EPIX brings four-part true-crime docuseries Fall River to the network in a similar build-up and feel to producer Blumhouse Television’s wildly successful and award-winning series, The Jinx.
And like the escalating real-time drama of Robert Durst’s dance with the filmmakers, you think you have Fall River’s murders in Massachusetts nailed down as you close in at the end of each episode.
That is until you get there and realize, there’s more here and something is not right.
When news becomes a ratings gambit, salacious headlines make the work easy for news stations to grab your attention without really digging too deep for actual facts. By 1980, the 24-hour news cycle was neck-deep in “satanic panic” stories, and this one dovetailed nicely into that narrative.
Producer and director James Buddy Day spent over four years going over case files for the Fall River murders. Between 1979 and 1980, three women were murdered.
One victim, Doreen Levesque, is still an open case. Barbara Raposa’s killer Andy Maltais was convicted and sentenced to life, and Karen Marsden was beheaded in a forest. Local pimp Carl H. Drew of Fall River was convicted of the murder of Marsden. All murders were described by the media as Satanic human sacrifices.
There are other players in the murder arrests, a local woman who was also a pimp, Robin Murphy, and convicted rapist and known pedophile Andy Maltais. Their stories and connections to all the players in this awful series of crimes unfold as you watch the docuseries.
The gruesome details seem like something out of a gory movie. The murdered women’s deaths were all similar in method and so brutal the police alleged a satanic cult was practicing human sacrifice.
Twenty years after the trial, the lead investigator Paul Carey became so haunted by inconsistencies in the stories that he re-investigated his case after he retired.
Evidence surfaced primarily through producer and director James Buddy Day’s legwork that brought the entire story into question.
Now through exclusive interviews, including intimate conversations with Drew, new witnesses, and illuminating evidence, this documentary series shows how paranoia, pressure from a district attorney to wrap up a problematic case, and the “satanic panic” happening in America, all reveal how these murders — thought to have been solved — were also incompetently prosecuted.
Carl Drew was the easy arrest who ticked the boxes
Drew, primarily illiterate, was a pimp, and he was disliked by local pimps who competed with him or the police.
He had a look about him, and he was painted as the satanic cult leader. Drew was captured, tried in court, and sent to prison for life without parole.
But James Buddy Day’s exhaustive research and re-interviewing of the police and others directly involved with the case reveal an even more insidious player in the town who had the commonality of motive and the physical evidence found in his possession and means to kill these women.
The director’s work is riveting, and at one point in the docuseries he has a retired cop against the ropes as he grills him over the ludicrous police report — with no real evidence — that he had filed which condemned Drew in Karen Marsden’s murder.
James Buddy Day is an award-winning producer, showrunner, writer, and director for numerous television and feature documentaries but whose wheelhouse is heavily focused in the true crime world.
In Fall River, he has honed his skills in recreating crime stories and adding to them with even more depth and hard work uncovering glaring case flaws.
Exclusive interview with James Buddy Day
Monsters & Critics: You commissioned the Innocence Project organization with this new evidence that you uncovered to exonerate — at least for the murders — Carl Drew. You’re more than a filmmaker at this point. You became an advocate. Please tell me your feelings about how your actions for Carl Drew may have his conviction overturned.
James Buddy Day: In terms of my feelings, I definitely believe that an injustice was done to Carl and Robin Murphy. When I started this, when I began to get to know Carl, he gave me all his case files, and they were stored in his girlfriend’s basement in Fall River. So we went to Fall River, got the paper files, took them to Kinko’s, and got them all digitized.
Over the four years, I became one of the only people in the world that had the complete story because I took those case files, and then we went out and interviewed everybody that we could find, and then petitioned the Fall River police to get their files, and we got those.
Then we got the court transcript from the Fall River superior court and found the video of Robin Murphy’s parole hearings and all that.
So, over the years, we were the only people that had brought everything together. So as the documentary came together, I took on this sense of responsibility to do something with all this information for Robin and Carl.
It just took on this kind of sense of responsibility that I needed to further, something, to undo this injustice.
M&C: This is a class issue at its core. Poor people go to jail; they don’t have money for advocates. As you unraveled this case, were you angry? Were you resigned? Do you feel like there’s any hope for the criminal justice system to be fixed?
James Buddy Day: This is not the first time I’ve covered a case where I felt like there’s been an injustice, you know. I remember I did a documentary about the Slenderman murder, and I remember interviewing Morgan Geyser.
I spent a lot of time with her defense team, and her lawyer said to me, ‘well, our justice system is adversarial. It’s not about finding the truth.’
And that always really stuck with me. That’s something that you have to realize about, not just the American justice system, many justice systems worldwide are similar in that when the police investigate something and when it goes to trial and when the district attorney takes it on, it’s not about finding the truth.
That’s not the goal of the justice system. The justice system is purposely adversarial to come to one conclusion or the other. And then when they do come to that conclusion, that conclusion becomes the “facts”, as they say.
But those “facts” aren’t necessarily what happened. That’s just the accepted version of events. That’s a common theme I see in all of the cases that I take on, and also in Fall River.
