There are some true crime stories, even if it happened many years ago, that still create such a buzz today.
So much so, even, would-be stories that aren’t even meant to be a true crime tale – but because of certain circumstances, transformed into a narrative of terror.
Such would be the case for the 2008 documentary, Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father. Originally shot by the director, Kurt Kuenne, as a film that will commemorate a close friend’s life, the labor of love soon turned into a gripping, bizarre, and horrifying tale of twisted love, family ideals, and death. Read on and find out more why this documentary is a hallmark on its own when it comes to criminal investigation films (do take note as well that SPOILERS are abound in this review – read at your own risk!)!
A Project for a Friend
The documentary focuses on Andrew Bagby, one of Kuenne’s closest friends. Andrew, a man who personified happiness and bliss on those lucky enough to know him, met his untimely demise in 2001. Killed by his ex-girlfriend (who he had just broke off a few days before his death), Andrew’s friends and family were definitely shocked by the news.
As such (and because of Kurt’s fond memories of he and Andrew shooting tons of videos during the early years of their lives – Andrew was even an early investor on some of Kurt’s films), Kuenne decided to compile and interview people that Andrew met when he was still alive. As a commemoration of sorts, Kurt didn’t expect that his passion project would take him down a trail of terror – and more deaths.
Evil Has a Face
While Andrew personified the very best of what life has to offer, his killer, Shirley Turner, may just be the perfect representation of evil incarnate.
Andrew met Shirley when he decided to study to become a doctor in Newfoundland, Canada. With Andrew’s beaming and ever-so-positive personality, it took so little for Shirley to fall in love with the aspiring doctor. Little did Andrew know that Shirley hid several horrible secrets…
Manifestations of Evil
- Shirley, before meeting Andrew, was divorced – twice.
- Being a mother of several children from her previous marriages, Shirley would take out “bonuses” from her kids’ scholarship funds. Instead of spending the bonuses for her kids’ education, she used the money to pay for her post-residency training instead.
- Shirley had been noted by Newfoundland investigators to have abused her children both physically and emotionally.
- As a general practitioner, a patient she was assigned to, refused to be under her care. Shirley, according to work colleagues, was volatile and manipulative.
- Even during Andrew’s funeral, Shirley displayed a jarring way to make her presence known. Approaching Andrew’s ex-fiancé, Heather, Shirley took pride and told the grieving woman that she had a better relationship with Andrew. Her love eternal with the deceased Bagby, Shirley made sure that each word she threw at Heather would cut.
And these points still aren’t the end of this disturbing list…
It took a madwoman just an overnight drive to chase the man who tore her heart apart. Driving approximately 1,000 miles to confront the man who had broken up with her, it was definitely clear that Shirley had vile intentions.
Inviting Andrew to meet her at a nearby park, Shirley fired several rounds at her ex-lover.
Andrew was found dead the next day. He had five gunshot wounds.
Starting the Documentation
Imagine the nightmare that Kurt had when he found out about the news of his best friend’s death. Imagine how devastating it must have been for David and Kathleen, Andrew’s parents, to find out that their only child is gone.
As a way to cope with the loss, and also to contribute to the healing process of Andrew’s closest friends and family, Kurt decided to compile videos and interviews. Anything that had to do with the happy Andrew will do!
He originally wanted all these videos to be shown only to a select few that really knew Andrew. And this was when he found out there was something wrong…
Creeping and Subtle Vibes of Madness
Even though Shirley was a prime suspect on Andrew’s death, bizarre circumstances unfolded that resulted in making the madwoman walk free!
Right after Andrew’s murder, Shirley rushed back to St. John’s, Newfoundland. This was where Shirley revealed to be pregnant with Andrew’s child. Since she was pregnant, authorities found the extradition process to be now complicated. So, with her case pending, Shirley then gave birth to Andrew’s child, Zachary.
A New Reason to Live
David and Kathleen now had a new boost to life – they wanted to give their grandson a bright future in life. Since Shirley’s case took forever (her extradition process was a dud – “legal technicalities” prevented her from coming back to the US, because of her “wonderful” lawyers’ care), the court awarded the Bagbys custody of baby Zachary. Shirley, instead of being tried in the US, had to spend some time in jail.
Kurt, finding out about Andrew’s son, took a different approach on how to film. Aside from going on a trip across the US and UK (where some of Andrew’s relatives live), he would also then document on how bizarre the Canadian legal system was on handling the late Bagby’s case.
Walking Free, Living Nightmare
One of the most surprising twists that the Canadian legal system offered for Shirley was setting her free. Shirley wrote a letter to a judge, who, even when presented with evidence that Shirley was of no sound mind, dubbed the killer as an individual that…
“… did not pose a threat to society in general.”
And so, Shirley paid bail and walked free. And for David and Kate (who both now had to leave the US and settle in Canada to watch over their grandson), this meant that they now had to settle for shared custody of Zachary with the woman who killed their son!
A Gut Punch
The passive-aggressive nature of having to deal with a disturbed individual who also watches over a young child is toxic.
The Bagbys had to drive several miles (and often, during terrible weather) just to spend a few hours with Zachary and they had to deal with the Shirley’s volatile personality. Instead they chose to rely on a single shred of hope and light in their life, little Zachary, to both commemorate Andrew and make each day count.
But that hope faded when Shirley decided to kill herself and Zachary.
A murder-suicide when a demented woman jumped into the Atlantic Ocean with her child.
The Ties (and Demons) that Bind Us
David Bagby, even before Zachary’s death, would often contemplate several scenarios on how to take his grandson away from the beast – Shirley. He had strongly considered killing her and leaving Zachary with Kathleen to leave for the US.
The Bagbys, when they found out about Andrew’s death, wanted to kill themselves. They had no reason to live.
This is how heavy of a burden madness has on sane and logical individuals. Nothing makes any sense anymore.
Edited to Haunt You
A review can never do justice on how this documentary was recorded. Spliced together in such a fashion that just throws a plethora of emotions at your face, Kurt made sure that he got the message across.
But, then again, for what? Andrew’s gone. So is Zachary.
But more than the awards and praises that this true crime documentary had amassed throughout the years, Kurt’s labor of love did matter. The Bagbys continued living – this time, fighting (and winning, with the Zachary Bill now passed as a law in Canada) on making changes to the court that dealt with their loved ones. Both Andrew and Zachary live on, as a memory that friends and family will treasure and foster for a lifetime.
Andrew and Zachary deserved better. And even though Kurt’s documentary is a heartbreaking work of art, it still brought so much joy.
WATCH IT TODAY
You need to watch this documentary – no article or review online can describe how heartbreaking this true crime work of art is. Do yourself a favor and watch it now!