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31 Things Wrong with CHRIS WATTS CONFESSIONS OF A KILLER – Review and Analysis [UPDATED]

First off, I didn’t share the Westword reporter’s view that the filmmakers blamed Thrive. To be honest, although this was depicted a few times, my impression is that the reporter was trying to gain traction for a story on a sensational angle. The Strive aspect is very secondary, very much in the background of this story. If you’re new to the Watts case, then maybe noticing Shan’ann’s promotional activity, which is dramatized occasionally, is going to seem like a big thing. It isn’t. In fact, it’s hard to say what the big thing is this film is trying to point out.

The main message of the film seems to be to say that everything we know about Watts, and what he did, is kinda fuzzy. That’s not a contribution to the lore surrounding to this case, it’s a weak concession, and a cop-out. It’s almost like the filmmakers said: look, we don’t know what happened here, nobody does, so let’s not try. Let’s just stick with his version, depict that and make the story about the version no one believes. Let them try to figure out what really happened – that’s not our job.

As a narrator, I found the narrative of the Lifetime movie messy, disorienting and chaotic. It’s not chronological, it’s not clear, and overall, as mentioned above, the film pays homage to Chris Watts first version, with only a passing interest in forensic accuracy. No surprises there. From a true crime perspective, Lifetime movies are the last place to want to find a documentary-style criminal investigation.

The value in dramatizations in Lifetime fare lies in:

1) Depictions of family dynamics, characters and interrelationships

2) Reenactments of the crime scene

The movie opens with out-of-focus footage of the child actors playing Bella and Celeste running through a garden, and laughing, while news coverage of the disappearance provides a kind of voiceover narration. Emphasized in this montage:

“They seemed like a normal family.”

Then there’s a close-up of the side of Watts’ eye, and a clip of his sandaled foot under a table jigging up and down. Watts is restless, agitated. Something is going on in his head.

Then the voiceover shifts to Shan’ann’s voice, doing a Thrive promo:

“You have to set an example for your kids…so take that leap of faith.”

You hear a child’s voice echoeing her words in the background, and Shan’ann laughs with delight. This feels a little like that 30-minute Thrive spiel on that Saturday morning in May with the whole family present.


This is all meant to show Chris Watts remembering them.And he’s remembering them, as I said, from the inside of the interrogation cubicle.

I found the opening montage fuzzy and disorientating. A poor start, in other words.

In fact, throughout the whole film there is very little footage of the children. For the most part they’re excluded or left out or there’s a blurry allusion to them. Besides Bella singing “My daddy is a hero…” in the car with Celeste beside her, and a brief clip of the children crying softly in the truck on the way to the well site, there’s virtually no dialogue from the children. And [spoiler warning] there are no dramatized scenes of the children on the driveway, getting into the truck, or of anything that happened at CERVI 319 on the morning of August 13th.

From a legal perspective, the narrative device seems quite clever, and probably impressed the producers at the pitch meeting for this film. “We’ll tell this story through Watts himself, giving the backstory to his own story during his polygraph test.”

In the discovery, there is a very extensive backstory from Watts himself in the pretesting phase, starting on page 581 and concluding 15 pages later on page 596.

“Then at the very end, we’ll provide the twist of the Second Confession to show you really can’t know someone, or whether what they say is true.” And so that’s how it’s done. Most of the film is from Watts’ perspective, and most of that perspective comes from 15 pages of the outdated discovery relating to the First Confession.

If you’ve found the first section of this analysis messy, disjointed and disorienting, that’s how the first two-minutes feel. It takes a while for the chronology of the story to settle down, and although it has its moments, the whole film is ultimately a mishmash of scenes and flashbacks with very little in the area of authentic moments. One seldom has an aha-moment where it feels like anyone’s character is addressed, and that’s the main problem. There’s no character-building. No arc. No real story to speak of. It turns out the fuzzy memory of the children in the garden is from Watts’ head as he sits in the interrogation cubicle waiting for Tammy Lee to enter to do the polygraph test.


One of the best parts of the film is the movie title. The graphic design does a nice job in showing the two faces of Chris Watts, and how the two faces don’t line up. Skillfully represented.

The whole film basically cuts back and forth to Watts “remembering” the events leading up to the murders while he’s being questioned by Tammy Lee. In other words, 90% of the film is based on the First Confession.

The actor playing Agent Coder also plays a very, very secondary role to Tammy Lee [acted by the same woman who played the victim in the pit in The Silence of the Lambs].

After the title image, the scene reverts to Watts doing his infamous Sermon on the Porch. While he’s talking, dogs bark in the background. Not bad. Same setting, same words, same clothing, same basic body language. Even the actor appears less nonchalant than Watts did during his Sermon on the Porch. Even though he’s acting and didn’t commit triple murder, this is an irony in itself

Once done with the interview, we something we haven’t seen before. Watts walks into the door and sits on the staircase. He’s alone. He sits there for some time. We see the light moving through the windows beside the front door, showing the movement of time. Cut back to the interrogation cubicle, and Watts is introduced to Tammy Lee, who let’s him know what he’s in for if she chooses to lie to him during the polygraph.

It’s at this point that the chronology starts to settle down into something slightly resembling a narrative.

Now let’s deal with the mistakes.


