Fall River Review 2021 Tv Show Series Cast Crew Online
New chapters in Fall River’s history have all too frequently been written in blood. A gripping new documentary series from Epix called “Fall River” examines some of those dark days — perhaps the bleakest this city has ever seen. It plunges deep into hell — a time of murder, sex, crime, drugs, child abuse, and religious hysteria — before finding something that might be a glimmer of light at the end.
Directed by James Buddy Day, “Fall River” is a true-crime documentary concerning the so-called Satanic cult murders of 1979 and 1980, the killings of Doreen Levesque, Barbara Raposa and Karen Marsden. All three were young — Marsden was the oldest at 20 — and had a history of sex work in the area. All three were slain with stomach-churning brutality.
Carl Drew, then a 24-year-old pimp, was found guilty of Marsden’s murder and sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole — he’s still serving in MCI Shirley. Robin Murphy, then only 17 and a hard-fighting pimp in her own right, was also sentenced to life for second-degree murder for her role in Marsden’s murder; after being paroled in 2004 and sent back for a violation in 2011, she remains behind bars in MCI Framingham.
Through a mix of re-enactments, archive footage and modern-day interviews with witnesses, “Fall River” transports viewers to the bad old days of the late 70s. It’s a time when prostitutes were tricking openly up and down Bedford Street within full view of the police station while cops looked the other way. We hear of teenage girls hanging out in seedy bars, and being drugged and exploited for sex. And while police were starting to focus on child sex abuse as a crime, we still hear horror stories of young girls being taken to the Freetown State Forest, viciously raped, but ignored by officers who refused to believe their testimony.
Even in this context, the murders still stood out at the time for their savagery. Levesque and Raposa were both found tied up, their skulls crushed. Apart from some teeth and a portion of skull, Marsden’s body was never found at all.
It’s a case that former Fall River police detective and current state Rep. Alan Silvia tells interviewers haunts him to this day.
Hovering over all of this is the specter of Satanism. “Fall River” delves a bit into the history of the “Satanic panic” of the late 1970s and early ‘80s, how parents and law enforcement became convinced that women and children were being preyed upon by devil worshippers, the woods used as the scenes of animal sacrifices and evil rituals.
“Fall River” describes how Drew was portrayed as the leader of a Satanic cult that killed Marsden as part of a sacrifice. It even repeats the often-told story of Drew and the other cult members playing soccer with Marsden’s decapitated head.
But is that the truth? Were the girls victims of evil fanatics, or just criminals play-acting at Satan worship? Were the stories of Satan worship in the state forest real, or just urban myths that reflected fears playing out in society at the time? And if they were real, why did the stories of Satanic sacrifice suddenly dry up?
This speaks to a larger point that “Fall River” makes over the course of its four episodes — throughout the series, our viewpoint is constantly shifting, and what seems like truth one moment ends up seeming suspect the next. People who are portrayed as experts are, after a little digging, shown to have shaky reliability at best.
It makes for a fascinating and gripping watch, especially in later episodes as the result of the entire case, and notions of guilt and innocence come under very close — and convincing — scrutiny.
“Fall River” features a number of local people, including the investigators who cracked the case, local experts on the crime including former reporter and true-crime writer Maureen Boyle, local friends of Drew and Murphy, and local friends of the victims — some of whom are victims of abuse themselves.
Notably, “Fall River” features extensive interviews with Drew and Murphy themselves. In archive footage, Drew is shown to be a lean and cocky young man who even the police seemed scared of. Now a soft-spoken and doughy middle-aged man, he professes his innocence in the Marsden murder, his manner almost genial. Murphy is a little harder to pin down — intelligent, wary and wounded from horrifying childhood experiences best left undescribed here, but compelling to watch.
For true crime fans, there’s a lot to love — and for people who aren’t fans, the story is twisty and fascinating enough to make you one. It will conjure memories (maybe some unpleasant) for people who grew up in that era of Fall River.
Day’s documentary ends up moving past impartiality into essay and even activism territory — no surprise, since he also produced several documentaries on the Charles Manson murders that propose an alternate theory to the “Helter Skelter” motive proposed by the Los Angeles district attorney. But even if you don’t subscribe to his theories about the Fall River cult murder case, you’ll have a lot to think about.