Cruel Summer: Have You Caught All These True-Crime References?

Cruel Summer: Have You Caught All These True-Crime References?

Freeform’s latest thriller, Cruel Summer, is reminiscent of predecessors such as Pretty Little Liars with flashbacks, twists and turns, unsuspecting victims, and criminals — but is it purely fictional? The series takes place in a small, fictional Texas town over the course of three summers and centers on the disappearance of beautiful, popular teenager Kate and how unpopular girl Jeanette seemingly takes her place while she’s missing.
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While Cruel Summer isn’t based on a true story, there have been nods to some very famous true-crime cases. If you’ve been paying close attention, you might’ve picked up on a few.

  • In episode two, during a ’95 scene, Kate is talking to her dad in their kitchen and she is eating pineapple chunks in milk. This is a reference to the JonBenét Ramsey case from the late ’90s; true-crime aficionados will have picked up on that immediately, as it is a well-known fact about the case. It was revealed in an autopsy report that the 6-year-old had ingested pineapple and milk before her death in 1996.
  • Two more JonBenét Ramsey Easter eggs exist as overarching themes throughout the series. Both the location of the basement and the time of year (Christmas) were important throughout the Ramsey case, as she was found in her basement on Dec. 26, 1996. Those are also themes within Cruel Summer: Martin Harris locks Kate in the basement on Christmas.
  • The entire series centers on Kate being abducted by her assistant principal, Martin Harris. He keeps her in his house, right in her own neighborhood and dangerously close to her friends and family. This could be tied back to the abduction of Jaycee Dugard, who was taken at 11 years old as she walked to school and was held captive for 18 years. Authorities were called to the home she was held at many times over the years, but she was never discovered. Kate, being held so close to home and by someone everyone in town knew, is reminiscent of Dugard’s rescue.
  • A pivotal moment in the series is when Kate goes on The Marsha Bailey Show and goes “off script,” revealing classmate Jeanette Turner allegedly saw her in captivity. In the ’90s and ’00s, Oprah Winfrey dominated daytime TV and had many in-depth, emotional, and eye-opening interviews with celebrities and victims of many different crimes. Most notably, Winfrey interviewed kidnapping victims Elizabeth Smart in 2008 and Alicia Kozakiewicz in 2009.
  • While this might not be a true Easter egg, Martin Harris has been described throughout the show as a very charming, unsuspecting criminal. He is traditionally attractive and an assistant principal, and he seems to be a standup guy. There is a real-life criminal who has this public persona as well: Ted Bundy. Bundy was infamously charismatic and charming, which he used to his advantage in his crimes. During press interviews, actor Blake Lee said he watched the Netflix docuseries Abducted in Plain Sight (which featured an older man grooming a family friend, similar to Harris grooming Kate) as well as The Ted Bundy Tapes to get inspiration for his character.

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