The enthusiastic response to last week's Movie of the Week column inspired me to plant myself in front of the Lifetime Movie Network for a few days armed with a bowl of popcorn and a pen poised over a notebook. (The never-ending rigors of this job boggle the mind.) My favorite made-for-TVers are those based on true stories, especially true stories involving jealous friends or spouses who go on sleazy killing rampages. Here are 5 classics, along with the real stories behind the films:
1. Death of a Cheerleader
The movie remained pretty true to the details of the actual case, only the names were changed to protect"¦someone, I suppose. Kirsten Costas was the cheerleader in question; she was also a star on the varsity swim team at Miramonte High School in Orinda, California. Her attacker was Bernadette Protti; both girls were 15 years old when the murder took place in 1984. It took police six months to determine that Protti was the killer, and one of her first questions after confessing was "Do I have to go back to Miramonte? I can't live if it is known. I would rather die."
Bernadette was convicted of second degree murder and sentenced as a juvenile. She was released from prison in 1992 at the age of 23, when she promptly changed her name and left California.
2. 83 Hours Till Dawn
Robert Urich portrays wealthy land developer Bradley Burdock, whose idyllic life is turned upside down when his college coed daughter, Julie, is abducted and held for ransom. Not only has she been kidnapped; she is being held in an underground capsule with a limited amount of battery power to provide her air and light. Kidnapper Peter Strauss is very proud of his carefully constructed Fiberglas and plywood tomb, which is equipped with every conceivable necessity: food, water, bed pan and feminine hygiene products. His ransom demand of $500,000 is ultimately met after a series of mishaps, and he phones the FBI to alert them of Julie's location while he attempts to leave the U.S. via motorboat. When Julie is rescued, she is dehydrated and 10 pounds lighter after spending four days underground. Several days later, her kidnapper is arrested and brought to justice.
This movie was based on a book of the same name which was written by the kidnapping victim herself, Barbara Jane Mackle. Her abductor was Gary Steven Krist, who was assisted by his girlfriend, Ruth Eisemann-Schier. Barbara passed the interminable hours underground by alternately singing aloud and praying. When she was finally rescued from her coffin-like prison by the FBI, her first words were "How are my parents?" Ruth Eisemann-Shier served five years in prison and then was deported to her native Honduras. Gary Steven Krist escaped the death penalty when Barbara testified on the stand that she was grateful to him for telling the FBI how to locate her. He was sentenced to life in prison, which at that time (1968) meant he would be eligible for parole after seven years. Krist served 10 years, then fled to Haiti, where he eventually earned a medical degree at a Caribbean university. He worked as a physician in rural Indiana until his license was revoked.
In 2007 he was arrested and sentenced to five years in prison for trafficking cocaine. As for Barbara, she married her college sweetheart, had two children, and prefers not to dwell on the whole kidnapping "thing."
3. A Killer Among Friends
The movie is based on the 1985 murder of Michele "Missy" Avila of Arleta, California, who drove off with her best friend, Karen Severson, and another friend, Laura Doyle, and never returned. Karen had always been overweight, shy and awkward, whereas Missy was petite and outgoing; when the two first met at age eight, they clicked because Karen was lonely and Missy was the only girl in her family and longed for a sister. Over the years, it became obvious to many observers that Karen was deeply jealous of Missy's looks and popularity. No one knew exactly how deep her envy festered, though, until her arrest in 1989. Both Karen and Laura are still in prison as of this writing; Karen Severson was recently diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis and is hoping to get a compassionate release in the near future.
4. When He Didn't Come Home
David Richmond of Oviedo, Florida, was the real body rolled in that carpet back in 1992. The TV movie was correct on some facts, and way off base on others. Michele Roger was the object of David's affection, and while the pair lived together, they were never formally engaged.
Michele was not a Yuppie entrepreneur; she worked as a topless dancer, which was a bone of contention between her and David.
There is no question that Michele used to slap David around (many of his co-workers testified about his black eyes and broken ribs), but Michele's attorney stated that she only struck out in self-defense. Her family did assist in disposing of David's body (in a far more gruesome way than alluded to in the film), and Michele was ultimately found guilty of second degree murder and was sentenced to 17 years in prison. She was granted clemency in 1999 by an outgoing governor on the grounds that she had been a battered woman.
5. Love's Deadly Triangle: The Texas Cadet Murder
So, while I'm in an investigative mood, are there any TV movies you've wondered about in terms of the real-life outcome? Suggestions are welcome "“ you may get your questions answered in a future column!
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