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.
If after watching it you want to help David and Kate on their fight please visit
Until next time.
Great review Kloipy. This is an amazing movie. If you don’t know much about it, skip the review and see it first. Then come back and read it. Both the film and Kloipy’s writings are well worth taking in. I listed it as the best docu of the decade over here:
Thanks Jonah, I don’t even care if anyone reads the review as long as they watch the movie. It’s that important to see
FUCK! I need to see Dark Days and In the Realms of the Unreal of the Unreal. You ….shit I was gonna ask you about some doc that I thought of like two seconds ago and now I can’t remember what is was. …..fuck this is going to piss me off now.
Did you ever see Stevie?
Also I need to finish my long review about the movie about Film Critics which is also a review of what film criticism is.
I’ve never seen Stevie, but Hoop Dreams is great
Sorry boys, great review and all, and I’m sure it’s an oustandingly done doc, but fuck that. I will not watch this.
Having two daughters…and having to sit through this. All that will pass through my brain would be: what if it was one of my daughters? And then the rage would set in. No thanks.
Pillow I understand man. It’s even worse when you have a kid. I didn’t know what was coming and when it came on of course all I could think about was my daughter and man did it hit me like a brick wall. It’s such a tragic story
I understand the sentiment, and as that’s the case, I’d probably recommend that you do skip it.
At the same time, it’s not like a torture porn or emotional masochism, where the only value in seeingf it is being gutted. Yes, due to the events and the subject matter it is devestating, but there’s something more there to.
Watching the filmmaker honor his friend and the parents seek justice in the face of the most horrible odds I can think of, well there’s something good and powerful there too. No, it aint all smiles, but I wouldn’t say it’s tone is one of misery or its dire the whole time. Believe me, I dont k ow how you avoid that, but Kurt mostly manages to. I think it helps that he doesn’t shy away from the rage involved either.
The last part of the film really centers around changing the laws so thigns like this don’t happen, and in that, there’s something important.
In order to understand the situation fully you have to feel the impact of the rest of the events.
But no, JPT, I think you are right. No need raising two daughters with this in your head.
Andrew’s parents, like i said in the review, SAINTS. I can’t imagine doing what they did. Brave doesn’t begin to honor their actions
Nice review, kloipy. This sounds like a difficult watch. I may find the cajones to see it sometime. I skipped the part of the the review, so that shows intent right? hmmm….
Droid, it sat in my list for a long time, but I’m so glad I watched it.
From the heart again, Kloipy. Respect.
For the past half hour I’ve been trying to stream this doc online – to no avail. Just won’t buffer, freezing all the time. I’ve tried a variety of sites as well. Typically, the steadiest site I’ve found – stagevu – hasn’t got it.
I’ll have to try again another night. The 15 minutes I saw were drawing me in…
Thanks Wolf! If you can find it, and it works, please let me know your thoughts
Yeah this is a crazy doc, depressing as shit as well. They air it on CNBC from time to time.
excellent review, even though I couldn’t finish the movie when I figured out where it was going, it’s a profoundly emotional movie to watch if you have had a close relative with a mental illness.
thanks Xi. I didn’t think that was coming at all. Or at least my brain didn’t want me to think that
Unfortunately Kloipy that’s how my head works. You should be happy that you’re not maladjusted like I am.
Great review Kloipy. I remember being a ball of tears at the end of it as well. What was creepy for me is that Andrew looks a lot like my brother, who also shares his name. Luckily my brother is married to a wonderfully lady much better than his is.
thanks Koutch, yeah I must have looked like shit watching this doing the ugly cry.
Awesome review, mate! I will defo be checking this out, and having some tissues near by too.
definitely do that Col. you will need them
Hey, I’ll be watching a film that will require the tissues too! And in some ways you could call it a documentary.
Hmmmm. I just looked this up on my friend’s netflix account to see if it’s available to “watch instantly” (it is!) and it said that its ‘recommended based on your interest in Tyson, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia Seasons 1 & 2, and Food, Inc.’
What the fuck? I can see the two docs because they’re docs and clearly netflix doesn’t have a particularly sophisticated system for automated recommendations, but Always Sunny? Huh??
Anyway, I think I’m gonna give it a go, against my better judgment. You do write persuasive reviews, Kloipy! If it wrecks me, I’m blaming you!
Blitz, i think Netflix just picks shit at random. Let me know what you think after you see it Blitz.
Thanks Barfy, I guarantee that this is not an easy watch by any standards. It will depress and anger you a whole lot. But I definitely think it is worth seeing
Just finished watching it, Kloipy. I had to split it up over 2 nights coz stupid Megavideo kept flipping me off for no reason…
It is extremely moving. It has left me angry more than anything else. I knew what was coming, knew it and the fury just seemed to grow and grow to that moment.
You just wonder at the cosmic forces at work, throwing a good lad like Andrew into the path of that psycho. But you can’t blame the cosmos for Zachary; that’s down to a pathetically inept legal system. I haven’t got words to describe Shirley’s psychiatrist, for posting bail money. And of course that complete fucking tool who decided Shirley wasn’t a danger to anybody and released her.
David & Kate are heroes. It’s an honour to have met them through this film.
Glad you got to finish it Wolf. I just hope that judge knows that innocent blood is on her hands and I hope she doesn’t have a peaceful nights sleep for the rest of her life.
David and Kate are people I wish to be like. They deserve the best for what they’ve been through.
I want to see this thing very much but I don’t think I can handle it. I have two kids, a two-and-a-half year old boy and a nine-month old daughter. Since becoming a father I’ve become both more squeamish and more bloodthirsty when it comes to things like this. I cry much easier nowadays when confronted with similar stories, but I also harbor a truly frightening capacity for hatred and a desire to kill people responsible for causing them. Either way, I end up with numerous sleepless nights worrying about this hideous world I have to raise my kids in.
Alright, PaZooz, that’s it. 44 straight hours of Fozzie and Rowlf for you. March!
You should have seen the downbeat piece I was going to post instead.
64 hours then!
DocP, i’m the same way now that I have a child. I really can’t stomach anything that has to do with violence against children like I could before I had kids. Like Pillow said up there, you just put your kid in the situation and it’s unbearable.
I’m so-o far behind Seth but thank you for “making” me watch this. Didn’t cry as much as I thought I would but also didn’t know how angry I would get. Wonder what happened to the Canadian judge that allowed her on the streets? I looked on the website and didn’t see anything. The perfect storm of so many people falling down on their jobs. Horrifying how something like this could happen.
I’m glad you watched it Barfy. I think when the big shock happened it just came so out of left field, like I couldn’t expect something like that to happen after everything that it just affected me so bad. I’m pretty sure that judge is still holding her position. Gross negligance is not a mean enough word for what she did.
I am completely exhausted. I just saw the documentary, and I’m devastated. In tears, with a looming headache.
An extremely hard watch, but this is the stuff that restores my faith in humanity.
Yeah man, it’s a tough one. But I agree about the restoration of faith. I don’t know how they did it