#1 Heaviness in the pregnancy announcement is missing.

Deeter is in the room, and at Watts’ feet when Shan’ann announces she’s pregnant. She’s wearing the right shirt, and he’s dressed the right way too. But this was the first sign of the filmmaker’s poor intuitive grasp of the subject material. Not only is the venue in the house wrong for where the spiel was recorded, Chris Watts appears genuinely excited and genuinely happy about the pregnancy, far more so than the real Watts did. The actor does a convincing scene, appearing enthusiastic about his movie-wife’s fictitious pregnancy. What was needed was for the heaviness in the dramatized Sermon of the Porch to be more manifest here, and for the nonchalance and lightness here, to be more evident in the Sermon on the Porch. Where the fake Watts says, “I guess, I guess when you want it it happens, ” there’s no trace of the awkward Chris Watts. Instead, it seems natural and even charming when acted out by this actor.

#2 Watts at the well site.

A lot is crammed into this scene. Watts describes his weight loss, and exhorts his co-worker to contact his wife and start Thriving. He loses his ring and his co-worker, retrieving it, says, “Forgot something?” His co-worker also mentions “Nikki” in the context of safety, and hands Watts a gift card to treat his wife. Watts also mentions his wife being pregnant and hoping for a boy [an aspect supposedly kept secret from everyone at work except his boss]. In this scene Watts appears way too balanced, confident and chatty.  Gift cards at Anadarko [which is never named in this film, and the well site and four white tanks are nothing like CERVI 319] are not allocated as actual gifts or favors, but are earned as a result of achieving safety milestones.

#3 Nichol Kessinger gives Watts her card.

Shan’ann meets Nickole, is on her phone most of the time. Leaves for North Carolina in the middle of the day.

We see Watts turning to face his house and the camera zooms in, making the house loom over him and swallow him up. This is arguably the best scene the film.

The way the story is staged is the moment after Shan’ann leaves and Watts is left alone, he meets Nichol Kessinger and things happen instantly.

#4 Chris Watts is home alone watching porn.


#5 He’s bored, so he calls up Nichol Kessinger.

#6 And they meet up in a wooded area.

#7 Where she finds out he’s a dad, and he’s married – but still wants to see him.


#8 “I’m out with the guys.” Watts hangs up on Shan’ann.


#9″Come here.” The assertive Watts ravishes his mistress in the backroom of a restaurant.


#10 “Are you judging me?” “Yes, I’m judging you!”


It just doesn’t sound like Watts, does it?

Note the sleep mask dangling from the bed post in the background.

#11 Visit to the Watts Home – minus Cindy, and minus Nut Gate.

#12 A distressed Shan’ann calls Watts to say…she doesn’t want the kids sleeping over at his folks.

She doesn’t say why.

#13 Deeter Gate – minus Deeter.

Nichol visits the Watts home. She doesn’t go unstairs and Deeter is nowhere in sight. She says, “Why would you want to leave all of this,” and then, in tears, asks Watts to take her home.

#14 Nichol Kessinger stalking Chris Watts’ Facebook page.

Not Shan’ann’s?

Does she know Shan’ann’s pregnant?

#15 Watts reconciles with Kessinger by picking her some yellow wildflowers.

#16 They go camping next to a lake, and after Googling when to say I love you, he tells her he loves her.

Watts Googled when to say I love you on July 25th, but only went camping a few days later.


#17 Watts heads to North Carolina – but they don’t meet at the airport…

As they did in real life…

“When Chris Watts caught up to her, Bella was screaming at the top of her lungs…” [Discovery Documents, page 681]

And incidentally, when Shan’ann and the kids left for North Carolina, Watts took her to the airport.


Instead of saying goodbye in the road, in front of the house.

Watts also gave Kessinger this card on their last day together in Colorado, before he left for North Carolina.


Their argument about airport parking isn’t depicted either. But Watts is depicted as standoffish.

They got the shirt color right for his arrival in North Carolina.


#18 Shan’ann tells Watts she’s “spotting”…on a pier…

When it was actually communicated via text on the afternoon of August 5th, 2018, the day prior to Watts visit with his folks in Spring Lake [without his wife and children, on their last full day in North Carolina].

#19 The scene dramatized at Myrtle Beach shows the kids flying a kite…

Shan’ann looks concerned, as if she’s cottoned on to Watts not being fully himself with her.

But it’s not quite the version we saw on social media…Watts Family at Myrtle Beach, August 2018 and the Tension is Palpable [VIDEO]

We don’t see the scene at the bungee trampoline either.

#20 During an argument back in Colorado, Watts decides they should take a trip [to Aspen] to mend their relationship.

And then Shan’ann leaves for Arizona. Although technically true, they did make plans for a couple’s weekend away in place of the gender reveal party, it was Shan’ann pushing for couple’s counselling, and as the dominant force in the relationship, it seems unlikely he would suggest this.

#21 There are no windows in the garage used in the Lifetime movie.

Because that’s how Nickolas was able to see inside, see Shan’ann’s car and car seats and know something was wrong.

Analysis of the blinds of Chris Watts’ Home

#22 Watts doesn’t close the door of the Lexus after entering the garage.

He leaves it open. It’s an obstruction.