What was always very interesting to me, and the reason we edited it the way we did, is that the case shifts based on who it is you are talking to.
When you look at the case, you come away thinking one thing from the police’s perspective. When you look at the case from Carl’s perspective, you come away thinking another thing. Then when you look at the case from Robin’s perspective, you come away thinking another, and in some ways, they’re all right, and in some ways, they’re all wrong.
The only way to understand what happened is to sit back, look at everyone’s perspective and try to drill down into what happened. That is not how the justice system works. It’s not built to work that way. That’s not the goal.
M&C: Your docuseries revealed how the police protect each other and their lives and how they buckle down and get in line to stick to their flawed and corrupt narrative to keep the impatient district attorney happy.
James Buddy Day: There’s actually this concept called noble corruption, which is the idea that police often will do things that aren’t necessarily truthful or good, but they’re doing them because they think that at the end of the day, they’re achieving something good, something noble.
For example, planting drugs on a drug dealer to prevent him from selling drugs to children or something, those sorts of things. You see that a lot in policing in America… is that the police often don’t necessarily do the right things. Because they think they’re achieving a moral end.
So that’s what you really see in Fall River, in going back to these police officers, is their belief that they got it right.
They think they got it right because Carl Drew’s a bad man. And Carl Drew is a murderer, and he deserves to be in prison. That’s their perspective.
Now, the police can’t explain how they know that. And they can’t point you to the evidence that proves that; they just know it is true. At least they just believe that to be true, I should say.
So that’s something you see in a lot of these cases, and the unfortunate part is, again, the police’s job isn’t to just find out the truth; no matter what that is, their job is to catch a bad guy.
From the Fall River police perspective, even now, they believe they caught the bad guy, and the police believe he’s supposed to be in prison, and they believe they did the right thing.
There are apparent problems with their investigation. There are clear contradictions in what they’re saying, but it’s too threatening for them to acknowledge that.
M&C: Your docuseries is a Trojan horse for waking people up out of this spoon-fed salacious media headline narrative, the “satanic panic” nonsense. How did you want this docuseries to be interpreted from your perspective, other than things aren’t always as they seem in a murder trial?
James Buddy Day: I think the takeaway for me about the “satanic panic” and what’s going on nowadays with Q-Anon and [former president] Trump and all that kind of stuff you’re referring to is there’s an inherent danger in demonizing your opponent.
Starting after the cold war and after World War II, this kind of idea percolated in America, especially, but in other countries as well, that people that disagree with you are not just wrong, they’re evil; they’re in league with the devil, which is such a dangerous idea.
Because when you characterize a person you disagree with as evil and satanic, then you’re just shutting the door to any compromise or conversation.
Now everything you do is morally righteous and ordained, and everything your opponent does is evil and morally corrupt. So from a broad perspective, the biggest lesson about the “satanic panic” is we have to be very careful in treating people we disagree with as, unfortunately, what you see today.
And we make these parallels in the Fall River documentary; we make these comparisons. You have members of Congress and politicians who are saying the people on the other side are not just wrong, they’re satanists, they’re evil, they’re in league with the devil, and that that begets violence and persecution and all sorts of horrible things.
So, for me, the biggest takeaway is to recognize that pattern.
M&C: Robin Murphy was so adept at lying, she was so bright and, let’s be realistic, she’s probably the most intelligent person in the room for that crowd. But as I watched each episode, my feelings about her flip-flopped. I felt awful for her. Please tell me your thoughts about Robin Murphy.
James Buddy Day: I think when you see Robin’s story, which doesn’t take place until the third episode, and what she went through, I think to me that changes everything because the amount of trauma that Robin suffered is almost incomprehensible. And so every decision she made, every lie she told, everything she said… it all had to be viewed through that lens.
I remember that there’s a moment that we see in her 2012 parole hearing, that we feature in the documentary, where one of the parole board members who’s since become a judge in Fall River says, I’m paraphrasing, but he said, “So, the amount of trauma you went through explains some things, it explained a lot, but it doesn’t explain everything.”
I just wanted to throw a shoe at the TV when I heard that, it was like, it DOES explain everything. For a man to sit there and tell a young woman that the fact that she was sexually brutalized for her entire life doesn’t somehow explain how these things contributed to the person that she became is offensive and ridiculous.
I hope that people look at Robin Murphy from a different perspective when they see the series. I hope the parole board takes steps to undo the injustice that Robin went through, regardless of what she did, regardless of the lies she told when she was 17 years old.
What she went through, no one on earth should have to go through. I have a lot of sympathy and empathy for Robin.
M&C: She’s up for parole next year.
James Buddy Day: That’s right. Yes. She’s up for parole in 2022.
M&C: Hopefully, maybe being exposed to your work… it was investigative journalism, not just making a film. You did the legwork, and hopefully, she’ll get a fair shake next year. Good on you for getting the Innocence project to look at Carl’s case closer. That’s a real feather in your cap as a human being.
James Buddy Day: Oh, thank you.
Fall River premieres on May 16 at 10 PM on EPIX, with the second episode on Sunday, May 23 at 10 PM before the two-part series finale on Sunday, May 30 from 9-11 PM.