Fall River: James Buddy Day previews EPIX’s eye-opening true crime docuseries

Fall River Key Art - Courtesy of EPIX
Fall River Key Art - Courtesy of EPIX /

Fans of true crime can’t miss the new EPIX series Fall River, which blows the lid off a 1979 story that many people don’t know. But once you see this show, you won’t be able to forget.

James Buddy Day directed and executive produced the four-part project, which tells how the city of Fall River, Massachusetts thought the deaths of three young women were the workings of a cult. Ultimately, Carl Drew was given a life sentence in prison as the leader of the alleged cult. But two decades later, the man who helped put him away re-opened the case… and new information came to light.

Fall River examines all sides of this story, including exclusive interviews and the appearance of new witnesses, and Precinct TV spoke to James Buddy Day about putting it all together. Learn more before the series premiere Sunday on EPIX at 10:00 p.m. ET/PT.

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Precinct TV: There are a lot of true crime documentaries that focus on the 1970’s to 1980’s. Is there something about this time period that’s particularly compelling for filmmakers?

James Buddy Day: It’s amazing. There were just a lot more serial killers back then, and there’s a lot of theories as to why. There’s actually some really interesting research that suggests that it was tied to men going to World War I, and a lot of young men growing up in single-parent homes, and how that influenced the culture and the economy, and that kind of created a breeding ground for serial killers.

It was also, from a practical sense, easier to be a serial killer in the 1970’s and the 1980’s, and even the early ’90s. Now we have DNA, we have phone tracing, there’s cameras everywhere. It’s just a lot harder to be a serial killer today. Not that it doesn’t happen. Of course it does. But back in the 1970’s and ’80s when you didn’t have cell phones, you didn’t have DNA, you didn’t have all this research, it was just a lot easier to get away with stuff. In terms of true crime stories, there’s just a lot more to choose from back there.

PTV: Even so, the Fall River story is one that hasn’t really been told yet in the genre. What was it about this case that interested you enough to make its your next project?

JBD: People outside of Massachusetts haven’t really heard of it. It was a big deal at the time in the 1980’s—the trial was well covered, there was a lot of media coverage around it in Massachusetts. In fact, one of the reporters in Fall River at the time was a young aspiring journalist named Meredith Vieira. (laughs) She didn’t cover the trial, but she was a reporter in Fall River.

But it kind of was like this little bubble of activity. So that was what first piqued my interest in it. And then I reached out to Carl Drew; that’s how I got into the story to begin with, and got to know him, and learned about his case and all that. There were so many crazy twists and turns.

And the people in Fall River, the case is very raw for them and very real, and they were still kind of living with this trauma. It was kind of a microcosm of what was going on in America at the time with the Satanic Panic. It just really had all those elements that I thought would be really interesting for others, and also would tell a greater story.

PTV: As the director, because this isn’t a well-known story, you’re not held to an expected narrative. There’s no established idea of what we’re going to see. So how did you decide what Fall River was going to cover, especially since it is still very raw to the people who live there?

JBD: What is really interesting about the Fall River satanic cult murders is that it’s all about perspective. It’s all about who you talk to. When you look at the case from Carl’s perspective, you really come away believing one thing. When you look at it from Robin’s perspective, you come away really believing something else. And then when you look at it from the investigator’s [Paul Carey] perspective, you see a third possibility.

It’s very real for everyone still, and they all really have strong beliefs about it based on their experience. And I also found it really interesting that the beliefs that they formed back in 1979, 1980, they still hold on to those beliefs 40 years later, even when confronted with new evidence or a new way of looking at things.

PTV: Is there some kind of perspective that you want the audience to come away with by the end of that fourth episode?

JBD: One of the themes of the show is that there’s an inherent danger in demonizing people you don’t agree with. You can disagree with people, for sure. But when you start to call people you disagree with evil and you start to call yourself righteous, there’s an inherent problem with that. It shuts down conversation, it leads to violence, it leads to injustice. You’re seeing those themes play out right now in the current political culture and climate, where people who you disagree with are not just wrong; they’re evil.

That’s really a theme of Fall River, is that they were trying to solve these murders, they were trying to find out what was happening, and instead of truth-seeking, instead of looking at everyone’s story and trying to put together all the pieces, they just labeled everyone as satanic and decided that answered all the questions.

At the end of the day it’s a story of injustice, and those injustices still stand. Through re-looking at the case, and finding new evidence, and putting the pieces together, we’ve kind of come to new conclusions that we hope people look at and take seriously. The hope is that the powers that be in Massachusetts, the district attorney of Fall River, the governor, they react to the documentary, and watch it, and take steps to undo these injustices.

Carl Drew suffered an injustice. Robin Murphy suffered an injustice. And most importantly, the victims have suffered an injustice. When we interviewed the former police, and the former detectives, and the former state troopers, they still hung on to the belief that the things they did during the Satanic Panic were the right things, even though they admit that the Satanic Panic was just that; it was a panic. What I really hope is that the people that make the decisions in Fall River do something to fix it.

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Fall River premieres Sunday, May 16 at 10:00 p.m. ET/PT on EPIX. Episode 2 airs May 23, and the series concludes with a two-part finale on May 30.