‘Dear Zachary’: When heartbreak leads to murder
So many true crime documentaries just focus on the story itself, less so the impact of the crime. We meet the players, find out how our victim was killed, and go on a hunt looking for justice. But we sometimes forget these are real people we’re talking about. Real people who were taken away from their families too soon, were abused and attacked before their deaths, and lived real lives.
Long before Making a Murderer and American Crime Story came along, a man named Kurt Kuenne released a homemade documentary called Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father in 2008. This documentary tells the tale of Andrew Bagby, a man murdered by an ex-girlfriend, Shirley Turner, who was revealed to be pregnant with Andrew’s child.
A childhood friend of Bagby’s, Kuenne started on the documentary to memorialize Bagby, but once Turner revealed she was pregnant, the documentary became a letter to Bagby’s son. While the documentary tells the story of what happened to Bagby, it also tells the story of who he was as a person. The young physician was beloved by friends, family, patients, and community members alike, and remembered fondly in the doc.
What did happen to Bagby?
Turner and Bagby dated for a while, but on November 4th, 2001, Bagby broke up with Turner and put her on a plane home to her town in Iowa. The next day, Turner shows up on Bagby’s doorstep, upset and ready for revenge. Bagby’s body was found November 6th, in a park located near his apartment, with several bullet holes in him.
When initially questioned by police, Turner claimed she was in Iowa home sick during the time of Bagby’s murder. But further investigation turned up phone records putting her on the interstate between Iowa and Bagby’s hometown of Latrobe, PA before and after Bagby’s death. But Turner was also Canadian, so she ran off to Newfoundland when she was under investigation.
Getting justice is harder than expected
Since Turner was a Canadian citizen, it took a long time to get the extradition orders in place to get her back to the US to be tried. On top of that, the process took even longer through a series of delayed hearings for various reasons, and Turner constantly being bailed out of prison when she was being held before the trial.
During this time, Turner also revealed she was pregnant with Bagby’s child, which upset Bagby’s parents greatly. They went out of their way to try and fight for custody of the child, Zachary, once he was born. Bagby’s parents even moved to Canada to retain custody of their grandson. Thankfully, they were awarded custody and around the beginning of 2003, Turner was sent to the US for trial.
Rough waters ahead for the Bagbys
Unfortunately, Turner refused to go down quietly. While being held for her trial, Turner reached out to a judge to get advice on how to appeal her trial and imprisonment. She did successfully in Newfoundland, after a judge found her to not be a threat to society if she stayed on the streets. Immediately, Turner sued the Bagby’s for joint custody of Zachary.
Tragically, on August 18th, 2003, Turner drowned herself and Zachary in the Atlantic Ocean in a murder-suicide, leaving the Bagby’s without their grandson. Through their tragedy, they changed Canada’s bail laws after proving that Zachary would’ve been alive if Turner wasn’t able to get out of jail so easily.
What makes Dear Zachary different from normal true crime docs?
This isn’t just some documentary made by a corporation with no connection to the story. Kuenne was personally good friends with Bagby, and put this documentary together using home videos, personal family photos, and intimate interviews with friends and family of Bagby’s.
It’s not the most well-made documentary of all time, but it’s much more personal. Imagine if your best friend was tragically murdered by an ex, wouldn’t you want to memorialize them in some way? This is Kuenne’s way of helping move on after Bagby and Zachary’s murders. For that alone, it deserves a watch.
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