Officer Coonrod’s Bodycam appears to show Watts tucking something under his arm…

Officer Coonrod’s Bodycam appears to show Watts retrieving something…in the garage [UPDATE]

#23 Inside the house Watts walks to the kitchen…and stays there.

Lifetime shows him glance into the pantry.

In reality, as soon as Coonrod reaches the kitchen, Watts scoots around him and walks quickly to retrieve Deeter from the basement. Why is Deeter in the basement? No one thinks to ask, but this ought to have put suspicion on Watts early on, and in retrospect, also shows premeditation and post meditation.

Excellent Footage of the Moment Officer Coonrod Arrives on the Scene at 2825 Saratoga Trail

#24 Chris Watts depicted as awkward as he views Trinastich surveillance video.

This is where the Lifetime movie Chris Watts jarrs. It’s not that his depiction isn’t true to life, it is, what’s wrong is this moment doesn’t fit with the cool, sauve, charming Watts the actor has portrayed until this moment. He’s left something out of the character and now, here, it’s too late to fill in those gaps, or figure out who Watts really is.

I guess he’s just an enigma right, and no one will ever know?

Or a narcissist?

Well, no. We know exactly what sort of personality-type he is.

But the actor just doesn’t get Watts as an introvert.

It’s not really clear what aspect he was trying to portray – perhaps narcissism. How do you portray narcissism that’s different to everyone else?

#25 Next we’re back to the Interrogation Cubicle, but Watts is sitting in the wrong place.

#26 And the scene of Watts confessing to his father…well…believe it or not it’s not actually depicted.

But at least they got Ronnie’s shirt color right, and Watts is also wearing the right clothes too.

Incredibly, there’s no depicting here of arguably the biggest WTF moment of the entire case – firstly where Watts confesses to his father, and secondly where Ronnie’s dad, shortly after being informed that his son murdered Shan’ann and both his grandchildren are dead, offers the cops some flaky corroboration [the doll wrapped in plastic] of Shan’ann’s supposed involvement using his phone.

#27 Who said: “I think we’re very, very close, but we’re not quite there yet”?

It wasn’t Lee, as depicted in the movie.

#28 – 31

The dramatization had a host of errors and inconsistencies too.

TCRS Analysis of the Final Scene in Confessions of a Killer – Patreon

The above link provides an analysis of the dramatization in the Lifetime movie, and why it doesn’t make any sense.


Stephanie Harlowe Reviews Final Episodes of “The Disappearance of Madeleine McCann”

I also found the last two and especially the final episode very difficult to get through.

Scams, Cons, Frauds and Liars Netflix Doccie on Madeleine McCann – Episode 7 Review & Analysis

“Rebellions are Built on [False] Hope” Netflix Doccie on Madeleine McCann – Episode 8 Review & Analysis [Part 1 of 3]

“Operation Johnny English” Netflix Doccie on Madeleine McCann – Episode 8 Review & Analysis [Part 2 of 3]

“Lurkers, Lone Intruders, A Suspicious Blonde Fellow, Another Suspicious Blonde Fellow, A Smelly Man, A Man With Dark Skin, A Pock-Faced Man, A Man Wearing a Surgical Mask, A Man With a Foreign Accent, Vast Pedophile Populations, A Wobbly Fat Woman, A Couple Running With a Baby Near a Marina and ‘Keep The Faith Because There is Always Hope’” Netflix Doccie on Madeleine McCann – Episode 8 Review & Analysis [Part 3 of 3]

Just how “Intertextual” is the Joana Cipriano Case to Madeleine McCann? A Focused Interrogation of a Key Aspect Highlighted in Episode 6 of the Netflix Doccie

For those new to TCRS and perhaps those who have not read a Rocket Science book, “Intertextuality” [with a capital “T”] is a TCRS-ism that refers to the relationship between crimes, criminals and potentially the fate of the victims. In some circumstances it can also refer to the possibility that one crime leads to, inspires, or informs another crime either further down the line or contemporaneously.

If that sounds confusing, don’t worry, it’s easier to understand Intertextuality by feeling our way through practical real-life examples than pontificating with definitions and semantics. So let’s get started.

The Joana Cipriano case predates the Madeleine McCann case by less than three years. The geographic distance between the two crimes is just eleven kilometres [seven miles].

The circumstances of 8-year-old Joana’s “disappearance” are as follows, according to the generic version on Wikipedia:

Joana Cipriano, eight years old at the time, was last seen at around 8 pm on the evening she disappeared, after being sent to buy milk and a tin of tuna from a local store. A neighbour saw her around 200 yards from her house, walking back from the store. Her mother, Leonor Cipriano, launched a local campaign to find her daughter, distributing posters around the neighbourhood. 

The prosecution argued that Joana was killed because she had seen her mother and João Cipriano, her mother’s brother, having [incestuous]  sex. Leonor confessed to killing her daughter after nearly 48 hours of continuous interrogation. Her brother confessed to having assaulted Joana, and said he had cut her body into small pieces and placed her inside a refrigerator, which was put inside an old car that was taken to Spain to be crushed and burned. When he was asked if he had sexually abused Joana, he said, “I did not harm her – I only killed her.”

