(Some light spoilers ahead for “Fall River,” Episode 1 titled “My Soul To Keep.”)
Sex for sale, satanic cults, addiction and a streak of brutal murders of young women too gruesome to fathom are all brought to light in a four-part docuseries “Fall River” from Blumhouse Television (“The Jinx,” “A Wilderness of Error”) and premiering May 16 on EPIX.
Almost 90 years after Lizzie Borden took an ax and gave her stepmother 40 whacks in Fall River, Massachusetts, another macabre killing spree hit the quaint, historic New England city. It began on Oct. 13, 1979, when the naked body of Doreen Levesque, a homeless 17-year-old girl, was found under the high school bleachers. She was tied up with fishing wire, her head and face were crushed with a rock and, as private investigator Chris Hayes put it, “This girl had a baseball bat shoved inside of her.”
Watch the exclusive trailer above.
In the 1960s, ’70s and early ’80s, drug addiction rates among juvenile females increased six times more than those of men, the series notes, and they often turned to sex working to support their habit. It was determined that Levesque was one of those statistics.
It was rumored that her murder was a ritualistic, barbaric killing tied to a satanic cult that existed among prostitutes and pimps in Fall River, where women’s souls were offered to the devil as human sacrifice. The cult leader: a sadistic pimp named Carl Drew.
“There was a lot of fear on the streets of Carl, the retribution that was going to be involved if anybody spoke,” Thomas Joaquim, a former detective with the Fall River Police Department said.
The name Robin Murphy, a pimp wannabe at the time when Drew ruled the streets, popped up daily during the police investigation. Together, they controlled much of that trade and prevented others from doing it. Another young sex worker, Karen Marsden, was caught in the middle of their fierce competitiveness. Police questioned her as a potential witness to the Levesque murder, but she refused to identify the killer and refused an offer of witness protection. She was reported missing the following day.
The details of what happened to her are as horrifying as it gets, as further evidence of a Satanic ritual pours out. Doreen Levesque, Robin Murphy and Karen Marsden were all tied to Carl Drew, who used Satanism to control the prostitutes who worked for him. Drew was subsequently tried for Marsden’s murder, convicted at trial and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
But … there is a shocking twist to this already twisted tale.
It took about four years for Blumhouse and director/executive producer James Buddy Day (“The Lover’s Lane Murders,” “Manson: The Women,” “The Disappearance of Susan Cox Powell”) to pull the ambitious docuseries together, not only interviewing the detectives who investigated the case and friends of the victims, but also talking with Drew and Murphy.
“It took me years to really understand what happened,” Day told TheWrap. He had first read about the case in a New York Post story and later on Drew’s website, where he claimed his innocence. “I was intrigued and I reached out to him and he wrote me back right away. I wrote him a letter and then I started talking to him.”
Day asked Drew if he had files about his case and, if so, where were they. Drew pointed him in the direction of his girlfriend at the time, who Day was able to track down. Turns out she still had them.
“We went down to Fall River and went into her basement and took out these boxes of files and went to Kinko’s to have them digitized,” Day said, adding that there were also cassette tape interviews with the witnesses among the papers. “I just started going through all the stuff over a year, and it wasn’t hard to see that Carl suffered an injustice, that he really didn’t have anything to do with the murders. That came to light pretty early on.”
“You could literally just go into the Fall River Superior Court and read the trial transcripts, 11 volumes,” Day went on. “No one that reads those trial transcripts will come away thinking Carl Drew was guilty, despite what the jury said. Maybe it’s not that difficult to see that Carl didn’t have much to do with these murders, but they’d opened the door to like, well, what really did happen? That was really kind of the journey that we wanted to go on, kind of drill down the truth and see how close we could get.”
“James Buddy Day and Blumhouse have brilliantly told this story of a town rattled by crime and caught in the throes of the satanic panic,” Michael Wright, president, EPIX, said. “This series uncompromisingly seeks justice for the vulnerable, who fell victim to their dangerous surroundings, and closure to those that have gone for so many years without it.”
“‘Fall River’ does more than chronicle the sensational murders that beset this town, but gives a face and voice to the marginalized victims, women who, because they were sex workers, did not receive the care and attention warranted during the investigation into their deaths,” said Mary Lisio, EVP Alternative and Non-Scripted Programming, Blumhouse Television. “Over the course of filming, we uncovered aspects of the investigation that were previously unknown, new evidence, that 41 years later bring us closer to the truth of what really happened to these women.”
“Fall River” debuts on May 16 at 10/9c. on EPIX, will Episodes 2-4 premiering the following three Sundays.