“The only way to keep a secret between two people is to kill one of them.”
In the spirit of fashioning true crime documentaries out of real tragedies, Netflix continues this pattern with its latest release. This time, they wind back the clock to the 1980s investigating a series of crimes that took place in arguably the unlikeliest of places - within the Mormon community. From forgery, to fraud, to pipe bombs, this was not what I was expecting when I hit play on my television. This short docuseries - Murder Among The Mormons - was produced by the BBC Studios with Netflix currently distributing.
This streaming platform has certainly cracked the code on keeping true crime junkies glued to their screens. Last year’s Tiger King was an unprecedented hit. That success may have also been attributed to the developing COVID-19 lockdown, which took other alternatives for entertainment off the table for many. But even before audiences were introduced to Carole Baskin, Joe Exotic and all those cool cats and kittens, Netflix produced docuseries such as Making a Murderer and Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes, swallowing up viewership. This recent entry in the true crime category has that same magnetism.
What makes Murder Among The Mormons so interesting is that it covers a story that is almost unbelievable. Yes, there is murder. The title does little to hide that fact. But for a religious community that is so often the punching bag of jokes, the Utah-based Mormons aren’t quite the focus here. Quite the contrary; they are indeed the victims. This isn’t a true crime story about religious corruption, sex scandals or other provocative (if not overused) narratives. This was surprising and morbidly fresh.
This story is of someone capitalizing on the overall goodness and naivete of their community. It is a tale of forgery, deception and frankly, the undeniable talent to do both so well. I don’t wish to spoil anything because as a true crime fan myself, I know getting through the journey is often the best part. But how forgery leads to bloodshed is the engine that pushes Murder Among The Mormons over its quick 3-episode arc.
For those interested but are a little apprehensive about the title, the series is way ahead of you. I’m not a Mormon, and this series knew that. The little bit of the religion I’ve been educated on has stemmed from knowing only two Mormons in real life, both considerably sweet and caring people. I’ve had to fill in the blanks with true crime podcasts, other documentaries and yes, even South Park. In all fairness, the supplemental material just mentioned is usually a bit biased against the Mormon church. That being said, this series weaves and threads enough education and dogma on the Mormon religion to keep the most unaware viewers tuned in fairly and accurately.
I mentioned earlier that I was surprised at the crimes that were the focus. This series reads more like a spy thriller laced with John Grisham espionage than the run-of-the-mill “the church did something naughty and are trying to keep it quiet” yarn we’ve seen spun time and time again. And minor spoiler - the church didn’t do it this time.
We meet many members of the church, amongst many others. These are real, Earthly people. The interviews are varied and absorbing, showing the breadth of the community and the people charged with connecting the criminal dots. The breakout figure for me was the homicide prosecutor introduced in episode two. He just has great energy.
I admit I arrived at the conclusion well ahead of when the story wanted me to get there. That may frustrate some of the viewers who are also true crime veterans. If I could put the pieces together, odds are you can too. Not to mention there are some harder spots to sit through if you don’t exactly find financial talk sexy and appealing. Will Murder Among The Mormons win awards as a documentary? Probably not. Is it an interesting and dare I say compelling criminal account? I would say yes. Having only three episodes for the whole story, each at a quick 45-50 minute run time, this whole series can be sat through in a night.
What this series leaves you with has nothing to do with the Latter-Day Saints movement or its people. It has everything to do with a misplaced genius being held accountable when the chickens come home to roost. I have seen amazing true crime stories. This is a good one too. It cuts to the chase. It is available right now on Netflix.