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A murder claims far more victims than just the person who was killed. The devastating emotional aftermath of such a crime is explored in the new documentary by veteran filmmaker Barbara Kopple. Revolving around Collier Landry, whose mother was brutally murdered by his father when he was a young boy, A Murder in Mansfield is a true-crime saga packing an emotional punch. The film recently received its world premiere at DOCNYC.
Landry was just 12 years old when he testified in court. The film’s mesmerizing centerpiece is footage of that testimony in which the eerily self-possessed youngster delivers a devastating case against his father, John Boyle, which helped convict him of the crime of murdering his wife Noreen. Boyle had bludgeoned Noreen to death in the family home and buried her under the basement floor of a house he had bought for his pregnant mistress. That the crime was premeditated was made evident by his having purchased a jackhammer just two days before it occurred.
The film follows Landry, now a cinematographer/editor living in Los Angeles, as he returns to his hometown of Mansfield, Ohio, 26 years after the murder. The purpose of his trip is emotional closure, a task not made easy since his father, still in prison, has asked him to support his parole bid.
We see Landry revisiting the house where the murder occurred. The current occupants graciously let him (and, obviously, the film crew) walk through the premises. But they may have regretted their generosity when Landry informs them, “This is my mother’s bedroom, where she took her last breath.”
He also visits the detective who spearheaded the investigation, who had become so close to Landry at the time that he and his wife looked into the possibility of adopting him. At Landry’s request, the detective shows him the case file which contains gruesome photographs of his mother’s body (the film also includes news footage of the body being removed from its makeshift tomb that will likely give you nightmares). Other segments involve reunions with Landry’s foster parents and his mother’s best friend, who shares tender memories of their times together.
This all leads up to a reunion between Landry and his father, who during the years he’s been imprisoned has been alternately hostile and loving toward his traumatized son. Landry, pointedly referring to the incident in which “you murdered my mother,” pleads with his father to finally come clean about what happened. But Boyle sticks to his story that Noreen, who he creepily keeps referring to as “Mommy,” had been threatening him with a knife and that he had pushed her in self-defense, resulting in her falling and fatally hitting her head against a table. “I don’t believe you,” his frustrated son finally tells him, although he allows, “I believe that you believe that.”
There are times when A Murder in Mansfield gets a little too wrapped up in Landry’s psyche, such as the scene in which he engages in an awkwardly stiff conversation with a shrink that mainly proves that therapy sessions are best conducted in private. But that’s one of the few missteps for this doc that may prove nearly as cathartic for viewers as its central figure, who endured unimaginable horrors.
Production company: Cabin Creek Films, John Morrissey Productions
Director: Barbara Kopple
Producers: David Cassidy, Barbara Kopple, Ray Nowosielski
Executive producers: David Cassidy, Barbara Kopple, Collier Landry, John Morrissey, Diana Sperrazza
Directors of photography: Gary Griffin, Tony Hardmon
Editor: Rob Kuhns