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This is the story of a minister who's feeling unhappy in his marriage who then has an affair with a church employee, who is also married, and who also has affairs, and whose husband is unwilling to divorce her. One day the minister's wife is found dead, in what appears to be an auto accident, but the highway patrolman who investigated the accident doesn't think that it's an accident but doesn't have enough evidence to justify an investigation. Later, when the woman's husband is killed an investigation begins. Written by
This is a pretty good TV true-crime murder show. Emporia, Kansas minister Tom Bird takes up an affair with his floozy secretary, played by JoBeth Williams. They pray that God will let them be together by getting rid of their spouses for them. When God doesn't cooperate, they decide to give God some help and murder their spouses.
Keith Carradine is state trooper John Rule who investigates the auto "accident" in which Mrs. Bird is killed. He's not a homicide investigator but he knows accidents and is certain that this was no accident. Rule pushes and pushes his investigation and runs into bureaucratic stone walls. His superiors only get interested in re-opening the case when Williams' husband is murdered along a highway.
The acting in this picture is pretty good and look out particularly for John Goodman, who plays a sheriff investigating the second murder, and future Oscar winner Kathy Bates as a reporter. Carradine plays Trooper Rule with a very plain Kansas doggedness---think of perhaps Sheriff Andy Taylor doing a murder investigation but without any humor or bumbling deputy tagging along.
I've looked up info about the real-life case and the movie. The two killers, Anderson and Bird, served very extended prison sentences but were eventually paroled and then released from any parole restrictions. Both were married and Bird is, weirdly enough, a marriage counselor now. Anderson still insists that it was Bird who killed her husband even though he got acquitted of that murder. Even stranger, Anderson's children are very reconciled to her despite her involvement in the murder of their father.
The movie seems to have been as controversial in Emporia as the murders themselves. The movie came out before Bird's trial in the Martin Anderson murder and the investigators in that case didn't want to participate in any movie lest they ruin their case. So the filmmakers pumped up the role and involvement of Trooper Rule to make him a far bigger hero than he was in the real investigation. The town paper's journalist (the Kathy Bates character) later became mayor of Emporia and she said that Rule's role was extremely overblown and that it was actually a confidential informant who got the insider story to the press, not Rule. Over 25 years later, there still seemed to be a lot of resentment about how the movie portrayed the story. A weird side-note, the then Governor of Kansas appeared in the movie but as an extra, someone walking in at the newspaper office.
None of the Emporia churches wanted anything to do with the movie so the exterior and interior scenes of the church were shot in Lawrence, Kansas. The movie does do an excellent job of picking up and depicting the rhythms of small-town Kansas life. Filmed entirely in Kansas locations, Kansas itself becomes a character in the story in much the same way that the character of the state was the back drop of the earlier true-crime movie, "In Cold Blood". Both movies depict cruel murders being committed by sociopaths and being confronted by the virtuous, pious, quietly hard-working small town Kansans.
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