- This is Poly
Fans of true crime stories have the opportunity to join a discussion about a murder mystery and a family determined to track down the killers. Our Poly on Film series continues to highlight the work of talented Poly alumni when director and producer Fred Munk ‘05 and a panel discuss his documentary Why Did You Kill Me? on (Note: rescheduled date) Wednesday, March 30 at 7 PM via Zoom.
The new Netflix true crime documentary Why Did You Kill Me? explores the 2006 execution style murder of 24-year-old mother of two, Crystal Theobald, by a neighborhood gang member in Riverside, CA and the extraordinary efforts of her mother who created a fake profile and sought information through MySpace to catfish her daughter’s killers. With the assistance of Crystal’s cousin Jaimie McIntyre impersonating Crystal online, the lure was cast.
Panelists include Munk; Jean Belford P’24, Chair of Poly’s Computer Science Department; and Lisa Friel P’10, ’12, former chief of the Manhattan District Attorney’s Sex Crimes Unit and current Senior Vice President/Special Counsel for Investigations for the NFL. Robert Aberlin ’62, P’00, ’03, Poly’s Director of Arts Outreach, will moderate the panel.
Director and producer Fred Munk ‘05 first came upon the story of Crystal Theobald in 2011. “There was a local paper,” he said, “that ran an article following the sentencing of Julio Heredia that mentioned that Crystal’s mother Belinda Lane had made a key contribution to the investigation. The article noted that Belinda had created a fake MySpace profile, the profile picture of which was actually a photograph of Crystal, and that Belinda had interacted with gang members she believed were involved in her daughter’s death using that profile.” At the time, MySpace was the largest social network site in the world.
“Ever since I was at Poly,” Munk continued, “during the heyday of MySpace and the initial popularization of social media, I’ve been confused and fascinated by social media and the way identity is expressed on the internet. Belinda’s use of Crystal’s image struck me as a strange and counterintuitive tactic that connected to this long-standing fascination and confusion. It also made me wonder if there might not be more to the story. When I first talked to Belinda, that was borne out in a big way. Belinda was also compelling, charismatic, and really interested in sharing her story, which are helpful qualities if you’re thinking about making a documentary.”
Munk explained that the original article included almost no information about Julio Heredia, who at that time had just been convicted of first degree murder and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. “I was interested,” Munk said, “in how the tragedy of Crystal’s death affected not just Belinda, but a whole group of interconnected people, which included Julio and his friends and family members. Gaining access to people who could speak to Julio’s experiences and his side of the story was probably the hardest part of the whole process. It took years.”
Munk said he graduated from Yale with a degree in Comparative Literature but “with little direction and few prospects.” “Desperate to get a job, I happened across an ad for a producer’s assistant role,” he said. “I ended up taking the job and moving to Los Angeles to work for Hollywood legend Roger Corman and his wife, Julie. I first found the story that would become Why Did You Kill Me? while working for the Cormans and developed it for them as a narrative film. Years later, after I’d left the Cormans and they’d stopped working on the project, I circled back with Belinda and proposed a documentary.”
“After some freelance production work,” Munk continued, “I landed a job working for Lucy Walker who is the terrific documentary filmmaker behind films like Waste Land, The Crash Reel, and Bring Your Own Brigade. Eventually Lucy learned that I was making my film on the side and, when I left her office to figure out a way to finish the film, she and her producing partner Julian Cautherley suggested that they might come on as producers. It was through Lucy that we showed some initial materials to Netflix.”
At Poly, Funk recalls faculty who helped him hone his writing skills. “Filmmaking involves a lot of writing,” he said, “and the documentary editing process in particular resembles writing in many ways, so I think of English teachers like Larry Patton, Jackie Kornblum, Nikolin Eyrich, and John Rearick as being encouraging and helpful.”
“I think the film offers a comparison between revenge and the workings of the criminal justice system, so, if viewers are thinking about those topics, I’d be thrilled.”Fred Munk ‘05
“I hope the film is not didactic or preachy,” Munk said when asked what he would like an audience to take from it. “I’m more interested in letting subjects speak for themselves and letting an audience sit with all of these different people, hopefully catching a glimpse of the humanity of each. I think the film offers a comparison between revenge and the workings of the criminal justice system, so, if viewers are thinking about those topics, I’d be thrilled.”
“What stood out to me the most about this story,” said Belford, who will be part of the panel, “was the absolute torture the young cousin endured pretending to be Crystal online. She was so young and so broken over the loss of Crystal and really just needed to grieve and heal in a supportive and safe way. However, being young is what afforded her the experience with social media that was needed to navigate the MySpace platform. I understand that her role in uncovering the perpetrators was pivotal, but it definitely was at a personal cost to her mental health.”
Please register for Poly on Film’s Why Did You Kill Me? discussion on March 30 at 7:00 PM.
Watch the film on Netflix.
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