All Research

Alpha Dog: History vs. Hollywood

Starring Justin Timberlake, Emile Hirsch, Ben Foster, Anton Yelchin, Bruce Willis | based on the kidnapping and murder of Nicholas Markowitz, also chronicled in the book 'My Stolen Son'

Anton Yelchin
Born: March 11, 1989
Leningrad, Russian SFSR, USSR
Death: June 19, 2016, Studio City, California, USA (car accident)
Nicholas Markowitz
Born: September 19, 1984
Birthplace: West Hills, California, USA
Death: August 9, 2000, Santa Barbara, California, USA (gunshot)
Movie Counterpart: Zack Mazursky
Justin Timberlake
Born: January 31, 1981
Memphis, Tennessee, USA
Jesse Rugge
Born: November 10, 1979
Birthplace: Los Angeles, California, USA
Movie Counterpart: Frankie Ballenbacher
Ben Foster
Born: October 29, 1980
Boston, Massachusetts, USA
Benjamin Markowitz
Born: July 5, 1978
Birthplace: Los Angeles, California, USA
Movie Counterpart: Jake Mazursky
Emile Hirsch
Born: March 13, 1985
Palms, California, USA
Jesse James Hollywood
Born: January 28, 1980
Birthplace: Los Angeles, California, USA
Movie Counterpart: Johnny Truelove
Shawn Hatosy
Born: December 29, 1975
Frederick, Maryland, USA
Ryan Hoyt
Born: August 10, 1979
Birthplace: Los Angeles, California, USA
Movie Counterpart: Elvis Schmidt
Chris Marquette
Born: October 3, 1984
Stuart, Florida, USA
Graham Pressley
Born: April 14, 1983
Birthplace: Santa Barbara, California, USA
Movie Counterpart: Keith Stratten
Bruce Willis
Born: March 19, 1955
Idar-Oberstein, West Germany
John Michael "Jack" Hollywood
Born: April 23, 1954
Movie Counterpart: Sonny Truelove
Fernando Vargas
Born: December 7, 1977
Oxnard, California, USA
William Skidmore
Born: February 5, 1980
Birthplace: Los Angeles, California, USA
Movie Counterpart: Tiko "TKO" Martinez
Sharon Stone
Born: March 10, 1958
Meadville, Pennsylvania, USA
Susan Markowitz
Born: January 30, 1959
Birthplace: Los Angeles, California, USA
Movie Counterpart: Olivia Mazursky
David Thornton
Born: June 12, 1953
Cheraw, South Carolina, USA
Jeff Markowitz
Born: January 21, 1954
Birthplace: Los Angeles, California, USA
Movie Counterpart: Butch Mazursky
I know without a doubt that my numerous suicide attempts would have dwindled down to one success had there been a speedy trial, or just a single defendant. ... I felt I had to stay alive to make sure that each defendant was brought to justice. -Susan Markowitz, CBS News, December 2010

Questioning the Story:

Was Nicholas Markowitz abducted off the street while trying to run away from home?

Yes. The Alpha Dog true story confirms that Jesse James Hollywood (Johnny Truelove in the movie) and two friends, Jesse Rugge and William Skidmore, snatched up Nick Markowitz while he was walking along the side of the road in the late morning. He had recently fled his home before his parents could talk to him about a bit of trouble he was in from the night before. Jesse James Hollywood had been on his way to confront Nick's brother Benjamin about a drug debt Ben owed him.

To understand the story from Nick's mother Susan's perspective, including her fight to get justice for her son, read My Stolen Son: The Nick Markowitz Story.

The real Zack Mazursky, Nicholas Markowitz (left), was portrayed by actor Anton Yelchin in the movie (right).

How much did Nick's brother Ben owe Jesse James Hollywood?

Ben Markowitz and Jesse Hollywood's father Jack testified that Ben owed Jesse a $1,200 drug debt. However, in fact-checking Alpha Dog, we learned that the Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Department's investigation determined the debt to be much higher at $36,000.

Did Nick really play video games while he was being held captive?

Yes. Brian Affronti, who is portrayed by Alex Solowitz and renamed Bobby '911' Kaye in the movie, testified that he saw Nicholas Markowitz unbound and playing video games on the couch at a house in Santa Barbara. He also testified to helping Markowitz smoke marijuana out of a bong while he was still bound.

My Stolen Son: The Nick Markowitz Story was written by Nick's mother, Susan Markowitz.

Did the real Johnny Truelove meet with his dad to discuss the kidnapping?

Yes. Jack Hollywood met with his son at his son's girlfriend's house in Calabasas. "He seemed very scared and confused," Jack Hollywood testified. "And he--he indicated that some of his friends were holding a kid, and they--you know, he said that they were worried that they were in some kind of trouble." Jesse reportedly wouldn't tell his father where he was keeping Nick.