Tower of London Raven

There’s a lot to take out of these two brief paragraphs. In sum:

  1. Joana was eight-years-old [twice as old as Madeleine].
  2. Last seen in the evening at around 20:00 [this corresponds roughly to the time Madeleine was last seen, in the relatively early evening].
  3. A neighbour was an important eyewitness [ditto Mrs Fenn and her niece Carol Tranmer  in the McCann case].
  4. Joanna was last seen walking back to her home, not away [Tannerman was alleged to have been walking towards Murat’s home carrying a child, but in fact Dr. Julian Totman was walking in the other direction, towards Block 4.]
  5. One of the main suspects launched a campaign for her child, but was later charged with her murder and contriving to make it appear as if her daughter had disappeared without her mother’s knowledge.
  6. One of the main features of the misinformation campaign was putting up posters all over the neighborhood. One might scoff at the trickery involved, but each poster proclaiming the child as missing was essentially an advertisement proclaiming the myth that a) she was still alive and b) that the mother wasn’t implicated. Since the child was dead, and the remains taken care of, there was no need to be concerned that someone might actually come forward with information.
  7. The prosecution didn’t argue for an accidental death, or an abduction, or a disappearance, but murder.
  8. The mother ultimately confessed to killing her child, but did so under duress.
  9. The girl’s uncle admitted to assaulting the child and dismembering her body. In the concealing, covering up and destruction of the child’s body, both parties appeared to have an equal or substantial “stake”.
  10. A refrigerator is noted as a temporary storage device for human remains. [Joana was killed in mid-September, when it’s still relatively warm in the Algarve].
  11. After a limited period, the body was transferred from the refrigerator to an old vehicle.
  12. The remains were then removed from the area entirely.
  13. The prime suspect made an ironic remark that he “only killed her” but didn’t harm her.

It’s tempting to want to sticky-tape many if not all of the idiosyncrasies of the Cipriano case onto the McCann case, particularly the vivid scenarios involving the refrigerator and the secret movement of the little girl’s remains to Spain.  But we need to be careful how we apply what we know in one case to another. Certainly, some areas have Intertextual Criminal overlaps, and some aspects of the whole crime feel generally very Intertextual, don’t they?

But it requires specialized True Crime Rocket Science to know what to apply and what not to. Netflix provides some useful information but it shouldn’t be treated as gospel, nor dismissed entirely as bunkum. Reality lives somewhere in-between.

Let’s start our analysis with Goncalo Amaral.

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I like Amaral. He’s a solid dude [despite the aspersions cast in the documentary, Amaral wasn’t present at the time of the alleged beating]. And he has some snazzy insights into the McCann case.

He’s entitled to his opinion, of course, that the Cipriano case and McCann case aren’t similar. It’s possible that he sees a distinction in the fact that Joana was murdered, and because there was an incestuous spiel playing out he believes these shouldn’t be conflated with the McCann case. Point taken senhor Amaral.

The Rocket Science position is different. Yes, agreed, Madeleine wasn’t murdered – not by either of the parents. There was no direct intent or Dolus as the legal term is applied. As for some kind of sexual spiel, there does seem to be the possibility at least of a paternity issue. I don’t want to say sexual issues are irrelevant, though I can understand why Amaral excludes them. I don’t want to conflate this sexual miasma with anything as overt as pedophile gangs or traffickers, however.

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Rocket Science is content to aver that the sexual dimension in the McCann case is somewhat unknown, and if we invoke merely the IVF scenario, we can see there is some idiosyncrasy hiding in plain sight. What more than that? Well, there is more to say but this post is about Intertextuality, so let’s stick to our brief.

The area that Amaral is missing – to my mind – isn’t even highlighted in the bullets above. And this area is a key Psychological Intertextuality – an overlap – between the two cases. I don’t want to be too on-the-chin about it, but the motive in the Cipriano case is the covering up of a taboo. We know from an eyewitness that the child was seen walking home relatively late in the evening, and perhaps arrived home either unexpectedly or earlier than expected.

It’s also possible the uncle was abusing the little girl if he was having sexual relations with her mother, and the bloody dismemberment of her corpse suggests a kind of rough familiarity with body parts. I’ll expand on what I mean by that in a moment.

It may seem a giant leap, and perhaps it is a giant leap, but it’s possible a similar taboo exists in the McCann dynamic. Now, the circumstances are clearly different in a scenario of accidental or negligent death. In that case [if that is the case] the child’s death is a triggering factor, leading to a reaction. In the Cipriano case, the incestual act isn’t the triggering factor, but rather the child witnessing it. 


So the question of Intertexuality then is in a situation where Madeleine was found to have died, was the taboo triggered by a sense of being imperiled by who might witness what they did [effectively] to their child?

We see in the Cipriano siblings and the McCann parents a shared sense of symbolic and biological connection to the victim. They are both directly responsible for the care and safety and guardianship of the child, and yet their own status in some way interferes with this guardianship.

I also want to come back to the issue of the sexual miasma. Clearly in a scenario where the siblings were involved in a taboo act, both adults don’t have an identical blood relationship to the child. One adult is the biological mother, it is true, but the other is less-the-parent to the child. This mismatch in affiliation appears to be psychologically significant, and plays into the criminal psychology of both parties – apparently. The question then arises – to what extent can these mismatches be applied to the McCanns in this hypothesis, if at all? Is one adult more biologically connected to the child than the other? What actually happened, what lengths did the parents go to, during their efforts to produce a viable IVF result?

