Reviews True Crime

TV Review: True-Crime Doc ‘Fall River’

Overall, Fall River is a juicy bit of true-crime goodness. It’s an interesting story that you probably haven’t heard before.

Any true crime buff knows that Fall River, Massachusetts was home to Lizzie Borden and the axe murder of her father and step-mother. But when I got a press release about a new true crime docu-series, promising Satanic cults in the same city, almost 100 years later, my intrigue was piqued.

Fall River follows the 1979 murder of Doreen Levesque and the 1980 murder of Karen Marsden. The two seventeen-year-olds were caught up in the world of prostitution. A vicious pimp named Carl Drew was identified by a fellow pimp and Karen’s girlfriend, Robin Murphy. Though no one was ever charged with Doreen’s murder, Carl was found guilty of Karen’s murder, thanks largely to Robin, who claimed that he compelled her to slit Karen’s throat. Through a plea deal, Robin was charged with second-degree murder in exchange for testifying against Carl. Carl is currently serving a lifetime sentence.

The majority of this four-part docu-series is spent unravelling the lies told throughout the forty year history of the case. I don’t think it is a spoiler to say that Carl Drew is likely innocent of the murder he was convicted of. But the series doesn’t deliver on the Satanic cult aspect that it promised.

The Satanic cult aspect of this case was all false. Not entirely surprising, considering this was the early days of the “Satanic Panic” that gripped the country. However, it seemed very much like the Satanism was all conjured up by the police, including a supposed expert on Satanic crimes who admitted on camera he had never attended a Satanic mass and was basically going on word-of-mouth. There was no evidence suggesting Carl Drew was at the scene, or that there was anything Satanic going on. Robin admitted that the detectives told her to say the murder of Karen Marsden was part of a Satanic ritual. And the local news at the time simply ate up the salacious story. 

Despite the fact that the Satanic part of the story is contained to the first episode of Fall River, the story is compelling enough to keep you watching. This is in large part thanks to director James Buddy Day, who jams plenty of engrossing interviews into this doc: police who investigated; attorneys for the accused; childhood friends of the victims; even Carl Drew and Robin Murphy from prison. 

There were frustrating parts of this story, too. Little was shared about the victims, including a third victim, Barbara Raposa, who was only mentioned briefly in the third episode. Doreen is presented as nothing more than a prostitute; little is said about Karen other than she was Robin’s girlfriend. And the cops were all horrible: one seemed to suggest that he didn’t care if Carl actually committed murder; he was just glad to see him imprisoned. Another one flat-out admitted the cops weren’t interested in investigating the many cases of child rape that were presented to them because they were only interested in catching a murderer.

Overall, Fall River is a juicy bit of true-crime goodness. It’s an interesting story that you probably haven’t heard before. Just know that it is not as twisted and Satany as the trailers make it look.

Fall River, executive produced by Blumhouse Television, premieres May 16th at 10pm on EPIX.

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