longo is still on death row in Oregon.

Who Is Michael Finkel?

Finkel was a freelance writer for the New York Times Magazine until he was fired for allegedly making up a character in a story about child slavery in Africa. According to the Times, "the title character of his November 18 story, 'Is Youssouf Malé a Slave?' was actually a composite of several young men," which led to him being discredited. After he was let go, he found out that Longo had been impersonating him in Mexico, and Finkel became the only reporter that Longo would speak to about the case.

"I'd had a vague sense that the beginnings of my redemption, both professional and personal, might somehow lie with Longo," Finkel wrote in his 2006 book, True Story: Murder, Memoir, Mea Culpa. That didn't exactly go as planned since Finkel also said that Longo used him to try out different stories for the jury, but they still remain in communication to this day. "There's part of me, as a journalist — I've always tried to follow a story to the end and this is one where there may not be [an ending] unless Chris is executed, which is highly unlikely considering the current political climate," Finkel told Vulture . Up until Finkel took a sabbatical in France, the two were still speaking.

True Story was based upon Finkel's book and will tackle their game of cat and mouse, the lies Longo told Finkel, and the verdict of the case. Considering that Longo gave Finkel and the jury many different versions of the story — some in which he's guilty and others where he's innocent — we may never know the real true story.

Image: Fox Searchlight