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We can also potentially extend the taboo aspect to others in the group of seven, four on whom were doctors: Dr. Gerald Payne. Dr. Fiona Payne. Dr. Matthew Oldfield. Dr. Russell ‘O Brien. Of the remaining three Jane Tanner [O’Brien’s partner] was a marketing manager, and Oldfield’s wife Rachael was a lawyer.  If we add the McCann couple to the Tapas Seven there are six doctors in the group, in total.

There’s plenty more to say on the subject, but I want to stick to the brief and move on to another possible Intertextual aspect, the refrigerator.

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The docuseries seems focused in episode six on maligning Amaral. He’s portrayed as a corrupt cop at best, and a brutish thug at worst. They hold up the absurdity of the refrigerator scenario as the reason Amaral’s investigative nous is off.

The Rocket Science position is that it’s not as simple or straightforward as the Netflix folks would like us to believe. On the one hand, yes, certainly, the eight-year-old’s body was probably not going to fit into the confined space of a small refrigerator very easily. If the Chris Watts case is worth invoking here, for just a single Intertextual aspect, it was found that two children [three-years-old and four respectively] were stuffed through an orifice eight inches wide.

Although the experts “predicted” the hole was too small to fit the bodies of the poor little girls, they were wrong. Somehow they did fit.

That’s not to say Amaral is right, or wrong, just that when it comes to fitting human bodies into small spaces, there’s no “expert” truth.

In the Courtney Pieters case, the three-year-old victim was sexually assaulted and stored in the perpetrator’s refrigerator, in his room.

The Refrigerator Theory has led to an unfortunate conspiracy theory, which is that Madeleine actually died a week earlier and was kept in a neighbor’s refrigerator during this time, and disposed of at leisure [not necessarily when the alarm was raised on the night of May 3rd]. I won’t attempt to address those concerns here, except to note it’s not the position of TCRS.

Some of those who subscribe to the Refrigerator Theory in the McCann case also conflate this conspiracy with a pedophile theory, feeling that a group cover-up would have made it possible to pull of moving the girl’s remains to a refrigerator in some other location.

What I will say is there’s reason to suspect Madeleine’s remains were in Praia da Luz for some weeks before they were transferred somewhere else. So some arrangement had to have been made to “manage her remains” if that makes sense. The foremost concern [assuming this contention is true] would have been odor. A refrigerator would address that problem, but I nevertheless don’t consider it a viable theory.

In the Casey Anthony case Caylee’s skeletonised remains were discovered after being gone for six months, and when they were found, they weren’t recovered by smell but by sight.

So what did happen to poor eight-year-old Joana?

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As mentioned above, episode six of the documentary appeared to be focused on character- assassinating Amaral. Whether Amaral threw a suspect down stairs or not, whether he did naked cartwheels on a beach, whether he caught a marlin once upon a time in Tahiti, none of these anecdotes should distract us from the facts of the case.

Amaral certainly didn’t kill or abduct Madeleine, so we shouldn’t make an investigation into Madeleine McCann an investigation into the lead detective. The fact is, Amaral’s scenario in the McCann case is basically cogent, except for the refrigerator business.

Probably, unfortunately, poor Joana’s remains never made it to Spain. Her killers were poor, and simple-minded. Their methods, similarly, were simple, even trashy.

The little girl’s remains were probably eaten by pigs. Unfortunately there is Intertextuality for this too, and in the same Intertextual reference case there is also a mismatch between the biology of the parents of the seven-year-old child, Adrian Jones.

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We may ask why Joana’s killers “confessed” they put her body into a car and transported it to Spain if it wasn’t true? Why confess to a lie when you’ve been found guilty anyway? Well, even murderers have pride, and honor. Admitting to moving remains somewhere by car minimises the more monstrous alternative – feeding the flesh of one’s one child to hungry pigs in a farmyard pigsty.

In the Jones Case there’s also an extensive pattern and prolonged period of neglect and abuse to take note of, from the boy child’s own stepmother, including anecdotes of torture posted onto Facebook. In other words, the neglect isn’t incidental or accidental, it’s systematic and it builds up to murder. In this respect the death of the child isn’t random or unexpected but an entirely predictable psychological spiral into ultimately the complete destruction not only of a living child, but even of their remains.

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Popularity Contest: Netflix Doccie on Madeleine McCann – Episode 5 Review & Analysis

“Fightback” is the title of episode 5, but I think “Popularity Contest” is more apt. In a scenario where their daughter is missing, and a criminal investigation is underway, you’d think the fight back would involve fighting for more police resources, getting more detectives working the case, or getting out there themselves and searching, or making Madeleine’s DNA available to the authorities in Portugal using DNA from her clothing or bed or soft toys in Portugal, or investigating for themselves the possibility that Madeleine had died [had the abductor killed her]?

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Instead, the fightback is a popularity contest fought in the media. And the prize is nothing more or less than the McCanns’ rehabilitating their own image. Of course there’s also a cash incentive to this. When they’re considered suspects, the “income” of the fund drops, when they’re able to court public sympathy, they “income” of the fund shoots up again. And this income isn’t to be sniffed at, it eventually balloons to millions upon millions of pounds. With this war chest the McCanns can invest in even more media coverage, reputation management, legal representation, legal suits and expert advice, more PR, merchandising and all the rest.

