Former Journalist Turns Manoogian Mansion Rumors Into A Play
For most of the 1980s, Carol Teegardin’s name was synonymous with Motor City gossip. First at the Detroit News and then at the Free Press, her column (at one time published twice weekly) dished on high-profile local retailers, broadcasters, restaurateurs and entertainers while tracking visiting celebrities like Prince, David Hasselhoff, Michael Jackson and Elizabeth Taylor, just to name a few.
So it’s not surprising that Teegardin, who has since worked as a teacher in both Detroit and Los Angeles, is fascinated by the saga of former Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick and the rumors that he threw a wild bachelor party at the Manoogian Mansion in the fall of 2002. The rumors have it that Kilpatrick’s wife, Carlita, showed up at the affair and assaulted exotic dancer Tamara (Strawberry) Greene, who died the following year in a drive-by slaying. Neither the party nor the alleged assault that happened there has ever been proven.
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Teegardin, who lives in Ferndale, revisits the rumors in her new play, “Strawberry — What Party?,” a follow-up of sorts to her 2011 true-crime book “Strawberry: How an Exotic Dancer Toppled Detroit’s Hip Hop Mayor” (Malloy Books). Teegerdin’s self-produced play starts Friday and runs for two weekends in the 130-seat Marlene Boll Theatre in the Boll Family YMCA in Detroit.
The play’s 13-member cast, which includes includes Rosie Johnson as Kwame Kilpatrick, is being directed by Mary Bremer-Beer, who guided Teegardin through several drafts of the play’s script. Teegardin, who would like to see the show have an extended run, figures her investment in the show is about $14,000 (with about $2,000 earned from an online Kickstarter campaign). She discussed the production this week with the Free Press.
Carol Teegardin (Photo: Bernie LaFramboise)
QUESTION: You have called this as much a work of investigative reporting as a play. Can you explain?
ANSWER: There was a point where I read every true crime book on the shelves. I read them all. So when it came time to write my own, I thought of Strawberry, wondering why no one else had written about it. I went to talk to her lawyer, Norman Yatooma, who gave me a bunch of names and numbers, so I called every one and nobody called back but her (Greene’s) grandmother. I had like five pages, so I thought: “Here’s why nobody’s doing this.” When I couldn’t get hold of them, it made me want to dig even more.
So I got the grandmother and then a couple of aunts. I was able to talk to her son and one boyfriend and the world opened up over time. … I visited her aunt down in Mobile, Ala., who has a whole different theory about what happened, how she was murdered and why, and one of the guys involved, one of the last persons to see her before she died. I got hold of a stripper down in Vegas who said she was at the party, very guarded, but she told me a few things just in an e-mail. I talked to hundreds of people.
Q: So do you think there really was a party?
A: I mean, I think there was a party, but I don’t know. I also have some opinions about who killed her, but I can’t be sure. What I do know for certain is that there was a cover-up because I talked to state police, went over all of the files, talked to four or five different cops and the detective on her case. Every one said the same thing. They’re not saying it was a cover-up to protect Kwame and his friends. They’re saying it was a cover-up because of all these rumors that they just couldn’t stop, all of these viral rumors that were going around. True or not, they couldn’t stop it, so they covered it up.
Q: How difficult was “Strawberry” to put on as a play?
A: I thought of this first as a screenplay, but I don’t know anyone in the business. … I wrote the play in a couple of weekends, but there were so many characters that I kept revising it and revising it. I gave it to Mary (the director). She told me what she did and didn’t like and so I rewrote it. At first, I was going to change the names of the major characters, but then realized I am going to use everything they said. … The text was all public, so I would use exactly what they said with a turn, a paraphrase here and there. I had lawyers and other journalism ethics people look at it.
Q: And Kwame Kilpatrick was difficult to cast?
A: We were going to do this show a year ago at Marygrove, but we couldn’t find the right Kwame. We were looking for someone with charisma, someone that had the power behind his words, a man who could show the arc of loving two women at the same time and having it fall apart right in front of him. He is a gifted speaker, and we had to articulate the pain when he was no longer there (the mayor) at the end, though we really focus this on the Strawberry story. … I think that as a team, we are making him more human, as opposed to just another politician that screwed up a city, took everyone for a ride.
Q: Do you ever feel like a woman’s death is being exploited in some way?
I have been asked this question a lot, and I’ve thought about it long and hard. This is not about bringing closure to the family. They say that they don’t want to hear it again, but to me, it’s a way to maybe bring closure to this woman’s death. Maybe somebody comes forward and knows who did it, has some evidence and resolves this case. I’m a journalist, and sometimes I’m going to write about things that are sensational. In every true crime story, there are people that don’t want that story told.
I’m not doing it to see if I can catch the killer or anything like that, but I think it’s a case that should still be written about. I have been passing out flyers around the city and run into all kinds of people. On any given day, I’ll have someone say to me, “Oh, I know someone who was at that party.” It’s a story that just won’t go away.