Kloipy is broken by Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father
I don’t normally write a review this soon after watching any film. I usually let it take it’s time. I like to write slowly to get all my thoughts in. But I have finally come to an instance where I cannot bear to let my feelings dwell on the inside. I am writing this review with tears still falling from my eyes. I’m not ashamed to tell you that I’ve never cried this hard over a film. There was a point in this movie, and when you see it you will know, that i actually had to stop the movie because I just had to weep, and I couldn’t continue to watch it anymore until I could compose myself. In the world of documentaries that is composed of such tripe of subjects such as crossword puzzles (Wordplay) and font types (Helvetica), when something like this comes along it truly raises the documentary to something higher than a film or even art. This is humanity and it’s real. ‘Dear Zachary’ is a movie that I think everyone not only should see, but needs to see. This viewing will not be easy, my heart feels broken, I feel almost as though I can’t catch my breath, but I want everyone reading this to watch this movie.
‘Dear Zachary’ first starts off as a project from a friend, director Ken Kuenne, to make a video biography for the son of his best friend who was murdered in cold blood. The start of this movie gives us a more than candid look into the life of Dr. Andrew Bagby through home movies and interviews with his many friends and family who you can clearly see loved him dearly. These people never seemed forced to give this man love an praise. And you feel it for him by just watching him in old videos and hearing these people talk. You see pictures of Andrew and all you see is just a good natured person, someone that you would love to have on your side. He made close friends wherever he went and the people, even those who knew him only a short while, truly loved him. Even his ex fiance talks with such a love an affection for him. He was a fairly young man, who had just started up as a family practitioner in the small town of Latrobe, PA. He had so much going for him, so much life. Except for a woman who took everything away from him with no remorse. Shirley Turner was a non-practicing doctor who Andrew had been dating. She had shown signs of being unstable so Andrew had broken it off with her and paid for a plane ticket back to where she lived so that he could get on with his life. On November 5th 2001 she showed up at his door and wanted to talk. One of Andrew’s friends tried to talk him out of meeting her but Andrew didn’t see the harm and even said he would be over to that friends house a little more than an hour after Shirley and he met. Andrew didn’t show up that night, and didn’t show up for work the next day. Soon the people at his practice were met by the police and given what was devastating news.
Andrew met Shirley at Keystone National Park, where she shot him five times, and then left to drive back home. The film lets us hear her talks with the police where she lies and says she was sick at home. However the investigation shows that they got her cell phone records that showed her calling from Pennsylvania on that day. She then changes her story that she couldn’t remember. The bullets in the gun were from one that she recently purchased along with shooting practice records. The gun and ammo match what was found on the crime scene, but she states to the cops that she doesn’t know where the gun is and eventually telling the police that she gave the gun to Andrew.
Before I go any further I want to mention Andrew’s parents, David and Kate Bagby, as I will bring them up later. These two people are saints. You can see the love they have for each other and for Andrew. They describe seeing him after the murder and how they even have the strenght to talk about it is beyond me. You can just see that they are good people and what comes upon them, no one should ever have to endure.
The police finally decide to bring up the charges against Shirley, and that is when she decides to flee the country back to her home in Newfoundland, CA. Andrew’s parents drop their life and move up after her to make sure justice is served for their son. But what follows in the case is nothing short of catastrophe. Shirley is found in Canada and the courts there take months to even decide on their laws of extridition to send her back to the states to stand trial for her crimes. In the meantime, her bail is posted for her by her own phychiatrist and she ( a person acccused of premeditated 1st degree murder) is allowed to walk the streets. Then she gives the news that she is four months pregnant with Andrew’s son.
Zachary is born and Andrew’s parents fight to see him, which they are allowed to only for 1 hour a week under court supervision. An accused murderer is granted custody of the child, but the victims of her crime are treated like monsters. What kind of justice is this? Finally Shirley is put in prison to await her trial. David and Kate are granted custody. In a series of recordings his parents made you hear Shirley call them from prison will make you sick. His parents being so civil to this monster that killed their son will just leave you feeling hollow. In the next injustice is the tipping point. Shirley files an appeal to be let out of prison to wait the trial. Justice Gale Welsh, in a move that is totally baffling, grants her request and even states that she is of no harm to the general public because this was a violent crime of a SPECIFIC nature. She also said that Shriley posed no psychological problems and was stable, even though the jail records show that she was put on constant suicide watch and had threatened to stab another inmate. And she lets her walk free and once again take custody of Zachary. Andrew’s parents fight to have more visitation and are granted that at least. In home video you can see that Zachary only takes to his grandparents. The video of Shirley with him shows that of a woman who doesn’t care about her child but rather the facade of innocense so she can get away with murder. Kate and David give her money and buy almost everything just so Zachary can have a good life. The fact that these people are so strong to sit alongside the person who killed their only biological son, speaks so much of the character you have to have to be able to do a feat like this. I know that I could never be that strong.
If you want to go into this movie with little knowledge, I suggest you skip the next paragraph. I will highlight when it is ok to read again.
What comes next was nothing I had suspected. I hadn’t heard what the full story was and up until this point was completely unprepared for what was going to happen. I thought that Andrew’s parents would gain custody and hopefully that justice would be served and that I could leave on a note of knowing that sometimes we aren’t failed by those people appointed to protect us from these things. But that all changes in an instant. They tell of how David and Kate come home to find a note on the door from the police. Zachary and Shirley are missing. You start to think that she fled again, because that’s what you want to believe is true. But it is not long before we learn that it’s the worst. The police find two bodies washed up on the shore, that of Shirley, and of Zachary. Shirley Turner drugged her 1 year old son, and drowned them both together in the ocean. It was at this point I had to pause the movie. I couldn’t bear to look into the faces of David and Kate as they told of the funeral of their innocent grandson. The complete rage coming from David as he tells Kurt that he thinks she knew what she was going to do to them by her actions. It is such a raw scene that nothing can prepare you for. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen on film. Justice can’t be served for these people anymore. At this point they have been stripped. I sat there just saying ‘It’s not fair’ over and over again, because it isn’t. Life isn’t.
Andrew’s parents are somehow able to pull together and become activists. They are currently trying to change the Canadian law to disallow any murder suspect to be freed on bail. Out of there fight, Shirley’s pscychiatrist has been forced to step down, however none of the courts or judges have yet to have any reprocussions from their inept decisions.
At this point, the director Ken, states why he continued on after the death of Zachary. As he almost doesn’t know himself. But what started as a letter to a son, turns into a letter to Kate and David. We see all the friends and loved ones tell them how they will always have children and be loved by so many people. Even those who barely knew Andrew. It is in the final frames where we realize that even through the darkness there can be people who act as a flame.
You can read again from this point
‘Dear Zachary’ is a perfect film. It achieves something that has been tried and failed by so many others. It makes you truly care about it’s subjects. I had never known anything of Andrew or his family before going into this movie, but less than an hour into it I felt like I did, and I cried over the death of someone I’ve never heard of. This movie never feels like it forces you to feel sympathy or any emotion for that matter. It just shows these people for what they are, good and geniune. And it moves you. It makes you want to follow their example, to be a better person and to fight against what is wrong in this world. I believe that anyone who watches this movie will be moved by it. Being a parent and watching from that perspective makes it only want to hold your children that much closer and to do right by them the way Andrew’s did for him. This movie is more than tough to watch but it is more than worth it. It is available to watch instantly on Netflix right now, and if you don’t have Netflix, search it out and watch it as soon as you can. Some things need to be seen.
Until next time.