The real Johnny Truelove, Jesse James Hollywood (left), and actor Emile Hirsch (right) in the Alpha Dog movie. Photo Santa Barbara Sheriff's Office

Did the real Zack Mazursky say that he'd one day tell his grandkids the story of his kidnapping?

Yes. Like in the movie, Nicholas Markowitz (the real Zack Mazursky) did not believe that he was going to die. "I talked to him about it," 17-year-old Natasha Adams-Young told a grand jury, "and he said that he would tell his grandkids about it, just the story." Nick believed that he would be okay in part because Jesse Rugge, 20, had assured him (Rugge is portrayed by Justin Timberlake in the movie, renamed Frankie Ballenbacher). Adams-Young testified that Rugge told Nick, "I'm going to take you home. I'll put you on a Greyhound. I'm going to get you home."

Did Nicholas Markowitz really partake in a threesome in a pool?

No. In researching the Alpha Dog true story, we learned that the threesome is fiction. However, while at a low-key party at a State Street hotel in Santa Barbara, Nicholas Markowitz did go swimming with Graham Pressley (renamed Keith Stratten in the movie) in the hotel's outdoor pool. Girls were present but no threesome took place.

How long was Nicholas Markowitz held captive before his murder?

Nicholas Markowitz, the real Zack Mazursky, was kidnapped off the side of the road by Jesse James and his friends shortly before 1 pm on August 6, 2000. Markowitz was killed two and a half days later, sometime after midnight in the early hours of August 9.

What made Jesse James Hollywood decide that Nicholas Markowitz had to be killed?

Like in the Alpha Dog movie, the true story confirms that Jesse Hollywood decided to murder Nick after his father's attorney, Stephen Hogg, told Jesse that he would face serious penalties for the kidnapping. Jesse had called Hogg for legal advice.

Was Nicholas Markowitz really murdered in the mountains?

Yes. Nick Markowitz was driven to the foot of Lizard's Mouth Trail in the Santa Ynez Mountains, which overlook Santa Barbara. 20-year-old Jesse Rugge and 21-year-old Ryan Hoyt (portrayed by Justin Timberlake and Shawn Hatosy in the movie) marched Nick into the mountains and toward a shallow grave that 17-year-old Graham Pressley had helped dig earlier. Pressley (portrayed by Chris Marquette in the film) waited in the car but could hear Ryan Hoyt taking Nick's life, shooting him nine times after first striking him in the back of the head with a shovel, a blow that sent the 15-year-old hurtling into the grave. Rugge and Hoyt used dirt and branches to cover the body, but the grave was too shallow and too close to the trail for it to go unnoticed for long. Nick's body was discovered three days later on August 12, 2000.

Like in the Alpha Dog movie, the real Frankie Ballenbacher, Jesse Rugge (left, circa 2013), helped to kidnap Nicholas Markowitz and was present for the murder. Actor Justin Timberlake (right) portrays Rugge in the movie.

Could Nicholas Markowitz have escaped his captors?

Yes. Investigators believe that Nicholas Markowitz had several chances to escape his captors. The problem was that he assumed he would be released. When a girl who was there asked Nick why he didn't just try to leave, she said he responded, "I've taken self-defense and stuff, it's not like I couldn't do anything right now, I just don't want to. I don't see a reason to, I'm going home, why would I complicate it?"

Did Jesse James Hollywood really go on the run for several years?

Yes, the drug dealer and mastermind behind Nicholas Markowitz's murder, Jesse James Hollywood (renamed Johnny Truelove in the movie), fled the United States through Canada and went to Brazil, where he lived for close to five years. He attempted to go unnoticed under the name "Michael Costa Giroux" and told people he was born in Rio de Janeiro. Hollywood took jobs walking dogs and teaching people English, but most of his income came from his father, John "Jack" Hollywood, who sent him $1,200 each month. He impregnated a woman in Brazil in part to avoid deportation, but he wasn't fully aware of Brazilian law, which had changed (he was also an illegal immigrant in the country). Hollywood was captured by Brazilian authorities in March 2005. -Los Angeles Daily News

Did Nicholas Markowitz's mother become suicidal and end up in mental hospitals after her son's death?

Yes. As she struggled to deal with her son's passing, Susan Markowitz said she wound up in the hospital about 12 times. She attempted to take her life by combining alcohol with pills and on another occasion she cut her wrists (Dateline NBC). "When I wasn't in mental hospitals or trying to kill myself, I had one focus," Susan said in her book My Stolen Son, "to find Jesse James Hollywood".

Alpha Dog Interviews & Nicholas Markowitz Footage

The videos below include footage of the real Johnny Truelove (Jesse James Hollywood) and the real Zack Mazursky (Nicholas Markowitz).

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