Los Angeles, CA–All too often when a woman kills her husband or ex, the crime is trivialized or sensationalized, draining the crime of its horror and the victim of well-deserved sympathy. A couple examples include:
1) Clara Harris, who in 2002 murdered her husband David by running over him repeatedly in her car. As she did so, the dying man’s daughter sat in the front seat with her and begged her not to murder the father she loved. Harris won joint custody of her children from prison, and will be out in a couple years.
Harris’ daughter Lindsey, only 16 at the time of the murder, denounced the widespread media sympathy for Clara, saying, “This murderess deserves no sympathy.’
To learn more, see my co-authored column Suppose Roles Had Been Reversed in Clara Harris Case (Houston Chronicle, 1/27/07).
2) Mary Winkler, who shot her sleeping husband in the back and then refused to aid him or call 911 as he slowly bled to death for 20 minutes. According to Matthew Winkler’s oldest daughter, Patricia, the dead father–who as he lay dying looked at his wife and asked “why?”–was a good man and did not abuse her mother.
Winkler employed dubious claims of abuse during her trial and walked away a free woman last year after serving a farcically brief “sentence” for her crimes. She also got custody of her children.
To learn more, see my co-authored column No child custody for husband-killer Mary Winkler (World Net Daily, 9/14/07).
The new film Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father is a refreshing change.
Producer Kurt Kuenne is full of “fury at the injustice done to his best friend Andrew Bagby, a doctor who was set up and gunned down,” apparently at the hands of an ex-girlfriend who he had broken up with.
Kuenne has made a film to memorialize his murdered friend and tell the world about the injustice his ex perpetrated. The legal system coddled the apparent killer, allowing her to be free on bail and have custody of their son, who she subsequently murdered.
From Christopher Smith’s review of Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father:
Kurt Kuenne”s heartbreaking new documentary, “Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father,’ features a story that, if fictionalized for, say, the purpose of a novel, likely would be labeled “outrageous’ by an editor, stamped with a swift mark of rejection, and sent packing to the mailroom.
And it would be tough to blame the editor for doing so.
What occurs in this movie only could happen in real life — the frail walls of fiction couldn”t sustain it. The events that unfold are too bizarre. The way the story escalates is too steep. And when the floor does give way, the drop is too far to fathom.
This is the story of one man”s murder, and the fierce ripple of events that rang out in the wake of the five bullets that claimed his life. You sit watching the movie in a kind of haze, thinking that what happens here couldn”t possibly happen the way it happened, and yet it did happen. It”s staggering to believe it happened.
Unable to contain his rage, writer-director Kuenne doesn”t even try to conceal it. For a less-skilled director, this might have been a problem — the movie could have lost focus. The rage might have overwhelmed the facts.
But not so here. Kuenne”s fury at the injustice done to his best friend Andrew Bagby, a doctor who was set up and gunned down in Latrobe, Penn., by his ex-girlfriend Shirley Turner, doesn”t detract or make for a lesser movie. In fact, it allows for one of the year”s most powerful movies, with Kuenne achieving a keen, almost rabid focus as he zeros in on each of the many wrongs done to Bagby and his steadfast parents, David and Kathleen.
If too much is revealed here, the movie”s impact will be ruined, so I”ll be cagey with the particulars, which some readers likely already know given that the movie”s events are chronicled in David Bagby”s best-selling book, “Dance With the Devil.’ For others, it”s safe to say this: After murdering Andrew, the Canadian-born Turner fled to St. John”s, Newfoundland, where a battle for her extradition was fought in court over the course of several months.
Since it”s revealed in the film”s title, one complication can be noted — turns out that Turner was pregnant with Andrew”s child, whom she gave birth to and named Zachary. Upon learning of this pregnancy, David and Kathleen, who once considered suicide in the wake of Andrew”s death, left the U.S. and moved to Newfoundland.
There, they launched into one maddening fight for their son”s son. Since Turner was free on bail and had custody of Zachary, that meant they had to form a civil relationship with their son”s murderer in order to see Zachary and make sure he was safe from this obviously troubled woman. They did this day in and day out, while the Canadian court system routinely shamed itself in ways best left for the screen.
Surrounding all this isn”t just the ache of loss felt by Andrew”s parents, which is so palpable, it burns, but also of his many friends and family, who are interviewed in ways that not only show us who Andrew was as a man, but also in ways that move the story forward. And where that goes, I”m not going.
“Dear Zachary’ is currently being promoted for Academy Award consideration, where it will be taken seriously. For those seeking a profound, unshakable movie, it”s worth a call to your local cinema to ask that they show it.
Video excerpts of the film can be seen above or here.
About the murdered baby boy, Wikipedia writes:
Zachary Andrew Turner (July 13, 2002 – August 17, 2003) was a Canadian citizen born in St. John’s to Shirley Jane Turner, a Canadian-American general practitioner. He lived for 13 months before he was drowned by his mother in a joint murder-suicide in the ocean near the city, prior to ongoing legal action in the local family court.
The baby’s father was Dr. Andrew Bagby, 28, a sometime boyfriend of Turner, then 41. A short while before discovering she was pregnant, she allegedly shot and killed him in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, on November 5, 2001. She then avoided prosecution and trial by fleeing to Canada, where she fought extradition in the Canadian courts for nearly 2 years, and remained free on bail. The evidence was circumstantial as there were no witnesses to the killing.
The retired father and mother of Bagby, David and Kate, the grandparents of Zachary, actively involved themselves in efforts to force Turner’s rendition to stand trial in the Pennsylvania court system. They also sought to obtain custody of the baby in the interim, which had been unsuccessful, although they had access.
Just 2 months prior to the deaths, Ottawa had approved the transfer to U.S. jurisdiction, a decision which was being appealed by Turner’s lawyer, and caused further delay. It is believed that Turner, rather than stand trial and a possible life sentence, decided to end her and the baby’s lives.
Grief-stricken and angry, David Bagby, the grandfather, wrote a book titled DANCE WITH THE DEVIL, A Memoir of Murder and Loss which in journal form details the story from the beginning, and also illustrates his ongoing efforts to force change within the family court system locally and nationwide.
The case is the subject of Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father, a documentary by Kurt Kuenne released by Oscilloscope Pictures.
Thanks to the many readers who wrote me about this film.