During one spiel in episode 5 Kate McCann emphasises that 99% of people support them, and only 1% are trolls. There’s also a nice scene where they show large boxes labelled “Support” compared to a small battered, mostly empty little box where “hate” mail is kept. What the McCanns seem to be saying is they’re winning the fightback because they have popular support. Far more people love them and support them compared to a tiny minority of detractors.

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In a recent poll conducted on twitter, over 90% of over 3000 people who voted sided against the McCanns, blaming them either directly or indirectly for Madeleine’s death.

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Gerry looks bemused here, rather than hurt or stung, doesn’t he? One might even say he looks a little smug.Fullscreen capture 20190320 183813

He’s still smiling as he places the solitary smidgen of hate mail in its sad, sorry, mostly empty box. Fullscreen capture 20190320 183817Fullscreen capture 20190320 183819

For all their bravado, one of very, very few instances where Kate McCann appears emotional and vulnerable, even slightly tearful, is when she talks about “what people out there” say about whether or not she loved or cared for her eldest daughter.

The docuseries then spends a little time dealing with the notion – which came from the public – that Kate McCann especially didn’t appear to be grieving, and didn’t appear very emotional after the loss of her daughter. The image below, of a shirtless Gerry McCann jogging beside Kate was taken on May 16, 2007, less than two weeks after Madeleine’s disappearance.Jogging002

In DOUBT I’ve made the case that running plays more than an incidental role to the McCann case, and as it happens, to solving it.

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Watch at 2:21 in the video clip below, as Kate McCann addresses the camera, begging and pleading for the safe return of her daughter.

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Unfortunately the most damning “evidence” against the McCanns – certainly in the court of public opinion – is the least damning in an actual court. As so often happens, the public cotton on to what they regard as inappropriate affect. They did with Chris Watts [and were proved right]. They did with Burke Ramsey [and the jury is still out, and probably will be till the cows come home]. And they did the same with Amanda Knox [and were apparently proved wrong].


The fact is, emotional affect is a powerful indicator in true crime, but it’s not necessarily evidence. One thing we can say, as human beings, is when we care about a victim more than the suspect [or imputed suspect], and when we feel grief more than we see them grieving [if at all], it’s only right that we raise our hands and ask about it.

It’s very difficult to cover up [which is a contrivance, and a way of masking authentic motives and feelings] and show genuine emotion at the same time. Covering up requires careful thinking and anticipating what the next question or move might be. It often happens in true crime that the suspect feels the best “face” to show to the crowd is nonchalance. They imagine grief will appear as guilt, but only a guilty person would think that way.

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I love the way the docuseries has the McCanns PR person explain that the McCanns were “advised” not to show emotion, as this might be detrimental to their daughter. So imagine the abductor is sitting somewhere, with Madeleine in a cage, and he sees the parents looking unemotional. Is this going to encourage him to…do…what?

On the other hand, if the McCanns appear distraught and upset, this is going to make the abductor NOT want to return the child?

The reality is, whether the McCanns were instructed to be emotional or unemotional, there is a lot of inappropriate smiling going on, especially when they’re asked about whether she might be dead or not.

For all their posturing about the support, it’s clear the online vitriol [which continues today] is so severe, even newspaper editors felt they had to shut down the interactivity [the comments] of their coverage of the McCann case.

The docuseries neglects to mention that the McCanns felt so agitated and imperiled by negativity directed towards them, they elected to threaten British bloggers and social media users with lawsuits.

Kate McCann is poised to SUE social media users – Daily Mail

Kate and Gerry McCann Threaten to Sue Bloggers

Madeleine McCann’s parents hit by ‘150 vile tweets a DAY from online trolls’ – The Sun

Investigation into McCann internet trolls launched by police – Telegraph

Madeleine McCann’s parents urge vile trolls to stop posting ‘awful abuse’ on their website as they back new rules BANNING criticism of their decision to leave the girl alone in an apartment – Daily Mail

‘Twitter troll’ who abused Madeleine McCann’s parents found dead – Telegraph

Troll Who Harassed Madeleine McCann’s Family Found Dead – Psychology Today

It’s also more than a little disingenuous of the Leicester Mercury to cry “neutrality” and editorial standards after the fact, when anyone who dared to criticize or accuse the McCanns were sued.

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Of the first five episodes, I found the fifth the most troubling and upsetting by far. Probably the worst moment was when the Portuguese journalist Sandra Felgueiras expressed her feelings of disdain to the Portuguese cops for lying to her about DNA evidence.

The DNA narrative was a HUGE PR and legal victory for the McCanns, and turned the tide of popular, investigative and legal opinion back in their favor, and as result, this remains the official status quo today.

“There was no evidence to show that Madeleine was the source of the DNA…”

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At Eternity's Gate – A Critical True Crime Analysis

Next year – 2020 – will be the 130th anniversary of the death of the great artist Vincent Van Gogh. Just in the last five years, huge swaths of the historicity of Van Gogh’s life story have been called into question, analysed and fine-tuned.

