Acclaimed Filmmaker Nanfu Wang Explores Memory And Murder In Beatrice, Nebraska
The HBO Original six-part documentary series MIND OVER MURDER, directed by Nanfu Wang (HBO’s “In the Same Breath”) and produced by Vox Media Studios, debuts MONDAY, JUNE 20 (10:00-11:00 p.m. ET/PT) with new episodes airing subsequent Mondays at the same time on HBO and will be available to stream on HBO Max.
MIND OVER MURDER chronicles the bizarre and psychologically complex story of six individuals who were convicted for the 1985 murder of a beloved 68- year-old grandmother, Helen Wilson, in Beatrice, Nebraska. Despite five of the individuals originally confessing to the crime, the “Beatrice Six” as they became known, were exonerated by DNA evidence in 2009, a turn of events which divided the rural town and incensed the family of Helen Wilson. As the filmmakers track the case from the murder, through investigation, trial, exoneration and two civil suits, shifting perspectives cloud the truth; a stranger-than-fiction tale emerges that raises salient questions about the reliability of confessions and memory in criminal cases.
MIND OVER MURDER explores the phenomenon of “recovered memories” that can in turn lead to false admissions of guilt and examines the unorthodox methods of law enforcement officials. The series also excavates the mindsets of the defendants, several of whom were emotionally and mentally susceptible to psychological suggestion, while shedding light on faulty investigative and forensic errors that convinced a jury of guilt and satisfied a small-town’s demand that crimes be neatly solved and duly punished.
Over 35 years later, the town of Beatrice continues to reckon with the emotional fallout of this brutal crime and the financial repercussions of the investigation. The Beatrice Six, who served a combined 70 years in prison, were awarded $28 million in damages, forcing a new generation to bear the tax burden imposed on the town where tensions and opinions still run high. Despite overwhelming and conclusive evidence, many residents still believe in the guilt of the Beatrice Six, including one of the accused herself, who says she still vividly recalls details of her part in the crime.
With an eye towards healing, the filmmaker prompts the town’s local theater group to produce and perform a play for the community drawn from the actual court records, investigative reports, and recordings of police interrogations. Local actors assume the roles of law enforcement, a psychologist, the victim’s family, and the six themselves. Despite resistance from town residents and even personal threats, they stage a performance that forces a painful, yet liberating, moment of reckoning for the community and members of Helen Wilson’s family.
MIND OVER MURDER features never before seen archival footage including the original police interrogation videos and revealing new interviews with a wide range of characters including family members of murder victim Helen Wilson; members of the Beatrice Six; police officers; former County Attorneys; special investigators; criminal and civil lawyers; a former Nebraska Attorney General, and residents of Beatrice, NE.
Acclaimed filmmaker Wang uses a decades-old murder case to widen the lens on the fallibility of police and judicial procedure; an unforgettable, true crime story becomes the springboard from which to probe the nature of truth, the malleability of memories, both real and recovered, and the burden of wrongful convictions on us all.
HBO Documentary Films Presents a Vox Media Studios Production MIND OVER MURDER. Directed by Nanfu Wang; executive producers, Marc Smerling, Nanfu Wang, Max Heckman, Chad Mumm, Mark W. Olsen. For HBO: executive producers, Nancy Abraham, Lisa Heller, and Sara Rodriguez.