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Blood and Sand

NYC publisher W. W. Norton has yet to see a word of Vincent Bugliosi’s true-crime book, “And the Sea Will Tell,” written with Bruce B. Henderson. But Norton has already paid “more than six figures” for hardcover rights, Bugliosi tells us--and the project has sold to Tri-Star and Columbia Television for more than $1.1 million, plus bonuses. That’s believed to be the highest price ever paid for film rights to a true-crime project.

And Bugliosi (“Helter Skelter”) said it’s a pay-or-play deal--he’s guaranteed the full amount whether or not the film gets made.

The true tale involves a young couple, Bucky Walker and Stephanie Stearns, who were accused of hijacking a luxury yacht belonging to wealthy Malcolm and Eleanor Graham and killing the older couple on a South Seas island in 1974. The murder trial was delayed until Mrs. Graham’s bones were discovered on an atoll in 1981.

Bugliosi, a former Los Angeles County prosecutor famous for handling the Charles Manson case, defended Stearns. She was acquitted; Walker was convicted.

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More Crime Beat: Will members of the notorious Walker spy ring make money from the upcoming CBS mini on their exploits, “Family of Five,” which starts shooting early next month? Phoenix Entertainment and the network declined to comment on whether ringleader John Walker, brother Arthur and son Michael--convicted in 1986 of selling military secrets to the Soviets--will profit from the docudrama. But other sources tell us that money has gone to the Walkers in exchange for dramatic rights to their life stories.

The five-hour series, scheduled for May airing, is based on two books about the case, Howard Blum’s “I Pledge Allegiance” and Pete Earley’s “Family of Five.”

Earley told us that he reluctantly paid a percentage of his advance (about $250,000, plus bonuses), royalties and all other income from the book to the three spies in exchange for candid confessions “because I was certain that Son of Sam laws would keep Walker (and the others) from having access to the money.” But shortly before the book came out, the author learned that the federal law--designed to keep criminals from profiting from their crimes--didn’t cover espionage.

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Well-placed sources said that Phoenix optioned Earley’s book specifically to acquire the dramatic rights of the three convicted spies--and that John’s wife, Barbara, who knew about the spying for more than 10 years before tipping the FBI, cut a separate deal with the company.

Earley--somewhat defensively--said he believes most of the Walkers’ proceeds will go to the IRS.


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