A few critical areas where we’ve seen significant shifts from the original story are in the way Van Gogh suffered a gunshot wound and died, as well as the Ear Narrative [how much ear was cut off, and the events surrounding that bloody incident].
Ironically, both these shifts apply directly to what one might call the True Crime Elements of the Van Gogh Mythology. The suicide narrative now feels more like a typical true crime scene, and the ear incident has a similar scenario now too also invoking motive, blood evidence, witnesses etc, in fact all those staples we associate with the true crime genre.
What this shows is that the history around Van Gogh is still changing, still evolving. As wildly famous as Van Gogh is today, one of the most expensive artists in the world, if you had to ask who murdered Van Gogh – and why – good luck getting a straight answers. Even expert historians can’t agree. Even the mainstream media and researchers dedicated to his life story can’t explain what really happened.

‘At Eternity’s Gate’ star, Willem Dafoe, says ‘history lied’ about Van Gogh – iol
New film claims Vincent van Gogh was murdered – Citizen
Van Gogh: it was suicide, not murder – The Art Newspaper

So when Willem Dafoe stepped forward for his role in At Eternity’s Gate I was looking forward to seeing the most modern rendition of the Van Gogh story; a retelling with all of the latest research spun together into something more cogent, coherent and authentic. That was the hope, the expectation.
Dafoe’s casting also meant the reach of this film would be greater, and so it was. After publishing The Murder of Vincent van Gogh, my book on the popular Dutch artist, in May 2018, I made Vincent van Gogh one of my Google alerts. It’s fair to say that I get more alerts on Van Gogh on a daily basis than for any of the other high-profile true crime cases on the list.

Around the world Van Gogh is not only popular but often top of mind. When manmade spaceships notice whirls of a certain kind on Jupiter, it reminds them of Van Gogh’s Starry Night. Van Gogh is as part and parcel of the modern zeitgeist as Christmas, the Oscars, Facebook  and The Big Bang Theory. But how much of the popular mythology is even true?

New photos from Jupiter look like a van Gogh painting – CNN, February 2019

When psychologists and creatives try to unlock or fathom the keys to creativity, they turn to Van Gogh as both an example and a cautionary tale on how “madness” can inspire art.

World Bipolar Day: Honoring Van Gogh—Are Creativity and Madness Linked? – bphope
The real Van Gogh: A genius not driven by madness but crippled by it – BBC
Exploring Artistic Creativity And Its Link to Madness – The New York Times

If the suicide myth and the ear incident are two legs of the three-legged chair that is Van Gogh Lore, then the third leg is the myth of the man as a mad artist. In my book I investigated all three “legs”. I wanted to see how At Eternity’s Gate fared in handling these subjects.
Before dealing with the Good, Bag and Ugly of the film [ranked 6.9 on IMDb], let’s start with the name. At Eternity’s Gate is a giddy-sounding title for a rather different take by the great artist himself. Van Gogh painted various iterations of the same setup, an old man or woman bent over in despair beside a roaring hearth.

Since I knew the portent of the art, and since I’d seen the trailer, I sensed an immediate mismatch between the context of Van Gogh’s own words and sentiments [in terms of the specific “At Eternity’s Gate” artwork] and how the filmmaker was misinterpreting it.
Intuitively I was interested to watch this film but went in with low expectations. I was pleasantly surprised.
The Good
The film opens with a black screen, and Dafoe talking simply, humanly, yet profoundly as Van Gogh. It rings true and elements of his opening gambit, such as “I wish they would only take me as I am”, resonate with words written in Van Gogh’s letter to his brother Theo dated [15-27 April 1882].
So it’s a good start. Using the artist’s own words [and he wrote hundreds of letters in his life] is a smart way to achieve the authentic man through the authentic voice. It’s been done before, of course, in the excellent Painted with Words film starring Benedict Cumberbatch.
The first visual of the film is jarring – appropriately – throwing the viewer into a random farm field, and the artist approaching a maid leading a flock of sheep. He approaches her and asks her if her can sketch her. She’s confused by this and so are we.
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The colors are washed-out and desaturated, which suggests Van Gogh hasn’t quite found his eye on his canvas just yet, and needs to start seeing the world – well – differently.
Jump to Paris and a difficult art crowd where Van Gogh still isn’t well-known and can’t sell a damn thing. There we encounter Paul Gauguin, an artist who is better known in 1888 than Van Gogh, and who’s having better luck selling his wares to the same crowd.
Even so, the two strike up an unlikely friendship. Naturally it doesn’t do Gauguin any harm that Vincent’s brother is an art dealer.
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The next jump is to a windblown house in Arles, in the south of France. It’s cold, and Van Gogh – forced to stay indoors – is getting stir crazy. He removes his shoes and we’re offered a floor eye-view of his flea bitten socks with toes poking out of holes. This is far and away the most authentic moment in the whole film, because more than painting or writing letters, Van Gogh was a rambler. Every scene he painted he walked to, and he walked a lot. When he lived in London as a youth he rambled from London to Brighton, a distance of 53 miles. On another occasion he walked over 80 miles from London to Ramsgate.
It’s also the depiction of Van Gogh doing his thing that feels real. The glint of the oils on the palette, the sound of the brush lightly scratching on the canvas. The way the white canvas begins to fill up, almost magically, with those boots on the floor.
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But this is where the first signs of trouble creep in. The boots are based on reality, and the photography isn’t a bad match for the painting. The problem is the art that is created on camera looks nothing like the painting Van Gogh executed, a detail one would expect more care and consideration in a biopic about a world famous artist and how he sees the world.

