Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father (2008)

On November 06th 2001 authorities found the body of 28-year old Dr Andrew Bagby in a park in Pennsylvania. He had been shot five times. The investigation quickly revealed damning evidence marking 40-year old Dr Shirley Turner as the prime suspect. Bagby and Turner had been in a romantic relationship which Bagby ended the day before his untimely demise. Realising her predicament Turner fled home to Newfoundland, CAN where she was arrested but then released again shortly thereafter. The judicial proceedings that ensued regarding Turner’s extradition back to the US were needlessly prolonged by her defence based on legal technicalities, meaning that Bagby’s parents had to watch helplessly as their son’s murderer was free to roam the streets. Then came the news that Turner was pregnant. With Bagby’s child. On July 18th 2002, she gave birth to a baby boy named Zachary.

In what can only be described as unequivocal devotion to Zachary’s wellbeing, Bagby’s parents moved to Newfoundland to begin a long and arduous battle for custody of their grandson. In the course of this process they’ve actually had to establish some sort of civilized report with the person who murdered their son, ultimately convening on a regular basis to collect the baby from Turner and hand him back over to her care. These people are a paragon of composure and deserve a friggin’ medal in my book. What transpired after that is bound to make anyone’s blood boil.

On the one hand Dear Zachary is a collection of testimonies from pretty much everyone who ever knew Andrew Bagby – ranging from his immediate family to distant relatives and from college buddies to colleagues from work – painting a poignant portrait of a fun-loving young guy whom all of the above were clearly very fond of. It was written, shot, directed, edited, produced and scored by Kurt Kuenne, a childhood friend of Bagby’s who made it his mission to drive all across the US and beyond to gather these stories allowing him to create a film addressed to a son who never knew his father.

On the other hand it is a powerful documentary that delivered a chronological overview of the unimaginable events that transpired and in so doing served as an indictment of the Canadian child protection services which has led to various efforts to amend Canadian legislation. In December of 2010 ‘Zachary’s Bill’ was signed into law ensuring additional attention to the safety of children in these kinds of cases.

Loïc Charlier

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