Since Willem Dafoe fancies himself as something of an artist, this may be license taken [or given by the director] to give him free reign to “interpret” Van Gogh. Well, fine, to each his own but as misinterpretations go, this one isn’t little. It’s also quite vulgar. It’s doesn’t look for feel anything like a Van Gogh you’ve ever seen, and that’s a problem.
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It’s a shame, because the optics and atmosphere of everything else is just about right. It’s just the most important thing, how he looks and represents his boots on the floor that are misrepresented.
As a freelance photojournalist who wrote a series of articles on artists, and went out into the field to find the landscapes they painted [including of my own great grandfather, the Dutch artist Tinus de Jongh], I found this clumsy approach to Van Gogh’s work inaccurate and thus unacceptable.
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Of the “three legs” to Van Gogh’s story, At Eternity’s Gate gets the most important part right – the lore. The basic stuff. The look and feel. To be fair, that shouldn’t be hard to do. It requires simply placing the artist where we know he was, and contextualizing the art we know he painted with real places. Incredibly, At Eternity’s Gate begins this process, but leaves out all the seminal works Van Gogh painted – from Starry Night painted at the asylum of St. Remy to Wheatfield with Crows, painted just prior to his death in Auvers.

The Bad
Of course, part of what the filmmaker was trying to demonstrate through his own photographic palette was the arc of Van Gogh’s psychology, and part of that arc was simply showing how the landscape [and the man] transformed and came to life, vividly and colorfully. It’s a great premise, but sadly the filmmaker executed on it poorly, that is to say, not very “artfully” or “creatively”.
An excellent artistic and creative telling of the story through Van Gogh’s art work is successfully achieved through Loving Vincent [ranked 7.9 on IMDb].

Not only is the animated version viscerally and visually authentic, it’s also narratively and factually a masterpiece. In fact it was Loving Vincent, and the detective-story-plot, that inspired me to investigate Van Gogh’s story as a possible true crime case, and it turned out it was.

‘At Eternity’s Gate’ Review: The Definitive Portrait of Vincent Van Gogh – Rolling Stone

Although the portrait of Van Gogh in this film has its moments, it’s not a definitive portrait, not even close. Many others have tried, many have failed, and a few have come closer, a lot closer than this film. Simon Schama’s Power of Art series [IMDb rating 8.6/10] is a credit to the Van Gogh story, even with the miscast Andy Serkins playing the tortured artist.
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As the Good Times reviewer Lisa Jensen put it:
But for all of Schnabel’s determined technique, nothing in his movie ever quite achieves the emotional clarity of a single Van Gogh painting.
One rather has the impression the filmmaker so hastily put together his film he forgot to actually study a painting and feel the artist’s own idiosyncratic message. In other words, what we’re seeing isn’t Van Gogh but Director Julian Schnabel’s Van Gogh.
The Ugly

At Eternity’s Gate Shows Us the Vincent van Gogh We Never Knew – Time

If only Schnabel had shown us the real Van Gogh, his movie would likely have one best picture, and possibly best actor. Perhaps someday if my book is turned into a movie that will happen [hey, crazier things have happened].
For me the worst part of the film was the final third, which deals with the seminal moments of Van Gogh’s life. My impression was that Schnabel read a few newspaper articles and excitedly, feverishly sticky taped them into his script.
The ear narrative is nicely woven into the film, especially the sketch of the ear by the doctor, and the “interview” with Van Gogh post mutilation. But this is where Schnabel exposes himself for failing to figure out his own story. As the ear narrative plays out the director finds himself unable to account for it. How did it happen? Why did it happen? Ah well, we’ll leave it the viewer to figure out.

Julian Schnabel Spent His Whole Life Preparing to Make His Most Personal Movie – IndieWire

And then we’re left with the biggest mystery of all. How Van Gogh was shot, and by whom? Once again Schnabel has taken a little information [that there’s evidence the wound wasn’t self-inflicted] and then ran with it.

Was van Gogh Killed? New Research Says He Was Shot – ArtNet

Once again, he finds himself unable to account for the dialogue that must have followed this shooting incident in the little room where Van Gogh suffered for over 30 hours, and then died.
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Here Schnabel walks out on his own story, providing a few seconds of screen time as a way to cheat the real questions haunting Van Gogh’s final hours. It’s the ultimate cop out, and the reason this film went out with a whimper amongst critics and audience alike, despite a tsunami of press and PR, and a top notch cast.
The biggest, most glaring omissions for me in the film was the absence of the word “syphilis” in the context of Van Gogh’s mental and physical health, or lack of. His brother, who died just 6 months after Van Gogh [of syphilis] is a picture of health in this story, another indication the director simply didn’t do rudimentary research, or think logically about his story.R7AkdKrFkkmvPgC0dAGPOg
A runner-up to the medical aspect is Van Gogh’s reputation as skirt chaser. There is virtually zero attempt to dramatize any of Van Gogh’s infamous dalliances, and as such, it’s no surprise that at the very end Schnabel’s story collapses in on itself.
So who killed Vincent van Gogh, where and why?
Great things are done by a series of small things brought together. –  Vincent Van Gogh